People who are threatened by intimacy and sexuality tend to be caricatures of masculinity and femininity: Don Juan’s or Femme Fatales. They are unable to consummate an intimate relationship and flee into promiscuity. They, also, retreat into being little boys or little girls in the face of an adult sexual relationship, because they are too guilty to consummate the relationship. This guilt arises from a childhood over involvement with a seductive father and a competitive mother in the case of the girl. The reverse is true of the boy. Intimacy is avoided by choosing unavailable people or by pushing people away when they become too close. Therapy can help them become aware of the origins of their barriers to loving and thus enable them to be freer to love.
There are women who are pseudo sexual or vamps; femme fatales who are incapable of real intimacy OR who retreat from being sexual, when the opportunity arises, to being little girls.
Men who are threatened by intimacy and sexuality are Don Juan’s who flee from opportunities for intimacy with one woman and are driven to promiscuity because of it. There are also men who when faced with an opportunity for intimacy with a woman, become clinging little boys that alienate the woman he desires. Psychoanalytic theory talks about this kind of personality as the hysterical personality. I will talk about this personality from the point of view of the woman for purposes of simplicity. However, parallel things can be said about men.
This personality is caused by a massive repression of sexuality and all the areas of personality that are affected by it. A characteristic set of problems preoccupy this person.
1. She is focused on her disillusionment or dissatisfaction with her lover. She often comes into treatment after a romantic fantasy has been shattered.
2. She shows some sexual inhibition in some degree. Typical concerns are about abandoning herself to her passionate sexuality and her fear of the consequences of such passion. Unconsciously, she is motivated to compete with women and conquer men. She sees herself as having an irresistible body that if it is exhibited will conquer the male and exclude all other women. These fantasies tend to be pure wish fulfillment and not masochistic.
3. She displays a sense of social shyness and apprehensiveness, which is in contrast with her capacity for active social involvement, long term friendships, social and cultural interests. Although she is independent outside the home, she retreats to becoming a little girl around her mother.
Children develop sexual feelings for their caretakers. Five year old little girls often fall in love and declare that they want to marry daddy and eliminate mommy as a rival. Typically, the father will be accepting of her love and seductiveness but maintain an appropriate distance. Typically, the mother is not threatened by the daughter’s competition, but is proud of her and sees this as a developmental achievement. The daughter will express her love and seductiveness toward her father, her competitiveness with her mother and come to feel accepting of her emerging sexuality. The daughter will eventually renounce these wishes and identify with her mother. She seeks to be like her mother and thus some day marry a man, just like the man that married dear old mom. A parallel development happens with the boy.
People who are threatened by intimacy and sexuality have a different childhood experience. Father’s of the little girl are encouraging of her affection and become possessive. These feelings are not acted on, there is no molestation, but an overly close relationship develops. Mother’s are threatened by the girl’s development, see them as rivals and are overly punitive when the little girl expresses her sexuality.
The daughter is profoundly involved with her father either in actuality or fantasy. Father’s are seductive, dominant, arbitrary and volatile. Typically, the father- daughter relationship in childhood is seductive. However, this changes when the girl reaches puberty. Father then condemns her sexual and romantic interests. Father reverses his attitudes as a way of preserving his pleasure with his little girl.
Major conflicts are in areas of sexuality and achievement. Sexuality is inhibited and repressed because these women are attached to their fathers unconsciously well into their adult lives. This attachment to father and mother is a major barrier for the woman loving a man.
One way the guilt over loving expresses itself is that the woman pursues men who are unavailable and is repulsed by men who are available, sexually satisfying and want to marry her. She stays loyal to her father this way.
The choice of a married man as a lover also reflects an attachment to her father. If she can succeed in getting an unavailable married man to choose her, she undoes her childhood defeat. She repairs her wounded pride brought about by father’s choice of mother instead of her. However, she is too guilty about intimacy and sexuality to consummate her conquest. The married man she has seduced, has to be pushed away.
These people suffer from social shyness. Father’s choice of mother instead of the daughter makes her feel inferior. However, in spite of this, she is able to develop herself, have a variety of interests and maintain a wide network of friends that include many deep and lasting relationships.
