Sunday, August 23, 2009

Intimacy? Why?

I am having some meandaring thoughts about intimacy-- so bear with me while I try to organize them here! I was thinking about what intimacy is, how it happens, and why we are so reluctant to have it. First of all, intimacy is when two or more people come together and CONNECT. Intimacy can happen between spouses, friends, parent and child, or most any relationship. Each person brings a real self into the moment with the other person who brings a real self. What I mean by this is that I am in touch with my thoughts, feelings, and values, and come into relationship to share them openly, willingly, and honestly. The other person(s) does this as well and a magical thing happens-- intimacy. Intimacy is not enmeshment, which means we come together and I lose myself in whoever I fantasize you to be, and you lose yourself in whoever you fantasize me to be. When we are enmeshed, we lose ourselves in other people. When we are intimate, we bring what we have and ultimately always find more of who we are. In true intimacy, I can say "no" when I need to and can respect the other's "no" as well without falling apart.

Intimacy does not happen without practice. I believe developing the capacity for intimacy is just as crucial as language development. Also, like language, intimacy is best learned at an early age. We can learn intimacy and new languages later in life, but it is always more difficult. Our brains are just primed to get these things very early on! Intimacy begins at birth... the touch, smells, and sounds of our caregivers. We cry and they meet our needs. We explore the world and caregivers look on lovingly and encourage us to try new things. We make mistakes and caregivers may critique, offer advice, or support. In all these ways, and many more, we learn who we are and how to share our budding selves with others without fear.

So if intimacy is all that and a bag of chips, then why the hell are most of us running scared when it comes to getting intimate? Well, fear is always based on fear of loss. Thank you, Dr. Howard Lipke, for giving me this wonderful insight this weekend! The fear can be a loss that already happened and fear wards off the sadness and grief of the past loss. If you experienced true intimacy with someone, then lost that person, being intimate with another can trigger those painful feelings of loss. The other type of fear of loss, is fear of a future loss. For example, we may fear that if I become intimate with you, then I will lose myself. Often adults who experienced physical and/or emotional abandonment as children fear intimacy for this reason. They fear that if they share who they really are, then you will not want to be with me anymore and leave, just like others have before.

Love addicts have often experienced both enmeshment and abandonment. In their world, these are the only two options. The love addict experiences enmeshment as a wonderful union, a supernatural connection, when the addict is truly FOUND in the other person. The love addict is able to experience a self through the eyes of the other person. This is terribly exhausting for the object of the love addict's affection.

The love avoidant often fears intimacy due to strong fears of potential abandonment. The love avoidant ultimately wants to be admired and maintain a sense of control. Love avoidants will pursue a love addict (who often appears in distress and in need of a hero). The love avoidant comes onto the scene, saves the day, then wants to bask in his/her bravado. When the love addict begins to actually seek identity through the love avoidant, the avoidant fears that intimacy may be approaching and intimacy means you will see I am really not a supernatural savior. True intimacy could also mean that you see the real me and abandon me, as others have before. Thus, the love avoidant does what avoidants do best... well, avoid! Run! This sends the addict into a desperate chase, which only makes the avoidant run harder. You see the pattern.

Another barrier to true intimacy is that many people are completely out of touch with their own thoughts, feelings, and values, and therefore, cannot possibly share them with someone else. How can I bring anything to the table, when I have no clue what is in my pantry? This is true for both addicts and avoidants, and why the first step to any recovery is development of a self. I guess what I am realizing then is that true intimacy always happens first with self and Higher Power before it happens elsewhere... what a concept. Sometimes meandering takes us to nice places.

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  1. I agree! As the love addict in your scenerio, (albeit one who is desperately trying not to really be one, since recovery) I think you've explained what true intimacy is. My love avoidant/sex addict husband may not realize it, but we had some true intimate moments over the phone this weekend, just by sharing our real selves. At least, I know I was being truly intimate, and I'm proud of that. It's so funny that I just realized this yesterday, only to have it backed up right here on your blog. Thanks for the back up. :)
    It's great to realize that who I am/what I can be is not actually tied to my relationship... what a concept. ;) Something I never understood before-- I am me and have value, independent of what the 'other' thinks of me.
    Now it seems so basic and elementary, but for someone who had never learned that before it was quite profound.

  2. Congratulations on accomplishing something that is scary and challenging. You should be very proud of your recovering self. :-)

  3. I am a love avoidant/sex addict who has just discovered the term. I have been working recovery for 2 years now, my marriage has ended and I am trying to find peace and a new way of living. I have recently met an amazing woman who is loving, caring, sweet and we connect on just about every level imaginable. And yet, I feel the avoidant creeping in. I am desperate to beat it back, but cannot find the tools. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Anonymous, I think this is a GREAT question and one that I will plan on writing about in more depth. Keep your eyes peeled for that!

  5. I am also a love avoidant at that creepy moment. Perfect word--that is exactly what it feels like. One moment, I am happily enjoying this new relationship with a decent man, then I am wondering if I should lie to get him to stay away for the evening, the weekend . . . forever. He's everything a woman could want. He feels it too. Then he asks me directly, "Don't you want me to come over?" This is the 4th phone call within a couple hours. We're both working. It's happening again. I don't want to hurt him, but I don't want him around either. Days ago, I could hardly get enough of him. This isn't the first for me. I'm sure I make a better choice each time. He was so confident and sure of himself, I thought. Now I see that his style was a giving-strategy. I like dating; I don't like breaking hearts. Do I really have to avoid all contact with men to end this cycle? More yoga for me!!