Thank you for the question: How do I figure out what the thing is for me that is holding me back from intimacy and deeper relationships and how to start working on that thing?
Dear Reader – I offer two speculations of what might be holding you back from intimacy and deeper relationships. First, lack of experience and knowledge. Most folks who live in superficial relationships aren’t aware of what they are missing.
I will never forget the first time I gave my baby daughter sugar. She stared at the blue-frosted cupcake sitting atop her high chair, as if some foreign object landed from outer space. With time and encouragement, she dared a small bite. Predictably, she has never looked back. Her love affair with sugar commenced.
The same is true for relational intimacy. If you’ve never experienced deep emotional connection, it remains a theoretical concept by which you have little desire. But one taste of the nectar and you never go back. You now have a higher standard.
Secondly, fear. Something scares you – consciously or unconsciously – about getting close to people. Maybe you will be abandoned, rejected, disliked or unloved. Maybe you will be swallowed up and cease to exist as a separate person. Maybe you will learn to like connection and then it will go away. Or you will want it too much. Maybe you will disappoint me and leave me with unmet expectation and desire. Maybe you will be burdened by another’s feelings and needs and thus, you are left to feel guilty in disappointing another. And so on and so on.
The commonality of these anticipated experiences is pain. Thus, I fear intimacy because I fear feeling pain. I don’t want to feel hurt.
Therefore, my personal window for intimacy is an intersection between avoiding pain while getting connection. It’s an unconscious emotional cost/benefit analysis. How much of the goodies can I get while not getting hurt? A tricky titration, if you ask me.
For some of us, our past unresolved pain plus our fear of not surviving difficult feelings make the window for intimacy very small. I want just enough connection to survive but not so much that I risk getting (or giving) hurt. Sadly, that equation translates into shallow and/or fewer relationships.
To widen that window so that intimate relationships are more possible, one must grow more tolerant of a longer and deeper range of feelings. This is necessary in that intimate relationships involve vulnerability and thus, risk. I am required to let you in and show you a tour of my innermost heart. And, I might get rejected. You might leave. I might feel disappointment.
So, what? They are just feelings. They won’t kill you.
Additionally, one must strengthen one’s emotional core. I.e., work your boundaries and self-esteem so that you can ride the inevitable sea storm of emotional blows that come with relationship without losing your center. This emotional groundedness will give you a trusted platform to reach out to another and survive the rocky waves of forming and sustaining relationship.
Lastly, hold the hope. Remember that, with an available person/partner, the benefits of relationship outweigh the cost. You can courageously take a step toward and achieve life’s pinnacle – being connected intimately with another human being.
Blue cupcake anyone?