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Fear of IntimacyReview - Fear of Intimacy
by Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett
American Psychological Association, 1999
Review by Beverly Wells, Ph.D.
Jul 8th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 27)

This book by Firestone and Catlett is about love and intimacy - our yearning for it and our fear of it. Those who are familiar with Firestone's earlier work, The Fantasy Bond, will recognize it as the conceptual foundation for this book which takes the concept of fantasy bonding and applies it specifically to couple relationships. Despite some technical terminology, which the authors clearly define, Fear of Intimacy is eminently readable.

The authors state that the book is designed for both couples and couples therapists. However, the foundations section seem better designed for couples while the remaining sections of the book, Psychodynamics of Relationships and the Methods and Theory appear to be targeted toward couples therapists.

The major themes of the book include: (a) fantasy bonding and a descriptive contrast between the "ideal" couple relationship with one that is characterized by fantasy bonding; (b) the psychodynamics of relationships and destructive inner "voices" affecting intimacy; and (c) the therapeutic process in couples therapy. Firestone and Catlett present the foundations from a developmental perspective.

The authors explain the early development of the fantasy bond as a primary defense against separation anxiety, interpersonal pain, and existential dread, which are aroused by emotional deprivation. Use of the fantasy bond to compensate for the emotional deprivation leads to a pseudo-independence, in which "the more an individual comes to rely on fantasy, the less he or she will seek or be able to accept gratification from other people in real relationships" (p.35).

Further, this defensive posture predisposes the individual to a preference for gratification from fantasy over reality, a reliance on substances to anesthetize the self, withholding behaviors, tendencies toward isolation and passivity, self-critical attitudes, and hostile views of others. Relationships develop a dynamic of distortion and distrust. In short, the authors propose that the primary threats to intimacy in relationships can be traced to the developmental history of each partner. Descriptions of both the developmental process and typical couple interaction patterns provide a bibliotherapeutic adjunct to counseling.

Finally, the authors discuss remedial procedures that the couples therapist can incorporate into his or her work that are designed to lead to a dissolution of the fantasy bond. Firestone and Catlett suggest that these early patterns can be changed by using their techniques, which work against the withholding behaviors, increase the couples' awareness of the harmful forces within, and bring individuals closer to their feelings.

With their approach, Firestone and Catlett suggest that men and women can relinquish both the fantasy connection and harmful ways of thinking and begin to develop the capacity to give and accept love and intimacy. Couples therapists will find this book a welcome, useful resource. Firestone and Catlett acknowledge that individuals bring compensatory fantasy bonding and destructive thinking to their relationships and redeem them with a way out of that isolation toward the love and intimacy they seek.

Beverly Wells holds the Ph.D. degree in clinical psychology and the Ph.D. degree in speech communication. As an addictions specialist, Dr. Wells has developed an interest and expertise in the impact of attachment styles and fantasy bonding on relationships through her work with adults in long term recovery from addictions. Dr. Wells is with the University of California, San Francisco and West Coast Institute and Family Services in San Francisco, CA. Her email address is wcifs@msn.com.


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