Intimacy can be defined as closeness or depth of connection. And from our earliest beginnings, we humans crave such connection. We crave it not only with people but also with other living things and nature as a whole. Most of us feel exhilarated when we commune with nature. And that’s because we’re inherently intimately connected to it.
Our need for intimate connection is boundless and runs deep. Unfortunately, we live in a world full of pain and disappointment. So, as much as we crave intimacy, many of us learn to fear it. We try to stay open. But painful experiences invite us to close. Along the way, we build defenses and devise strategies to avoid the heartache that can come with closeness. But that comes at a price. Our defenses themselves present barriers to intimacy. And this only further impairs our ability to experience love.
Fear of being hurt is not the only obstacle to intimacy. Some folks innately harbor traits that impair their capacity to intimately and lovingly connect. For example, there are individuals who have a diminished capacity for empathy. Such folks may well be able to observe what others feel. But they can’t really identify with those feelings. They can’t feel with or for others. They lack what some call heart. And because of that they’re capable of truly heartless behavior. They do damage to other hearts. And they do so without concern or remorse. (See: pp. 106-127 in Character Disturbance.)
The Will to Love
We live in a remarkably character impaired age. As a result, there are many wounded hearts out there. And in the face of wounding, especially in our relationships, it’s tempting to close our hearts. So, unfortunately, all too many relationships these days lack genuine intimacy. And as a result, those relationships necessarily also lack genuine love. This leaves people starving for what they need the most. And it tempts folks to look for the love they crave in too many wrong places.
Genuine, mature love is not a sentiment. And it’s not the same thing as desire. It’s certainly not the need that defines dependency. Rather, true love is free and positive regard. It’s wanting nothing but the best for another, and expecting nothing in return. In a truly loving relationship, each partner freely gives. Of course, the ultimate gift is the gift of self. And while each partner may rest in the faith that their gift will both honored and returned, that’s not why they give. They give because it’s good to do so. It’s good for them, and good for all. Genuine regard for another makes true intimacy possible.
Many belief systems urge us to love and to do so liberally. And some even command us to love. That makes love – real love – fundamental. And such love has power, too. It has the power to heal and the power to grow, create, and unite. What a gift! Too bad so few of us know such love. And perhaps that’s because our experiences with intimacy have been so painful.
As mentioned above, love has power. In fact, it’s the most powerful force there is. But genuine, mature love is not automatic. You have to cultivate the capacity. And to properly cultivate that capacity you have to start with yourself. You simply can’t love anyone or anything else well without properly loving yourself first.
There’s real power in healthy self-love. And in the coming weeks I’ll be talking more about it. The self-love i’m talking about is not the same as a narcissist’s vanity. That’s something different entirely. So, we’ll spend some time talking about what distinguishes healthy self-love from all of its cheaper substitutes. (See also the series beginning with: Cultivating Healthy Self-Worth.)