Mental Health Matters: Learning to be Intimate

When I first met my husband, I didn’t want to hug or kiss in public, or private either…not really. Touching outside of sex was uncomfortable. I didn’t even want to hold hands. I remember when Dwight shared this detail with my aunt and uncle; they both replied with raised eyebrows and strange looks.

“I like to hold hands…in bed,” I clarified.

“In bed?” they both questioned in unison.

Their responses cued me that my behavior was out of the ordinary. I’ve since learned it wasn’t strange. It was just an intimacy issue.

At the root of intimacy is an idea of creating closeness. And according to every psychologist ever, how human beings create closeness is directly related to how they bond with their mother in infancy. Later, intimacy is reinforced by what is learned in the family: either too little or too much bonding can lead to intimacy problems in adulthood. Intimacy problems in adulthood can lead to unhealthy ways of creating intimacy, or in other words, codependency.

Whew.

Poor boundaries, people pleasing, and swooping in to help folks, even though they’d never asked each represented my desire for connection. If I let everyone in, did what others wanted, and superwomaned my way into others’ lives, then we’d be close, right?

Wrong.

I had to learn how to be intimate in appropriate ways.

My level of intimacy increased as I began to re-learn who I was and re-shape my identity according to my own likes and desires. Once I was less shameful about my background and proclivities and learned to love my whole self, I became comfortable with being me. These behaviors led to being intimate with myself, which helped me to naturally develop closeness with others. Hugging, kissing, and cuddling, which are a part of physical intimacy, were easier to offer and receive. However, other types of intimacy had to be strengthened.


Emotional Intimacy: After years of learned suppression, I had to figure out how to feel my way through experiences instead of ignoring them. First, I expressed different emotions with my husband. I stopped covering specific feelings, and instead moved through sadness or anger, by actually saying, “I’m sad because…” and then not remaining stuck in sorrow. Next, I practiced honoring my children’s feelings. For example, when one of my daughters didn’t do well on an exam, I asked her how she felt? I prompted her to attach words to her feelings to provide a safe space for being an emotional being.


Spiritual Intimacy: I’ve written about my non-Christian status on this blog once. It took a lot for me to share this belief. Living in the South (or America, in general) hasn’t made professing a non-Christian identity easy. But once I did, I was able to accept a part of me that I’d kept hidden for so long for fear of judgment. (For me, all roads lead back to identity work, apparently). Expressing my frustration with how the majority marginalizes non-Christians (in a safe space) served as a way for me to honor my own beliefs, which I’d hoped would lead to more relaxed conversations with friends and family. This is what spiritual intimacy is, and it’s an important part of every relationship. How can I connect with someone if we can’t discuss our beliefs in an open, respectful, and non-judgmental way?


Mental Intimacy: Because I like to engage in conversation, mental intimacy is something with which I thrive. Before Dwight and I married, we knew pretty much everything about one another. Questions like what is your deepest fear were commonplace during our first year of dating. Mental intimacy isn’t limited to a romantic relationship, though. In an effort to know others deeply, I ask my friends and family real questions. If they shirk answers or keep me at sarcasm-level responses, then I know our relationship isn’t going far. There is no judgment in this because we can’t always be as close as we want to be with others, plus boundaries are a thing. I’m simply saying that a non-authentic answer to an authentic question blocks connection and can stunt this type of intimacy.


Sooo, where are you in terms of creating close connections? Are you only intimate in romantic relationships? Only with friends and not family? Better at one of these than another? Let me know in the comments.

There are 4 Types of Intimacy does a great job of categorizing intimacy.

The Dance of Intimacy is good for a general understanding of intimacy.


141 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Learning to be Intimate

  1. What’s horrible is that I grew up in a normal childhood. My parents gave me a normal amount of love but I still turned out the way I am. I hate being touched and i hate intimacy. I cringe at very sweet and wholesome things that I shouldn’t cringe at and I feel like so awkward and weird and I feel like running away when someone shows emotions. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why I turned out this way.

    https://www.cnscenteraz.com

    Liked by 2 people

    1. On the one hand, it’s fascinating to me that you aren’t as intimate with family, but on the other hand, I understand. It’s common I guess because many times family is where we learn we cannot be intimate smh

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My family has always been emotionally (and physically) distant. Now it just seems weird to try to force it. Being close with a partner or friend is like starting fresh. No history or baggage to make it weird. Maybe…?

        Liked by 3 people

  2. This is so eye-opening to so many! I see this with clients too! Having to relearn yourself and think about things differently is never easy. Good for you! Investing in yourself is always beneficial!!

    Liked by 2 people

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