In her new book The Anatomy of Loneliness, Teal Swan discusses how loneliness is reaching endemic proportions in our society and that now, more than ever we need to find a way to connect. In this excerpt, Teal writes about avoiding intimacy and how to create it…
Some people are absolutely terrified of intimacy. As a result, they avoid it, often without even realizing that they are doing so. They are terrified that intimacy is going to lead to something that feels bad. For example, we might be terrified that if we let someone really see the truth of us, they won’t tolerate or accept it. If they know the truth of us, they may use it as leverage to control us or use it against us later. If they know our weaknesses or vulnerabilities, they can capitalize on them to our detriment and conversely for their own best interest.
If they give us closeness, we may feel like we are obligated to make them happy in return, which is a kind of indebtedness and we stand to lose our freedom as a result. If they find out things about us that they might judge as bad or wrong, then they might increase our shame, abandon us or reject us. If we let them in, they might find a way to engulf us completely so that we don’t even have ourselves at all and, worse yet, if they leave we will be left with nothing.
Here’s another way to approach this. I suggest spending some time imagining being completely close to someone and having no distance between the two of you. Imagine that person being able to see, feel, hear, understand you and be permanently linked to you. At first you may feel a very deep imprint of fear arise when you try to imagine this and there is a good reason for that. It’s based on a childhood response where we were told that our feelings, thoughts and desires would not be tolerated. This section will help you start to understand and overcome this fear, but first it’s necessary to understand where it came from.
When a child is born, it’s born with a natural compulsion and instinct to be close to its parents. Intimacy comes naturally to us all. Being close to our parents is how we guarantee having our needs met and experiencing protection and comfort in times of distress. But how a parent responded to you dictated how safe closeness and intimacy was or wasn’t. If we have a fear of intimacy, our parents either dismissed our neediness and shamed us for it or used it against us.
As we have already discussed, in households like this, parents usually respond to feelings, thoughts or desires with intolerance and non-acceptance. The message that the child most often gets from this experience is that the way he or she feels, thinks or wants is invalid, shameful and in direct conflict with the parent’s feelings, thoughts and desires. As for us, since we were only children when this happened, instead of seeing how ridiculous this was, we decided that our parent must be right. The result was that they swallowed our own personal truth in the same way that a predator swallows its prey. And we let it happen. It was a strategy to keep us safe from conflict and avoid being abandoned. But nonetheless we felt engulfed. We lost ourselves.
In essence then our heart was broken long ago and never healed because we never found a way to resolve that pain and have a different experience relative to being seen, felt, heard and understood. We have no frame of reference as to what it feels like to have someone who can meet our needs in a consistently loving and warm way. Instead, we simply forged forward with a broken heart and, as a result of not even knowing what we needed in order to mend that heart, we entered into scenarios where we experienced more heartbreak. It does explain a lot. Closeness inevitably involves feelings of vulnerability because the person who fears intimacy has learned to cope with their own feelings with avoidance. This naturally leads to suppressing needs, feelings and desires, as well as avoiding anything that would induce these feelings. Thus, closeness is to be avoided at all costs, even though closeness is our most suppressed need.
And, unfortunately, we cannot dismiss our own needs, feelings and desires without doing the same to other people. We don’t want to see, feel or deeply understand someone because that would bring up deep feelings of unfairness that we must accept, tolerate and take care of someone else is but that we won’t receive the same treatment in return … just like in childhood. If you struggle with intimacy, realize that you tend to repeat what was done to you as a child in your relationships. Recognize the way you meet other people’s wants, needs, feelings, thoughts and desires are with intolerance. If you can remember how painful that was, you can recognize what you needed instead and provide that experience to other people. Imagine that every time you are giving that to them, you are giving that to the child in you that had to suffer in that way and helping to create a world where that kind of pain no longer exists.
Intimacy is a brand-new thing
If you are afraid of intimacy or struggle with connection, one of the best ways to proceed is to first accept that you will be learning how to be intimate, close and connected with someone for the first time from scratch. Start by admitting that you have no idea how to have a good relationship and prioritize learning it from the ground up now. The truth is that you didn’t have role models for a good relationship, so how could you know how to do it? You don’t. Become OK with starting again and throwing your old paradigms away. This is similar to the moment that a scientist realizes his current theory is rubbish and he has to crumple it up and throw it in the trashcan. We have to be willing to do this and be open to entirely new ways of having a relationship.
If you fear intimacy, you need to discover the parts of you, your Inner Twins, who don’t want to be intimate with someone. These are the inner parts of you that were wounded by your parents when they refused to accept and tolerate your feelings, thoughts and desires. You also need to face he inner parts of yourself that you created in order to protect those hurt parts.
Once you find these parts, talk to them, understand them, feel them, see them and give them the intimacy that they didn’t receive when you were a child. From this space, those inner parts of you will tell you what you need to do and what they need other people to do in order for them to allow for intimacy and closeness to happen. Also, make a practice of noticing social cues. When you decided to shut people out because you felt you could never be acknowledged by them or be supported by them, there is a strong potential that you tuned other people out. You decided not to be attuned to them at all. This means you either ignore or dismiss subtle and not-so-subtle cues from other people all the time.
This can become a vicious cycle because it makes the world and intimacy more dangerous. When you don’t pick up on social cues and adjust your behavior accordingly, other people feel as if you don’t have their best interests at heart. They perceive you to be a heartless person who can’t be trusted. As a result, they decide to be in defense mode and not care about your best interest either. It becomes an antagonistic relationship, which is not safe to either party. However, the more you notice social cues and respond to them in a way that makes people feel safe near you, the more they will want to care-take your needs, your personal truth and your best interests. So throughout your day, in every social interaction, practice reading the emotions of others and check in with them about whether what you are perceiving is accurate or not. This is a kind of attunement, a concept I will be explaining in more detail further on in this section. If you fear intimacy, you have not been living authentically. Trying to be authentic around your parents is an intimate thing because trusting them with the truth of you had consequences. But notice the pain involved in living an authentic life. Anaïs Nin once wrote that, “The day came that the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to bloom.”
Have you reached that point yet? Has that day come? If so, commit to being authentic.
About Teal Swan
Author of The Anatomy of Loneliness: How to Find Your Way Back to Connection, Teal Swan was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico with a range of extrasensory abilities, including clairvoyance, clairsentience, and clairaudience. She is a survivor of severe childhood abuse. Today she uses her extrasensory gifts as well as her own harrowing life experience to inspire millions of people towards authenticity, freedom and joy. Her worldwide success as a modern spiritual leader has earned her the nickname “The Spiritual Catalyst.” She is the bestselling author of three books; The Sculptor in the Sky, Shadows Before Dawn and The Completion Process.