Intimacy Capacity Defines Character


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.

Real Power

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.)

7 thoughts on “Intimacy Capacity Defines Character

  1. In my experience, a narcissistic parent raises an emotional cripple. I know my own ability to relate on an intimate level is seriously impaired. But the desire for intimacy and closeness is certainly there, the idea brings a great deal of anxiety (try panic). But the difference between myself and my narc mother is that I have the capacity for the change and connectedness that I crave. The other difference, to me is obvious. That I want it.

    The other difference is that I have the capacity for empathy and compassion. That I had to learn these things from people outside my family makes me grateful for having had people in my life that taught me that I didn’t have to be the same way. I am grateful for my recovery that has helped me learn what my fears are and how to overcome them.

    1. I was raised in an alcoholic family and I can say the same here. I have a hard time connecting and relating with others, but it comes from fear and shame. But the desire is there and I will continue working on it probably until I leave this earth, progress not perfection as they say in al-anon.

    2. JC,
      My grandmother and grandfather taught me that as well. My parents were very selfish and abusive. I have 6 siblings and for some odd reason think it’s perfectly normal to be like mom and dad??? Yuck!
      Guess it goes without saying that after decades of trying to have a relationship with them all, I’ve given up. I found out they only want to hurt the one sister that has compassion for each of them in the hard things in life.
      I never really got much compassion though in return.

    3. I TOTALLY empathize and agree. It is taking me into my 50’s to finally grasp this and understand my deficits in relationships. I had narcissists in my family growing up. I watched an unhealthy relationship between my parents, which flowed over on to us kids. It only makes sense i was sent out into a world without skills to comprehend good relationships, only to end up in a relationship where I have struggled. I have wanted closeness. But, I was never up until now to understand or articulate that intimacy was the key factor of what is missing in my marriage. I know it is feudalistic to think my husband could ever become intimate on such a level. It isn’t in his nature. Nurturing isn’t his style. Being humble or empathetic isn’t who he is, unless he is out in public putting on airs. In private it has always been a relationship of absences. I now know better. Yet, I do not feel I am capable of creating a better relationship anywhere else with anyone else. I have a long road ahead. And life is at times extremely lonely. I appreciate those who are in my life. But, I keep others at a safe distance. I don’t trust myself for knowing if others are who they are or are they just more wolves in sheep’s clothing.
      Thank you for your honesty. I wish there was a forum where more people of narcissistic abuse could freely discuss with one another, to find our own strength and find our way out from our own internal closets of shame.

      1. DBO,
        I hear you on the loneliness. It seems this world outweighs the empaths with narcs by 10-90? It sucks being the one who cares when everyone else does not. I too feel I have not left for a myriad of reasons. Mostly it’s not that I’ve wasted my emotional sanity or investment but rather my financial investment is tied up in this relationship.
        If I could easily disengage I probably would have years ago. So much for the freedom in being self employed the past 32 yrs?
        I wish there was a forum for survivors to get together as well!!!
        I’ve tried some groups but many groups are not specifically for empathetic people, they also include the narcs. That has not worked for me.

  2. I have a hard time with people. I find myself constantly apologizing. When I have done nothing wrong.

    BUT. If you let these FCK uped creatures dictate your thinking THEN THEY HAVE WON.
    FCK EM

    There are some GOOD PEOPLE OUT THERE. Just trust your gut. We all have that inner voice just listen when it talks. That’s what I do. So far It works

    1. My gut tells me things that I sometimes don’t trust because other family members tell me its not so. Then I find out later my gut was right.

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