How to overcome intimacy issues in relationships

How to overcome intimacy issues

Most people think intimacy is only related to our sexual intimacies with partners. But your capacity for intimacy includes the closeness you feel in your conversations and connections with many others (i.e. friends, family).

I was curious to know if anyone noticed more intimacy in their lives since they started therapy so I asked my subscribers.

Your therapy and intimacy

Therapy Guru Avatar

Helen, New Jersey, USA

Never let anyone closer for fear . . . 

Absolutely! I notice an increase in intimacy. I have never let anyone closer than arms length for fear of being....hmmm? rejected, left out, left behind, left alone. I feel like my therapist allows me to practice intimacy skills with him, not consciously though- the limbic stuff. I call him my own personal "limbic regulator" (A GENERAL THEORY OF LOVE)

Somehow, through the relationship, I am more secure to let people know me. (all unconscious stuff- was not aware of this until I noticed results) For the first time I have 2 girlfriends that I share with. They are getting to know me and not running away- like I thought they would. Even more astounding- I am not running- I am letting them get to know me.

I am experiencing close friendships for the first time in my life. I wish I could tell you why or how it works, but I can't. I do know it is related to having a therapist who gets my stuff. I go through the ​transference stuff with him, and he just handles it. We have some...misattunements (if that is the word) but as long as I don't run away, and allow my self to stay with it- allow my self to feel it and move on, no matter how painful it is, (and It can be very painful at times) I seem to magically grow from the experience.

I won't lie- sometimes the work is very, very, hard, and when ​I am triggered, I just want to hide. Staying open to the process- which means trusting my therapist allows me to push past stuff. It is freeing in a way. It gives me more staying power in a relationship. I guess this is intimacy.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

I love your examples Helen and how you describe therapy. It's exactly what I see with clients and what I've seen through my own personal work.

It's marvelous eh, how as we become safer within ourselves, our world opens up!

One thing I noticed because of how far I've come, I appreciate so much more what others take for granted. It gives me a unique perspective on other possibilities for change. I imagine you might feel similarly Helen.

Thanks for your post,

Shrinklady


Therapy Guru Avatar

Kaycee, North Carolina, USA

Scared to share with my therapist

​Since I'm really only getting starting in therapy, I can't say that I've noticed an improvement. But, I have started to notice the *lack* of intimacy that I really wasn't aware of before. I realized recently that I thought that the missing intimacy in my relationships was just the way it was for me.


The way I think about it sometimes, as confusing as it might sound, is that my normal is normal until the abnormal becomes normal. 😛

Nonetheless, even though I am starting to recognize new things, I'm still so scared to share what I need to (and want to) with a therapist. The idea that I'll someday be able to have a close, intimate, and trusting relationship with anyone is pretty much impossible for me to imagine, so I often find it hard to put work into changing myself when so much of me doesn't even think that it's possible.

I am in-between therapists right now...as a college student, I am only allowed a certain amount of sessions from the campus counseling center (I had 10), and I wanted to have something longer term. I am also about to finish up a semester of group therapy.

The more time that goes by, the more trouble I'm having believing that someone, even a therapist, would be willing to work to get to know me, because various experiences have shown me that it is work. No matter how much I try to keep myself from giving in to this dominating, doubtful side of me, it's really hard when I slip more and more back into my "normal" roles with others, because it feels comfortable. Sort of.

How can I try to keep myself from giving up completely? I have made a few calls to therapists, and I have an appointment set up for a few weeks from now. But by that time, I don't know if I'm going to have enough willpower to force myself to get out of the car!

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Well I'm getting back to you a little later than a few weeks Kaycee, so I hope you had the strength to give therapy another try. You deserve to feel better and to make the kinds of changes you speak about. They are indeed very possible.

The feeling that you are "work" for a therapist is exactly the kind of issue good therapy is well suited for. You might be thinking these feelings are coming up as being only related to therapy. However, as you'll no doubt learn in the course of your work, our perceptions and feelings associated with our therapist and our view of therapy, often arise from our earliest connections with our parents. And as such, they require an equally safe relationship to change them. A therapeutic relationship with a good therapist offers that.

So I was pleased to hear that you're open for a longer course of therapy. Longer term therapy offers a depth of connection that the brain requires for the kind of change you're aiming for.

You see good longer term therapy offers a consistency, a knowingness that someone will be there for us and this trust in the relationship - as it builds - opens us for new possibilities. That's also how our capacity for intimacy increases. With each risk you take to share a little more, your brain is learning a new way to be. And you'll find this capacity is naturally transferable to your life.

If you have never experienced a trusting relationship before I can see that it'd be hard to imagine how you might feel. As a general rule, we humans have a hard time imagining different states...like imagining the sore muscles of a flu...it's hard to conjure up.

We're also biased to use the same brain pathways until new more regulated pathways or connections have been made. So I really get how the "normal" roles return for you and they feel more "comfortable". That is exactly how the brain is organized to behave...until it has a new and better experience.

