Intimacy And Authenticity

Intimacy and authenticity:What is intimacy and how do you know when you are being intimate with another person?  In basic terms, we at the Center for Growth / Sex Therapy in Philadelphia define intimacy as sharing your authentic self with another person.  What exactly is an authentic self and how do you go about sharing that with another person?

Most of us reveal information about ourselves slowly as we have more contact with another person.  While we are slowly revealing ourselves, we are interacting in a way that shares our authentic self.  Our authentic self is our personality traits and temperament.  Our personality traits and temperament remain mostly constant over our lives.

One way to understand how we reveal ourselves to become closer and more intimate with another person is to think of intimacy as a series of levels.  Although we may be revealing more sensitive information with each level, our authentic self and way of interacting is present at every level.

Intimacy and authenticity: Level 1 — Surface Information  This level includes information that you may share at work or in a casual social setting.  Information on this level is basic things about ourselves such as our name, what we do for a living, do we have any kids, where are we from, etc. This information describes us and gives a broad picture of who we are.  These are things that most people would share when first meeting someone new.  You are revealing basic lifestyle choices rich, poor, professional, etc.  Others may make assumptions and judgments from this information, but in general, we are very comfortable revealing this information to others easily.   Showing your authentic self in this level would include things such as use of humor, pacing of conversation, and body language (e.g.  friendliness versus perhaps being more observant and standing back).

Intimacy and authenticity: Level 2 — Detailed Surface Information  Information at this level goes a little beyond Level 1.  This level involves sharing with someone that you are likely talking with for more than a few minutes.  It may occur with someone you speak to frequently at work, or a longer conversation in a social or dating situation.  In this level, things you would reveal about yourself are opinions or preferences.  These are things that someone may disagree with or even judge.   For example, food preferences,  eating habits, religious beliefs, political views, dreams, fantasies, personal habits, funny experiences you have had etc.  Letting someone know your opinions and preferences helps others to understand a bit about how you process and understand information and the world.  Revealing information like this is more risky than where you live and what you do, but is still somewhat low risk in that is does not leave you vulnerable to a possible bad reaction from another.  In other words, you are comfortable with these areas.  You are at peace with them and they feel resolved to you.

Intimacy and autthenticity: Level 3 — Deep Information  You may share information at this level at roughly one month to a year of knowing someone.  Things in this category might include, the details of a poor relationship with a family member, a problem with depression, being abused as a child, a sexual problem, a jealous streak, etc.  This type of information is deeper, much more vulnerable, emotional, and sensitive.  How a person reacts to it could affect your emotional state.  Items at this level are unresolved issues and open wounds.  Some of the issues may be more resolved then others.  These are items that you may not have processed or for which you have not made sense yet.  However, they may be issues that you have shared with others before.

Intimacy and authenticity: Level 4 — Deeper Information Items at this level are secrets that you may have never told anyone.  Or, maybe you would only tell these secrets in therapy.  These are things that you don’t even like to admit to yourself.  If you do tell someone, it is likely that you wouldn’t want to tell them before knowing them for at least 6 months.  You may feel very concerned about being judged and this things may cause you to feel guilty, disgusted, or ashamed .  These are items that you feel very secretive about and feel very needy of acceptance.  In therapy, these are issues that can be discussed and processed and maybe even brought to Level 3.   While it is difficult, these items often have a lot of emotions connected to them.  When we avoid difficult emotions and issues, they often become toxic to us and will inadvertently interfere with our lives and our relationships.

Intimacy and authenticity: Core Level  – Your core level is your deepest insecurities and fears about yourself.  These are the areas that pack the most emotional punch.  Sometimes we don’t even know what these fears and insecurities are and they are often unresolved areas from childhood and other past experiences.  Examples are a fear of abandonment, a feeling of shame about some part of ourselves, or even feeling that we are an overall bad person.   The core level is your essence, and how you process information.   It is your emotional map that dictates when and how you feel insecure, happy, scared, etc.   Your core level trickles out in other levels but is not really articulated until level 3 or level 4. In a child, it is much easier to see his or her core level.  As we get older, we get better at masking our core with social and cultural norms.   Therapy can also help with working on the core level.  Even if we have unconscious fears and insecurities, an objective person can see our patterns and ways that we display these fears and insecurities and as a result make them conscious and easier to work on.

As you go through these levels of intimacy with others, you can practice being authentic in your interactions every day.  By allowing our authentic self to show, we are connecting with others emotionally as well as sharing facts about ourselves.  And by revealing ourselves slowly as demonstrated through the four levels, trust, comfort, and connection can build and ultimately lead to more fulfilling intimate relationships.