Parental rejection in childhood predicts fear of intimacy in adulthood, study finds

New research published in Personal relationships examines the relationship between memories of parental rejection and fear of intimacy in adult relationships. The findings showed that adults who report more memories of parental rejection are more likely to experience struggles with their romantic relationships in adulthood. The study shows how efforts to heal the wounds of childhood rejection can serve to improve adult relationships.

Adults who have had a difficult childhood often face difficulties in their adult relationships. Our experiences and relationships during our formative years can significantly shape our ability to form connections with others in adulthood. Individuals who have experienced adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or unstable family environments, may encounter a variety of challenges in building and maintaining healthy relationships.

These challenges may relate to trust, intimacy, emotional vulnerability, communication, and conflict management. The impact of a troubled childhood on adult relationships is a complex area of ​​study.

The interpersonal acceptance-rejection theory (IPARTeory) is an attempt to determine the factors that can lead to difficult relationships in adulthood. The IPAR theory states that when people experience parental rejection in childhood, they will experience intimacy problems in adult romantic relationships. The authors of the new study sought to examine the validity of this theory.

The study used 462 Turkish adults aged 18 to 72. Participants completed questionnaires to assess memories of parental acceptance or rejection during childhood, fear of intimacy, and psychological adjustment. The data was collected with Google Forms between January and March 2020.

The results of the study showed that individuals with memories of parental rejection during childhood were more likely to fear intimacy as adults. In other words, those who agreed with statements such as “My mother (or father) seemed to dislike me” were more likely to also agree with statements such as “I may be afraid to express my deepest feelings ( my partner)” and “I would probably be nervous if I (my partner) showed strong feelings of affection.” The cause of this relationship appears to be related to psychological maladjustment.

The evidence supports IPAR’s theory that childhood experiences of parental rejection often result in decreased self-esteem and self-assurance, emotional detachment, a pessimistic worldview, and other personality traits previously identified within the acceptance-rejection syndrome in several countries. These personality traits create emotional obstacles for rejected individuals, hindering their ability to form deep emotional bonds or intimate relationships with significant others.

“Memories of parental rejection in childhood can become internalized and contribute to psychological challenges in adulthood, hindering the ability to embrace intimacy in contemporary relationships. The findings are consistent with previous research indicating a strong positive association between psychological maladjustment in adults and the development of fear of intimacy,” the researchers wrote.

The cross-sectional design limited the study; cause and effect cannot be determined without longitudinal research. In addition, the study only used self-report measures, a method potentially vulnerable to response bias. Finally, the sample consisted of people from Turkey; different cultures can produce different results.

Despite these limitations, their study provides important insights into the impact of childhood rejection on adult romantic relationships in a non-Western cultural context. The findings suggest that interventions that address childhood rejection and psychological maladjustment may effectively reduce fear of intimacy.

The researchers concluded that “this research calls on mental health professionals to recognize the importance of parental and intimate partner acceptance in the interest of ensuring intimacy on behalf of their clients who suffer from an inability to form positive emotional bonds with intimate partners. others.”

The study, “All You Fear Is Love: The Role of Rejection by Intimate Others,” was authored by Aysegül Araç-Iyiaydın, Ezgi Toptan-Demirtas ̧ Nazlı Büşra Akçabozan-Kayabol, and Ronald P. Rohner.

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