Are You Running Away From Intimacy?

January 25, 2007. Madrid, Spain. The writer Jose Saramago during the presentation of his new book in spanish 'Las pequenas memorias' In the image, the wife and translator of Saramago, Pilar del Rio, holds the hand of the writer.

People run from intimacy.  Most of us don’t realize we’re doing it, but in a very unconscious way we all run from it.  Intimacy is scary because it requires us to love other people unconditionally and in a way requiring us to disclose the very person we are without any masks or fronts.  Love means being vulnerable and sharing some of the most personal and “naked” elements of our being with another person.  Too often we associate intimacy with sexual behavior.  While sexual behaviors are most powerful when we share an intimate relationship with the person we make love to, intimacy does not require sexual relationships.  In fact, sex can be one of the many ways we avoid intimacy.

We learn to run away from intimacy over a lifetime of hurt.  From the moment we’re born we’re reaching out to other people and sometimes they reject us and hurt us.  Most of the time they do it without intending to but sometimes, because people are people, they do it intentionally.  When we’re old enough to seek deeper relationships, we draw on our past experiences and therefore we hesitate to become intimate with others because of this pattern of rejection and indifference that’s ingrained in our subconscious mind.  In short, we develop mechanisms to keep us from being intimate with others in order to protect ourselves from the pain that comes with rejection.

There are a multitude or ways people avoid intimacy.  Some choose pornography or emotionless sex.  Some choose to drink themselves to the point of numbness, never completely drunk or stoned, but just numb enough to avoid connecting with other people on a deeper level.  Some people will talk a great deal without intention or purpose avoiding deeper matters making their conversation hover at a very shallow level.  As a therapist, I spend a great deal of time helping people recognize much of what they do is merely a coping mechanism which allows them to avoid intimacy.  They need to be aware of this emotional escapism because the truth is we were created to be intimate with each other and when we don’t do that we suffer and struggle to flourish.  We thrive on deep intimate friendships and without them, we cannot function well.

An interesting facet of intimacy avoidance is frequently found in spiritual and religious people.  People will claim a type of spirituality that draws them into themselves and proclaim it as a sort of “gift” in which they come to know the divine in a more profound way.  They avoid people and intimate relationships so they can spend time dwelling in the presence of God.  These hyper spiritual people have forgotten that the greatest way to know and love God is in service to other people; by fostering intimate relationships with other people.  Even more disturbing are those religious people who use moral laws and codes to avoid spending time with people who had or are considering an abortion, dealing with same sex attraction, or going through a divorce.  Instead of being intimately involved with these people they stand at arm’s length from them and dictate laws and moral precepts.  This speaks more about our fear of intimacy with other people than our moral righteousness.

Intimacy continues to be something we avoid.  Through smartphones, Facebook, religion, spirituality, and the myriad of human vices available to us we find ways to run away from intimacy.  However, the most fulfilling experience you can have is to intimately connect with God through other people.  I am convinced you can tell how deeply spiritual a person is based on how they treat other people.  If you can’t make yourself vulnerable to the love of other people you’ll never know the love God desires to share with you.  Don’t run from intimacy through the many human vices available, just find a way to love someone unconditionally.  You may find God more profoundly in that experience than from sitting in a great ancient cathedral separated from other worshipers by the empty distance buffering you from them.

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