Saturday, November 13, 2010
Intimacy: Do It Afraid
A reader recently asked for some specific tools in learning to tolerate intimacy. Intimacy, the sharing of your genuine self with another and experiencing the genuineness of another, can feel wonderful and also very scary. In those simple moments of intimacy, one can feel so vulnerable. When we expose our soft spots, there is the risk of that fragile place being crushed by another. This is especially true for those of us who have been crushed in the past. Having offered entry into your true self and having it trashed, one can become cynical, even downright phobic of trying again.
Being a 12 Stepper, I hold a firm belief in a Higher Power and my Higher Power is God. I believe God desires for us to have intimacy first and foremost with Him and there is a holy place within us reserved for God alone. Beyond that, I also believe he desires for us to enjoy intimacy with other trusting people, and God offers continual comfort and healing for the times we will be hurt by others in the process. Being intimate always requires the risk of being hurt or disappointed, and the reward is always worth the risk. Yes, you will be hurt. It's just part of the process. You will survive and heal from these hurts.
Here are a few tools for those of you who are ready to remain open to the wonderful gift of intimacy but often feel afraid and want to pull back:
1. Simply Be Present In moments of intimacy (whatever that might be, conversation, quiet times together, eye contact, sex, etc.)when you feel the anxiety begin to rise, simply remain present. Stay in the moment and just observe it. Notice the sights and sounds of the moment. Simply observe them, identify them (i.e., my husband is wearing blue, the TV is on in the other room, my left knee aches). Sometimes identifying the simpler components of a moment can reduce the anxiety of it. Let the pressure of the moment recede while you identify these smaller components.
2. Breathe and Soothe When the anxiety begins to rise, take a deep breath in for as long as you can hold it, then release for as long as you can release it. Take several of these belly-deep breathes and speak in a soothing voice to yourself inwardly such things as "I am OK right now," "these moments are good for me and my partner," "nothing bad is happening right now," "I am just fine, I can do this, this is good." Relax, breathe, and soothe yourself with kind words. Talk yourself gently through it. You have to learn to tolerate the moment rather than escape it. When you don't escape the anxiety, you find that it reaches a peak, then begins to recede. After you have tolerated and talked yourself through the anxiety, you can gain confidence over it.
3. Daily Alone Time with God I say daily because you probably need this frequent practice if intimacy is difficult for you. How do you expect to feel OK sharing deeper parts of yourself with another when you cannot even experience those deeper parts when alone? Sit quietly with God and feel his acceptance of every single part of you. As you learn to feel OK with all of you, then you will grow more comfortable sharing that with others. It takes a little time and patience with yourself.
4. Practice Be willing to put yourself in situations of intimacy that make you uncomfortable. These are wonderful opportunities to practice. Don't worry about whether or not you are doing it "right," only be proud of yourself for continuing to try. Pat yourself on the back and cheer yourself on, "I am so brave doing this. So many people never show this kind of willingness to grow, but I want more intimacy!" And this is true, many people struggle with this step-- practicing. It's just too hard, so they make excuses for why they cannot go on that date, excuses for why they need to work a couple hours late rather than go home to the wife, make excuses for why they cannot talk with family when they do come home.
These 4 strategies are loosely based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)pioneered by Marsha Linehan. I use these strategies with clients coping with many different types of anxiety.
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