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Commitment-phobia is fear.
The literature on this common social dysfunction, in our current culture, is mostly filled with explanations, justifications, and warning messages.
We come across a handful of external signs that help us identify those who are afraid to commit, and we are forewarned of the pain we are signing ourselves up for when we engage with someone who is afraid of commitment. We look at it from the outside in, and this both shallow and limited external “study” doesn’t allow us to look at it for what it really is.
So today, allow me, an ex-commitment-phobe to break it down:
1. Commitment-phobia means we are committing to resignation. We don’t really address the oxymoronic nature of the name: “commitment-phobia” as both the source of poor behaviour and a way out of it. When we say that we’re afraid to commit, we are in fact, committing to something.
2. Commitment-phobia is fear-based living. It’s easier to taint something and say you don’t want it, than it is to look at it for what it is and be self-aware enough to say we’re not ready for that. We have fear, and we let it mute our desires, dictate our behaviours, and run our lives—we would rather commit to resignation than risk injury.
3. A lot of us go through this experience in life often after failure, pain, or heartbreak. Commitment-phobic people are mostly wounded people, but choosing a life of resignation doesn’t help anyone heal or become whole. What commitment-phobia offers, at best, is numbness and dissociation—states of beings that can be sometimes useful, never nurturing, and often lead to further sabotage and destruction.
4. Commitment-phobia is like a sugar addiction. I write from experience because I’ve been through every phase and impact of commitment-phobia—on both generating and receiving sides—and I can tell you that it’s like sugar. It won’t kill you the way a drug overdose will, but if you read up on any current study of sugar in our diets, you’d know exactly how silently damaging it is to our well-being.
Commitment-phobia is a slick way out of the things that matter, and like sugar, our society doesn’t subject this behaviour to much shame, so much so that a lot of commitment-phobic people even indulge in this label and what they can get away with under it. But what is the life quality of a commitment-phobe? I have never heard from any elite performers that they are commitment-phobic. In fact, their stories are the opposite.
5. A fear of commitment commits us to the wrong things. An empowered life is a life where we are choosing who and what we let into our lives. We are the ones making decisions for ourselves, and when we choose to justify our poor behaviour and self-apply the label of a commitment-phobe, we are still committing—but to the wrong things. This perpetuates itself in deeply damaging ways.
6. When we don’t commit to anything, we end up in pieces. If we think of life as a series of conscious choices, identifying as commitment-phobic is choosing to tolerate a life that doesn’t stick to anything, and then wondering why things are falling apart and we are in pieces. Because at some point, if we look back to where we started, we gave up on committing to be whole.
When we labeled ourselves as commitment-phobes, we essentially announced that we are ready to tolerate a world of less. We are ready to let others tell us where to go and what to do, instead of relying on our own compass.
7. A commitment-phobic person runs life on feelings, not behaviour. As with any fear-based life, a commitment-phobic life, over time, lets our feelings guide us to a life we never wanted in the first place. This process may take some people months or years, others may need decades.
When we choose to not commit, what we are really choosing is fear, and committing to the fears of others. Often it is because we are too young to know better, too wounded, or without any coping tools to protect who we are.
8. Commitment-phobia disempowers us. We end up with a life that aligns with the experiences that robbed us and made us less of who we are. We end up acquiescing to fear and conflict to ease the violence.
An empowered life is one where we recognize and accept that life isn’t what our experiences did to us—it’s what we did to ourselves. That bears repeating, it’s not what they did to us—it’s what we chose to do with what they did to us. To lead a life of power, we cannot allow “they broke us” to be the reason for our non-commitment.
9. When we choose to not commit, we become guided by things and people that make us less. And through those gaps, we keep draining away the best parts of us. If we think back far enough, we will remember the events that led us to give up the parts of ourselves that we treasured the most. By slapping on the label of commitment-phobia, we explain and justify our excuses, and we start to believe those who derailed us in the first place.
True failure isn’t in being derailed; true failure is when we’ve thrown out our own beliefs and gave up our own voice in exchange for the noise that lessened us.
10. Commitment-phobia robs us of a full and whole life. Phobia is a fear, a feeling that limits us—and nothing great has ever been achieved without commitment of some sort, to something. We change our lives by what we do, not by what we feel.
The choices that I’ve made, by copping out of commitment at times when I didn’t feel secure enough to commit, didn’t make me feel any better. Worse, it made me a lesser person, and being lesser can never get us more—being lesser can never make us whole.
I first started using the label “commitment-phobe” when I was still in high school, and I stuck with the label for years after. I valued having options, and bought into the cop-out that a commitment-phobe label gives. I was high-functioning, even during periods of depression. I was a high performer my entire life, but a commitment-phobic life didn’t allow me to have a full expression of anything that I took part in.
During my commitment-phobia years, I was never truly fulfilled or happy, because secretly deep down I wanted commitment. I only sold out to commitment-phobia because I was afraid of getting hurt. That’s where I was trapped—in this gap between what I thought my life was, and how I really operated in life.
Rumi once said that where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure. I spent an entire year in ruins, trying to heal from trauma, trying to make sense of it all—confronting everything I have copped out of with avoidance and pretense.
I don’t have commitment-phobia anymore, nor do I ever want to experience life through that fear again.
Fundamental change happens through day-to-day, incremental behaviour changes. When we start to fill our lives with the things and people we value, instead of running our life based on fear, we start to have a different life.
Ultimately, we have the life that we give our attention to. May your attention be spent on things and people who strengthen you, nourish you, and guide you to become more of who you are—not less to convenience or service others.
May your life unfold the path that cherishes who you were born to be, and leads to who you dream to become.