The Path to Intimacy

Intimacy phonetically accurately defines the word: ‘into-me-see’.  It would appear then that intimacy is about the other person loving you for your self and not for what you do!  Certainly, a parent’s relationship with a child needs to be of a nature that is unconditional loving of the unique person of the infant.  When a child does not experience this unconditional physical and emotional holding of his person, he will hide his true nature and develop a false self in line with the troubled and defensive ways his parent has responded to his presence.  For example, a parent who loves and infant because he is so helpless is not loving her child, but is loving his helplessness.  When such a conditional relating endures, the child will wisely hide his powerful and individual self and allow himself to present as helpless and needy in order to have some connection with his parent.  Intuitively, he knows if he reveals his power beyond measure to gradually take responsibility for his own life, his mother will reject him because her security rests on being needed.  His mother does not deliberately want to block her child’s progress, but her own dependency on being needed blinds her to the reality of what she is doing.  Unless this mother learns to separate out from her son and reclaim her own worth, value and life she is likely to attempt to parent her son into the grave.  It is far too risky for the child to cut the umbilical cord, but it is possible that in future years, in late adolescence or early adulthood, that the person will free himself of his mother’s unhealthy hold over him.  When the over-holding is very intense, the young person may require the unconditional support of another adult to break free from the clutches of his mother.  Of course, if this leaving the nest does not occur, he may remain at home with his mother and never marry or he may marry a woman who is just like his mother.

Recently, a mother told me about her eighteen year old son (whom she recognised she was over-involved with) who said to her: ‘mother, get a life.’  On the surface, that may sound hard and mean, but in reality she recognised that her son was deadly accurate!  One of the great gifts that a parent can provide his/her children is having a life of their own and their determination to support their child to discover their own unique way of being in this world.

Whilst intimacy between a parent and a child requires a child being loved for self and being enabled to take responsibility for self, the intimacy between adults requires that each partner takes responsibility to see into self and not pass on that responsibility to their partner, which happens frequently.  When the latter happens, what develops is an enmeshed relationship, which often repeats the relationship that the partner had with his or her parent.  An enmeshed relationship is where one partner effectively says ‘I am nothing, so I will live my life for you’ and the other partner says: ‘I am nothing, so you must live your life for me!’  This is knows as a co-dependent relationship and because it often repeats the child-parent relationship for each partner, it offers a second opportunity for each partner to find independence.  In separating out from each other and finding intimacy with self, each partner reclaims his/her sense of self from both his partner and parent.  Paradoxically, it is in the knowing and possession of self that a real relationship can now emerge between the couple.  Up to the point of finding separateness from each other, the relationship was formed on the very rocky foundation of each other’s defensive and false ways of being in relationship.  Defensive relationships, inevitably, go into conflict in order to bring attention to the enmeshment and the dire necessity that the couple find separateness in order to find true togetherness.  Kahlil Gibran puts this very well when he said ‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness!’  The space is where each partner goes into their own aloneness and finds comfort and security in their own company.  There are many individuals who cannot stand the empty, alone moments and consistently attempt to find comfort in the arms of another, only to burden that person with responsibility for their happiness.  One of the strongest indices of a mature relationship with self is the need for privacy, the requirement to be alone.

Many people confuse aloneness with loneliness.  Aloneness is a psychological phenomenon and is a call to each one of us to find comfort in our own being and company.  Hyphenated, aloneness means al-one-ness, or union with self or being at one with self.  The depth of your relationship with self will determine the depth and maturity of your relationship with another, whether child, friend, lover or life partner.  On the other hand, loneliness is a social phenomenon and is a call to each one of us to create relationships with others, which can be a great source of joy, friendship, challenge, sexual gratification and intellectual stimulation.  However, when the joy of aloneness has not been established, the feeling of loneliness becomes urgent because the person hates and dreads the empty moments.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist.  Listen in to Tony’s new six-part series  Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, next Wednesday at 7pm.,RTE, Radio 1.