We all want to create emotional intimacy. It is just that some of us never learned how to reach past the shell of isolation. As adults we may have lost touch with our true selves, and that makes intimacy difficult and love very complicated.
Fortunately, you can make it as simple as it was when you were a child, with your natural affections flowing. We all want to be seen and accepted for who we really are. When we are seen and accepted for who we are, we feel loved. And we love the people who truly accept us. It is that simple.
When we have this experience of being able to be ourselves, and be received for that, we call it love. This is the emotional intimacy that we all crave. It is that deeply satisfying feeling of being accepted for just who we are. There is no need to make this “love thing” complicated. Love is just emotional intimacy plus positive attention.
Yet, a brief glance at the high rate of relationship break-up and divorces tells us that although it may be simple, creating emotional intimacy and sustaining it surely isn’t easy. But again, the reason it isn’t easy is for one very simple reason: we are often not true to ourselves. We are so busy “trying to be right,” or somebody’s image of what right is, that we forget what is truly right for ourselves.
We get so involved with trying to please others or be liked by them that we bend ourselves into so many shapes and forget what our original needs and desires are. It is as if we are all wearing masks and have forgotten that we are wearing them.
“I hate dating,” John, a fifty-year-old newly divorced client, wrote to us. “I just feel so much pressure to make a good impression.”
“That’s because whenever you go on a date, you are not really sharing who you truly are,” we suggested. “You are wearing the mask of what you think you should be like.”
The reason that many dates feel empty and disconnected is that two people wearing masks go out -- and their masks have a date. There is no true, honest sharing, no real vulnerability. The masks block any possibility of real connection. We need to do the opposite, to create emotional intimacy.
“I just don’t feel any chemistry,” John complains after every date. We pointed out to him that he was so busy trying to impress his date that he never felt like he got to be himself. And if she is doing the same thing, there is no real intimacy.
To create emotional intimacy you have to share what’s inside you.
Without intimacy, there is no enduring chemistry. No wonder they both feel empty after an evening of “mask wearing.” When two people go on a first date wearing the masks of their “inauthentic selves,” there is little hope of a second date.
“So what is my mask?” John asked, feeling desperate to find a better way.
“The mask hides the parts of yourself that you think are unloveable,” we explained.
“The problem is that you forget you are wearing it, but the mask leaves you no chance of ever feeling loved for who you are. There is no way that a person wearing a mask will ever feel sincerely loved for who they are. You can’t create emotional intimacy if you are not willing to show your true self.
If you try to maintain your mask, the mask ends up supporting the underlying false belief that you won’t, or can’t be loved for who you really are. That’s how it undermines your sense of self-respect. You come to believe the mask, and thus that you have to hide because you are not worthy of ever receiving genuine love.” We told John this story of the Golden Buddha.
In Thailand, several hundred years ago, a group of monks were faced with an invading Burmese Army. They had a twelve foot high, solid gold Buddha in their temple. To keep the Buddha from being captured and melted down, they carefully covered the gold statue in many layers of mud.
Tragically, all of the monks were killed in the invasion. There was no one left alive who had any memory of the Golden Buddha. So it was always thought to be a clay statue. In 1957 the monastery in Thailand was being relocated, and a group of monks was put in charge of moving the giant statue. As they began to move the statue, a crack occurred, and they were afraid they might lose the entire statue.
They meditated about what to do. The next day one of the monks noticed a shiny glint coming from the crack. They got out a hammer and chisel and cautiously began to strip away the mud and clay. Underneath all the layers of mud and clay was a twelve-foot high, five-and-a-half ton, solid gold Buddha!
This story is a perfect metaphor, because inside of all of us there is a Golden Buddha. We simply have been looking at the clay and mud for so long that we have forgotten how to see ourselves as who we truly are. We have to learn new habits of showing our true selves if we want to create emotional intimacy.
When you take off your masks in relationships, you become free to become who you truly are. Then you have a chance to be loved for who you are. If you are willing to see someone else for who they really are, you can let go of false hopes and fantasies that keep you from ever being able to sustain authentic love.
You can have the possibility of genuine intimacy (which means “in-to-me-see”). When two people are honest, vulnerable and sharing from a deep and truthful place about who they really are, love is not only possible, but also inevitable.
Take a chance. Be yourself. Melt your mask today. You will fall in love with the experience of being true. This is the true secret of how to create emotional intimacy.
View this fascinating video by Genie Joseph on animal-human bonding: Loving Dogs Video
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