Intimacy isn’t just about having a romantic partner. It’s about our ability to connect with others. This means being ourselves around others and letting them accept us for who we are, then seeing and accepting others for who they are. It involves bonding with others through authentic, shared experiences.
Intimacy exists in all healthy relationships, to various levels, including our relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.
Evolutionary psychology would explain it like this. Other people, our ‘clan’, helped us survive longer. They meant more access to food by hunting together, and more protection against, say, invaders, by fighting together.
But here we are, no longer cavemen. Do we really need to form links with others?
According to research, yes. In fact human connection is now seen as the main ingredient for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
A 2020 study looking at over 100 ways to prevent depression found that social connection was the most important tool we have.
And it’s an ingredient for not just our mental and emotional health, but also our physical health.
Research now connects feeling connected to others to maintaining healthy weight, controlling our blood sugar, improved cancer survival, and less of a chance of dying from a heart attack, amongst other things.
Connecting easily with others is a skillset we can learn from the adults around us growing up. If they didn’t demonstrate it, then it can be something as adults we don’t do naturally. The good thing is we can learn it as adults, and there is no time limit to when we can start the process.
But there is a caveat. We need to have a sense of self to connect with others. If instead we are constantly changing to please those around us, because as a child we had to do so to get the attention we needed, or as we experienced a trauma and believed that our only worth was to please? Then we might first need to learn who we are.
Sometimes we really struggle to connect as we see ourselves, others, and the world in a way that is outside the norm. If this affects most areas of our lives and means we struggle daily, we can be diagnosed with a ‘personality disorder’.
Borderline personality disorder is perhaps the most common. It means our sense of self is too fluid, as are our emotions, and that we fear rejection more than anything. We are so caught up in our swinging emotions and our need to protect ourselves from rejection we tend to sabotage any intimacy before it can develop.
Don’t feel that you have a personality disorder, but just that relationships make you so anxious that you can’t get close to people?
Anxious attachment disorder happens when our caregivers when we were growing up were, through perhaps no fault of their own, unreliable. They were loving sometimes and shut off other times, or had mental health issues or an illness. Whatever the reason, we were left to develop a pleasing personality that meant we could gain as much attention and care as possible and survive.
But this meant constantly surveilling the adult’s mood and responses, living on eggshells, so to speak. As an adult we will still do this in relationships, which means we can't relax and connect. We need to recognise there is a problem and address it.
Connection is not the same thing as being around other people all the time. In fact you can be around people all the time and have no real intimacy or connection in your life.
And how much time you need to spend with others to feel connected is entirely individual. For example, people on a devoted spiritual path can live sequestered from society, and yet feel incredibly connected to all of humankind, which brings them great inner peace. Others spend a lot of time in nature and around animals, and feel connected to a greater whole in this way.
Some people are happy with only one or two friends, other people feel best when they have many. What matters is that you find a support system that works for you, and that means you feel connected to the greater whole of humanity.
Again, intimacy is not about being with people all the time, it's about feeling connected and like you belong here on the planet with the rest of humanity.
Spending time alone to clear our mind and become more at ease with ourselves is very healthy. And if we are naturally introverted and genuinely happy alone most of the time, then there is nothing wrong with that.
Always being alone because we have given up on ourselves and other people, are angry at the world, and rejecting reality, not so great. This means we are disconnected. In this case it would be a wise idea to reach out for help, to look at what is driving your belief you don't belong here, and to learn healthy relating skills.
Time to stop feeling so alone and start connecting? Therapy helps. Use our easy booking tool to find your perfect therapist now and start remembering you matter.