It’s in our nature to want to feel close and connected to others, however, sometimes things can happen to prevent us from being able to form this closeness easily.
Forming the kind of closeness with someone where you can share your deepest fears and most personal thoughts is something therapists refer to as emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy can exist between friends and in healthy romantic relationships. It is critical for human happiness, health, and well-being but sometimes our ability to become emotionally intimate is impaired.
Three factors necessary for emotional intimacy are:
1. Trust – You need to be able to have a feeling of trust in the other person in order to feel safe opening up to them. Trust is important for sharing and connection. More often than not, problems in trust usually stem from a person not being able to trust, rather than the other person not being trustworthy.
2. Safety – It is essential to feel safe within yourself and in your environment in order to be able to trust. If you don’t feel safe, you can’t open up to trust someone.
3. A High Level of Openness and Transparency – A high level of openness and transparency are necessary in developing true closeness whether with a friend or a partner. Safety and trust are foundational to becoming comfortable in having a high level of openness and transparency.
Often overlooked, the main reason of why feelings of safety and an ability to trust people are impaired in many people is because of trauma. Trauma can cause changes in the brain that can lead to many changes in mood, behavior, and thinking. Many people think of trauma as a traumatic incident such as an accident, sexual assault, or being witness to a terrible event, however the actual definition of trauma is much more broad. In fact, most people have experienced some form of trauma or another. Trauma is defined as a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes mental or emotional problems in some people typically for some time after the disturbing event or events, unless otherwise treated.
While some traumatic experiences can lead to a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there are many forms of trauma like having an over-controlling, critical, or abusive parent; being bullied at school; or having been in an abusive relationship that can impact neural circuitry in the brain in much the same way without necessarily resulting in PTSD. The result is that people who experience trauma can find it hard to trust people and to feel safe in general. This in turn makes it very difficult for those people to develop true emotional intimacy in their relationships.
What can you do about trauma, feeling unsafe, or not being able to trust people?
There is a groundbreaking therapy used to treat PTSD, called EMDR therapy (standing for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) and it is now being used to treat people with trauma of all categories and severity. EMDR therapy works by using bilateral stimulation of the brain, either through eye movements, sound tones, or tapping, to resolve feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, loss, and emotional pain. This process also repairs feelings of trust and safety to enable people to develop healthy emotionally intimate relationships.
Treating trauma can help resolve barriers to emotional intimacy. If you are having trouble feeling close and connected to others you may want to discuss your issues with a local or online EMDR therapist or trauma expert to see if you have unresolved trauma.