Tag Archives: Intimacy

Family-ChimpsIn the animal world the natural pattern and structure responsible for the survival of its young is the family. Tangibly perceived we can see that it provides a protected environment for the young to grow and mature safe and nurtured from a brutal environment heavily dependent on using its population as food for the diversity of its hierarchical ladder of differing species. We can plainly see that nature has a structure of predatory species balanced symbiotically with other species subject to being sacrificed insuring the survival of each level of complexity up through the evolutionary chain. Because we humans no longer see ourselves as an integral part of this chain of survival we have grown to become unaware that this dynamic structure is at the root of much more than just our physical survival. It has enabled us to evolve into beings gifted with much more than just a pension for longevity. It has given us an opportunity to use our mind to become self-aware. But it seems like our developing tendency to believe that we are the dominant species, invincible and separate from its laws has allowed the fabric of our initial advantage of having a structure for that nurturance to fall away in the name of a recently discovered quality of our mind; our ego. Other humans in our own elevated predatory chain have sensed this and are accelerating our social subjugation and the disintegration of our most natural and nuclear support system: the family. Whether by design or by recognized and seized opportunity, the disintegrating family structure has put us in a precarious position relative to the other members of our species. To understand this dynamic and its implications we must dig much deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of having a family structure and the qualities inherent in its being so. Let’s begin with examining the benefits of having a family structure.

Family-MonkeyI think the physical advantages of having a family structure and its support are eminently obvious so I will just cover the social dimensions. The first, and I believe the most contemporarily influential, is intimacy. For those of us who are a little older, this will be a little easier to comprehend since we’ve been through both “time zones.” For the younger generation this may feel like a foreign language.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re twelve years old and living at home with your family. The house is fairly large. Living together are your parents, brother and sister, a pair of grandparents and an aunt and uncle. The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Your parents live in one room, you and your siblings share the second, your uncle and grandfather the third and your grandmother and aunt in the fourth. In one house this will be close quarters, especially with nine people sharing two bathrooms. In the 1940s and 50s and before, this was not uncommon.

Family-DogWith so many people living together, especially scattered through three generations, everyone would be privy to many more varied aspects of each other’s lives than we now are in our contemporary settings with everyone living in separate homes. If we were to “throw back” to living in that type of environment, most of us would feel extremely uncomfortable with feeling our privacy being challenged. And, there’s a reason for this. Privacy and our luxury of having it involuntarily regulates our potential for intimacy. How? Living apart, there are aspects of our lives that are not exposed to other members of our family. This is precisely the point that has enabled intimacy to change and how it is that we perceive it today.

Family-BearsThe fact that living as an extended family together in one house does expose all its members to each other's private business is the catalyst that enables the necessity and our opportunity to learn, grow and become intimate with each other. If we live in close quarters with other members of our family, we are going to see and learn things about them that we wouldn’t had we lived apart. This “enforced proximity” makes it necessary to develop behaviors so everyone can comfortably live together without the threat of what we now perceive as a fear of exposure. Learning to be intimate in this way develops not only depth but a comfortability in dealing with close personal matters that families who live apart might never have the necessity or opportunity to experience with each other. The fear of exposure that I speak of is not only the fear of having someone know intimate details about us but the fear of them being able to use those details to manipulate us, much like being blackmailed, however, this fear has much deeper roots in leaving us feeling out of control with intimacy issues because we haven’t learned to handle them. Had we lived in close proximity with family other family members when we were growing up it would have taught us how to deal with them almost to the point where handling them would become second nature to us. The younger generations has never been trained to deal with the embarrassment that comes with feeling exposed or out of control.

Family-GiraffeWe should also note that the development of humility is a quality that comes with being trained to deal with embarrassment and with the loss of intimacy which has all but disappeared from our contemporary and socially learned pantheon of recognized behaviors. Machismo and posturing have taken their place as a defense mechanism and as a distraction from the exposure of our perceived embarrassment and exposure. Due to the loss of becoming unable to experience or understand intimacy, most all measures of humility, compassion and appreciation have rapidly been replaced with feelings of entitlement, outrage, persecution and belittlement simply because we’ve never learned to handle the intimacy that allows for their development. Most of the younger generations are now afraid of intimacy since their inability to handle it now signals such a threat for embarrassment through the exposure of their sensed but unrecognized inadequacy in handling it. Additionally, because the younger generation hasn’t had the experience of living in the close proximity with an extended family and learning how to deal with intimacy, their perception and scope of it has been reduced to seeing and feeling it solely as an expression of sex.

