Our deepest longing is to love and be loved. But oftentimes we don’t know how to bring that precious love toward us. Our challenge is to discover what it takes to create healthy, satisfying connections.
Intimacy is the felt sense of connection with another person. In order to feel close to someone, we need to allow them to see who we are. We need to carry an intention to be seen. But before we can show who we are, we need to know who we are — from moment to moment. We need to pause, look inside, and get connected to how we’re feeling and what we’re wanting.
We can’t expect others to feel drawn toward us, if we’re not willing to take the risk to be vulnerable and reveal the ever-changing textures of our inner world. Yes, some people might be attracted to us based upon the image we project, such as being “successful,” or being interesting in some peculiar way, perhaps by having interesting hobbies, a nice home, or an attractive body. But as you might have already discovered, attractions based upon externals are short-lived at best. Such attractions are destined to curdle into distance and dissatisfaction when people inevitably discover who we really are — the secret fears, hurts, and challenges that we try to conceal. Or we might become rather boring, if we’re not moving toward a rich and alive intimacy based upon a deeper sharing of our innermost life.
Being Mindful of Our Feelings
Sadly, we often don’t allow ourselves to slow down enough to look inside and discover what we’re really feeling inside. We might be afraid to allow ourselves to peer into our heart of hearts and notice feelings that might be uncomfortable or threatening. Yet if we want intimacy in our lives, we need to be aware of what’s going on inside us.
We need to dedicate ourselves to cultivating a quality of mindfulness — shining an awareness flashlight steadily inside to know when we’re having feeling such as sadness, hurt, shame, anger, fear, or delight — or when we need a hug or need to talk. We need to know when we feel hurt by a partner or friend’s comment so that we don’t allow a meaningful relationship to decay due to neglect, false pride, or a fear.
Sharing our feelings and needs is an essential way for us humans to know each other. If we keep our emotions and wants hidden, people aren’t given a chance to know us — and thereby feel closer to us. We can’t expect intimacy to bloom if we’re not willing to nurture the connection by allowing ourselves to be seen as the vulnerable human being that we are.
This isn’t to suggest that we should not have good boundaries or that we recklessly express every feeling we notice, regardless of the consequences or a person’s willingness to hear us. We need boundaries in the sense of staying connected to ourselves and sensing when it feels relatively safe and “right” to share our precious feelings with another person.
Keeping Ourselves Isolated
More ominously, we might keep ours feelings hidden from ourselves, fearful that they might overwhelm us. Staying hidden keeps us in a prison of self-isolation. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to identify and manage our emotions and display empathy toward others. If we want to find happiness in our relationships, we need to enter our world of feelings in an intelligent, mindful way — and then reveal those feelings to people we want to connect with.
In Buddhist Psychology, mindfulness of feelings is one of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness, a path that leads toward a deeper awakening to who we are. If we want to live as a conscious, awake person, we need to find ways to access our felt experience. Approaches such as meditation and Focusing can provide a helpful structure for helping us go inside ourselves and be with our experience just as it is, rather than how we’d like it to be.
If you want richer relationships, consider taking intelligent risks to share your authentic feelings with people you want to know better. And be a good, empathic listener when others share their feelings with you. Be there for yourself and listen closely to the tender feelings that you might normally ignore. Be gentle with your feelings. Then, even if they are not well received, you are there for yourself!
The only real power we have in life is to honor our authentic self and validate ourselves even if others do not like or accept us. But if we can find the necessary courage (to be addressed in a future article) to risk revealing our true self, we might find that others appreciate, respect, and like us even more.