How Can I Have More Emotional Intimacy?

How Can I Have More Emotional Intimacy?

Intimacy is a hot topic these days. Gone are the times when we used to think “intimacy” was just about our sex lives. This limited definition really short changed our ability to understand how we bond, connect and share with others.

So what is intimacy? Intimacy is the ability to communicate to others who we are – what we think, feel, want and need. A therapist friend of mine teaches her clients to break down the word “intimacy” into the phrase “Into Me See” (say it aloud and you’ll see how the word Intimacy and the phrase “Into Me See” sound so similar!). It’s an easy way to remember that intimacy is about letting others see the things that exist inside you: thoughts, feelings, wants and needs.

WHAT IS EMOTIONAL INTIMACY?

Emotional intimacy refers specifically to sharing the ‘feelings’ part of who you are. Practicing emotional intimacy can range from sharing everyday frustrations to more private, tender experiences like telling someone you love them or that they’ve hurt you. Sharing that you’ve been feeling depressed or are struggling with anxiety can be a very intimate thing to express. Emotional intimacy is impacted by the relationship in which it’s being practiced. It’s also affected by your life experiences, such as emotional trauma, abuse and stress.

HOW IS EMOTIONAL INTIMACY CREATED?

Everyone has different needs when it comes to experiencing emotional intimacy. Your needs are a reflection of who you are as a person and the life you’ve lived. Oftentimes we learn how to be emotionally vulnerable from the adults in our life. Did they show emotion and manage it with appropriate boundaries? Or did they blame and shame, burden others, use alcohol or shut down when they were stressed?

Let’s consider a few other examples. If you grew up in an environment where you were respected, kept safe and your privacy was honored it may be easy for you to share openly with others. But if you grew up in an environment where there was abuse or neglect, where you were not given privacy or autonomy or where you were told to “suck it up” and be pleasant… You can imagine it might be more difficult to practice greater intimacy. Further, other experiences such as betrayal trauma can affect our willingness or ability to share with others.

HOW IS EMOTIONAL INTIMACY CREATED?

Everyone has different needs when it comes to experiencing emotional intimacy. Your needs are a reflection of who you are as a person and the life you’ve lived. Oftentimes we learn how to be emotionally vulnerable from the adults in our life. Did they show emotion and manage it with appropriate boundaries? Or did they blame and shame, burden others, use alcohol or shut down when they were stressed?

Let’s consider a few other examples. If you grew up in an environment where you were respected, kept safe and your privacy was honored it may be easy for you to share openly with others. But if you grew up in an environment where there was abuse or neglect, where you were not given privacy or autonomy or where you were told to “suck it up” and be pleasant… You can imagine it might be more difficult to practice greater intimacy. Further, other experiences such as betrayal trauma can affect our willingness or ability to share with others.

HOW CAN YOU HAVE MORE EMOTIONAL INTIMACY?

Are you starting to think about what life experiences have shaped your ability to share your emotions? If so, you might also be wondering how you can have more emotional intimacy. This is not something you want to leap into without thinking first. Doing so can result in sharing inappropriately or possibly overwhelming someone who was not ready to receive your emotional vulnerability.

Your first step is to establish safety. Here are some statements from the Emotional Intimacy Scale (designed by V. Sinclair, S. Dowdy). You can reflect upon these statement to explore if you feel safe enough to be emotionally intimate with a person:

  • This person completely accepts me as I am
  • I can openly share my deepest thoughts and feelings with this person
  • This person cares deeply for me
  • This person would willingly help me in any way
  • My thoughts and feelings are understood and affirmed by this person

Typically, the more statements you can answer “YES” to, the safer you’ll feel. If you cannot answer these statements with a confident “YES!” then you’ll want to carefully consider the following exercises for greater emotional intimacy. In fact, these following exercises are recommended for even the safest of topics and relationships.

EXERCISES FOR EMOTIONAL INTIMACY: SAFETY, BOUNDARIES, PACING

Now that you’ve assessed how safe you feel you can complete some exercises to prime you for mindful emotional intimacy. First, based on how safe you feel with this person you can decide if you want to share with them, about what and how much. If you answered YES to all the questions you might feel comfortable sharing your whole life story! If you could not answer YES to any of the questions, you might decide not to share anything at all. Believe it not, not sharing anything is the appropriate amount of intimacy for someone who does not accept you, care for you, help you or affirm you.

The second exercise for emotional intimacy is to set your external boundaries. External boundaries encourage you to consider your environment. For example, as a mom of two toddlers I know that the best time for heartfelt conversations is after the kids go to bed but before my partner and I are too tired. I know that starting an intimate conversation just before toddlers’ bedtime is sure to backfire and end poorly.

Here are some external boundaries to consider:

  • Is this the best, most appropriate person to share with? (e.g. mom, doctor, partner, therapist)
  • When is the best time of day for this conversation? (e.g. morning, when we are sober)
  • Where is the best place for this conversation? (e.g. a coffee shop, privacy of a bedroom)
  • How can I meet my needs before sharing (e.g. make sure I’m fed, rested)
  • How can I meet my needs after sharing (e.g. leave the space, take a bath)

The final exercise is to pace yourself. This means that you can share as much or as little as you like. You can also stop sharing at any time, for any reason. For example, if you begin to feel too emotional or exposed, take a few measured inhales and exhales. Catch your breath and ground before continuing to share. If the sharing starts to feel inappropriate (e.g. if a child comes into the room) or off topic you can pump the breaks and refocus. You can also ask to continue the conversation at another time.

HOW TO PRACTICE EMOTIONAL INTIMACY

The truth is, emotional intimacy is a practice. It’s not something you learn once and just repeat the same way with everyone you meet, everywhere you go. How you are emotionally intimate will also be affected by feeling depressed (which can cause numbness and brain fog), struggling with anxiety (which can cause you to feel reactive or overwhelmed) and PTSD / trauma symptoms (which changes your experience of safety and emotional regulation). This is where counseling and therapy at Guided Wellness can be helpful.

Finding a therapist near you in St. George, UT doesn’t have to be difficult. Our team specializes in depression, anxiety and PTSD therapy. In addition, we want to support you in creating relationships that safe and honor your unique emotional needs. Knowing that you are deserving of safety and respect is often the first step in healing so that you can access your emotional intimacy. Then we work on developing boundaries that allow you to experience emotional intimacy in ways that feel empowering.

Could working with a PTSD therapist or depression and anxiety counselor be your next step? Are you in a new or existing relationship and want better emotional intimacy? Counseling can help. When you call for your free 15-minute phone consultation we’ll listen while you tell us a little about what has you interested in counseling. Then we’ll be able to better answer all your questions and give you information on scheduling and more so that you can decide for yourself the next step to a more confident Self and deeper, more meaningful relationships. We cannot wait to support you.

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