A second dimension that is enhanced by living within a nuclear family structure and having a close interweave with intimacy is effective role modeling. Our family and its structure provide first hand examples. The advantage of having the training within the family structure is that the results of the role model’s behavior can be directly observed within the family structure. There is an immediate validation. We are able to quickly digest and incorporate the pros and cons of adapting any particular role our family members might exhibit.

Family-LionA role model, in itself, is a relatively easy concept to comprehend and integrate into our psyches, especially, when we can see the behaviors immediately play out within our purview. We can then make a clear and confident decision about who we would and wouldn’t like to emulate. What we don’t immediately comprehend in having the example occur so closely is the quality of vulnerability and its importance in establishing a quality of depth in the role we might want to emulate. That is, in having the role model so close we can see the fallibility and vulnerability we will face in taking on the family member’s persona. In contrast, when we view a media role model we almost never see their human or fallible side. We don’t see them in situations other than those that accentuate the particular characteristics we’d want to personally integrate. We never see where they are vulnerable except where their projected excellence is concerned. So with Superman, we learn about kryptonite. With Batman we see his risk of identity exposure. With Bronson we see the murder of his wife as his drive and passion. But we never see their feelings. We never see what they’re afraid of. We never see how they interact in their “ordinary” lives. We don’t see their personal vulnerabilities. For us, their characters are incomplete. We never see what makes them human; what makes them like us when they’re not being the hero. As real people Dirty Harry and Bronson have feelings that we’re never allowed to see. We don’t see the integration of their vulnerabilities in their character. Hence, our emulation is ineffective, incomplete, and cardboard. When we see role models “up close and personal” as in our family, that vulnerability, that humanity, that fallibility is palatable and visible. We get a complete picture of how our emulation will progress. When we lose our family involvement our perception of that vulnerability is lost. Without a family history we must depend on one-sided and incomplete media heroes from which to select who we wish to emulate. We then literally go off “half-cocked.”

Family OscelottA third dimension that becomes advantageous to us when we grow up within a family structure is having an instant reflection for how we choose to interact with the world and other family members. If we adapt the behavior of one family member that other members have a problem with, we receive an immediate response to our “trial” behavior from other family members. We receive “instant karma” if you will. Because we see, imitate and receive an immediate response, we realize instantly how our behavior will be received by others in the outside world. Obviously, close proximity is one of the factors influencing the immediacy of the response we receive. If we don’t have the close proximity of the family to emulate and reflect our trial behaviors, we must look to others in our environment who may choose to escape our influence rather than confront a challenging behavior we might experimentally project at them. This has the effect of leaving us unanswered and without a clean reflection for knowing who we are, who we wish to become and whether our trial behavior will actually be effective in the world for us or not. So, living in close proximity to a family enhances the speed of our developing emotional “maturity.” Without being raised within a family structure we become emotionally slowed, inexperienced and even stunted in handling social issues compared to those who have.

Of course there are other reasons being raised in a family structure might have advantages. One more, which is self-explanatory, is having a family member mentor us in some life endeavor in which we have yet to have experience in. The advantages of them having personal insight and experience are tremendous.

