In the last month or so of therapy, I have come to identify one of my central struggles. I must have had a blind spot to not realise that this issue defines how I relate to others and see myself.
I fear intimacy.
Those three words seem alien on the screen. After all, I value my family and large circle of friends. I actively seek out friendships and human contact. How could I possibly fear intimacy if I am anxious to maintain closeness to others?
Well, it’s something I am trying to make sense of, with the help of DS (my therapist Deep Soul). There wasn’t a lightning bolt moment as such but, like a detective, I pieced together “here-and-now” therapy moments to come to this conclusion. DS hasn’t disagreed with my finding.
It would explain all the anxiety I have whenever we’re alone in the room. I reckon that if you had to look up intimate in the dictionary, this situation would feature in the top five! How often do we have an active other who is fully present for us? There is nowhere to run when I am on the couch and he is sitting in front of me. It’s like I can’t handle the closeness, even though consciously I love being able to vent and have him listen and interpret. What am I so scared of? Or why I am scared?
I told DS that I think it’s because I’ve either had a limited experience of happy intimate relationships in my formative years or that I have never had a true intimate relationship at all, even if I’ve been under the illusion that it was intimate. Basically, I am working with a wonky model or map of how relationships are supposed to be. Relationships with my parents were based on compliance, authority and respect. I have a heart full of empathy for why they were that way and that this doesn’t make them bad people. But it does leave me with confusion and pain in relating to others on a deeper level at times. I don’t have strong, formative memories of being able to completely trust someone and be loved for who I am, not what I do or say.
In my heart, I know that intimacy is about being vulnerable and also feeling safe enough to assert views and personality to another. I believe intimacy is based on two people being authentic at any given moment. What makes this confusing in therapy is that DS gets to sit in his authoritative chair waiting for me to open up and speak. The imbalance terrifies me. The blank slate position triggers all sorts of feelings:
– Shame at not being “worthy enough” for someone to open up to me about who they really are and their own weaknesses
– Terror at having to give some or all of myself without reassurance or reciprocation
– Loneliness of the therapy relationship in terms of its one-sideness
– Sadness at feeling like I need to give up on my spontaneity in order to not break certain boundaries in therapy
– Confusion and anger at this catch-22 situation
In our session on Monday, it emerged that I seem to be afraid of enjoying the intimacy of a relationship without feeling loss at the same time. This was after I mentioned that it’s difficult to enjoy the caring moments between us because I know that I will have to eventually give up the relationship. He then asked about the feelings of loss I might have in relation to therapy ending at some point.
The question was innocent enough but I interpreted it as DS telling me I need to just accept there will be an end and more frightening, that it’s something he’s been thinking about a lot.
Don’t take a pill and don’t phone me in the morning…
After the session, I had the impulse to e-mail him and say I was taking a month’s break to escape from the confusion and hurt. It was also a passive form of “punishing” him. I decided to wait and see how I felt the next morning. I’ve been doing a dedicated mindfulness programme for two weeks and when I woke up the following day, I was mindful that the impulse was based on my fear of intimacy i.e. Let’s run away before things can get really hectic between us! I realised I would only be punishing myself and would feel very sad if I couldn’t go to therapy every week.
At this point, I accept that I will need to continue with the journey. At the same time, I have never felt more vulnerable. Wherever this leads, it feels like I have uncovered something important about myself.
Should I go against all my fears and send DS a message this week, letting him know that I became mindful of wanting to escape and that I am feeling vulnerable at the moment? This would prepare him for what to expect at our next session. I also feel alone and really need to feel like he’s there for me.
Or should I wait and raise it next Monday? Is part of therapy learning to bear this pain alone?
**Penny Siopis. 2010. Little Flame. Ink and glue on canvas.