Real Intimacy versus Other-Dependent (or Other-Validated) Intimacy
The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. – Pema Chödrön
(The following is adapted and modified and riffed on from David Schnarch’s book, “Passionate Marriage,” chapter 4, “Intimacy Is Not for the Faint of Heart“—or Psyche)
For most people to be intimate and open psychologically and even sexually expressive and free with their partner, they have to know in advance that that they will be accepted and made to feel safe and comfortable—even comforted and soothed if needed. “I have to know in advance that you won’t reject me for what I’m saying.” This is not real intimacy but dependency; it lacks the courage and honesty of real intimacy; and because of that it leads to manipulation, bargaining, distortions, deception, lying, and extortion.
Real intimacy involves both self-disclosure and self-confronting. It hinges on our capacity for self-awareness, self-development, self-reflection, our ability to use complex language, to make self v. other distinctions, and to know who and what we really are and stand for. It requires the ability to think clearly, honestly, and courageously—which means it requires the ability to be objective about ourselves (as much as this is possible), to confront ourselves, to be deeply and radically honest with ourselves, and to be very aware of ourselves. —Which means it requires that we have a well-developed conscience.
All of these are processes and capacities that are part of the neocortex.
Thus, until the neocortex is developed sufficiently—or until we develop our neocortex sufficiently—we’re not eligible for or capable of real intimacy.
Real intimacy is not just a capacity or process of the limbic system; it’s not just driven by our need to connect emotionally with others. Rather, it’s driven by our need to connect meaningfully, substantially, deeply with another or others.
Emotional immaturity (low differentiation, an underdeveloped neocortex) encourages a particular view of intimacy and a way of life and interacting with others that actually blocks an awareness of others and then reinforces this blindness/lack of awareness. People whose neocortex is underdeveloped misunderstand “intimacy” and view it as involving acceptance, validation, reciprocity, and trusting one’s partner more than oneself, because these are all things that poorly differentiated people want if they are going to disclose important personal information.
This dependent “other-validated” intimacy sounds something like this: “I’ll tell you about myself, but only if and when you tell me about yourself first. If you don’t, I won’t either. But I really want to feel good and feel close to somebody, so if I open up a little about myself, then you have to too. I’ll go first, that way you’re obligated to disclose also—after all, fair’s fair. But if I’m to go first, you have to make me feel secure and create a safe space for me to tell you who I am and hold that space—you can’t reject me or later throw what I tell you back in my face; I have to be able to trust you. And if you do do all of this for me, there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually do it for you because I may not like what you have to tell me about yourself when you open up to me—I may like the fantasy I have about you (and all of the good things I’m projecting onto you) much more than the reality of you; so I still fully reserve the right to reject you.”
Real intimacy, on the other hand, is much much more courageous and daring. It hinges on our ability to courageously self-disclose, as well as our ability to courageously face and confront ourselves honestly and deeply and call ourselves on our own shite or weaknesses or issues, as well as our capacity to soothe our own hurts and negative emotions. Real intimacy sounds like this: “I love you. And that means that I don’t expect you to agree with me or to validate and reinforce and support me—you weren’t put on this earth to orbit around me and to pander to my insecurities and fears and anxieties and neuroticisms and my every little want. I want you to really love me; but you can’t really do that if you don’t deeply know me—or if you’re not capable of deeply knowing me (or any human being)—or if I shade the truth about who I am and what I’m really thinking and feeling and wanting. I don’t want to be rejected by you, in fact in many ways it may be easier for me to reject you first before you potentially reject me, but that’s a dishonest and cowardly way to live and to avoid dealing with my deeper fears and insecurities and issues. So instead I’d rather face the possibility of showing you who I really am and having you reject me for it than I would live a lie and be loved for someone I’m not by showing you only the familiar and easy to accept parts of myself. if I’m ever to be truly loved and accepted by you and feel secure in this relationship, it’s high time I bare myself to you and confront my own mortality and separateness. I want to know and be known by you. One day when we’re no longer on this earth, I want to know that you actually knew me and got me.”
Real intimacy hinges on our capacity to stand on our own emotionally and to support and soothe ourselves and validate ourselves (self-validate) rather than “trusting” our partner to make us feel safe and accepted (to create and hold a “safe space” open for us).
This latter common notion of intimacy panders to what I call “the tyranny of the weak.”
The “other-validated” or other-dependent intimacy prescribed by most marital therapies and therapists just gives poorly differentiated people a prescribed way to hold onto their low level of differentiation (emotional immaturity, low level of neocortical development) by prying validation and disclosures and acceptance and security and soothing out of their partners in the name of intimacy and having their “limitations” and immaturities honored and respected by having them catered to. A dependence on other-validated intimacy only reinforces dependencies and weaknesses in general and thus interferes with the development of the self-capacities necessary to support real intimacy and living and loving on life’s terms—self-capacities such as self-soothing, standing on your own emotionally, self-confronting, honest self-awareness, self-validating—all neocortical capacities which we must develop if we are to live and love on life’s terms and ever fully know and be known by another human being, and not end up simply having visited this world.
“Almond Trees in Full Bloom” – Rilke (written Dec 1912 – January 1913)
(Almond trees in full bloom—: The most we can achieve here is to know ourselves fully in our earthly appearance.)
I gaze at you in wonder, you blessed ones,
at your composure, —you who know
how to bear and delight in our transience;
your perfect demeanor in the face
of our vanishing beauty.
If only we knew how to blossom
we would race out beyond all lesser dangers
to be safe in that single great one.