Family-ElephantsThere is another dimension of the disappearing family structure that needs to be realized. We can all understand that our western culture, especially in the United States and other comparably “advanced” nations, foster a shared ideal of becoming independent in our personal growth, success and autonomy. Sociology calls this type of culture High Context. That is, our goals are centered on personal accomplishment and autonomous self-support. The progress we’ve had in technology has contributed tremendously to our becoming so while the media sells to us using our fear of personal dependency and perceived helplessness as a motivation toward buying their tools, products and skills intended to reinforce and heighten our feelings of independence and autonomy. But I think that we have gotten so enamored with our desire for “freedom” and independence and how technology can provide that for us that we have abandoned our only personal support for the, mostly irrational, ideal. We can also see that the media has jumped on board providing us with role models heroes that heighten our desire for autonomy and “lone wolfmanship.” The underlying force there is our growing assumption that strength comes from independence and a lack of our having any obligations to anyone else for our “success.” Our pendulum of the balance between our capacity for others and “need” to unrelated and unbeholding to anyone else has become skewed way far to one side.

Family-PenguinThat stage being set, let’s look at the droves of people immigrating into our country. Mostly Hispanics, their culture is mostly what sociologists call Low Context. That is, their primary focus is that the welfare of the family and their clan is all important and that independent pursuits and personal successes are secondary as compared to the welfare of the family. This approach, at its core, runs totally contrary to the extremes of independence that our media and technology has driven us to. Fear of destitution and loss of control has contributed significantly to our drive into being High Context. Incidentally, if a primary ploy for defeating an army (family) is to divide and conquer, our media, corporations and government are right on target with their strategies. Dissolving the family structure weakens our defenses and support structure for counteracting whatever they would like to sell us or enslave us with. On some level some businesses have also recognized this trend and business policies have become heavily invested in promoting teamwork or, essentially, the establishment of a business family to compensate for the ineffectiveness and anarchy that personal independence inevitably leads to. This feeling of destitution and lack of family support is also what drives many kids to join gangs to find that love and support.

Family dinner-1The dissolving of the family structure, whether planned or unintentional is responsible for creating a more technologically informed, but less mature emotionally, culture. There are way too many factors that contribute and need to be discussed relative to the rapidly expanding extinction of the nuclear family. The tremendous wave of illiterate immigration may set us back technologically on an individual level but perhaps their influence will begin to renew family ties once we begin to realize that it still holds many benefits that we’ve lost and can regain and, like the animal kingdom, are still needed for our survival; physically AND emotionally.

Relationships-2Before talking about what destroys a relationship, perhaps we should talk about what a relationship is and what makes to a good one. I think it’s safe to say that as we grow into childhood we all want love, acceptance and nurturance. As we grow into adulthood, acknowledgement, approval, respect and to be listened to are added to the mix. Of course we know that many of us grow up missing some of those qualities in the way we’re raised whether our parents neglected to use or teach them to us or whether they never experienced them or knew enough themselves to realize that they, let alone we, needed to use and learn them too. So it’s safe to say that most of us grow up with “gaps” in what we can use to respond well within a relationship. These gaps are probably what are responsible for us have difficulty in “relating.” I think it’s also safe to say that at least 99% of us want at least one “meaningful” relationship if not many.

So, what is a relationship? It’s just that; someone we can relate to. As the risk of being dry, Etymonline.com quotes the word “relate” as coming from the Latin relatus in the 14th century meaning to “bring back” or “hear back” and Middle French in the 16th century relater meaning to “refer or report.” This makes sense in light of the fact that we get the best understanding of how we appear to the world from the people that are the closest to us. The more intimate or revealing we are with them, and I’m including sex, the more depth and fidelity we can assume about their “report” to us and others of what they sense and know about us…provided our relationship with them is an honest and thriving one. Additionally, the more intimate and revealing they are to us about themselves, the more we contribute to how they identify themselves. You can easily see that if one person is more revealing about themselves than another, this can cause problems in trust issues. I’ll explain more later.

So essentially, a relationship is another person whom we use as a reflection to establish our identity in the world. That being said, what qualities and dimensions make that goal workable between partners?

Relationships-1What does a good relationship include? One of the main ingredients that determines how close we become in a relationship is vulnerability. The more comfortable and trusting we feel with the other person, the more forthcoming and open we’ll be with them about our more private matters. The more intimate we are with that person, the more personal characteristics, qualities and experiences we know about each other. Obviously, this includes sex, however how unfortunately, this is what many younger people think is intimacy. This is understandable in light of the fact that the gradual dissolving of generational family living arrangements where most children, necessarily living in close proximity to other members in the household, would have learned some of the most private secrets and circumstances surrounding each family member if only because of living in such closely forced proximity. Feeling different levels of vulnerability with each other will dictate different levels of trust and comfort we allow with each other. So, suffice it to say, relationships involving older with younger partners would have very different levels of intimacy to reconcile if the relationship were to become and remain healthy.

