Being scared of others

“My husband and I are scared of each other”, she told me.

“We’ve been married almost 30 years and we can’t speak to each other.” She was a beautiful woman, mid-50s, bright blue eyes, flower-power hair, shy and gentle demeanour, and here she was going to the heart of the matter with deadly accuracy. Scared of each other. Haven’t we all been there? Aren’t we there now with some people in our lives? Fearful of them, and they of us.

I was bowled over by her authenticity then and I’m still bowled over.

What gives this fear of the other, especially when that other is as close as a husband, a wife, a brother, a sister, a daughter, an old friend?

At least two possible responses I can think of straight off:

  • we’re withholding something from them
  • we’re scared they’re going to see something about us, including that we’re withholding something.

What about you? What do you think is at play here?


Image: Rene Magritte, The Lovers, 1928


16 thoughts on “Being scared of others

  1. What about fear of judgement?
    When one has been in a relationship with someone who is very judgemenal or verbally/emotionally abusive, then one may be scared of any repercussions, upsets, condemnation, “episodes” or negative judgement.


  2. People change. Each may be afraid of the changes they see in the other and how they fit (or don’t) into each other’s lives any more. That’s one thing that might be going on.

    In the case of some form of abuse, the abused is fearful of the abuser for obvious reasons and the abuser is fearful of the abused because that person represents his/her vulnerability. The abuser abuses because he/she feels powerless and uses physical, emotional or sexual leverage to exert the only kind of power he/she can. It’s an illusion of power and the abuser, deep down, knows it.


    • That’s an important point; the abuser is also fearful.

      Definitely when we think someone’s drifting away it can raise fear. I’ve got this theory that we fear many more people and more habitually than we might recognise and your point about drifting away is part of it. I think the emotion that’s there for us when there’s some distance between us and another is fear, even where there’s no abuse. And I’m interested why it’s fear.


  3. I think that our childhood experiences come into play as well. Much of what we know or believe about marriage comes from observation of our parents as they interact with each other. Fears or insecurities that arise when we are small and vulnerable stay with us and can be triggered by something in the behaviour of a spouse that reminds us of a parent’s actions or attitudes.


    • Yep, so true, most/all of the time we don’t experience the world as it really is cos we’re looking through the lens of some long distant event. Like wearing rose-coloured glasses only they aren’t rose-coloured.


  4. Could be a lot of things but I think what you said a while back about coercion might be a big part of it:

    “Coercion and attempted coercion is a staple of our everyday lives.

    We all know what it looks like when it’s on full view, but consider that manipulating, strategising, attention-seeking, withdrawing, playing favourites, playing the victim and so on, are also forms of coercion. They’re designed to extort a result.”

    I think that relationships with a large coercion component can generate fear.


    • That fits. I’ve also been thinking and I’m clearer on what’s curious to me.

      Try this: say if we’re the person doing the manipulation on another. At some level we feel fear, whether we realise it or not, and it’s the fear of being found out for doing the manipulation, the fear of being caught in the act. Straightforward, no?

      Then consider the person being done to. That person knows something’s off even if they don’t know what exactly it is. That person would feel resentment, right? But why also fear, which is what I think they also feel? Why fear? To feel fear there must be some expected injury to the ego. What is it here? Something like fear of being disrespected?


      • The Manipulator may also be driven by a fear of not being the manipulatee. For example a son may have grown up with his mother the manipulator and his father the manipulatee. So driven by the fear of being a ‘doormat’ by his father, he may over compensate and become like his mother, requiring all authority in a relationship.

        As for the fear of the manipulatee, fear of disrespect plays a part, however, fear of disapproval may also play a large part in the fear. A manipulator will often prey on a weakness of the manipulatee to burrow their way into the insecurities of their victim & bring them down from there. Removal of Approval is a well known tactic, they will manipulate and lie to their victim so that the victim believes that other people are critical of them and that they don’t live up to others expectations/standards. The manipulator will then show support for their victim by expressing that they will put up with and accept the the manipulatee despite all of their faults. This creates a world where the manipulatee becomes dependent on the manipulator for security as they feel they are a failure to the rest of the world.


      • Hello, Ms Butterfly. Yep, I get the fear of the withdrawal of approval/love, or what some might call the fear of being shamed. It’s a very powerful and under-discussed aspect of the lives of many of us I think. I don’t feel I can do justice to your full comment because it appears to relate to a particular situation of domestic abuse and I understand the factors at play in such situations are especially complex.


      • Hello :-)
        Yes, some of what I wrote relate to a particular situation, however some of it is generalised as I personally know of too many women (in these cases) who experience very similar.
        Certainly, I’m not suggesting that any fear in relationships is related to domestic violence, just highlighting other possible factors. However I am acutely aware that I am also very sensitive to the topic.
        Keep up the fantastic writing! x


      • Thanks, Ms Butterfly. I get it, about the prevalence of domestic violence and that you weren’t suggesting all fear is related to domestic violence. I used to work for a women’s legal centre and 90% of the cases were about domestic violence. The numbers and breadth of the issue are shocking.


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