What is Intimacy for you, dear reader? Is it physical involvement, cuddles and such? Sexual involvement? Or being emotionally intimate? Does it imply familiarity and closeness, as in friendship? Or does it mean being familiar with a subject or topic? Can you be intimate with a total stranger, the housemaid or the taxi driver? Or even a colleague?
Does that sound weird to you? To understand the real meaning of Intimacy, it is useful to understand the meaning of Autonomy.
What is Autonomy of an individual?
Autonomy is defined in Transactional Analysis (T.A.) as being free from scripting or past prejudice, in order to respond appropriately, in the here and now, using all of your available resources. It is the function of the Adult ego state. (ref https://www.infinumgrowth.com/ta-concepts-ego-states/)
Autonomy includes three components –Spontaneity, Awareness and yes, Intimacy. (ref https://www.infinumgrowth.com/autonomy-transactional-analysis-bhagavad-gita/)
Therefore, you see why, as a student of T.A. and a champion of my own and others’ personal journeys to Selfhood, the idea of ‘intimacy’ has taken on a lot of significance for me. The word itself, the idea of what it is and the practice of “being” intimate; all have become quite important.
So, here’s my take on Intimacy!
My favourite working definition of Intimacy
The definition that I like best and which inspired the writing of this article, comes from a paper, written by Laura and Harry Boyd, in the Transactional Analysis Journal*. Intimacy, according to them, is a simultaneous and mutual set of transactions or interactions consisting of both Caring and Closeness.
It is two sided!
Laura and Harry Boyd say that love is not the same as Intimacy, because love may be a one sided affair – both people feel close, but caring may be non-reciprocal from one person to another; such as, between a parent and an infant. Both feel the closeness, but only the parent displays care. Intimacy involves mutuality and reciprocity, expressed through words and behaviour-doing and non-verbal signals such as smiling, nodding and so on.
I would also look at Care as giving respect and showing concern. Likewise, Closeness or Connection could be seen as authenticity and vulnerability. It can be a brief, one-off exchange or prolonged over time. By this definition of Intimacy, one can be intimate with anyone – even a stranger, the housemaid and the cab driver as well as loved ones, colleagues and friends.
Intimacy is a fundamental human need
My own image of Intimacy comes from an old Hindi phrase, “ghada bhar jana” – the pot becoming full. Intimacy, for me, is when my pot is full of wellbeing. That comes from caring deeply and being cared for in return; and the feeling of connectedness I feel with the other, in those moments. I’ve had this life affirming experience in all kinds of spaces and with all kinds of people.
I feel wellness in my body at such times. Everything is in balance and all’s right with the world. This puts Intimacy in the bracket of a peak human experience.
Intimacy is risky business
If Intimacy is a fundamental human need, why don’t we experience it more often? One of the requirements for being intimate is that we need to be ‘real’. We share our true feelings and thoughts; and display behaviour congruent to those feelings and thoughts. But this makes us vulnerable too.
Being vulnerable makes Intimacy a risky proposition. The stakes are high; the chances of being mis-understood, feelings not reciprocated or being outright rejected are real and scary. It therefore keeps most people away.
How does one cultivate Intimacy?
Effective communication skills help create the possibility of Intimacy! Not everyone will be ready; however, we increase the odds considerably in our favour when:
- We state clearly what we are thinking.
- Clearly ask for what we want or don’t want.
- Share how we feel without blaming or shaming another.
- Risk being vulnerable in safe spaces and practice self-care in emotionally unsafe spaces.
- Behave in ways that are congruent with how we feel and think.
Working on removing our scripting
We all learn coping behaviour as babies and children in order to survive. This forms our script or unconscious patterns of how we live our life. While these served us as children, as adults, they are often limiting. When we change the limiting aspects of our script, then we increase the possibility of Intimacy. There are many avenues to change scripting; but that’s a different topic for another day!
My wish for you is that you experience lots of intimacy through care and connection in your life!
*Reference : Laura W. Boyd and Harry S Boyd (1980) Caring and Intimacy as a Time Structure, Transactional Analysis Journal, 10.4, 281-283.
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