New research published in Personal Relationships explores the relationship between memories of parental rejection and fear of intimacy in adult relationships. The findings revealed that adults who report more memories of parental rejection are more likely to experience struggles with their romantic relationships in adulthood. The study demonstrates how efforts to heal the wounds of childhood rejection may serve to improve adult relationships.
Adults who have experienced challenging childhoods 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 gone through adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or unstable family environments, may encounter various challenges when building 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 study area.
The interpersonal acceptance-rejection theory (IPARTheory) is one attempt at determining the factors that may result in 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 utilized 462 Turkish adults aged 18 to 72. Participants completed questionnaires assessing memories of parental acceptance or rejection during childhood, fear of intimacy, and psychological adjustment. The data was collected using Google Forms between January and March 2020.
The study’s results demonstrated 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 might be 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 appears to be related to psychological maladjustment.
The evidence corroborates IPARTheory that childhood experiences of parental rejection often result in diminished self-esteem and self-assurance, emotional detachment, a pessimistic worldview, and other personality characteristics previously identified within the acceptance-rejection syndrome across various countries. These personality traits create emotional obstacles for rejected individuals, impeding their capacity to establish deep emotional connections or intimate relationships with significant others.
“Recollections of childhood parental rejection can become internalized and contribute to psychological challenges in adulthood, impeding the ability to embrace intimacy in present-day relationships. The findings align with prior research indicating a strong positive link between adult psychological maladjustment and the development of apprehension toward intimacy,” the researchers wrote.
Its cross-sectional design limited the study; without longitudinal research, cause and effect cannot be determined. In addition, 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 Turkey; different cultures may yield 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 addressing childhood rejection and psychological maladjustment may effectively reduce fear of intimacy.
The researchers concluded that “this study 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 others.”
The study, “All you fear is love: The roles of rejection by intimate others,” was authored by Aysegül Aracı-Iyiaydın, Ezgi Toplu-Demirtas ̧ Nazlı Büşra Akçabozan-Kayabol, and Ronald P. Rohner.