Written By Rebecca Briant, PA, London, UK
Intimacy - It's amazing how a word can conjure up such strong connotations, for me ones of physical sexual intimacy and embarrassingly 'intimate' conversations perhaps with your doctor. It becomes hard to see it as anything else when the socially accepted meaning is so strongly entrenched in the collective public dictionary; yet history and the present day hold many examples of the way a word can be divorced from its original meaning. It was not long ago when the word gay simply meant happy or joyful, whereas now it is a word used to describe someone's sexual orientation – this example shows how now, many people would not associate that word with anything else, even though it was not its original meaning.
So is it possible to suspend our preconceptions and consider that intimacy is not inherently sexual or physical; that it is not reserved just for a partner or those awkward checkup conversations at the doctors?
What if intimacy is a way of being with yourself and others, where you are open to being honest and transparent about yourself, where you are at, the choices you are making, and being all of who you are? And in being that way with yourself, you are able to see with no judgment, all that another is. I know having been on the receiving end of this intimacy; that there is nothing more amazing than a moment in which you just make eye contact, maybe exchange a few words, possibly a hug or a touch on the arm - nothing huge physically, but you feel seen, met and loved for all you are; how then, could true intimacy not be something everyone would want in their life?
Intimacy requires openness to being honest with yourself, and then to honestly share yourself with others, and be willing for them to truly see you, and for you to truly see and connect with them.
This can be very challenging as good or bad we spend our lives fitting in rather than being ourselves - we are so rarely just ourselves; we are always on the defensive, protected against the world and the people in it so we aren't hurt. We often live more dishonestly than perhaps we would like to admit - we tend to ignore or overlook the areas of our life we know need changing; or equally we don't take the time to stop and appreciate all that we are and bring; so by not being able to be honest with ourselves we can't be totally transparent with others. I see it almost like being able to bring all you are to the table - good and bad - not in words but in how you are with yourself and with others – living a quality of transparency with yourself and others, where you show the world who you are in full.
The London Women's Group
This understanding of intimacy was inspired by a recent London Women's Group where the presenter Sara Williams asked the group what intimacy means for us. Over the next two hours, intimacy and our preconceived ideas around what it means, and the possibility of the true meaning of the word were work shopped. We got to experience several conversations with other women where we could feel how much of ourselves we were willing to bring to the conversation - and why it was that we were holding back. We are so used to fitting in with who we are talking to, perhaps avoiding that one person we really don’t want to speak to, not saying what we really feel or only allowing the person to see the superficial surface layers of who we are.
What I saw in myself was how I had accepted a level of connection with people and called it deep and intimate, but actually what was being shown was how far that level was away from true intimacy and transparency. I got to see how this deepening needed to be a part of how I lived with myself first, and that this would then transfer to my relationships with others.
I also learnt that to truly listen to someone, you don’t have to get involved and jump into what they are saying – staying present with yourself and not getting dragged into engaging in the conversation actually allows both you and the other person far more space for you to listen, and for them to feel listened to and also to express themselves. I got to see and feel how much of a game changer intimacy can be for all of us, but in the group I really got to see how it can impact women, who so often are comparing, jealous, gossiping or in lack of self-worth with each other that we never truly take the time to actually connect and with transparency be intimate with each other.
It was also amazing to begin to see intimacy not as the limiting view of physicality alone - for although there can be great intimacy in physical contact, intimacy comes from a way of being first, a quality which can be expressed through touch but is not limited to it. This is huge, because the thing so many crave is now made simple to understand and is derived from our relationship with us, first and foremost; so I no longer need to be at the mercy of the world, craving intimacy and attention from a partner or friends and family, I can claim that power back into my own hands with my choice to be intimate with myself and to allow all of who I am to be seen by the world.
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