Shared interest-1Another dimension that is necessary for a thriving relationship is to be supportive of each other. That also requires both partners to listen to and become aware of the each other’s wants, needs and desires. With that support would also come a need for there to be common interests and common goals for the relationship to work toward together. This support and common involvement gives understanding and insight as to how each of them works, processes and plans their future if only because they’re familiar with each other’s field of endeavor. This helps each partner to know where and how to apply their support.

Disrespect-1A third dimension is one involving respect. The implications of respect might not quite be what you expect. Yes, it means acknowledging the other person’s point of view and efforts but what’s more important is that it requires not only acknowledgement of their chosen path but supporting their efforts on that path even if it disagrees with the values or awareness of the person offering the support. When we raise children we often call this tough love because it requires us to allow our children to do things when we know that their end result will not be to their benefit or liking. We then would only interfere if it actually threatened their safety.

A fourth dimension which often signifies a thriving relationship is when we both feel that we can be ourselves in the relationship without fear of unfair criticism, inhibition or diminishing by our partners. Underlying this dimension is a not so obvious freedom from control issues.

Perspective-2The last dimension I’ll cite is honesty. I’ve left this for last because its absence collapses the effectiveness of every other quality and dimension I’ve mentioned previously. I don’t think I can overemphasize the importance of this quality.

I have not mentioned love because for as many people there are in the world are as many definitions there are of the concept. Each of us must define for ourselves what love means to us depending on our maturity, experience and attitude in dealing with other people. So let’s move on to specific qualities that presage the eventual death of a relationship.

5 Things That Will Destroy a Relationship:
broken-promises-11. Broken trust. For most people this is probably the number one factor contributing to the collapse of a relationship. What we expect from or assume about the other person constitutes how we validate why we trust them. Ensuing experience with them only serves to confirm or deny that trust. If we expect them to be monogamous and they’re not, we feel betrayed. If we expect them to share their time, money and support with us and they don’t, we feel taken advantage of. If we believe that they are listening to us and we find that they haven’t, we feel insulted and disrespected. I think you get the idea. If what we expect of them doesn’t materialize, we lose our trust in them.

blindmen-elephant-22. Unspoken expectations or assumptions. This factor works very closely with broken trust. This is probably one of the hardest things for us to see occurring in our relationships. Remember included or omitted qualities taught us by our parents? Whatever we are brought up with, or without, we naturally assume that our significant other will have in their characteristic makeup. So to illustrate a point, if we were raised in a family where monogamy was expected and practiced and our significant other wasn’t, their casual transgressions will not seem as important to them as they would to us and trust and intimacy issues will plummet through the floor. We won’t be able to understand how they can treat it so lightly and they won’t understand why we take it so seriously. The key is that if it was never discussed before, it would be a powder keg just waiting for a spark. So, our best policy for any relationship is to discuss what it is that we expect from each other so there are no surprises. We could also include cultural and religious differences as contributing to unseen expectations.

Blaming-13. One sided blame for shared events. Being accountable for our own behavior in a relationship is something that we learn in our early childhood. If blame was our parental method of choice for keeping us hopping and performing for them, we will tend to do the same thing in our own intimate relationships, especially, when the majority of us seek to repeat the rapport we had with our opposite sexed parent when growing up if only to feel familiar and comfortable in the new relationship. But what if our significant other was raised being taught to be accountable for their own actions and their parents also honestly and fairly admitted their culpability in challenging shared circumstances? What would that do to the willingness of our significant other to divulge their involvement in circumstances if they were to only expect blame and derision from us when they did? Would they continue to be forthcoming in becoming vulnerable to us? I think not. They would begin to shut down. Accountability is a major factor in the death of many immature relationships. If we can’t be honest about our involvement in difficult situations, especially if they’re shared, how can a relationship develop any openness in each other’s space? Most people who are solely blamed for all relationship difficulties usually refrain from ever again talking about circumstances that draw blame. Another death null for the relationship through decreasing vulnerability, intimacy and trust.

