The Challenges of Intimacy
By: Glenys Yaffe - B.A. (Hons) M.A., Clinical Psychology
THE CHALLENGES OF INTIMACY
• “It makes me feel too vulnerable”
• “I’m afraid of losing myself”
• “I don’t feel like I’m worthy of the love I want”
One of the challenges we encounter as we travel along our life path is that of intimate relationships. It is not
unusual for the wish for a loving relationship to be accompanied by a fear of getting close. The experience of
intimacy, whilst being deeply desirable, can also be simultaneously anxiety-provoking. This is understandable,
since intimacy is the “container” within which many of our unconscious fantasies, fears, anxieties and unresolved
past are acted out. It is the context in which our buttons are most likely to be pushed. It is the space within
which we want and need to feel most safe, yet, by its very nature, it is often where we feel most vulnerable. And,
of course, it is inevitable that there will be some degree of vulnerability when we open ourselves to loving and
caring for someone. There can never be a guarantee that the person we allow ourselves to cherish will always be
there, or that they will not hurt us. Intimacy and closeness mean opening our hearts to love, in a context that can
have no absolute certainty. Moreover, deep in our unconscious, our present day relationships are coloured by the
experiences of old relationships, in particular our earliest, consciously forgotten experience of intimacy as a totally
dependent child. Even where there has been “good enough mothering” in our earliest experience of intimacy, we
cannot escape the vulnerable feelings.
In addition, the complexity of our adult relationships is inevitably affected by how whole and psychologically
separate from others we have come to be, through our development, as we move from early childhood to our adult
years. The process of separation and individuation is a complex one, begun in our early years, but often still being
worked through as adults as we join our lives intimately with another person. Ideally, we can have care and
compassion for another person without taking the responsibility on board of fixing things for them, or getting too
caught up in their feelings; or conversely, expecting this of them. This is not always easy! To achieve this, we
need to have clear boundaries, knowing at a deep level: what “belongs” with us and what ‘belongs” with the other
person. We may sometimes find ourselves adapting to fit what we think will win approval or love. Unfortunately
this is often at a great cost: a negation of our own thoughts, feelings or desires.
The clarity of our own boundaries, or absence of such clarity, inevitably impacts on our experience of closeness.
It is no wonder, then, that a common question for many people contemplating or entering an intimate relationship
is: “Can I still hang on to being the person I am, or must I lose something of myself?” This is perhaps one of the
primary challenges of intimacy. Balancing the desirable goals of intimacy and autonomy, of closeness and
solitude, remains central to good close relationships.
These issues are central for so many people as they think of adjusting from the status of singledom to being part
of a couple. It is a challenging dilemma. An intimate relationship, to be maximally fulfilling, requires
wholeheartedness by two separate, whole individuals. Many years ago, I heard good intimacy metaphorically
described in terms of fried eggs that are joined, but with separate yolks. In a healthy relationship, then, there is
closeness and joining on the one hand, but the simultaneous maintenance of two whole, autonomous people who
relate at an intimate level.
Too often, closeness is confused with a boundary-less merging, in which each person blends imperceptibly with
the other – the “egg yolks” are runny, without a real defining psychological distinction between one and the other.
Whilst at a surface level this may feel good, and allay the anxiety many people have of isolation, or of their
existential aloneness, it is ultimately not fulfilling at a deeper level. At this depth, the price to be paid is a
compromise of self. One or both partners may ultimately experience a feeling of being taken over by the other, or
a feeling of having lost their “selfhood”. And indeed, this sadly does often occur – there is often an absence of a
real “knowing” of one’s self in such a situation. It has been rendered subservient, or negated, in the context of an
If we have experienced the dilemma – a conflict between the desire to join and become close with another on the
one hand, and an accompanying discomfort, and fear of the loss of our individual boundaries and autonomy on the
other - it is not surprising that intimacy can feel like a two-edged sword. The path to resolution is the building of
wholeness of each individual that is strongly enough established to stay firm in the rewarding but challenging
context of a deeply intimate relationship.
A good close relationship is an equal relationship. Ultimately, an intimate relationship cannot truly be rewarding if
one or both partners lose themselves, and negate their true thoughts, feelings and desires. For this can only
result in relating, often unconsciously, in ways that are not congruent with our real self – a self that we are bound
to become largely estranged from. But it is only through a good relationship with ourselves that we are able to
enjoy the potential of deep intimacy with another person.
Unless we know ourselves, and have a reasonable level of love for ourselves, we will be limited in our ability to fully
enjoy a loving relationship with another person. For the relationship then may be coloured by expectations, albeit
unconscious, that the other person provides us with what we cannot provide for ourselves: a deep-seated
conviction that we are lovable. Moreover, we render ourselves vulnerable if we are in fact dependent on something
extrinsic to ourselves for a belief in our value, for we are then slaves to others’ perceptions of us: we are tossed
from the heights of another’s belief we are worthwhile to the depths of despair when we are criticised or held in low
esteem. A stable sense of our worth can only be held when our relationship with ourselves is fundamentally
positive and we have a sense of our intrinsic value. And in the context of self-love we are most likely to find
fulfillment in our external relationships, and experience a healthy balance between wholeness and autonomy on
the one hand, and intimacy and closeness on the other.
GET READY FOR LOVE!
“THE RELATIONSHIP JOURNEY”
- A PRACTICAL & SPIRITUAL APPROACH TO FINDING LOVE
This workshop, run by Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist Glenys Yaffe, will consist of two Wednesday
evenings followed by a weekend, and will explore both the blocks that inhibit our relationship journey, and the four
key psychological and spiritual steps to finding fulfilling love.
ENQUIRIES: 0412 789176
SINGLE?...DISCOVER THE PATH TO LOVE
“THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES FOR SINGLES”
Discover the joy of expressing love and feeling truly loved in return. This one day workshop, based on the work of
Gary Chapman, will be led by Psychologist/Psychotherapist Glenys Yaffe on Saturday 1st October.
Phone: Glenys: 0412 789176 or Karen: 0413 225 186
Glenys Yaffe - B.A. (Hons)
M.A., Clinical Psychology, M.A.P.S.
Melbourne, Australia firstname.lastname@example.org