A Glimpse into Emotional Intimacy

By Paul Dunion | April 23, 2017

The typical reaction I get when I bring up the topic of intimacy is the assumption I’m referring to sex.  Usually, I’m not. But this common reaction is telling in regard to our understanding of Emotional Intimacy.  Has the culture insisted upon the notion of intimacy being about sex?  Has this limited our understanding of intimacy being reduced to sex?

Life partnerships as well as good friendships often run into some irreconcilable breakdown because we have not been taught how to support and grow Emotional Intimacy. However, neither this account of the topic nor any other perspective will penetrate the depth of mystery surrounding Emotional Intimacy.  The demystification I am about to offer is a cursory look at a profound expression of the human condition.  We will explore four perspectives of Emotional Intimacy: 1) Identifying emotional needs, 2) How to get them met, 3) What to do when they are not being met, 4) Working with the role of projections regarding getting emotional needs met.  Let’s begin by identifying some common emotional needs.


Identifying Emotional needs

Here is a list of some common emotional needs:

  • Receiving undivided attention and feeling seen (Eye contact)
  • Feeling heard, especially as it pertains to emotions
  • Feeling understood
  • Feeling accepted
  • Feeling encouraged
  • Feeling appreciated
  • Feeling loved
  • Feeling desired
  • Feeing greeted
  • Receiving nurturance – care in the preparation of food, bringing order and beauty to the living environment, receiving support when ill, being held,
  • Receiving affection in the way of hugging, kissing, caressing, playing, massaging, gentle touching, and cuddling.
  • Being sexual
  • Willing to interrupt “win-lose” and “right-wrong” dynamics when there is a breakdown in the relationship
  • Willing to acknowledge unmet needs
  • Willing to ask for what is needed
  • Willing to give the recipient of the request 3 viable options: “no”, “yes” or “ I want to negotiate”.
  • Feeing trusted as well as finding the other trustworthy.

The culture gives females more permission to actually have emotional needs.  However, when a girl discovers that her parents do not welcome her emotional needs, she runs the risk of repressing them.  She can easily become an adult feeling confused about her emotional needs. Males are acculturated to believe that real men do not have emotional needs, other than the needs to achieve and compete.  This can leave males severely handicapped in a romantic heterosexual relationship where the female is the only one entitled to have emotional needs. The male reduces the emotional connection to whether or not he is effectively meeting the female’s needs, rather than joining her with his own needs.  Males are often encouraged to translate all their emotional needs to sex, which can severely burden both the emotional and sexual elements of a relationship.


Getting Emotional Needs Met

Getting emotional needs met calls for being able to name the need as concretely as possible. For example, the need to feel more closeness might be translated into: feeling heard, being held ore feeling encouraged.  Even a need like “feeling encouraged” may need to be translated into encouraging language such as: “I really believe in you”, “I know you can do it”, “You’ve demonstrated that you are definitely up to the task”.

Once the need has been identified, it’s critical to make a clean and clear request in support of the need. Clean refers to eliminating any mention of negative past experiences regarding the need and no pessimistic forecasting of how it will go in the future, as well as no derogatory references about your partner’s ability to show up for the need. The description of the request being clear refers to the concreteness of the request. The more that the request can be a description of actual behavior, the more concrete it will be.

After a clean and clear request has been made, it is important to see if an agreement can be made in support of your need. If an agreement is in place, then it will be important to commit to a future conversation focused upon how effectively the need was met and generally how did it go for both people.


Dealing Effectively With an Unmet Need

Meeting our needs and the accompanying agreements are not supposed to always go well.  The key is to bring attention to an unmet Emotional Need without blaming or criticizing the person whom we want to support our need.  Another important consideration is to focus upon what we want to happen, rather than upon what is not occurring. An example might be: “I believe that I reminded you that it is important to me to feel greeted by you when you return home after work.” “A physical embrace accompanied by eye contact would go a long way toward meeting my need.” “I ‘m wondering if you would be willing to meet that need in the future?”  I recommend, letting the person know when you feel that they are meeting your need effectively, with an expression of appreciation.

The more competent we are in identifying and meeting our own Emotional Needs raises the likelihood that we can successfully meet the needs of others.  When we are unacquainted with our own Emotional Needs, it diminishes the likelihood that we will be able to understand another person’s need and know how to meet it.


Working With Projections

Strengthening an awareness of how Projections work in a relationship and what to do about them go a long way in support of emotional intimacy.  A Projection works similar to a film projector. We project a psychological image onto the person with whom we are in relationship.  The image we project onto the person is typically that of a parent or some original caregiver.  Also, the image typically possesses some psychological material that hurt us in childhood, such as need to shame, neglect or dominate us.  With the Projection in place, we begin to relate to the current person in our lives as if they are invested in harming us.  Rather than seeing this person as an ally, or a resource for meeting our Emotional Needs, we take on a defensive posture aimed at protecting us.  We can no longer accurately see the person with whom we are in current relationship.

How do we identify that we are projecting upon someone? There are several indicators.  We may experience repulsion in that person’s presence. We might be reacting with anger, disgust, or aggression in an atypical way.  We may begin to consciously avoid that person. We might find ourselves creating stories about the person’s depraved character, no longer allowing us to see what’s truly lovable about the person.  We might begin to physically or emotionally avoid the person.  There can also be a loss of gratitude for what that person brings to our lives.

Once we are aware that we are projecting upon someone we love, we can let him or her know it is challenging for us to see who he or she really is.  Even though the projective process has not been interrupted, we can commit to treating the person as kindly as we can.  The next step is to identify who is being projected onto the person. I strongly recommend taking the work of pulling the projections off your partner or friend by working with a good psychotherapist. The goal in the therapy needs to focus upon the historical figure who inflicted the hurt upon you. It will likely be important to explore the story of the hurt and allow yourself to grieve the losses that ensued.

There are significant challenges and immense benefits when we decide to become an apprentice of Emotional Intimacy.  We can only understand and are able to meet the emotional needs of another when we have that kind of relationship with our own needs. Hence, Emotional Intimacy calls us to the depths of ourselves.  Self-reflection must become a way of life, as well as holding compassion for what we find in our interior worlds.  In order to interrupt Projections we will need to explore how we may have been abused or neglected in childhood.  Therefore, we will likely come to know a level of healing previously not experienced. Our capacity to give and receive will inevitably strengthen.  A committed relationship devoted to Emotional Intimacy becomes a rich container for emotional and spiritual transformation.

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