"Intimacy is a totally different dimension. It is allowing the other to come into you, to see you as you see yourself."
I love this time of the year as the end is not too far away and most of us are easing into a time of rest. It is also a great time to reflect on various aspects of our mental health and take stock of our relationships and experiences.
Reflecting on intimacy and intimacy dysfunction, I can acknowledge that in the past 12 months, there has been an expansion in all my relationships as I continue to heal from my own intimacy dysfunction.
Intimacy is complex and has many aspects. In an emotional context, it is defined as the sharing of feelings with another person. Intellectually it is sharing ideas and thoughts. Physical intimacy can be sexual and non-sexual contact, while experiential intimacy includes sharing activities with someone.
For most people, fear of intimacy is unconscious and impacts our ability to form or maintain close relationships. We do not intend to reject love, instead, we may behave in ways that create stress in our relationship, resulting in the relationship ending before any deeper intimacy can develop. This can happen in romantic relationships, friendships, and family relationships.
In my practice, women come to me who say they want to be in a loving relationship, yet they have a pattern of short-term relationships that start off with promise and then fizzle out suddenly. There is usually a dynamic of fear of intimacy that causes them to unconsciously behave in ways that push the relationship away.
This fear can manifest for many reasons, however, for many people it stems from childhood relationships with caregivers.
In the article, Signs of Fear of intimacy on WebMD, the writer reminds us that this initial interaction with our caregiver is the first social attachment that babies have, and it becomes a pattern that they learn from. Over the years, this early attachment style develops into the way we understand relationships and affects how we behave in adult relationships and can develop into a fear of intimacy.
According to the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, the 'intimacy vs. isolation' model is the sixth stage to unfold in adulthood, reaching a peak of importance in the 20s, but continuing to remain a central developmental task throughout adulthood.
Professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne confirms that close relationships remain a vital part of our well-being for as long as we live. Any obstacle to achieving true intimacy becomes an obstacle to achieving self-fulfillment because even the most independent individual needs the kind of human contact that intimacy can bring. Yet, not everyone is able to experience intimacy to the maximum degree.
Erikson's theory predicts that people who suffer difficulties in their childhood or adolescent years will find that they cannot reach the level of connection that people require for true intimacy.
Individuals who remain 'isolated' will continue to experience difficulties with their later developmental process. If they have children, they will not feel totally connected to them. In their work, they will become less secure and able to reach out to their fellow employees.
The passing years will make it more difficult for them to accept and enjoy their lives because they will lack that firm foundation that comes from solid intimate bonds with others.
Intimacy is a quality we normally associate with enduring relationships. However, in order to have these relationships in our own lives, we need to have the potential to experience true closeness with another person.
Signs of Fear of Intimacy (Signs of Fear of intimacy on WebMD)
Several signs can indicate that you or someone you know may have a fear of intimacy. Here are some signs to watch out for:
Someone with a fear of intimacy may sabotage their relationships with others. Some might avoid maintaining relationships, pull back from conflicts, or hold back from being emotionally close to the other person. Others may react intensely to situations, such as being controlling or overly critical, using guilt on their partner to express hurt, or being clingy.
A History of Short Relationships
Some people might call this a "serial dater," where, after a few dates, the person seems to lose interest and the relationship ends. But this could also refer to someone having many friends but none who really know them.
Perfectionists can find it hard to form intimate relationships. They demand a lot of themselves and sometimes of others. They have an extreme concern about how others see them. They may see their partners as holding impossible expectations for the relationship, leading to anger and conflict.
According to Krauss-Whitbourne, people that have the potential for true intimacy, show strengths in three key areas: closeness, communication, and commitment.
Closeness is the ability to let down the inner barriers that allow someone else to see you as you truly are. When you feel close to another person, you don't mind if that person sees you without your normal defenses—psychological and otherwise. You feel completely comfortable with that person because you know that he or she will accept you, flaws and all.
Communication in a truly intimate sense means that you are able to say how you feel and understand how the other person feels. When you communicate intimately with your partner, you don't avoid discussing painful or difficult topics. Rather than avoid conflict, you approach it, but not in a malicious or angry manner. Emotions may lead you to become irritated, frustrated, and even ready to scream, but you don't attack your partner. By the same token, when you are angry or annoyed, you don't avoid expressing the way you feel. People who communicate positively in an intimate relationship are also able to be both active and empathic in listening to their partner's concerns.
Commitment means that you agree to remain attached to your partner through thick and thin. Commitment is the "till death do we part" phrase in traditional marriage vows. Even if you don't follow through on your commitment to marriage due to legal restraints (e.g., where same-sex marriages are not legalized), you nevertheless feel that you are emotionally bound to this person.
Having healthy boundaries is also a vital part of building intimacy in relationships and for general mental health and well-being. If you want some support around boundaries, check out my self-paced workshop, Boundary Boot Camp - Saying No Without Apology!
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Lots of hugs until next time.