mine-all-mine-14. Selfishness. There are two reasons why selfishness can be expressed in a relationship. The first one and least toxic is when one of the partners was simply never trained by their parents or teachers to put themselves in the shoes of another person. Be aware that compassion is learned not innate. As the child grows into an adult this will also show itself more subtlety as insensitivity and lack of consideration. It’s not that the person is intentionally selfish but that they had just never been made acquainted with how anyone else might feel when others experienced them. This type is usually fairly easy to “fix” provided the person who wasn’t trained is open toward learning in order to make the relationship better. The second is more toxic and hurtful to the relationship. This is where the person did learn the sensitivities another might feel but decided to ignore or abuse these qualities. This would also include being unsupportive unless the support could be used for personal advantage. The reasons that would have made the person use them this way range anywhere from experiencing a trauma to simply receiving abuse themselves thereby contributing to a severely low self-image making them think that they don’t deserve and won’t receive compassion or consideration. Then, since they didn’t receive it themselves and feel they don’t deserve it, they would assume that that permitted them to abuse the qualities in others “evening the score.” To “fix” this would probably require extensive therapy of some sort. This type of circumstance would certainly produce a lopsided relationship in terms of mutual rapport. Often times the “user” is not discovered until the relationship has progressed well into the future due to the fact that most compassionate people are more likely to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Bad Dog5. Evasiveness. When someone is non-committal or won’t be accountable in shared circumstances, our faith in their ability to be trusted with our secrets and vulnerability suffers. If they were raised in an environment where whenever they admitted or agreed to having done something or were coerced into an unwanted commitment and were criticized or diminished when they did, they would tend to adapt a persona of “non-involvement” and simply opt out of any emotional involvement. This is probably not a relationship killer but it would certainly make dependability between partners strained if not impossible. This would be a simple “fix” over a long period of time if the committed partner was willing to work with them long enough to “prove” that they could be trusted more than their parents or siblings not to attack or diminish the “damaged” partner. If the committed partner did not have the patience or enough caring for the “damaged” partner, this would lead them to terminate the relationship.

Work together-1Based on the fact that many of these perspectives are still held by a great many people, we can see how it certainly takes work and effort to build and then maintain a thriving and successful relationship. The sins of the father and mother certainly appear as the sins of the sons and daughters and provide a plethora of opportunities for therapeutic disciplines to correct our basic and historical “omissions” and abuses encountered in our childhoods. As much as we think that “All we need is love,” there are definitely other factors that must be considered and dealt with if we are to have the safe, comfortable and secure relationships we all have fantasized about. We can only hope that our desire and emotional capabilities have enough inertia and passion to overcome many of the pitfalls described here. In light of these issues, a good relationship is a prize worth being thankful for.

Receive the Self-Trust Newsletter by Email

Holding Hands-1Simply answered; it’s when we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable to the person we are having the relationship with. This also includes our enemies. But, I’ll explain that later. Let’s first look at what it means to be intimate and vulnerable.

The word intimate dates way back to the 1630s and simply means closely acquainted and very familiar. It wasn’t until the 1640s that the meaning was set to include a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Contemporarily, if you were to say that you are intimate with someone their most likely assumption would be that you are having sex. But that wasn’t always what was assumed. Most people in this day and age, especially those younger, have no understanding of the depth involved in intimacy other than having sex. This will take a little explaining relative to its evolution over the last forty years. Let’s start with the definition and its connection to our vulnerability.

Being intimate or having intimate knowledge about someone is not volatile in itself. It’s what we are able to do with what we know about them that makes another person susceptible to injury by our influence. If we know something about a person’s history or fears and use that to change another's perspective about the person we are intimate with, the knowledge we have about them makes them vulnerable to injury by us and the person we are telling.