So I wish you well Kaycee and best wishes on your therapeutic journey,

Take care,

Shrinklady


Therapy Guru Avatar

Jackie, UK

Taking myself seriously first time

I am still in therapy after leaving an abusive relationship almost 3 years ago. He conned me out of a lot of money and at 61 my chances of saving up what I have lost is very small.

I have spent over £2000 on therapy and its more valuable than having a house or all the other things I lost and most of all spending that amount of money on myself indicates to me that I am taking myself seriously for the 1st time in my life.

Its worth it - I feel better/more confident/ and more settled within myself than ever before.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

That's a wonderful testimonial for the healing power of therapy Jackie. I feel exactly the same way.

All the best,

Shrinklady


Therapy Guru Avatar

Kathy, Arkansas, USA

Always had trouble with intimacy

I have always had trouble with emotional intimacy---huge fear. I realized this week that my fear relates to how deeply I can be hurt when someone knows me deeply. I have been hurt over and over by my parents and people who were supposed to love me.

I have a wonderful therapist and I connect well with her but I find that because of my fear of intimacy, I have attempted to push her away. It's as if I am so afraid she is going to reject me just like so many others have that I want to reject her before she has the chance to reject me.

She tells me over and over that she is not going to reject me and she is great about being consistently loving and kind no matter how I have been towards her.

Why would I continue to push people away when intimacy is what I really want? How do I get past this point?

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hello Kathy, thanks for your question. I'm glad you posted it as I'm sure there are others who have experienced abandonment and rejection who will resonate with you.

Just so you know, as we start to feel connected with our therapist (or any significant other for that matter) it's inevitable that a "push pull" will arise when our fears get ignited. It's a normal reaction given the history you described.

First thing, I want to congratulate you. It sounds like you have gotten your work well underway. By raising the subject with your therapist you've brought the issue to the forefront. For some folks, getting to this point is half the work.

With each session Kathy, you are already learning how to tolerate intimacy (i.e. by feeling the warmth of your therapist) in the face of your fears. That's how we change our emotional reactions - through experience. And that's how you tease these two separate emotions apart.

You see, what is unfolding in your therapy is that you are uncoupling the fear from the feeling of connection. You no doubt learned to associate these two in your early life. For example, it's probably easy for you to imagine that when you started to feel the warm, comforting feelings of connection with a parent, something bad happened. If this occurred on a more frequent basis then the more your fears would become entrenched.

So, you see, to change our emotional reactions we need to experience a new one and one that is better. In time, you'll be able to transfer your growing capacity for intimacy into your relationships outside of therapy (maybe in a similar way as Helen described above).

You asked for a way to get past this. Yes, there are some things that can speed up the process.

The brain learns best through titration. In other words, I encourage you to feel the fear in small baby steps. Take time in your work to be present to the feeling of being connected with your therapist. That is, bring it into your discussion and take time to feel it through your body. When the fear arises, attend to it by finding ways to reduce it. However keep in mind, you need to reduce fear by using the right strategies.

Let me explain.

Fear resides in the reptilian parts of our brain. Language is a less useful means of calming it down. However, touch (e.g. like the feel of a warm blanket and a pillow on your lap) and imagery provide better lines of communication to those parts of the brain. For example, I often have clients imagine what would make them feel safer in the moment.

In time, you'll be able to settle into the feeling of being connected with your therapist for longer periods of time without your fears coming up.

You're embarking on a wonderful therapeutic journey Kathy, one that has the potential to open up numerous possibilities for your life.

I wish you all the best,

Shrinklady


Therapy Guru Avatar

Jeff

Want intimacy with my therapist.

​What about intimacy with my therapist? I want an inntimate relationship with my therapist but she does not. 


I think that she feels that that would be a boundary violation and that it would be too personal. I want to tell her how I feel when I think of her. I want to tell her that how nice it would be if she would let me lay my head on her lap and have her run her fingers through my hair, or how nice it would be if she would let me lay my head on her chest and hold me and kiss me on the forehead. I never experienced any of that as a child.


Is it wrong for me to feel this way? Is it wrong for me to express this to her?

I think she would freak out on me if I ever said any of this to her. What are your thoughts on this matter? Does this make me a bad person to feel this way? I don't feel any more intimately now that I've been in therapy for ten months. If anything, I feel worse about myself.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hi Jeff, it seems that you have allowed yourself to take the plunge into yearning for intimacy. This takes courage. However, as long as you're holding yourself back from expressing your longings more explicitly, it will make it more difficult for you to work through the feelings that are emerging.

It's in the working through, feeling the emotions as they arise where the healing takes place. When speaking these emotions and feeling heard you will hopefully know that you are cared for and not judged. This is a powerful way to learn about yourself.

(Just so you know Jeff, some therapists will rise to the occasion and others will drop the ball. You might find the comments from forum members about their transference experiences for more details.)

The feelings you're having do not make you a bad person. You are vulnerable and so fully human and that's a gift even if it feels painful.

When you are able to allow these feelings to emerge and be safely contained within the therapeutic relationship, deep healing takes place. You are opening yourself up to the possibility of a loving connection with another.

