Intimacy is an essential human need. But it may not be exclusive to personal relationships

Illustrator: Helen Yang

Illustrator: Helen Yang

We’ve blogged regularly about Human Givens psychosocial therapy here. Just to refresh briefly: We are born with ‘given’ emotional (as well as physical) needs, as well as ‘given’ resources to get those needs met in balance.

However, if our daily lives are not conducive to us deploying our resources – for example, a toxic or overly stressed environment – we will seek ways and means to get those needs met outside ourselves. This is a major cause of our dependency on consumerism.

In the podcast embedded above, two HG therapists discuss the need for intimacy, both on an individual and more broadly social level. Jennifer Broadley teaches HG couples therapy and Lee Pyrcroft, a make-up artist, runs events to help abused and traumatised women to regain confidence. 

Many readers would quickly recognise the first definition of intimacy discussed here, which is the need for every person to have at least one other person in their life who knows them deeply and embraces them exactly as they are, warts and all. This level of acceptance is what makes it possible for individuals to feel secure enough to begin to explore their own understanding of life – to take risks. Neatly explained as “Into-Me-You-See”: intimacy.

Yet how does that connect to physical intimacy? Does the first instantly offer the second?  In the podcast Jenny and Lee disaggregate the many different forms of intimacy and the conditions in which they can be experienced.

For example, it’s often assumed that partnership is a door to increased intimacy -  the chance to deepen trust and hence intimacy. But for some, physical intimacy – wherein two people can be close enough to have sex – often precludes emotional intimacy. Partnership does not necessarily change that, especially once children are involved. 

Equally, two good friends who have developed deep emotional intimacy may not ever have good physical intimacy. The two are neither inter-dependent or mutually inclusive.

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Part of their exploration takes Jenny and Lee into the world of digital and social media. Here, there is an assumption that intimacy can only be achieved face to face – when you can look into the other’s eyes and feel their presence. A thousand friends on Facebook, it’s often said, cannot easily get your need for intimacy met. 

Yet, some forms of virtual connection are better than others. WhatsApp for example, possibly because of its strong reputation for encryption, can create an illusion of safer exchanges between people. Many experience WhatsApp groups as places of intimate exchange, where participants are much more free to be themselves, than they might be in person.

Skype and Zoom have also broken some of the barriers of distance to the possibility of intimacy. Lee describes how one of her most-trusted relationships are with two colleagues living across the Atlantic – with whom she shares deep explorations and dreams. That context seems to her integral to the intimacy that presents itself, in this medium. If they suddenly appeared in the UK, there is no guarantee it could be maintained.

What the podcast opens up is a new sense that, while intimacy is essential, it is not necessarily a scarce commodity. One of the ambitions of our yearning for more community life is that it provides the conditions for intimacy to develop between groups of people – not just consenting individuals.

All the tools for bringing about safety in public discourse – skilled facilitation, inclusion, agreement, ritual – also create the conditions for trust, which in turn allows intimacy. When this is done with care and attention, it can deliver deep connection between people, in a short space of time. 

When this becomes the cultural norm of a community, it can change our understanding of what it means to be citizens together. And this in turn, can transform our idea of what a better democracy might entail: one part of which at least, might mean an ambition for social intimacy.

We all need someone we can be ourselves with, warts and all.

We all need someone we can be ourselves with, warts and all.