While there can be general meanings to words, there can also be personal meanings to words and intimacy is no different in this respect. Intimacy is generally described as what occurs when one person is close to another. And although one can be close to friend’s, family or colleagues for example; when one thinks of intimacy, it usually relates to someone of the opposite sex.
For some people intimacy can mean being close to another and sharing who they are. And this is in a way that one will feel safe and respected. It is something to be embraced and enjoyed.
This is not to say that intimacy is always easy or that there are no challenges. But what it does mean is that for this person, intimacy is something that has been associated as something that is generally positive and empowering.
However, even though there are some people who associate intimacy as being a positive, there are also people who do everything they can to avoid intimacy. And this is partly due to this person having different associations of what intimacy means.
To share oneself with another, in a way that one feels safe and protected, is unlikely to be what they have experienced or expect to experience when they are with another person.
A Natural Need
And as being intimate is a natural need and one that is an important part of the human experience; it is inevitably going to lead to pain and conflict being created. This may cause some people avoid intimacy altogether and others will still go after intimacy regardless of the pain that it will lead to.
So on one side let’s say that there are some people who do all that they can to avoid intimacy and others who still seek it. Although there are these two extremes, there will also be other dynamics involved.
Even though one may fear intimacy, the need for connection and to share who one is, will not simply disappear. And this often means that other options will be sought and one will settle for other types of relationships that allow for a sense of connection to be gained, but without their fear of intimacy coming to the surface. Common examples of these can be: open relationships, one night stands and casual encounters
This could be described as having the pleasure without the pain, and yet these are two sides of the same coin. And while these situations, where one has instant love, may be pleasurable in the short term, in the long term one just experiences more pain. And all because they are not meeting their natural need to have a real connection with someone.
Here one can feel close enough to someone to feel a sense of closeness, but not too close that their fear of intimacy will be triggered.
On one side intimacy means something positive and on the other it can mean something negative. And as something that only creates pain and suffering. So what is clear is that for the person who avoids real intimacy, their meaning is radically different to the person who embraces it.
And this typically comes down to two reasons. For people who have an unhealthy model of what intimacy is, there meaning could be that intimacy means: one will either end up being abandoned or they will end up being engulfed.
So, if one sees intimacy as being this way, it is not much of a surprise that they continually sabotage any chance that they have of experiencing healthy intimacy. This is not to say that it’s black and white and that one will either be one way or the other; one can alternate between the two.
What this often leads to is certain behaviours being created as a result of the two styles. For example: for the person that fears being abandoned, they will often be the person that is needy when it comes to intimacy. And for the person that fears being engulfed, they will often be the one that is distant or aloof.
It is then easy to see why relationships are often so dysfunctional and full of games. For if one person is doing all they can to keep the other person there and the other person is doing all they can to keep a distance; it is inevitably going to lead to all kinds of unnecessary drama and pain.
A Closer Look
However, although on the surface it may seem that one person wants to be close and the other person doesn’t, there is more to it. At a conscious level that is what they are experiencing. But at a level that they may not be aware of; there is something else going on.
The person, who is predominantly needy and appears to want intimacy, also has a fear of getting to close to the other person in case they are engulfed. And therefore are attracted to someone that is distant to avoid being engulfed.
And for the person who is primarily distant, they also have fear that stops them from leaving the person completely and that is the fear of being abandoned. So being with another person that is incredibly needy allows them to regulate this hidden fear of being abandoned.
The causes of these dynamics are likely to have come about through ones childhood and then built up through ones adult experiences. Having a caregiver that generally abandoned one as a child, is what is likely to have caused one to feel needy as adult.
And having a caregiver that had poor boundaries and therefore smothered one as a child, is likely to have caused one to avoid the same experience happening as an adult.
The Ego Mind
As a result of the power of these early experiences, it formed ones perception of what intimacy was like. And the ego mind formed associations of this type of behaviour being familiar and therefore safe. So even though these associations are creating pain and suffering, to the ego mind they are what feels comfortable.
And for as long as the ego mind holds onto these associations, one will continue to attract people who mirror and validate what the mind has identified with.
This does not mean that one is destined to create the same experiences over and over again. The associations can be changed and what has happened in the past doesn’t have to define ones present life.
Now, this can mean that one has to do some serious work on themselves, or it may mean just becoming aware of what one usually does and doing something else. There is plenty of assistance out there, from books, to coaches and therapists.
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 26 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.