11 personality traits of people who struggle with giving and receiving affection

“Even with friends, I had difficulty giving or receiving physical affection, although I secretly craved it.”

If this quote from author Kate M. Taylor resonates with you, it’s likely you belong in one of three groups:

  • People who have a hard time being affectionate; or
  • People who find it hard to receive affection from others; or
  • You have a person in your life who belongs to either group.

You’re probably wondering what you’ve done wrong to be stuck in that situation.

But if this quote is anything to go by, it’s clear that the reluctance to be affectionate might stem from deeper issues, not just a straightforward lack of desire.

Let’s unpack some of these reasons by diving into 11 personality traits of people who struggle with giving and receiving affection:

1) They are confused

Before you panic, let me make it clear:

They’re not confused about their feelings for you. Instead, their confusion stems from not knowing what healthy love looks like, and this is often a result of their childhood experiences.

According to experts, “Love is whatever treatment you have received.”

So, if you grew up in a home where your caregivers were emotionally unavailable or if your family showed you no affection at all, this will be your perception of love.

Sadly, you carry this belief into your adulthood. And that’s probably why you struggle to give or receive expressions of love. 

You simply have a wrong understanding of love.

2) They are hypervigilant

Trauma is another childhood experience that could impact our perception of love and affection.

Think about it:

People who have been through emotional or psychological abuse naturally protect themselves by putting up emotional barriers due to fear of more harm. This makes it difficult for them to let loose and be vulnerable enough to receive or give affection.

Or look at it this way:

People who experience sexual trauma respond with fear or suspicion towards signs of affection. 


Because their past experiences taught them that hugs, kisses, and cuddles are not expressions of love and care. Instead, they are warning signs that something terrible is about to happen.

Their brains are wired to perceive everything as a threat – even in the most loving and safe environments.

3) They are distrustful

Whether it’s from childhood trauma or other life experiences, people who have trust issues generally struggle with affection.

Here’s why:

A person who always doubts other people’s intentions is less likely to show affection because they fear that this might someday be used against them.

On the other hand, that same person may also struggle on the receiving end by questioning the sincerity of whatever forms of affection they receive. 

A distrustful person may see warm gestures as potentially a prelude to manipulation or deceit. In short, their skepticism makes them see affection in an exclusively negative light.

4) They are control-oriented

Some people need to and are good at being in control of situations. But they can also be the same people who are bad at giving or receiving affection.

Here’s the deal:

Affection usually involves spontaneous behaviors.

However, this unpredictability is difficult to deal with for someone who is used to taking charge of situations. As a result, they end up not demonstrating it instead.

It’s the same logic when it comes to receiving affection.

Accepting affection means letting someone else take the lead so they can show their feelings for you. 

Because of this, someone who is control-oriented would rather not be shown love or care than lose control – even if it was just for a moment.

5) They are avoidant

Another effect of fear of losing control in the context of relationships is commitment issues.

When people are hesitant or avoidant about commitment, it’s usually because they don’t want to give up their autonomy and freedom to live their lives as they want to.

And this fear of commitment further dominoes into their inability to give or receive affection.

For someone with commitment issues, giving affection is like a step towards a commitment they’re not ready to make.

On the other hand, receiving affection implies being okay with emotional involvement, which essentially means giving the go signal for deeper commitments.

So basically, avoidant individuals pull away whenever affection is involved, not because they don’t want a connection, but because they want to preserve their sense of autonomy and control.

6) They are reserved

youre being toxic without realizing it 11 personality traits of people who struggle with giving and receiving affection

reticence (noun). – an unwillingness to do or talk about something.

It could also be interpreted as coldness in the context of affection in relationships.

But here’s why that’s a misinterpretation:

Reserved individuals feel affection and appreciate it when it’s given to them.

The thing is, they don’t express their affection outwardly simply because it doesn’t feel natural to them.

It’s the same reason they don’t reciprocate affectionate gestures, no matter how much they appreciate them. They’re simply not sure how they can do this in a way that feels authentic to them.

Simply put, unreceptive or reserved individuals aren’t comfortable expressing their feelings openly.

The affection is there – it’s just not in their nature to show it.

7) They are body conscious

Some people have a heightened sense of body consciousness, which may be because of their need to have control over their own body.

Because of this, physical touch – the most common form of expressing affection – can be challenging and uncomfortable for them. 

But that’s not all.

Some people also develop discomfort with touch due to how much they value their personal space.

For them, personal space is more than just physical boundaries – it’s about upholding their identity and sense of security.

So be careful when trying to be affectionate with someone who values personal space. It may be a warm gesture for you, but it may come across as a form of intrusion for them.

Remember, when dealing with body- and personal space-conscious individuals:

They don’t like being touched.

8) They are socially anxious

People with social anxiety experience immense stress when it comes to social situations. This stems from their fear of being embarrassed or unwelcome.

Now imagine how much more intense their stress could be if you add affection to the mix.

It could lead them to overthink about how they would express their affection or even worry about their gestures being rejected or perceived as awkward.

When it comes to receiving affection, socially anxious individuals could excessively worry about misinterpreting the gesture or that they might be responding to it inappropriately. 

Needless to say, this could worsen their social anxiety even more, not only to the point where they withhold affection, but even as far as avoiding all forms of social interaction altogether.

9) They are insecure

Here’s something interesting:

Psychology expert Marisa Franco recently conducted a poll and discovered that between giving and receiving love, most people said love was harder to receive.

And here’s something even more interesting:

According to a study discussed by the same psychologist, “one barrier to receiving love is that we don’t notice it when we get it”.

And finally, here’s Dr. Franco’s input on both of these:

She says that people with low self-esteem are less likely to receive love from others. 

According to her, this is because for insecure individuals, it doesn’t matter how much love people show them. They will never believe this love if they don’t feel worthy of it.

Using this trail of thought, it could be inferred that people with low self-esteem might experience difficulties in both expressing and receiving affection because they feel undeserving of love, let alone affection.

10) They are closed-minded

A close-minded person has fixed beliefs and prejudices. Sometimes, part of this is their stance on love.

For some close-minded individuals, the reason they don’t give or receive affection is that they just don’t believe in it, or it doesn’t align with their principles.

But that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of being in relationships. They can, and there are many of them on this boat. 

The difference between them and the rest of us is they prioritize other aspects of the relationship, like shared goals, stability, or intellectual compatibility, over emotional or physical intimacy.

It may sound like an affectionless relationship, but here’s something to keep in mind:

Our traditional understanding of love and affection doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people have their own ways of expressing their affection and love. 

While physical touch is the most conventional, closed-minded individuals may use loyalty, acts of service, quality time, or words of affirmation as their love language.

11) They are non-expressive

Our last trait on the list is straightforward and complex at the same time.

The straightforward bit:

Some people struggle to communicate affection simply because they are unable to. It’s not that they don’t want to, nor do they not feel anything.

The truth is, a  lot of them feel a range of emotions. The problem is that they don’t know how to express these feelings.

And this is where the complexity comes in:

Their inability to express their emotions stems from a wide range of factors. This could include past experiences, fears, or innate personality characteristics.

It’s not about being close-minded. They are open to love and even feel this. It’s not about being reserved, either. They’d be comfortable expressing their emotions – if only they knew how to.

The point is, non-expressive individuals struggle with giving or receiving affection because they literally can’t express how they feel inside.

The takeaway

If there is one thing you take away from this list, please let it be this:

Don’t jump to conclusions thinking it’s you or it’s them.

There’s often a backstory to why someone might avoid giving or receiving affection – it’s not always as simple as it seems.

Picture of Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

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