What Actually Is Intimacy?
It is a word that brings up desire, fear, hurt or confusion, there are generally no neutral responses to it.
If you look in the dictionary for the meaning of the word intimacy there are many more words given trying to explain it: a ‘close familiarity or friendship’, a cosy and private or relaxed atmosphere or ‘the intimacy between a husband and wife’. It’s a closeness, togetherness, attachment, connection, warmth, affection, warm feelings, love, affinity and understanding. Yet it is even much more than this…
Did you know there are at least 13 different types of intimacy?
The Different Levels of Intimacy:
- Intellectual Intimacy–
The sharing of mutual or even opposing ideas in an atmosphere of openness that brings a feeling of mutual appreciation, warmth and enjoyment.
- Practical Intimacy-
The sharing of physical tasks that requires co operation and brings a sense of solidarity, of being on the same team working towards a common goal, offering us sense of place and achievement.
- Physical Intimacy-
Sharing physical connection between our bodies. This can be as simple as sitting next to each other on the couch, holding hands, lying together with arms holding each other. It can involve active touch or complete stillness. It may or may not include genitals.
- Sensual Intimacy-
Sharing our bodies through touch with a desire to experience the sensations as they arise, without any attachment to an outcome, just being in the moment. It may or may not include our genitals.
- Sexual Intimacy-
Sharing our thoughts, desires and/or physical bodies, including genitals, usually with the intent to create sexual pleasure, and often though not always, orgasm.
- Enmeshed Intimacy-
Where we experience a sense of no separation between ourselves and the other person, their feelings and thoughts become our own and we cease to exist. We need the presence of the other to experience ourselves, similar to what we experienced, if we were lucky, in the first few months of life with our mother in an atmosphere of love and safety and where we all long to go back to. If we weren’t lucky enough to experience it at some level we’re always looking to do so. We can experience this in the early days of a new relationship, when we are so in love and open to each other it feels like there is a blissful sense of no separation. It can feel good to the one who is lost in the other but is generally uncomfortable for the one on the receiving end and is not healthy on a long term basis. As adults we need to move on from this childlike sense of intimacy and find ourselves more fully. We can also be intimately enmeshed with our beliefs, our family, our culture, community and society, unaware of how we give ourselves away to these parts of life.
- Isolated Intimacy-
A state where we are in fear of intimacy with ourselves or another. We minimize the amount we feel by focussing on our thoughts, by keeping busy and putting our attention on things outside of our inner reality. We trust rational knowledge and what we can see over the unknown realm of feelings and value being in control over connection with another. If we do feel we mostly feel loneliness.
- Personal Intimacy-
Sharing connection with ourselves where we listen to our own thoughts and feel our own bodies and feelings fully. We’re comfortable with our inner reality, our intuitive wisdom as well as our intellectual understandings. We experience a sense of wholeness or completeness in ourselves, separate to yet not apart from everyone or everything else, capable of empathy and compassion without losing ourselves. We start to take ownership of our own beliefs, values and responsibilities rather than remaining in enmeshment with those of others.
- Emotional & Heart Connected Intimacy-
Sharing our personal thoughts and feelings about ourselves, about who we each are and what we are experiencing, with empathy and compassion for both ourselves and our partners. The deeper we open our hearts the more fully we experience this kind of intimacy. This is where we start to see behind our masks and take chances of being fully seen in our naked humanity. It’s where we start to get messy, creating the cracks where the light gets in. Up until this stage we’ve been able to keep our cool exterior in place yet now our imperfections need to show. It is these very cracks that create the sense of deeper togetherness, with a feeling of connection and shared experience. Despite our illusions about intimacy this stage is not always pretty as we reveal ourselves and our Shadows come out to play. This is the stage of intimacy we love to hate! It is important to balance this kind of intimacy with intimacy with ourselves to be able to stay grounded in it.Our Hearts have a multitude of talents and is much more powerful than we give it credit for – it is a place of painful feelings, a place for healing our pain as well as a place of rest, love and inner safety. It is where our Ego self meets our Higher or Whole self, so it is both messy and a portal to Spirit.
- Energetic Intimacy: This is where we ‘sense’ or perceive where another person is at, beyond what we can logically see. We need to be very present with or aware of ourselves to sense another. We can exchange this through talking about our experience or we can take it a few steps further. Using our minds, breath and energy bodies we can create experiences of intimate energetic exchange and unity with another. Tantra is famous for these kinds of practices.
- Soul Intimacy: We experience this most commonly through eye gazing. Trite but true, the eyes really are the windows to our souls- our soul being the human part of us regarded as immaterial. Our eyes allow this inner reality to be glimpsed by another. It is a very vulnerable act to allow another to see us up this close and why you’ll find it is quite a precious gift to share with another. Even if it is just at the supermarket checkout- meeting the sales person directly in the eye with a clear hello or thankyou can make their day. Eye contact is a powerful yet increasingly rare commodity.
- Spiritual Intimacy-
A sense of being with another person, or with what we believe to be God or Spirit in a moment of timelessness and boundarylessness, where time and separateness cease to exist.Our sense of ourselves becomes pure awareness and feeling, ‘we’ still exist yet have a oneness with everything that is, including God or Spirit. In this heightened state we have no awareness of anything outside of the present moment, or of any personal needs. Spiritual intimacy is often experienced in sex, eye gazing, meditation, prayer and other religious experiences.
Where we go beyond the boundaries of who we think we are into the experience of being pure bliss and freedom, most commonly experienced through moments of deep heart openness, meditation and orgasm. Westill retain awareness of ourselves in the experience.
