Why is it so hard for us to connect with each other? Why are we all so afraid of intimacy? All the love songs, all the longing and searching for mr/mrs right, the divorces, the empty relationships, the loneliness, the pain of being alone when we don’t want to be alone… What’s going on? Why is love so hard?
It starts early. Our first love was mom. This is our first great romance and the roots of all future love affairs lie here.
A baby all going reasonably well, exists in a basic state of wholeness and beingness, where soul radiates out into the world. We can see this in the light-filled eyes of a new born. They remind us that we humans are in essence radiant creatures.
If mom and baby bond well, if she is loving and capable enough and our environment is safe, then over the years we can develop a personality and physicality which are more or less crystallisation and presentation of our basic radiance. This is what the experience of early secure attachment gives us. And a felt-sense of effortless ease, love and connection can be our basic state of being throughout our lives and a foundation which we can return to in times of stress and challenge.
Of course our beginnings in the world are not always so ideal and insecure attachments with care-givers a common reality. As a result young psyches split in an attempt at self-protection. The personality and physical attributes we develop then are based on defensive survival strategies. As we connect with our early environment and form our first relationship our true radiance all too often becomes obscured from our awareness. When this happens we grow up feeling split off from our true selves, from others and the world we inhabit.
Perhaps baby feels the need to protect herself from the experience of relationship with mom which may be confusing, alienating, scary or unpredictable. The little one will protect herself by doing whatever it takes to achieve more connection with mom, hiding the parts of herself which mom rejects or punishes. This way of protecting ourselves continues into adult hood and of course what we protect ourselves most vehemently from will always be the one we love.
The strategies we develop in these very early days are laid down like a blue-print for connection and if unchallenged remain as our way of connecting forever in all intimate relationships. If the baby feels that nothing I do will result in mom connecting with me in a way that I need then he/she may stop seeking connection all together, shutting down their most basic drive for love and intimacy.
While exploring mouthing reflexes during my training as a somatic therapist I turned my head towards my trainer and had the feeling that she found my mouth movement disgusting. In a milli-second without choosing to do so I turned my head away from her and felt a freeze response in my body. I had touched into very early trauma about breast feeding and attachment and I came to see through therapy the place in myself where I reject my own needs for intimate connection and for nourishment often denying that I even have these needs.
Our most basic drive is towards connection and intimacy. We need connection at all costs. It is only through relationship that we know we exist at all. The greater the vulnerability, the greater the fear; and babies are almost completely vulnerable. When fear levels are very high or repeatedly high the experiences that cause the fear are deeply imprinted in our nervous systems and stored as implicit memory. This memory is not in words or images; we are too young for that part of the brain to be recording events explicitly. Implicit memory is a felt sense memory. It is known later in life by a sensation, gut reaction, emotion or dream. It is because of these implicit memories that we now as adults may find ourselves behaving in ways which we don’t understand or consciously choose but are reactive and can feel out of control.
We are throughout our lives still seeking secure connection and intimacy with another. A relationship which can meet our particular connection and love needs. We are seeking to repair the early attachment injuries and heal past hurts.
Take for example a baby who is rarely held or touched by mom, this is traumatic for the baby as it is so terrifying to feel alone in the world at this young age. Later in life this adult may crave touch and also be terrified of touch, it feeling so alien and unknown. Perhaps touch may open up depths of need and longing which are totally overwhelming. As a result this person may avoid relationships all together or alternatively stay in unhealthy relationships because the aloneness is so terrifying. The strategies for survival a baby creates depend on many factors and each person will create a map of strategies which is unique to their unique being and environment.
We need to uncover our own unique survival strategies so we can make conscious choices based on current reality rather than past events.
It is when something happens in our lives and our reactions seem out of proportion or ill-fitting that we can know past trauma has been triggered. When we re-act to current events based on past trauma we are entrenching the past events even further within ourselves and we feel worse than ever.
Often it is when we come into deeper levels of intimacy in relationship that we find our reactions and hurts and mysterious emotions start to come to the surface most strongly. That is why there is so much potential both for hurt and healing in relationships.
So as an adult it is when there arises this potential for intimacy that we feel our deepest vulnerability and the little one we once were is awakened within us, perhaps excited that now eventually after all this time, maybe someone is there who can see me and meet me and love me as I need to be loved, maybe and maybe not. It’s scary. It’s a deeply vulnerable state. It is inevitable that early wounds will be touched upon and traumas triggered.
Knowing that this is happening helps. Culturally we look at disharmony in relationships very superficially not acknowledging the depths of suffering that are being evoked and brought into the current relationship. I recall in early romantic relationships feeling really hurt if my partner turned their back to me to sleep, I felt rejected and sad or even panicky, sometimes unconsciously so. The next morning I would be just as surprised as my partner when I began to pick a fight or give them the cold shoulder. It was only when I was able to recognise that I felt hurt that I could begin to react differently. I could see actually I am feeling hurt but why? My partner is just trying to get comfortable it’s not a rejection of me. Past trauma of being left alone was being triggered. I learnt to differentiate between what is happening now and what was then. These sorts of little triggerings, happen several times a day in most relationships and cause ripple effects where we trigger each other over and over again. People feel stuck then in unconscious relationship patterns. There are ways out however.
If we are able to pause long enough when triggered to not re-act but rather consciously choose how we wish to act then the experience is deeply healing and empowering.
Here is a simple practice. Simple in theory at least, admittedly difficult to implement but any tiny success with it can have huge effects. When triggered follow the NOW approach.
Notice you have been triggered. Accept that past hurts are alive in you and all may not be as it seems.
Orientate to anything in the here and now that helps you feel safe and calm.
Wait until you have totally calmed down before saying or doing anything.
Then if you can, speak from the place of vulnerability rather than defence. You could say for example “when you did that I felt scared” rather than “you shouldn’t do that”.
So it becomes then possible for me to be here in all my vulnerability and with all my early wounds and you there with yours and for us to meet each other. We bridge this great chasm between us only by allowing our vulnerabilities. We can only allow ourselves to be vulnerable if we feel safe enough to do so. We can only feel safe enough if we are able to differentiate then and now, past and present.
Deep intimacy is a soul dance not a play between personas. We know this and we feel this deep longing to be seen and held and loved at the level of soul. To meet this need we have to move past our defences. True intimacy with another demands of us that we can become intimate with ourselves. True intimacy is not possible when we are split from our basic being. Then we are trying to connect with another only from the level of persona/ego or defence. Meeting is not possible here and we feel disappointed and hurt.
Many years ago when I was travelling in India a teacher told me “you are wasting your time looking for your soul mate, you wouldn’t recognise him, because you haven’t seen your own soul yet”. It was true!
We must reach deeper into ourselves before reaching out to the other. Yet in the reach towards soul we meet our own rejected parts. Between the self that we present to the world and soul are all the layers of self which we have deemed bad and the defences and strategies we have put in place to hide these bad parts.
These layers also hide that which is most precious, delicate and beautiful within us.
I see my work as a therapist to be that of staying in relationship to a person as they slowly move through the layers of defence and protection, griefs, traumas and woundings, towards the radiance of their deepest being. Of proving the holding, safety, resonance, empathy and love that may not have been available in the way that this particular person needed when they were a child. So that this person might feel seen and understood and accepted by another and thereby come to see and understand and accept themselves… all the layers and dimensions of themselves.
Surprisingly perhaps it is often the true beauty of oneself that is hardest to accept because it has been so deeply hidden and protected. It is like looking at the sun after been in darkness for a long time. We can only see our worth and essence incrementally, removing the veils of protection slowly and letting our eyes and senses gradually adjust.