Intimacy is the most important part of any good feeling relationship. When most people hear the word intimacy, they immediately think of sexual interaction. Sex may be a byproduct of intimacy in some cases. But this is not what intimacy is.
Intimacy can be broken down into the three-word phrase “into me see.” First and foremost intimacy is to see into one another so as to deeply connect. Intimacy goes beyond just seeing someone though. Intimacy is seeing into, feeling into, listening into, perceiving and understanding someone. To have genuine intimacy with someone, we have to be willing to commit to becoming an expert on them.
Some people are absolutely terrified of intimacy. They are terrified that intimacy is not going to lead to something that feels good. It is going to lead to something that feels bad. For example, we might be terrified that if we let someone really see the truth of us, they will not tolerate it or accept it. If they know the truth of us, they may use it against us later. If they know our weaknesses or vulnerabilities, they can capitalize on them to our detriment and conversely for their own best interest. If they know what we really want, they can use that as leverage to control us. If they give us closeness, we may feel like we are obligated to make them happy in return, which is a kind of indebtedness and have lost our freedom as a result. If they find out things about us that they might judge as bad or wrong, they might increase our shame, abandon or reject us. If we let them in, they might find a way to engulf us completely so that we do not even have ourselves at all. We need to spend some time imagining being completely close to someone and having no distance between ourselves and another person so that they can see, feel, hear, understand us and be permanently linked to us and see what deep imprint of fear arises in us as a result.
When a child is born, it is born with a natural compulsion and instinct to be close to its parents. Intimacy comes naturally to us all. Being close to one’s parents is how one guarantees having one’s needs met and protection and comfort in times of distress. But how a parent responds to being wanted and needed by the child as well as how the parent uses this need for closeness for their own aims, dictates how safe closeness and intimacy is or isn’t. If we have a fear of intimacy, our parents either dismissed our neediness of them and shamed us for it and/or used our neediness against us.
In households like this, parents usually respond to feelings, thoughts or desires with intolerance and non acceptance as if the truth of how the child feels and how they think and what they want is a challenge to the parent. For example, if a mother is going to take the child to school but the child expresses any anger or fear about having to go to school as well as the personal truth that they don’t want to, this parent will react harshly, scold the child for being disrespectful or ungrateful and minimize or invalidate their feelings. The message that the child gets is that the way he or she feels, thinks as well as what she or she wants or doesn’t want is invalid, shameful and is in direct conflict with the parent’s feelings, thoughts and desires. The message here is “you can’t have you and have me too, because our truths conflict and I’m the adult, so you are wrong and bad”. Instead of seeing how ridiculous this is, we decide that the parent must be right and for the sake of ending the terror we feel to be in conflict with the parent that we are dependent on (who is the god of our reality) we try to disown our feelings, thoughts and desires and idolize the parent because viewing them negatively, overwhelms us with anxiety. Our own personal truth is swallowed by them in the same way that a prey animal is swallowed by a predator. And we allow this to happen. It is a strategy to try to keep ourselves safe from conflict and to keep ourselves from being abandoned. But we feel swallowed. We feel engulfed. We lose ourselves.
Another form of intolerance for our personal truth happens when a child expressing his or her actual truth including feelings, thoughts or desires causes a parent to be so reactive that the child perceives their own truth to be the cause of the collapse of the wellbeing of the parent. In this scenario, the child learns to withhold themselves so as to preserve the wellbeing of the parent. This is common in situations where one parent is sick, dysfunctional or to distressed to parent. For example, if a parent is suicidal, a child learns to never share their negative feelings because if they do, it may push their parent over the edge and cause them to kill themselves.
What we have to understand is that if in our childhood, our need for our parents, as well as our personal truth (meaning feelings, thoughts and desires) was not tolerated by our parents, we learn to fear intimacy. We learn to avoid going to our parents and then to other people for what we need. We avoid showing ourselves to them. We close up and keep them our instead. And because we have learned that our parents and other people cannot accept our emotions, thoughts and desires and we cannot tolerate them in that situation, we learn to disconnect from our personal truth as well. This includes disconnecting from our feelings so we don’t feel them. This includes disconnecting from our thoughts so we aren’t thinking them. It means disconnecting from our bodies so we don’t feel our bodies and it involves disconnecting from our personal desires.
One thing we have to accept if we had this experience in childhood is that our heart is broken. It was broken long ago and it has never healed. It never healed because we never found a way to resolve that pain and have a different experience relative to being seen, felt, heard and understood so as to feel close to someone who can meet our needs in a consistently loving and warm way. Instead, we simply forged forward with a broken heart and as a result of not even knowing what we needed in order to mend that heart, simply entered into scenarios where we experienced more heartbreak.
