On Feelings, Closeness and Intimacy
"I've always kept my feelings under control. I didn't want to be a burden to anyone, especially not my partner and family"
"I'm really good at hiding my feelings. I know that no one ever really gets to know me well, but at least I'm keeping a safe distance"
"I simply can't afford to feel anything. It costs me too much. Feelings are always like an overwhelming wave to me. I'd rather be numb than drown in it"
Do you regularly find yourself saying similar things?
Some people pride themselves on how good they are in hiding feelings. Others use most of their life energy to control and numb-out emotions, which they experience as all-or-nothing: overwhelming, terrifying or unbearable. I have heard such statements and stories from my clients, both men and women. But after inviting them to pay attention to what they said, we slowly get to the heart of their struggles with closeness, intimacy and relationships in general.
Sadly, most of the clients that come to therapy have been hurt in previous relationships, whether it was as soon as they were born or happened later in life. They have learnt that closeness and sharing lead to pain. So they, very understandably, invented various coping strategies to manage painful feelings, as well as ways to convince themselves that what they do is good for them or others.
Most of these processes either happened so long ago that people identify with them and have grown to think that they are "just like that", or they could also be deeply buried within the traumatic memories with which it all originated. Some people may have even achieved their goal to avoid being so badly hurt again. But they also notice that something vital is missing in their relationships, or that they live under a heavy burden of depression and anxiety.
But the clients that I see want to be able to be close with others, to be intimately known, to feel OK with their feelings. Most of them intuitively know that the problems they have in relationships are connected to how they manage feelings which are difficult for them. And through therapy, which is itself a relationship of a kind, a client can come to the heart of their profound struggle.
For everyone this journey to the heart is truly different! Our emotional styles are as unique as our personalities. And although it seems that there are common stages and phases in therapy for all of us, how this journey unfolds depends on how you choose it to be. Go at your own pace. Be kind to yourself. Do not despise your coping strategies, they helped you to survive through the pain of previous relationships. You simply made the best decisions you could at a time. And now, if you would like to, you can make different choices.
You could allow yourself to start accepting your feelings as they are and learn ways of leading a fulfilling life with them. You could begin to loosen the grip of the anxiety when becoming emotionally intimate with someone. You could also learn how to trust your feelings with maturity, and to recognise who is safe for you to be intimate with and who is not. You would at last find yourself in true control to be on your own when you need it, and to be close with loved ones when it comforts you.