Defining Intimacy


Intimacy is a topic often left for quiet, private conversations. Most commonly we use the word when discussing sex, a subject still considered taboo in many circles. But what is intimacy, really?


Consider a moment in your life when you felt safe with another person. It doesn’t have to be in a sexual or romantic context. It could be in a deep conversation with a close friend. Most likely there was also an element of vulnerability. One or both of you were willing to let your guard down with the other. There was honesty and there was trust. These are intimate moments.


There are many different kinds of intimacy that tend to be overlooked. When we consider what they have in common, we look at honesty, vulnerability, safety, and trust. Here we’ll look at some often overlooked forms of intimacy.


Emotional intimacy. This could show up as a deep cry with a friend, or a big belly laugh. The sharing of emotion can be difficult for many, but can bring two people or a group together. Whether you’re part of a group of people sharing grief at a funeral, or laughing with a friend over an embarrassing moment, the expression of emotion with others takes a certain level of willingness to trust and be vulnerable.


Creative intimacy. The act of creating something together is a rarely recognized form of intimacy. Musicians practicing and performing together must be willing to risk vulnerability by making mistakes. Trust is built between dancers creating performance art. Writers rely on the trust and honesty of one another for feedback. Each of these could be viewed as an act of intimacy.


Spiritual intimacy. Our spiritual and religious beliefs and relationships tend to be very personal and often very private. We need to have trusted mentors with whom we can discuss these thoughts and beliefs. These are conversations that require all of the components of intimacy. Praying together, singing together, and engaging in any kind of ritual together are intimate acts.


Intellectual intimacy. A good intellectually stimulating conversation is a great way to connect deeply with others. The open exchange of ideas and concepts requires each of the elements of intimacy and often leads to closer connections. Even if you don’t agree, coming to an agreement to disagree can foster intimacy.


Personal intimacy. Occasionally we create intimacy in the absence of another person when we use introspection to examine uncomfortable aspects of ourselves. It can feel very intimate to work through regrets, fears, or anger by taking a close look at the parts of us that feel injured.


These are only a few examples of ways intimacy can appear in our lives. It often surprises me how intimate small moments can feel. I find it in making eye contact with the person helping me bag my groceries. It’s in the relief I feel if someone kindly points out a stain on my shirt I hadn’t noticed before. It can be a simple text message between friends that says “Thinking about you.” As a therapist, most sessions with my clients have the potential for a deep intimacy unique to the therapy setting.


I encourage you to look for intimacy in your life. Where do you find it? Where is it missing? How can you challenge yourself to risk being vulnerable and create small moments of intimacy?

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