This article originally appeared on BrendaKnowles.com.
When was the first time you really made love? The last time? I was in my 40s before I really made love. What took me so long? Why didn’t I experience that heavenly closeness and soulmate sanctity before my fourth decade? Because making love involves emotional and physical intimacy.
I’m an introvert and INFP personality type, and I never truly felt safe or in love enough to be myself — to be so vulnerable and give so freely — that my partner could love every aching, exposed part of me. I only extended myself emotionally enough to appear engaged. I held my true self at a distance. I didn’t want to love someone more than they loved me. I didn’t want to lose myself in the loving either. Most of all I didn’t want to reveal the real, vulnerable, sensitive me.
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I withheld my full self and trust subconsciously. I only realized what I was doing when I couldn’t do it anymore. I was withering on the vine — my desire for deep, connecting intimacy so great that I knew I couldn’t live without it.
For years I felt a shame regarding what seemed like my inferior nature. My feelings get hurt easily. I suck at fast-paced living and manic juggling. No one is ever going to call me stoic, but I’ve often been called sensitive. My heart is on my sleeve poised for collisions with the real world and I tried to hide that.
I often felt like I had to earn my worthiness by being highly productive, happy and endlessly energetic. I needed that bright persona in order to be lovable. By upholding that belief, I not only robbed myself of a safe place to let down my guard but I cheated my partners out of that haven as well. I couldn’t be myself and neither could they.
According to Margaret Paul Ph.D. and her article, Fear of Intimacy, there are two other fears that stifle emotional intimacy: fear of rejection (losing the other person) and fear of engulfment (being invaded, controlled or losing oneself).
Although I felt loved by my former husband, there was a subconscious resistance to him. A resistance built in order to stave off engulfment. I often felt invaded or controlled by his extroverted nature, which I perceived as stronger and more dominant. Inability to remove such resistance made it impossible to share emotional intimacy and was a major reason our marriage broke down.
What is emotional intimacy?
- Sharing heart stories, broken stories and tales of exquisite joy
- Being fully seen and known
- The closest you can get to someone non-physically
- Finding meaning as communication flows
- Risking vulnerability and growing stronger because of it
- Interactions with feelings attached
- The best foreplay
- Giving without depleting
- Sharing truths without fear of rejection
- Extending yourself and expanding exponentially
- A two-way connection where you both feel heard and nourished
How to foster emotional intimacy
The secret to moving beyond the fear of intimacy lies in developing a powerful, loving, adult part of you that learns how to not take rejection personally, and learns to set appropriate limits against engulfment. — Dr. Margaret Paul
You must recognize your wholeness. It is crucial to take responsibility for your own self-worth. No one else can define you or give you strength and value. That must come from within. If you know yourself intimately and accept your gifts and dark facets then no one can take anything from you. Rejection is a risk but not permanently devastating. Engulfment is a risk but kept at bay because you speak up for yourself. You no longer allow anyone to invade your space because you have boundaries that serve your spirit.
How does an introvert create self-worth?
Everyone is after the same thing, y’know. It’s called intimacy. The only way to experience it is to be yourself.
— Joan Erikson, A Year By the Sea
Introverts dwell contentedly in their inner-worlds. Feelings, impressions and ideas fuel our existence. What is the only thing equal to delicious solitude in its ability to rejuvenate and nourish this internal living? Emotional intimacy. Inner worlds intertwined.
Self-worth eluded me for much of my life. Admittedly, I followed the herd hoping to gain value by belonging to certain groups or having certain friends, lovers or relatives by my side. Important by association. With my introverted nature I felt I needed a stand-out character next to me in order to advance, get noticed or do anything ground-breaking. This is what I witnessed growing up. The extroverts were popular, envied and in charge.
I undervalued observing, feeling and listening skills.
Then I encountered incredible introverts who change the lives of others for the better. My own life drifted from the herd because my guitar teacher validated my thinking and taught me I am whole all on my own. I’ll never forget what he said one day not that long after we’d met: You seem like someone who could do anything.
To a stay-at-home mom heaped in limiting beliefs, this was an oasis in the desert, a buffet to the starving. My backbone straightened instantly.
Almost cosmically, I gathered more introverts into my universe. I swam in a sea of richness in writing classes. We shared broken stories and expanded exponentially. Surrounded by others who were fed from within, I learned that I can feed myself. This way of existing felt so natural. It was as if I was given permission to revel in my self. I was shown my own light.
This comfort in my own skin gave me the confidence to spearhead my life. I had less fear of rejection and more strength to combat engulfment, not only within my introvert tribe but within all realms. Blissfully open to emotional intimacy as well as physical intimacy, making love became a reality.
Brenda Knowles is a personal coach who helps introverts gain confidence to be their true selves and enhance intimacy and understanding in their relationships. Learn more at BrendaKnowles.com.
Read this: 10 signs you’re an outgoing introvert