Eventually, you will be able to take this learning into new relationships outside of therapy. When emotional intimacy expands in our personal life, we've realized a therapeutic home run.

All the best,

Shrinklady


Therapy Guru Avatar

Sage, PA, USA

Intimacy is like a flow between two

​Suzanne, Yes I have noticed more intimacy in pretty much every aspect of my life. I think for me anyway...... intimacy is sort of a flow between two people. I don't think it has anything (or at least not everthing) to do with how much we care about or love someone.

​For me, intimacy has to do with how we are able to share of ourselves and in return recieve from others. When I was more depressed I simply could not give or recieve to the extent that I felt much intimacy. I felt........over loaded...... all the time. I simply did not have anything left to give and not much room to recieve.

​But having increased intimacy is really neat. It is not something one can subjectivly measure or see but it makes me feel so much more complete and alive.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

​Well put, Sage, that pretty much describes it for me too. I like your description of a "flow between two people" and feeling more "alive".

It is neat isn't it. I think many people don't realize that it's something within themselves that can actually grow.

​And yes, depression pretty well knocks the wind out of one's ability to be intimate. We're too tapped out. Intimacy requires energy and even though it may, at times, be a positive experience - it's too much when we're feeling "full". The nervous system has to reset itself first.

Thanks for your comment Sage,

Shrinklady


Therapy Guru Avatar

Marguerite, Michigan, USA

My friend says it's easier talking to me

Now this truly is amazing. My friend, who has known me for many years and knows me well, was the first to comment on how much easier it is talking to me. Now even I feel it too.

As she said, I am easily talking about things which she has always known anyway, things which I know she knows about, but about which I wouldn't dream of talking! Even basic things, like how I am really feeling if going through a low period.

Yes yes yes! Therapy really does appear to have changed this in me, and although I have been at it over a year and maybe longer, I feel as though I am just starting.

Something IS happening!

Suzanne, how does this happen when you don't know it is, when it just is happeneing enough for a close friend to say "Hey....you know what......?"

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Well that's an interesting question Marguerite and I'm so glad you asked!

The reason why we miss changes like this helps to explain why psychotherapy generally gets undervalued and overlooked by the general public.

Here's what we know about the brain: it's constantly adapting to its environment to optimize energy conservation. In other words, it is always attempting to bring us into a state of balance or homeostasis.

As you might know, we're all buzzing at a different rate (i.e. our activation level). This level is actually a range between how typically one responds to stress (how hyped up one gets) and one's capacity to feel relaxed.  Good therapy lowers this range so we're not buzzing so high.

We might notice how our activation changes from moment to moment. We're excited, tired, stressed or down all within a few hours.

However, the change in our level of activation - our range of activation -  changes less often. And when it does change, it does so in such a seamless way, it's hard to catch it  unless of course we're having an "aha" experience. Then it's a distinct shift in the body mind. That's the feeling we have when the "penny has dropped".

Even after an "aha" moment, the body mind soon makes an adjustment and in time even this feeling dissapates and we feel "as if we have always felt this way".

And because this process is so subtle, the benefits of therapy are rarely celebrated...which is why I wanted to develop this site!

One way that I've learned to compensate for this tendency in the brain is to track the changes with my clients. In time, they get used to looking out for changes so that they can appreciate how the work they're doing is showing up in their lives.

However, unless one is prompted to do so by the therapist (I only know to do this from my specific training in body psychotherapy), one can easily miss out on the day by day changes.

That's how psychotherapy works - it expands our life 

Thanks for your post Marguerite,

Shrinklady

P.S. I wrote a longer article on this subject in Tracking Your Progress that goes into a little more detail that you might also find interesting.

Marguerite, dropped back to send this:

Therapy Guru Avatar

Marguerite

Thank you for pointing out what you had written in "Tracking your Progress In Counselling". I thought I knew your website and all it contained....but I find I keep missing things! I'm new to the Internet, so it's not difficult I assure you :-))

Now it makes even more sense. Thanks Suzanne.

Marguerite


Therapy Guru Avatar

Emma, New Mexico, USA

I'm becoming more open, more real.

Desiring intimacy and feeling I could not get it, or not the quality or quantity I wanted, is a big part of why I am in counseling; you might say it was my presenting complaint. It has taken three years of work but I am seeing changes in my marriage, with my young adult children, and in my friendships.

I am beginning to realize that these changes are happening because I am changing. Thru counseling I am becoming more open, more real in being who I am instead of relating from a false self. From what I am learning I would say that the key to intimacy is being real and being open; together they are subtly creating significant change for me so that my relationships, most of them not bad to start with, are deepening and becoming more alive.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Thank-you for your encouraging words Emma. They're a great testimonial for therapy. It's wonderful to hear that your relationships are more real and alive.

Your words also echo my same experience...I love that I now can love more deeply than anytime in my life.

All the best on your journey and thanks for your post.

Shrinklady


Wanna a Cookie?

myShrink uses cookies to personalize content and ads to make this site easier for you to use. We also coordinate this information with trusted third parties for advertising & analytics.

>