Q: I have realized by looking over my life that I have an inability to bond and be close with people. People around me always seem to have stronger relationships. I always seem to feel so distant. I know it comes from my father, because that’s how he is. Can I change this?

A: Sure, this can be changed. We can change anything. Everything is always changing. (For instance, by writing this letter you show that you are strongly aware of this problem – and I bet that has already led you to be noticeably closer or more distant to people during the days you were waiting for my response.)

But more to the point is the question of how to begin to get closer to the people in your life. Here are some examples:

1) Know that you weren’t born the way you are. You learned to be as distant as you are.

2) Know that if you had more closeness in your life, as a child and more recently, you wouldn’t be so afraid of it. Your task now is to arrange for more such experiences.

3) Notice that you have always regulated the degree of closeness or distance in your relationships, and that you can regulate it in any direction you choose in the future.

4) Know that you wouldn’t be this way unless you feared closeness – always, or just in certain situations.

Some concrete actions you might consider:

Join a counseling or therapy group. Learn how others regulate closeness in their lives.

At least once per week, tell someone something more personal about you than you ever have before. Notice what happens to the relationship. And at least once per week, ask someone something that seems “a little too personal,” and notice what happens to the relationship. When things get better, and even when they get worse, you will be learning.

Think about what your father’s life was like. Do you know what might have led him to be so afraid of closeness? Did you have similar experiences, or are you just modeling his behavior (“if he did it, maybe I should do it too”). If you’ve had similar experiences, then you’ll need to deal with your fears in therapy. If you didn’t have such experiences, you can relax and start to trust your own life experiences rather than his.

Bottom line: If you gather experiences now that you should have had as a child, you can form a new “family of friends” and surprise yourself with how quickly you can overcome the deficiencies in your childhood.

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