Closeness inevitably involves feelings of vulnerability. Because the person who fears intimacy has learned to cope with their own feelings with avoidance, this naturally leads to suppressing needs, feelings, and desires as well as avoiding anything that would induce these feelings. Closeness is to be avoided at all costs, even though closeness is their most suppressed need. And they cannot dismiss their own needs, feelings and desires without doing the same to other people around them. They don’t want to see or feel or deeply understand someone because this brings up the deep feelings of unfairness that they must accept and tolerate and take care of who someone else is but they will not receive the same treatment in return… just like in childhood. For this reason, the people involved with those who fear intimacy feel as if they are not seen, not heard, not felt and not understood. They will feel like the person who fears intimacy doesn’t see the obvious ways that they hurt them or do anything to remedy the situation. The person who fears intimacy seems to be totally void of empathy because the truth is he or she is not connected to the other person enough to perceive their feelings or thoughts or needs or desires.
If you are struggling with the fear of intimacy, here is how to approach that fear:
- Get in touch with your feelings. Your emotions are like a compass leading you constantly to see the truth of yourself in any given moment. In the same way that a compass tells you where you are located in space and what direction to go, your emotions tell you what vibration you are currently holding and what direction to go to improve that personal frequency so that the circumstances of your life are in alignment with your desires. Your emotions are also the doorway to discovering the subconscious limitations you have which are preventing your happiness in life. Not being in touch with your emotions in life is similar to being stranded in a foreign wilderness without a compass. For this reason, I want you to watch my video titled: How to Feel (Learn How To Start Feeling). Learning to feel after having deliberately cut yourself off from emotions begins with the conscious choice and decision that you want to feel. That is not a decision that you have made yet. Once you have done this, label how you feel and communicate how you feel to other people. Consider this a process of re-owning you personal truth.
- Discover the part of you that does not want to be intimate with someone (the part of you that was wounded by your parents refusing to accept and tolerate your feelings, thoughts and desires as a child, as if it were a personal challenge to them as a person. Once you find this part, talk to it, understand it, feel it, see it and give it the intimacy that has never been given to you. From this space, that part of you will tell you what you need to do and what it needs other people to do in order for it to allow for intimacy in its life. To understand how to do this process, watch my video titled: Fragmentation, The Worldwide Disease.
- Make a practice of noticing social cues. When you decided to shut people out because you decided that you could never be acknowledged by them or be supported by them, you tuned other people out. This means you either ignore or dismiss subtle (and not so subtle) cues from other people all the time. This is a vicious cycle because it makes the world and intimacy more dangerous. When you don’t pick up on social cues and adjust your behavior accordingly or dismiss them, other people feel like you do not have their best interests at heart. They perceive you to be heartless and cruel and to be someone who can’t be trusted. As a result, they decide to be in defense mode against you and not care about your best interest either. It becomes an antagonistic relationship and thus not safe to either party. This only reinforces your belief that other people cannot be trusted with your vulnerability and that you cannot be close to them. The more you notice social cues so as to respond to them in a way that makes people feel safe near you, the more they will want to care take your needs and personal truth and best interests. Throughout your day, in every social interaction, practice reading their emotions and checking in with them about whether what you are perceiving is accurate or not.
- Notice your disconnection from other people when it occurs within you. Notice how it feels like your heart is gone and like you are only a brain. Notice that you don’t really feel what is happening in terms of emotional sensations in your body. Notice how other people are responding to you with anxiety and neediness and rage. Rage is a cover emotion for powerlessness. This is happening because you are disconnecting from your own feelings of anxiety, neediness and fear in this moment. You feel that by disconnecting from the other person who you perceive to be causing those feelings, you can escape from the feelings themselves. They then become the carrier of your suppressed and disowned emotions in that moment and will become even more anxious because you are making them responsible for both their own anxiety and yours. Try to choose to drop into and feel the feelings of anxiety, powerlessness and neediness that you are trying to avoid. You are terrified of strong negative emotions. Forcing yourself not to distract yourself or leave the physical vicinity of the other person and choosing to drop inside yourself to let yourself feel the real feelings underneath that disconnection is the only real way to not create a vicious spiral of lost connection with the person who you genuinely want to be connected with.
- With a willing partner, who can understand the trauma you have experienced relative to showing yourself as a child, practice dropping into these emotions that you are terrified of and allow them to do what your parents did not do for you. Have a new experience of them acknowledging those feelings, tolerating them and supporting you through them.
- Commit to authenticity. If you fear intimacy, you have not been living authentically. Trying to be authentic around your parents, which is an intimate thing because you are trusting someone with the truth of you, had consequences. But notice the pain involved in living an authentic life. Anais Nin once wrote that the day came that the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to bloom. Have you reached that point yet? Has that day come? If so, watch my video titled: How To Be Authentic.