Other than our physical body, the places that we are unsure about in ourselves, feel our disabilities and pending decisions are the places that we are the most vulnerable to injury. When we are with someone we deeply care about we slowly divulge our wishes, fears and uncertainties, first, as we begin to trust them and second, in the hopes that they will be able to assist us in resolving and stabilizing them within us. It’s this vulnerability that I see as the qualifying dynamic giving meaning to being truly intimate with someone.

Now that we have a clearer understanding about intimacy and its symbiotic relationship with vulnerability, let’s take a look at the last forty years to see how and why its definition has evolved.

The number one factor in developing an understanding of intimacy has been the family and its slow disappearance. For those of us who are a little older, this will be a little easier to comprehend since we’ve been through both “time zones.”

Family Crowd-1Imagine, if you will, that you’re twelve years old and living at home with your family. The house is fairly large. Living together are your parents, brother and sister, a pair of grandparents and an aunt and uncle. The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Your parent live in one room, you and your siblings share the second, your uncle and grandfather the third and your grandmother and aunt in the fourth. In one house this will be close quarters, especially with nine people sharing two bathrooms. In the 1940s and 50s and before, this was not uncommon.

With so many people living together, especially scattered through three generations, everyone would be privy to many more varied aspects of each other's lives than we now are on our contemporary settings with everyone living in separate homes. If we were to “throw back” to living in that type of environment, most of us would have a big problem with privacy. And, there’s a reason for this. Privacy and our luxury of having it involuntarily regulates our potential for intimacy. Living apart, there are aspects of our lives that are not exposed to other members of our family. This is precisely the point that enabled intimacy to change and how it is that we perceive it today.

eye-through-key-hole-spyingThe fact that living as an extended family together in one house does expose all its members to each other's private business is the catalyst that enables the necessity and our opportunity to learn, grow and become intimate with each other. If we are in close quarters with other members of our family, we are going to see and learn things about them that we wouldn’t if we had lived apart. This “enforced proximity” makes it necessary to develop behaviors and understandings so everyone can comfortably live together without the threat of what we now know and fear as exposure. Learning intimacy in this way develops not only depth but a comfortability in dealing with close personal matters that families who live apart might never have the necessity or opportunity to experience. The fear of exposure that I speak of is not only the fear of having someone know intimate details about us and to use them to manipulate us, much like being blackmailed, but a fear that has much deeper roots leaving us to feel out of control with our intimacy issues because we haven’t learned to handle them. Had we lived in close proximity with our family when we were growing up we would have learned to deal with them almost to the point where handling them became second nature due to our early familiarity and training. The younger generations don’t know how to deal with the embarrassment that comes with feeling exposed or out of control. The development of humility is a quality that comes with being trained to deal with embarrassment and with the loss of intimacy has all but disappeared from our contemporary and socially learned rapport. Machismo and posturing have taken their place as a defense mechanism and as a distraction from the exposure of our perceived inadequacy. Most all measures of humility, compassion and appreciation have been replaced with feelings of entitlement, outrage, persecution and belittlement simply because we’ve never learned the intimacy that allows for their development. Most of the younger generations are now afraid of intimacy since their inability to handle it now signals such a threat for embarrassment through the exposure of their perceived inadequacy when their learning to handle it could have led toward learning to trust themselves and their intuition in relationships.

So, what can we do to increase our ability to become more intimate in our personal relationships without feeling threatened? We can find ways to disarm feelings of inadequacy that we might feel such a strong urge to defend, hide and compensate for. When we have accomplished this we will be able to trust ourselves more and in doing so a natural offshoot  will be toward allowing others to have their opinions of us even if they disagree with what we believe about ourselves. In becoming stronger in trusting ourselves the urge to defend ourselves will diminish and depending on how well we do, the urge will, most likely, altogether just fall away.

compassion-1Learning that it is not a weakness to have or show humility, compassion or appreciation is the first step in learning to become more intimate with others. We must slowly work our way back. Learning to trust ourselves is the first step. We must learn to become strong enough in our assessment of ourselves so we can share these qualities without fear of feeling used or diminished. It is then that our intimacy with others will naturally deepen and become the enriching encouragement that, once again, allows for the expression of our love.