Watch a baby.
It smiles and completely changes when it’s held or when someone notices it and is paying attention to it.
Watch young children at a playground.
They run, jump, turn to other children who they don’t even know, and often say, “Wanna play with me?” I love watching how unguarded, vulnerable, and courageous these children can be. It’s inspiring watching them take risks.
Watch kids in middle school or high school try and talk with each other or how they act in new social situations. The risks are much less. Play it cool. Don’t act too eager. Don’t look like you don’t know where to sit in the lunch room or at recess.
Watch adults who are dating or in a relationship.
"Should I call him?"
"Do I seem too eager?"
"Why should I apologize first?"
“I’m really upset but can’t say anything….”
We crave closeness, connection, love.
But we hesitate.
We hold back.
We play games.
For one reason and one reason only – we’re scared. Terrified.
Few people will admit it but most of us (myself included) are petrified of getting close.
Why? There’s many reasons but they all come down to one reason – we are scared of getting hurt. If we feel close, if we feel loved, or dependent on someone else, then they have the ability to hurt us by not returning our vulnerability, our affection, or our love. Or they can do the ultimate and leave us, justifying all of the fears we had in the first place.
So we hold back from what I call “loving large.” People often talk about “living large” which means taking risks or doing daring things, but I think it’s equally or even more challenging to “love large” by taking risks and do daring things in relationships. For many, it’s easier to sky dive or run a marathon than to simply open their heart, be vulnerable, and “love large.”
For some of us, our earliest childhood experiences gave us reasons to be cautious with our hearts. For others, it’s the bruises, cuts and dents that happen and accumulate as we travel on our own individual journeys through relationships. Just to make clear, I don’t only refer to romantic relationships when I use the term “relationship.’ The same is true for familial relationships and friendships as well.
It’s actually not completely a negative thing that we do this. As I mentioned before, it’s usually due to some previous experience. Being careful when one gets hurt is a healthy response, not an unhealthy one. When you burn yourself on the stove, it’s a healthy response to be cautious as you navigate around the kitchen. Of course, avoiding the kitchen altogether isn’t healthy because you need food and nourishment. The same is with relationships. Avoiding them altogether after getting hurt is also unhealthy because we need the nourishment we receive from relationships as well.
How do people avoid intimacy? The list is lengthy but some of the more commons ways are; withdraw and communicate less; hold back sharing one’s emotions and feelings – especially when they may cause waves; do things to not be emotionally present such as not listen, focus on the phone or tv, etc; try to please the other person to the detriment of one’s self (yes, this is a way to avoid intimacy); go on fault finding missions to focus on what’s wrong with the person enabling us to pull away, pick fights or be angry, seek affection or validation elsewhere. I’m sure we could go on and on….
How do people overcome avoiding intimacy? Pay attention to yourself and start to notice when you feel the need to pull back or create distance (There are some times when it’s absolutely necessary). Pay attention to your body and notice when it feels uncomfortable when you are feeling close to someone or having an intimate conversation. Watch what you do next. Once you start noticing the different ways you hold back, you can start taking small risks that feel safe-ish. See how it goes. See what it feels like when you feel closer. It’s scarier and a great risk but the reward and feeling of connection is only possible with the risk.
To paraphrase that great avoider of relationships, Spider Man, “with great risk comes great love.”
If you would like to learn more about intimacy, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org