The search for intimacy has reached new heights as more than 40 million lonely Americans used online dating services last year. The search for soul mates and other kinds of “perfect match” partners has caused an explosion of internet match services and social networking sites, showing just how many people are searching for intimacy and connection.
In spite of an increase in population, however, marriage rates are down. While people say they want intimacy, they also seem to fear and flee from it–people like John, Eric, Lindsey and Susan.
The Flight From Intimacy
John is a hard worker who puts in seventy hours a week and has frequent rage attacks when little things go wrong. Despite his high job performance, he has been passed over for promotion because of his poor relationship skills.
Eric is bright and seems to handle life easily. He is a sharp dresser and has a likeable personality. Inside he feels insecure and has low self-esteem. Divorced at the age of twenty-three, he is still looking for the perfect woman.
Lindsey always looks as if she stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. She is witty and fun-loving but is careful about letting people get too close because of her struggle with sexual intimacy.
Susan is preoccupied by her children’s activity schedules, fundraising for local charities, playing competitive tennis, and exercising at the club. She is so unavailable to her husband that he recently had an affair.
So, what causes these kinds of counter-dependent behaviors in adults? We believe it is trauma that prevents a person from becoming emotionally separated from his or her parents as toddlers, between the age of 9 months and 3 years. This process is also known as the “psychological birth” because it marks the psychological separation from the parents.
When this separation doesn’t get completed during the appropriate developmental window, it can cause addictions to “upper” substances and activities, recurring relationship conflicts, problems with closeness and intimacy, patterns of bullying or victimization, and a series of unsuccessful relationships.
Separation Trauma Becomes Adult Drama
In order for toddlers to “individuate,” or become separate individuals, they must learn how to tolerate the loss of their infantile illusion that they are the center of the world. And they have to learn how to control their feelings of infantile rage when others set limits for them or around them.
During this painful process, toddlers need not only the understanding support of their mothers, but also the empathic support of their fathers. Without the support of both parents, children’s individuation process will not be completed on schedule and will continue to cause relationship problems for them later in life.
People who do not go through this rage reduction process during their toddler years will likely express rage their adult relationships when some one or life circumstances impose limits on their behavior. As the defenses against the need for emotional intimacy become stronger over the course of a person’s lifetime, this behavior can turn into a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder.
The massive number of narcissistic adults in the world has become a global problem. Because so many people did not experience healthy narcissism and go through the developmental process of ego reduction, they continue to act like entitled, grandiose, euphoric, and omnipotent 2- and 3-year-olds. As adults, their temper tantrums emerge in child abuse, domestic violence, wars, and a full range of dominating, revenge-seeking protective behaviors. They feel entitled to more than their share of Earth’s resources and even to bankrupt the whole planet!
Counterdependency & Narcissism
Unfortunately, narcissists tend to seek positions of power and prestige in government and private industry. It’s easy to see their unresolved two-year old issues—entitlement, grandiosity, omnipotence and euphoria—shining through their adult behaviors. Their air of superiority and their need to look good and be in control without having limits or being accountable shouts “NARCISSIST!”
Those who experience developmental wounds during the counterdependent stage of development are often addicted to “upper” substances and activities—drugs, overwork, quick sex, traveling and over-consuming. All of these addictions serve as inadequate and unsatisfying substitutes for the lost deep emotional connection with their mother and with the divine. Unfortunately, it often takes people a long time to discover this as the source of many of their problems.
Although people don’t generally remember their early developmental traumas, they are visible in their relationship histories. It’s visible in their addictions and in their intimate relationship patterns. People with counter-dependency issues often create a conflict when the relationship gets too intimate, while those with co-dependency issues create a conflict when the relationship is not intimate enough. Much of couple conflict involves a struggle to determine how much intimacy and how much separation partners can tolerate in their relationship.
The Good News & The Bad News
The bad news is that the closer your adult relationships become the more they will activate memories of old traumas of being dominated, invaded, betrayed, abused and manipulated. The good news is that intimate relationships are the best place to heal the trauma that causes co-dependent and counter-dependent behaviors.
We found that healing trauma in intimate relationships requires redefining intimacy so that it includes the conflicts and struggles that are a natural part of the healing process. This approach to healing trauma in relationships also requires telling the truth about who you really are, what your needs are, sharing power, finding soul-evolving solutions to all conflicts and being willing to openly share your life with your partner on many levels: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical.
Authentic intimacy involves seeing your partner as a complete and separate person with some traits you like and some traits you don’t. It requires skills in negotiating with your partner to meet your needs for closeness and separateness. Most importantly, it requires being willing to ask for what you want one hundred percent of the time.
Once you expand your definition of intimacy to include healing each other, your relationships will shift dramatically. You’ll find more opportunities for intimacy that help you create an intimate partnership relationship. For us, this is the foundation for building a sustainable relationship. Click here to hear a podcast of us talking about the search for intimacy in relationships.