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

New research published in Personal relationships explores the relationship between memories of parental rejection and fear of intimacy in adult relationships. The results revealed that adults who report more memories of parental rejection are more likely to experience difficulties with their romantic relationships as adults. The study demonstrates how efforts to heal the wounds of childhood rejection can serve to improve relationships between adults.

Adults who have had difficult childhoods often face difficulties in their adult relationships. Our experiences and relationships during our formative years can significantly shape our ability to bond with others as adults. People who have had negative childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or unstable home environments, may experience various challenges in establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.

These challenges can include issues related to trust, intimacy, emotional vulnerability, communication, and managing conflict. The impact of difficult childhoods on adult relationships is a complex area of ​​study.

The Interpersonal Acceptance-Rejection Theory (IPARTheory) is an attempt to determine the factors that can lead to difficult relationships in adulthood. The IPARTheory posits that when people experience parental rejection in childhood, they will experience intimacy issues in adult romantic relationships. The authors of the new study sought to explore the validity of this theory.

The study used 462 Turkish adults between the ages of 18 and 72. Participants completed questionnaires assessing childhood memories of parental acceptance or rejection, fear of intimacy, and psychological adjustment. Data was collected using Google Forms between January and March 2020.

The results of the study demonstrated that people with childhood memories of parental rejection were more likely to fear intimacy in adulthood. 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 could being afraid to confide my innermost feelings to (my partner)” and “I would probably feel nervous showing (my partner) strong feelings of affection.” The cause of this relationship seems to be related to a psychological maladjustment.

Evidence supports IPARTheory that experiences of parental rejection in childhood often lead to decreased self-esteem and assertiveness, emotional detachment, pessimistic worldview, and other personality characteristics previously identified in acceptance-rejection syndrome in various countries. These personality traits create emotional roadblocks for rejected individuals, hindering their ability to form deep emotional connections or intimate relationships with significant people.

“Memories of parental rejection in childhood may become internalized and contribute to psychological challenges in adulthood, impeding the ability to embrace intimacy in current relationships. The findings align with previous research indicating a strong positive link between psychological maladjustment in adults and the development of an apprehension toward intimacy,” the researchers wrote.

Its cross-sectional design limited the study; without longitudinal research, cause and effect cannot be determined. Additionally, the study only used self-report measures, a method that may be vulnerable to response bias. Finally, the sample was made up of people from Türkiye; different cultures may give 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 results suggest that interventions addressing childhood rejection and psychological maladjustment can effectively reduce fear of intimacy.

The researchers concluded that “this study calls on mental health professionals to recognize the importance of acceptance by parents and intimate partners in the interests of ensuring intimacy on behalf of their clients who suffer from mental illness. inability to form positive emotional bonds with other intimates”.

The study, “All You Fear is Love: The Roles 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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