Where we go beyond our sense of having a personal Self and in fact the only way we know we have experienced it is when we come back and understand we’ve been ‘somewhere else’. It has a different quality to the nothingness to sleep and we feel ‘altered’ by the experience.
Each Level of Intimacy is powerful in its own right and one is not better or less than another. In fact they are most powerful in concert with other levels. It is helpful to understand how the different levels interact in our relating with another.
Sharing Intimacy at the level of our Ego self.
Intimacy Levels 1-7 are related to our Ego Self, our personality or who we think we are. This means we can exchange information, stories, laughs, pleasure, love and more from a place where we seek to be comfortable and generally remain in control. Problems are solved at an intellectual level of understanding and negotiation. These levels also contain aspects of the Shadow Self, the part of us that fear, fight, hide, manipulate and all the other delicious ways we can interact without much awareness.
Intimacy Levels 1-7 + 8-9 are the ones related to our Intimate Relationships.
In relating with another we can experience each of these levels of Intimacy, either separately or together. For example we can be connected Intellectually, Physically and Sexually with or without Emotional & Heart Connected Intimacy. We can connect Intellectually and Sexually through sharing a sexual fantasy with no physical connection. We can connect Emotionally and Intellectually without any physical or sexual connection. The more levels we combine the more Intimacy we experience.
When we become more aware and comfortable in Personal Intimacy we can trust ourselves and have the courage to experience Emotional Intimacy with others. Because both the risks AND the level of awareness is higher Emotional Intimacy it can seem scary and painful and we have a tendency to make it and ourselves wrong in it. We’re dancing between the Ego that wants to be in control, protected and safe vs the beginnings of our Whole Self or Higher Self that is comfortable being outside of control, attachment and expectation, finding safety from within. It is here we risk dropping our Ego masks and being seen for who we authentically are without collapsing.
Emotional & Heart Intimacy can be messy, that’s the very nature of it. It’s the crack where the light gets in. In this place it is OK to make mistakes, in fact taking risks and making mistakes is how we learn here rather than from a book. This path seems the most difficult in the beginning and most of us struggle here but once the skills are learned the benefits are profound and every step you take in its direction has rewards. Problems here can be addressed at multidimensional levels. It is a lifetime journey to get comfortable in Personal and Emotional Intimacy. Starting with Personal Intimacy is vital, then gentle and slowly more challenging areas of Emotional and Heart Connected Intimacy because afterall, isn’t sharing with others the biggest part of being human??
The Heart is a place of painful feelings, a place for healing our pain as well as a place of rest, love and inner safety. It is where our Ego self meets our Higher or Whole self, so it is both messy and a portal to Spirit.
Energetic and Soul Intimacy cross the line between human and what lies within our unseen places. We begin experiencing them from our humanness but they can take us beyond it. For example in Energetic Intimacy moving your energies together can bring a feeling of total immersion in each other even without physical contact. In eye gazing you can notice your pattern changing in their facial expressions- becoming a young child or someone ageless, or a feeling on oneness with them.
Intimacy Levels 10-12 are related to Spirit
Experiences of Egolessness are helpful in that they show us we are more than who we think we are and so make it easier to let go of attachment to our personality masks, to our fears and limitations. They are a place to visit for this reason, they’re not somewhere we need to permanently stay. We are here having a human experience and these experiences are tools for the journey rather than the journey itself.
Qualities required to experience more intimacy in your relationship:
- Understanding of the process
- Beginnings of Personal Intimacy
- Courage to practice engaging at different levels
- Trust in yourself
- A willingness to go first, if you’re the one seeking intimacy
- A willingness to be vulnerable and the understanding it is a pathway to connection
- Ability to discern appropriate levels of intimacy depending on the given situation
- An ability to self validate- to be ok with yourself even if the other person disagrees with you
- An ability to self soothe- to feel ok to meet your own needs if the other person is unable to meet you where you are at
- Empathy or compassion for the other if they are in a different place to you
Consider which Levels of Intimacy you currently engage in?
Which ones do you value most?
Which would you like to experience more of?
Would you be willing to start exploring intimacy with yourself?
Would you be willing to take small steps into greater Emotional Intimacy, despite its messiness?
If so, begin with these questions:
What happens when your partner gets really close – do you feel happy or uncomfortable?
What happens when they move away- do you feel relief or stressed, even rejected or abandoned?
Were you aware of/comfortable when your parents showed physical affection with each other?
Were you well nurtured and held as a baby?
What was intimacy like when you were growing up?
Did you all sit around the dinner table one big happy family?
Did everyone get a chance to be heard?
Was physical touch encouraged in a healthy way?
Were personal boundaries encouraged and respected?
Did you socialize together or do your own thing?
Were you enmeshed with one or both parents- not allowed to be an individual with your own separate thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, hobbies?
Or were you a surrogate spouse for one of them- bearing the brunt of their emotional needs and finding intimacy a burden?
How comfortable are you in eye contact with another?
Can you receive touch without it needing to be sexual?
Can you engage in emotional intimacy during sex? Do you prefer not to?
Can you engage in purely sensual play without needing it to become sexual?
Is meditation a part of your life? Would you be open to the possibility?
What does the idea of intimacy with God or Spirit bring up for you?
Each of these experiences will determine your ability to be comfortable with intimacy and what kind you now seek.
If you would like support in further exploring the different Levels contact Annette or Graeme here or Ph 1800 TANTRA