What is the first emotion you experience when you hear the word, “intimacy”? How comfortable are you when attempting to build intimacy with another person, family, or any kind of group?
If you’re like most of us, the emotion is surprisingly confusing, loaded, and falls somewhere within the purgatory of emotions that should feel good, but somehow don’t. So if you think this word should evoke love in you, but find yourself experiencing fear, confusion, loneliness, shame, or guilt instead, well, you’re not alone.
Because words are the building blocks of conversation, and conversations are the building blocks of my work with clients, I’ve always got my head in the dictionary. I want to know what a word means to Webster, which then gives me a base to understand what each of us has made that certain word mean to ourselves. Curiously, I never wanted to read the dictionary definition of intimacy. And I think that’s because I truly believe words can’t adequately describe this extraordinarily important “state”.
Let me explain.
Anyone who knows me well, will agree that by nature, I’m somewhat of a loner and an introvert – not the first personality type that comes to mind when we think of someone who can be intimate. But this thought is built on the belief that intimacy is a personality trait; an ability we are born with, that we can finetune through practice – like Michael Jordan and basketball.
When I look back at my life, I realize that even as a 4-year-old, I absolutely hated my birthday parties, did not want to share my toys, and didn’t understand why I had to talk or even share space with people I didn’t ask to be around. Now, before you decide I’m some kind of “pathological people hater”, please stop and reflect on what it is I do. I am deeply intimate with people – 5-6 days a week, for at least 8 hours per day.
I am in the business of building deep, authentic, and impactful relationships. The fact that my clients pay for the Coaching that takes place between us, is irrelevant. I’ve learned to create intimacy (if I choose to) in every single conversation, regardless of its context.
So many of us first hear of this word in the context of sex, and most horrifyingly in the therapist’s office. That dreaded diagnosis, “fear of intimacy” can feel like something is deeply wrong with us, leading to life-long shame. It’s easy to blame it on our partner, but it’s not always true, and more insidiously, blaming causes us to give up our own power and ability to create and build intimacy.
You see, intimate is an emotion, but first, it has to be a result of some very conscious and mindful practices. Intimate is how we feel when we’ve done the work of building, honoring and fiercely protecting the space of intimacy. Although it’s a dance between 2 people, it only takes one to create it, and then everyone involved to honor, protect, and perpetuate it. You don’t have to be born the Michael Jordan of intimacy with some kind of extraordinary talent, to become a master at creating it.
All you need is a deep desire and a true commitment to doing the work. Here are the 4 steps I’ve found to be totally indispensable when attempting to create or build intimacy with another person, family, or any kind of group. It applies equally in the bedroom as in the boardroom, and in a personal as well as a professional conversation.
Remember, although sexual intimacy is built on the same following 4 practices, once we inject our own sense of appropriateness, these steps apply to all conversations, even with a child.
Here’re 4 steps to build intimacy:
1. Cultivate Radical Acceptance
This is an inside job for all of us, and has nothing to do with the other person. And it begins with building tolerance for our own unique selves, but only 100% of the time! If you’re not willing to do this work, however long it takes, please don’t even attempt the other 3 steps.