The objective of this article is to provide a discussion on the importance of intimacy as well as to pinpoint some barriers to achieving emotional closeness with others.
By: Susan Adams M.Ed.
Summary: Intimacy has been proven to be important in achieving and maintaining emotional and physical health. There are some barriers and patterns that prevent intimacy.
This article presents a discussion of those as well as suggestions for achieving the closeness that many people desire.
Many years ago outside of the United States, it was discovered that babies raised in isolation wither and die without touch. Touch is a very important ingredient in helping people to feel connected to their world. It is a part of intimacy.
Intimacy is a special degree of closeness and trust. It is a level of familiarity that exists in special relationships. Physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy are all important aspects to feeling whole, happy, and integrated into the world around you.
Intimacy is based on trust and acceptance despite imperfections.To achieve it one must allow one’s self to be vulnerable. This is difficult for some people who have been severely criticized as children. Nevertheless, it is important to be able to relate to at least one significant other in adulthood who is accepting rather than rejecting.
Many people experience intimacy through raising children.In fact, the best parent-child relationships not only provide intimacy during critical times of development but also teach the skills that equip the child for a lifetime of creating his or own intimate relationships.
Many parents lose sight of this fact in their attempts to “perfect” the child. This leads to the very criticism that blocks vulnerability, making intimacy impossible. Successful intimate relationships among adults are often encountered in our closest friendships, with our adult children, and with a spouse or life partner. To accomplish this, we need the skill of being able to explain ourselves to others. The relationship is carried in the conversation–what we reveal and how we do it.
People generally need to feel liked and included and to have some sense of control in life.
Many people who want intimacy don’t know how to achieve it. In fact, we often do things that are counterproductive to what we are trying to achieve. For example, some people use verbal outbursts to get attention. They want to be close but they drive us away.
It is more useful if we can consider the intent rather than the behavior. Instead of returning such an outburst with criticism, think about the intent. If you can address the actual need of the loved one rather than the behavior, you may find that you feel better about yourself and the relationship. So, rather than being critical of the outburst, you might say, “I know that you are feeling lonely today. When I get home could we spend some time together?”A caring touch or comment that reaches out on an emotional level cuts the emotional anxiety that produced the outburst.
There are barriers, of course, to emotional intimacy. These barriers include withdrawing, blaming, resisting, defending and attacking. None of these behaviors create the safety that goes with vulnerability.
There are also some conditions and situations that block emotional intimacy.
Growing up with alcoholism or drug abuse at home leaves children often emotionally detached. Children learn that their emotional needs are low on the list of priorities. Counseling can help.
Histories of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse make intimacy difficult because such experiences badly affect someone’s ability to trust. The betrayal by caregivers teaches children to withdraw and withhold. Counseling is important here to help teach that the world is not full of abusers and that some people are trustworthy.
Depression creates distance. Counseling and medications can help, as well as regular physical activity.
Fear of loss leads to possessiveness.This is related to problems with self-worth and thoughts of not being worthy of relationships with others. Doing things about which we feel good, being listened to with respect, and a good counseling environment are useful tools.
Physical problems and chronic pain interfere with relationships. The pain keeps the sufferer preoccupied and often depressed and the pain medication can alter personality. Pain syndromes can dramatically change relationships negatively. Good pain management, physical activity, counseling, and a good pain management physician are important here.
Overwork and exhaustion can interfere with closeness. It is important to leave time in your schedule, even to putting the ‘appointment” in your book, to be sure that you have time to spend with loved ones.
There are other patterns that prevent intimacy. Dramatic behavior is one. Weak boundaries are another. If you become too dependent on another it is easy to lose yourself. This often leads to conflict as a result of the dependency. Therefore, learn ways to accept and value yourself. Do things that make you feel successful. Find people who listen to you with respect. Sometimes, boundaries are too rigid. This means that you have walls around you and fear letting anyone in for fear of getting hurt. By keeping others out, you prevent the hurt at one level, but you wind up alone and isolated. The solution involves getting beyond the fear to a point where you can tolerate the hurts. This makes it possible to experience the joys of intimacy that bring Great joy. There is no joy without risk in anything.
There is another trap that may befall you and that is seeking external validation. Many people grow up with praise for what they do rather than WHO they are. It is important that we find value in ourselves internally for such things as our kindness, honesty, generosity. People without this inner sense of well-being may feel lonely and unsatisfied and disconnected. If this occurs, they are more susceptible to chemical abuse, depression, and unhealthy behaviors like gambling and overeating.
One of the most important suggestions that I can make to anyone seeking intimacy is in the area of human kindness. Listening closely when your partner talks, seeing his or her point of view, joining your partner in a favorite activity-even if it isn’t yours, going on an outing just to be with your partner, talking about what you are feeling, and acknowledging the other person’s feelings with empathy and compassion are all ingredients and behaviors that foster closeness.
Last, if it is possible, increase your world of touch. This means getting massages massages regularly, getting regular hair and nail care, joining a ballroom dance group, and possibly even getting a pet if you can care for one.
The more you can enhance your levels of intimacy, the more you will enhance your health.