To continue this short series on sex, love and intimacy I wanted to offer some reasons why many people seem unable to inviting others into their intimate lives. In my pastoral counseling practice I listened to many frustrating situations concerning individuals and their significant others. Many of them did not feel “heard” when they expressed their deepest emotions and thoughts. It was as if they were confronting a blank wall of sound-absorbent material.
The greatest obstacle to intimacy with others is intimacy with self. Many children and adults who have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence toward a parent learn to dissociate themselves from the mind-blowing pain. They do so by objectifying their existence. They learn to view their lives from the outside, often with a lot of negative judgment. They place themselves under a microscope of analysis in order to determine what they are saying or doing wrong in the moment. They believe is that if they understand “their problem” they’ll be able to avoid further hurt.
This objectification of self has long-term damaging effects. Children will thus find roles to play in order to find acceptance in the family system or among peers. They negate their own personalities in favor of these roles which offer them convenient labels and predicable reactions and outcomes from others. Some of these roles are: the good one, the trouble-maker, the bully, the anxious one, the peace-keeper, the avoider, the controller, the hyper-achiever, the hyper-rational, the victim, the hyper-vigilant, etc.
When a person lives out of a role, whether or not self-imposed, and fears that stepping out of the role will result in personal harm, he ends up living in anxiety and forsakes his true identity. Intimacy with self is thus short-circuited. When someone does not know who he is at his core, he cannot then present his “self” to others or even to God, and thus cannot find the intimacy and love he may crave.
Most of us have trouble from time to time in opening ourselves to intimacy. What roles do you play that may be sabotaging intimacy in your life? Where is the fear sitting in your body that paralyzes you from letting go and trusting in yourself, trusting others, trusting even love? What are you missing out from as you stay locked in your role and not live in the freedom of life?
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