Intimacy versus Isolation: Relationship Building & Maintenance (Part 1)

*Please Click Here to read "Who Am I?" my previous blog post about Erikson's early childhood psychosocial stages of development to refresh your memory before further reading.*

In a previous blog post I wrote entitled, Who AM I, we discussed the necessity for development and growth as an individual.  In this past blog post, Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development were used as markers for age-appropriate goals in successful maturation into adulthood.  Many people can still be theoretically "stuck" in a childhood crisis like not knowing who they are as an individual (identity vs. role confusion) or even lacking self confidence to accomplish things for themselves (autonomy vs. shame) which have origins in various environmental/parental factors.  

At some point, however, people inevitably reach a point of attempting to develop intimacy (deep relationships including; love, friendships, sexual intimacy, marriage). Unfortunately, if we are still carrying over unresolved crises from our childhoods into our adult lives and relationships, there is a great potential for heartache and despair.  In this post, I would like to discuss how to achieve deep and meaningful relationships.

Check your baggage at the door

Yes, we all have some baggage.  Some have small carry-on's and others have the full matching set, complete with 360 degree rotating wheels! Regardless of the size, your baggage needs to get checked.  Most of us have gone through life or continue to go through life living each day under several shells of defense.  The shell you hide under might be labelled Projection or Denial or Repression, Displacement or even Regression (See chart below).  In psychology, all of these are what we call defense mechanisms and while they might shield you from some sort of emotional pain in the present, they will lead to a life of inauthenticity and ultimately, meaninglessness relationships.

Recognize when Your Baggage creates turbulence in your Relationships

What is that old saying again?  The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Now that you have admitted to yourself that you hide under the shells of certain defense mechanisms, you can begin to watch for when they rear their ugly little heads in your relationships.  

I once had a client who could do nothing wrong. She was repetitively late, promised things to people but did not deliver and would not take responsibility for anything she was called out on. Rationalization was her shell even though she would not accept the responsibility of labeling it as such.  In her eyes, she was a perfectionist, a super busy woman, always on the go.  In reality, she was not too great at prioritizing, scheduling, and committing to her responsibilities.  As a result, her friendships and dating life were suffering.  Her excuses were her drug and she was addicted.  

In therapy, I would say the majority of clients accept feedback from their therapist and whole heartedly invest on working on their selves by taking responsibility for their behaviors. However, sometimes there are clients who would prefer not to look in the mirror for fear that it would shatter their perception they have built of who they think they are (or really, what they want to be like).  This client was one of the latter in which we could talk about others around her but when it came to her doing work on herself, she would quickly find other "more important" things or other people to talk about.  

If you are willing to honestly look at your behavior and thought patterns, check your baggage, and then start to recognize it when it pops up in your relationships...then you are ready to grow.

you've tagged your bag, You Can Identify it When it Pops Up, Now What?

Now comes the "fun" part. You've been honest with yourself thus far in admitting to using some defense mechanisms, you can catch or prevent yourself from using them, and now its time to think.  Where and when did you start using these?  Was it recently?  All your life?  When you figure out the "when and where", it becomes much easier to spot the "how and why."

Eventually, my client who had been hiding under her shell of rationalization would come to terms with it after having several failed attempts at maintaining a steady intimate relationship.  She would later admit to having parents who would scrutinize her for minor mistakes at a young age and was able to see how this influenced her cycle of needing to feel perfect and needing to make excuses when she had fallen from perfection. She had pushed the memories of her strict childhood down so far, she almost forgot what started this behavior pattern in the first place. 

Coming to terms with not being perfect was a hell of a thing for her.  After all, she had been perfect her whole life, right?  When she was able to admit that she did not really have any true friends or a stable intimate relationship at the age of 32 and that her "go-to" shell of rationalization had acted as a wall in pushing people away, only then was she able to admit to being flawed. Her motivation to grow and seek intimacy was greater than her comfort of remaining in her shell and protecting her ego.  

Her motivation is what awakened her and your motivation is what will awaken you if you dare to go outside your shell.

       Love After Love 

        By, Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
SHiFT.your relationships <3