- Your fear of intimacy has made it so you subconsciously prioritize areas of your life where you don’t experience vulnerability and strong emotions or needs, things like work and hobbies. A life of achievement is useless if you have no one to share that life with. What you really want and need is connection, closeness and to be truly seen, felt, heard and understood by someone. To get this, you are going to have to prioritize your relationships instead. You need to see that you can be loved for who you are, not for what you can do or for what you achieve.
- Notice that positive feelings trigger your fear of intimacy even more than negative ones. When you feel another person loving you and demonstrating love for you and wanting connection with you, it conflicts with what you think is possible and with your own view of yourself. As a result, you will feel suspicion and distrust for them and it will unwittingly trigger that deep-seated feeling that you developed in childhood that who you were was not to be tolerated. And as a result, it arouses all of that pain. To get away from the pain of that trigger, you will disconnect from those feelings and create problems or tension in the relationship or push the person who is loving you away.
- Face your shame, own it and deal with it directly. Shame is a sense of oneself being bad or wrong, deficient or defective in some way. And what else are you to conclude about yourself if the truth of how you feel, think and what you desire is not tolerated by the people who are supposed to love you the most in your life – your parents. For this reason, I want you to watch my videos titled: How To Overcome Shame and The #1 Relationship Obstacle and How To Dissolve It.
- Be aware of when you are pushing people away. Play a game with people in your life. Ask them to tell you when something you say or do feels like a push away to them. You need to see this reflection of yourself in order to become more self-aware. If you have cut yourself off from your feelings and thoughts and desires and body, you are not very self aware. And self awareness is the key to recognizing your behaviors before they are acted out and damage your relationships.
- Commit to becoming an expert on the people in your life, especially your significant other. If the only person you practice closeness with is one person, that is good enough to start. To be close to someone and to develop intimacy with someone, you have to be willing to make a constant study of them so you can become a expert on them.
- Practice the connection process. In this process, you will be journeying into someone’s internal world and you will be letting them journey into yours. To learn how to do this process, watch my video titled: How To Connect With Someone.
- Discover your needs and even though it is scary, express them to other people and allow them to choose when and how to meet them. If you can’t express them directly, express them indirectly. Write the various needs you have on a piece of paper and put the paper somewhere in the house where they are easy to see. Instead of expecting them to meet those needs or manipulating them to meet those needs, surrender into the vulnerability of letting others meet those needs because they want to and because your happiness is their happiness. When you were young, your needs were not met with warmth and consistency. Your needs were either not met at all, or they were met with inconsistency, anger and resentment and often with strings attached. You learned not to depend on others to meet your needs, but to swing between manipulating them to meet your needs and meeting them all by yourself. You need to let yourself have the experience of having your needs met by others because it brings them pleasure to do so.
- Accept that you will be learning how to be intimate and close and connected with someone for the first time from scratch. It is best to start with the idea that you have no idea how to have a good relationship and so you have to prioritize learning it now. You did not have role models for a good relationship and thinking that the poor example you had was how it ought to be, your past relationships have most likely not shown you how to have a feel good and close relationship wither. So how could you know how to do it? You don’t. Become ok with starting from scratch and throwing your old paradigms away. This is the moment that the scientist realizes his current theory is rubbish and so he has to crumple it up and throw it in the trashcan and be open to entirely new ways of having a relationship.
- Become comfortable with vulnerability. The more tolerant of vulnerability and the discomfort it causes, the closer we will be able to be with people and the less we will push them away. Vulnerability is not weakness. Instead, it involves great courage to be willing to be vulnerable. If we can choose to acknowledge and share our vulnerability in a situation instead of cope by pushing people away, creating conflict or disconnecting, we can remain connected to the person we want to be connected with. We can bring resolve to what is real. We can meet the needs that are real. We can make the relationship feel good again.
- Realize your tendency to repeat what was done to you as a child in your relationships. Recognize the way you meet other people’s wants, needs, feelings, thoughts and desires with intolerance. If you can remember how painful that was, you can recognize what you needed instead, and provide that experience to other people. Imagine that every time you are giving that to them, you are giving that to the child in you that had to suffer in that way and you are helping to create a world where that kind of pain no longer exists.
Intimacy is an act of courage. Courage cannot happen without fear. Courage implies fear. If we want connection and intimacy, we are going to have to step forward and commit to connection and intimacy with our fear, not in spite of it. We are going to have to bring the vulnerability of that fear with us into the relationship. The good news is that if we have found a partner who wants to be connected and intimate with us as well, by dong so we will have a different experience than we had in the first place in our life. We will experience someone who is able to not only accept but to love the truth of you and meet your needs because it brings them pleasure to do so.