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Developing Intimacy and improving Relational Health

For those of us who grew up in homes where we could not develop a healthy sense of closeness, we may find that we struggle in feeling close and safe in relationships. This original wound may be further magnified when we go out into the world, not sure how to protect ourselves from danger in a way that also allows safe people in. It is not always easy to develop a healthy sense of #boundaries if we did not have a healthy caregiver, family of origin, or a world/society to guide us on how to do that. If you are wanting to develop #intimacy in relationships, there are some key things you should know about the process.

  1. Developing intimacy is not an instant or quick process. While you can instantly feel connected to someone, there is no such thing as instant closeness. Establishing safety and closeness takes time and skill, especially for those who are recovering from childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma. Intimacy means that we are aware of and able to manage our own triggers and uncomfortable feelings, are in tune with our needs, feel safe, can reach out for support as needed, can communicate with others with care, can pick our battles, can re-evaluate boundaries in an ongoing fashion, and that we can advocate for our needs and preferences while also being able to negotiate with others. As you can see, there are so many skills that help us feel closer to others and it is a lot of work. If you expect instant intimacy, you might find that you end up getting the opposite of what you are seeking.

  2. Developing intimacy is a collaborative process. It is hard to be collaborative with another person if you are not sure what your own needs are. For those of us who grew up in dysfunctional or abusive homes as well as those of us who navigate dysfunctional, abusive, and hierarchical societies, we may not know what our limits are. Or we may know but we may not been encouraged to express them. We may experience negative reactions from others when we do stand up for ourselves. While others can help us on our healing journey, the true journey is within ourselves and it is a long journey. If you are able to identify and advocate for your needs but have not developed the ability to slow down and check in with others, you might find that while you desperately seek closeness and safety, you are not being able to achieve it because you are in self-protection mode and not able to see the needs of others due to it. It’s okay to be in self- protection mode. It’s okay to focus on yourself until you are feeling safe enough to try to connect to others. Not all connections have to be deep and intense.

  3. Both parties must have accountability. You must have personal responsibility over what feelings belong to you versus what feelings belong to other people. For survivors of childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma, we may have a hard time identifying and establishing emotional boundaries because we did not get them modeled to us growing up. Developing intimacy is a dance between your needs and the needs of others and that takes discernment and practice.

  4. Intimacy requires strong boundaries. Boundaries protect you and they protect the people that you love. It is not always easy to be firm with others, but sometimes it is all we can do to be clear and send a message as to what we need or how the behavior of others is impacting us. Though we can always convey to others what our triggers are, in the end, no one else is responsible for protecting us but ourselves (This applies to safe and healthy relationships, of course. Sometimes we are stuck in a bad situation due to power dynamics out of our control and we just have to do our best to be safe and survive.) It’s a huge responsibility but it is also so empowering to know that we may be able to achieve safety and healing and be on our way to developing safe and authentic connections…. In time, of course!

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