The combination of a disapproving mother and a seductive father causes the girl to become stuck at the Oedipal stage of development. This means that she is unable to detach from her father as the unconscious object of her love and from seeing her mother as forbidding all expressions of her sexuality. The girl becomes frightened of the power of her sexual feelings and simultaneously feels that they are wrong.
Vamp fantasy. The vamp fantasy is one way that these conflicts find expression. The woman sees herself as powerfully seductive, but is frightened of it. She has a fear of her own passion. Because she could never try out her wiles and her sexuality on her father and feel safe that nothing sexual would happen between them, she never had an opportunity for a “practice love” of childhood that she could enact with him in preparation for the “real love” of later life. Instead, she is bottled up and guilty about her sexuality. She has never really come to know or discover her sexuality in herself.
These people need help in becoming aware of their adult inhibitions that derive from childhood conflicts. With awareness comes liberation and freedom to love.
Mark, a fictitious combination of several people, illustrates one way a man expresses being threatened by intimacy and sexuality. He recently entered graduate school in a field that his father was successful in. Following college graduation and a year abroad, he experienced a lack of success and an increase in anxiety. He then came to fear that he could not succeed in competition for a place in a doctoral program. He developed an examination phobia. His thoughts became disorganized and childish during the exam. This distracted him and childish tunes intruded into his mind. The exam symbolized a rite of passage into adulthood. However, he regressed to becoming a little boy in the face of adult challenges.
A similar retreat occurred when Mark had the opportunity for intimacy with a woman. He retreated from an amorous, masculine pursuit of his beloved, to becoming a possessive, clinging little boy. Moreover, his fear of using his penis vigorously for fear of hurting the woman resulted in frequent premature ejaculations. He would alienate his beloved.
He became rapidly involved with his female therapist. His initial dream gave a clue to his underlying difficulties. He had a dream that he was having sex with his mother. He disclosed that his sexual feelings about his female therapist reminded him of feelings he had toward his mother. This led to an exploration of how he sees women in general as forbidden and equates succeeding in the doctoral program with eliminating his father and succeeding sexually with his mother.
How Therapy Helps
Therapy can help, in the case of the woman, become aware that it is because of her equation of the beloved with the forbidden father that she retreats into becoming a child woman or a pseudo sexual person who is too guilty to consummate the relationship. Inhibitions of the expression any affectionate feelings for the therapist when the therapist is seen as the father can help the person understand the roots of her inhibitions. This will help her to be freer to love. When the therapist is seen as the mother, she may become inhibited about wishes for admiration or fearful of displays of strength. She fears she will be attacked or lose the therapist’s love. She will be less afraid of loving once she appreciates the roots of these fears lie in her relationship with her parents. A parallel development occurs with the man.
The song “I don’t want the night to end” by Phoebe Snow illustrates the dynamics of a person threatened by intimacy and sexuality.
I don’t want the night to end Oh mommy mommy Oh mommy mommy yeah I stood too near the gaslight And I cried The dirty city mist Had seeped too deep inside It took me on some kind Of heady ride They told me Charlie parker died And I don’t want the night to end And I don’t want the night to end
Oh daddy daddy Oh daddy daddy Waiting half my life On platforms underground The other half I wasted As a desperate clown My problem now is That you’re not around In dark delicious dreams of you I’ll drown And I don’t want the night to end
Oh baby baby Oh baby baby Wrapped around your soul Is where I wanna be But in the night blue music’s All I seem to see The drunks out in the rain Down on one knee And what is to become Of you and me And I don’t want the night to end
Click on the link below to hear the song.
She confesses that she stood too near a gaslight that made her hot, and something dirty seeped inside of her. She confesses to her mother her guilt about a force that she was not in control of. She then discloses to her father her love for him; that she has been waiting half of her life for him unconsciously (i.e. on platforms underground). Her problem is that she he is not around and she is lost in dark delicious dreams of him. She doesn’t want the night to end and be forced to wake up from these dreams. She goes on to say that what she most wants is to be wrapped around his soul. She then asks the rhetorical question of what is to become of her and him, because she realizes the impossible situation she is in because of her over attachment to him.