Intimacy and Emotional Connection

Achieving Intimacy and Emotional Connection

“I want some level of ease in relationships.”
“I realize I have been isolated.”
“I don’t really have any friendships at work.”
“Somehow I seem to push people away without even knowing it.”
“I am not good enough. I am not worthy to be loved.”
“I don’t have the capacity to be close to people.”
“I don’t have the right to be who I am.”
“It has always felt like something was missing from all of my relationships.”
“Silence in a relationship is terrifying.”
“None of my relationships–either friendships or romantic relationships–ever last longer than a few months.”
“I have to be careful and keep others feeling comfortable.”
“What was missing in the relationships I had was the feeling of closeness.”

What helps us to socialize more with others, or to feel adequate or safe, or interested enough to enter either into a long-term intimate relationship with another, or to smoothly engage in day-to day exchanges with all those we meet?  What keeps us from being withholding towards others, or helps us deal with the withholding stance of others?

Listed below are fourteen (14) characteristics of healthy, intimate, committed relationships:

1.   We must feel that we are worthwhile. If we feel that we are worthless and that we have nothing to offer, we may avoid intimacy, fearful that if others really knew us, they would back off.  For some individuals, a safe therapy relationship may be one of the first places they are able to allow themselves to be known. Such positive experiences can transfer to other relationships. Some people may even hesitate to look at others. They may fear that the other will be made uncomfortable by them, or see something they don’t like, or even worse, that they will show their own weaknesses or inadequacies–what they are is not enough. Sometimes, positive feelings lead to such feelings of inauthenticity and are so foreign, based on your emotionally abusive or critical parenting models, that you “somehow” feel you don’t deserve affirming relationships. You might act in such a way to discourage or destroy the relationships.

2.  We must be willing to be seen by the other, and the other must have the capacity to “see” us in all our dimensions for true intimacy to occur.

3.  Intimacy can also be hindered because of certain early learning experiences. There is a confusion between who we are and who the other person is.  A confusion of boundaries–is it me or is it you?may lead us to mistake their own anxiety for our own. Basically any discomfort on the part of the other we define as really due to our selves–in a kind of negative narcissism, it is about us. We really can not see the other person as separate than us. We have not been able to distinguish our own feelings from any observations of the objective other.

4.  Besides self-esteem and self-other confusion, being able to say “No” and face anger is also important for intimacy. Sometimes we have to be able to say “no” before we can say “yes.”  If the other pushes us beyond where we want to go, we need to be able to say, “No! I don’t like that!” and stick with our guns. To do this means that we have to manage our anxiety and fear of anger. This enables us so to endure the hostility or negative emotions of the other.

5.  Any inordinate fear of anger would mean that we would avoid bringing up any concerns that we might have about any number of issues. The other may not truly know our innermost thoughts or feelings.

6.   True intimacy takes time. Short-term relationships do not allow for the same process. The Limbic brain, which is a product of our early relationships, needs time to grow and develop attachments. This applies to both romantic relationships and close friendships.

The word intimacy comes from a Latin word that means “innermost.”  True self-sharing, however, takes time, and a reasonable amount of trust that the other will not hurt us, diminish us, misunderstand us, or leave us.  This takes time, and the ability and courage to experience a wide range of experiences and feelings.

It is only over time that we learn to be fully ourselves in relationships, even as we learn to clearly learn about the other. It is only over time that people learn to express their differences, and set boundaries. It is only over time that we can learn to trust that the other person will have unconditional positive regard for us, even while setting some boundaries and challenging us.

7.  True intimacy does not collapse when differences are discovered.  Instead, true intimacy learns to mutually respect each other’s differences, with each making some accommodation. Over time, in true intimacy, a balance of closeness and distance evolves which is satisfactory to all concerned. Ultimately, true intimacy is not achievable without a commitment to maintain the relationship.

Labyrinth Trail. Eastern Columbia River Gorge. Washington side. Doug Campbell photo

Labyrinth Trail. Eastern Columbia River Gorge. Washington side. Doug Campbell photo

8.  True intimacy is more about learning to slowly taste all the different subtle tastes of an exotic restaurant, than it is about a fast food restaurant.

9.  Intimacy requires the ability to express and endure both negative and positive emotions, the ability to see the other person and be aware of one’s own self, the ability to distinguish between oneself and the other, and the ability to make a commitment to continue to develop these abilities over time in the context of the relationship.

10.  True intimacy requires real curiosity about oneself and the other person in all of these areas.

11. Humor also helps.

12.  Fear of commitment and fear of annihilation, on the other hand, interfere with intimacy.

13.  Building true intimacy requires work and commitment.

14.  Finally, building true intimacy goes beyond managing feelings, thoughts, physical sensations or behaviors; it is also about the heart–the seat of our deepest identity.  Depending upon our history, we may need to mobilize resources from that deeper part of ourselves, our values, identity or spirituality to build intimacy and commitment with another.

Interpersonal or relational psychoanalysis can provide a channel for developing more effective relationships and emotional connections.  Because a lack of social connections or close relationships can contribute to increased anxiety or depression, growing in this area is an effective treatment for depression.

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