As a young woman, I associated the word ‘intimacy’ with the Intimate Apparel Department at my local department store which one would visit to buy lingerie, another euphemism for underwear and pyjamas. I later came to associate it with very private conversations or relationships between adults, whether they be friends or lovers, in public or behind closed doors or, as a teenager, perhaps in the back seat of a car. It has only been in more recent times that intimacy has taken on a more expansive meaning for me, embracing a great variety of feelings that I experience myself and with others.
At the Women in Livingness Workshop with Annette Baker and Gabrielle Caplice, I joined many women who had gathered to discuss why we are afraid of being truly intimate in all our relationships.
Our discussion revealed that many of us had not experienced true reflections of intimacy in our families of origin, and that before we could be truly intimate with others, it was necessary to learn to be truly intimate with the way we express ourselves.
There are many words that encompass the ingredients that lead to intimacy. Among them are openness, trust, honesty, vulnerability, fragility, preciousness, sensitivity, understanding, surrender, fun and playfulness to name a few. There are the qualities known to us all in our inner-most essence as well, such as; tenderness, harmlessness, joy, inspiring trust, seriousness, graciousness and the ability to bring simplicity.
Allowing these qualities to express through us brings a true transparency to showing another all that we are, with imperfections included but not as the forerunner. This is our intimacy - bringing depth to our relationships. When we take these qualities out into the world, we are offering the reflection of our naturally divine selves – being truly intimate.
So why do we find it so hard to let ourselves feel our delicateness, sensitivity and the vulnerability that are key to intimacy and share it with others? Is it possible that life has taught us that exposing our sensitivity is a weakness and leaves us open to being hurt? And that this in turn has lead us to adopt a variety of roles, so we become expert at adapting to situations as required rather than revealing our true selves?
This was certainly my truth. Instead of allowing myself to feel vulnerable, I would either react to or contract from an exchange, thus denying myself the chance to feel and express my sensitivity in the relationship.
Yet in reality, sensitivity is simply our response to what is going on around us in life. Situations might cause us to feel vulnerable and exposed, but if we can observe this honestly and accept what we feel, we do not have to choose protection, which only damages our body by hardening it… which in turn affects our health.
Instead, we can build strength, which develops the trust in ourselves that allows us to take this new-found intimacy out into the world – which in turn allows us to establish trust in our relationships with others. And who amongst us does not want to feel safe in their interactions with our friends or family, and they with us?
Is it so difficult to let ourselves feel the vulnerability that is in intimacy?
In extreme cases, many people walk through life wary of being hurt again and will often consciously avoid interacting with strangers; they’ve experienced the cold shoulder too many times and no longer trust that relationships can have an ease and grace instead of being fraught with tension. Just as our body has to open outwardly, it must first open inwardly in order to bring depth to our relationships. We have to expose our tenderness first, irrespective of what we get back. As Annette and Gabe shared, we cannot always expect proof of love.
But intimacy is not only sharing love, it’s also about having tough conversations around the issues that often challenge our relationships. Can I be honest and vulnerable with my children for hurts I may have been responsible for? Could I admit these mistakes with humility and apologise? Equally, many of us do not know how to talk about issues relating to physical intimacy. By finding it too confronting, we fail to address issues, which eventually disconnects and hardens us, leaving us sharing an arrangement rather than a truly vital, loving relationship. Often it is easier to mull over our concerns with a close friend or practitioner, but the reality is it is preferable to be confronting from our intimacy rather than from our frustration.
It’s necessary to be vulnerable and sensitive in order to have the meaningful exchanges that will grow intimacy in our relationships. When I consider how I feel after missing an opportunity to express from my intimacy, my self-worth plummets and I am left with the guilt and sadness of not living the qualities locked inside me.
So, what are these qualities which are part of my essence that I am avoiding living? They’re not the need to be seen as perfect, or the protection of silence; neither are they neediness or fear of rejection. In addition to those mentioned earlier, could they also include self-acceptance, being observant, paying attention to detail, being honest, consistent and trusting?
Communicating from my sensitivity and vulnerability is becoming a number one priority in my relationships now. I know and trust the true intimacy I am developing will enable me to experience the golden moments that can result from having awkward conversations, bringing relief and freedom in my body as it banishes the hurts, resentment and frustration that stem from not trusting my wisdom to express. I am learning that openness helps avoid misunderstandings in communication, and to not have any attachment to outcomes from these interactions as they only expose my neediness to be acknowledged.
Intimacy, it seems, is beautifully self-perpetuating. The more I develop it in myself, and the more I develop trust in myself and others, the deeper and more real my relationships become.