Freedom Versus Intimacy: How To Have Both
The Intimacy Skills That Let You Have Both
We are all looking for closeness and depth and intimacy, but we also want freedom and space. How do we work with these two profoundly different needs in our intimacy life? Stay tuned to the Deeper Dating Podcast to explore this powerful question.
Hello and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page and I’m a psychotherapist, author of the book Deeper Dating, and Cofounder of DeeperDating.com, which is a site for single people to meet in an online environment that’s fun, inspiring, kind and respectful. In this podcast, I’m going to talk about the pull toward freedom and independence versus the pull toward intimacy and closeness. It’s such a rich and important subject. In this podcast, I’m going to share the greatest tools that I know to help you find healthy love and keep it flourishing, and heal your life in the process because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love, and those are the greatest skills of all for a happy life.
If you want to learn more about the deeper dating path to real intimacy, just go to DeeperDatingPodcast.com and you can sign up for my mailing list, learn about the classes that I teach, the free classes, the intensives. You’ll get some free gifts and you’ll also learn about how to use these ideas to transform your intimacy journey. You’ll also find complete transcripts of this and every episode. I also just want to say that everything I’m going to share in this podcast is educational in nature. It is not medical or psychiatric advice or treatment, and if you feel that you need that, please do seek professional help. Finally, if you like what you’re learning here, I would so appreciate it if you subscribed and left me a review. I’ve gotten the most beautiful reviews this week and I just thank you so much.
Let’s jump right into this incredibly rich and important, and kind of universal subject, which is the tension between the parts of us that want freedom and space, and the parts of us that want intimacy and closeness, and connectedness, and bondedness. This is such a rich subject because both parts need room, but it’s a complicated, complicated thing. We’re going to talk about how to find ways to hold both parts of yourself, and to kind of extract the wisdom from each of those two sides, and help the more immature parts to kind of grow up. It’s a rich journey, finding the language of honoring those two parts of ourselves and helping them grow up, and communicate and connect. I’m going to teach you some fabulous practices for doing that, but I’m going to begin by talking about this kind of rich, rich dichotomy, and how it’s affected my life, and how it’s affected the lives of so many people that I know and work with.
We long for freedom and independence, but we also crave intimacy and closeness for a happy life.CLICK TO TWEETAll of us have these two different conflicting pulls and we handle them differently, or you might say two streams of wisdom and need and self, which can often be in really deep conflict. In a complicated world, which this is, or in a dysfunctional family, or just simply because it’s hard to name and identify and honor and find a language for our deepest gifts. For all of these reasons and other reasons including trauma, we end up having to choose one of those pulls over the other in ways that hurt us, and hurt our ability to love.
In a moment, I’m going to talk about the value, the wisdom and the value of each of these two pulls, but first, I’m going to share something that is a really rich metaphor, and this is just a piece of LGBTQ anthropological information that’s just so rich and capture so much. This is from Will Roscoe‘s book from 1998 called Living The Spirit, which speaks about LGBTQ, two-spirit Native Americans. It’s just rich with really fascinating material, but in many indigenous cultures, LGBTQ people were considered, in some ways, the holder of sacred ritual, because one of the definitions of what sacred means is having each of your feet in a different world and being able to hold that. They felt that LGBTQ people were able to do that with the masculine and feminine.
Often, these children, these two-spirit children were cultivated for roles as shamans or ritual holders, or just very particular kind of mystical roles in the tradition, and this is very, very universal. Christian de la Huerta‘s book Coming Out Spiritually is just a very rich description of this, across many indigenous cultures. It’s amazing stuff. Anyway, a separate story, but what they would do is they would take an area of brush. In that area of brush, they would have a bow and arrow, and they would have a basket. The child that they were wondering about, if this child is two-spirit, they would set the brush on fire, and the child had to go in and either take the bow and arrow….it could only take one thing, so if the boy took the basket, that boy was considered probably two-spirit. If the girl took the bow and arrow, she would probably be considered two-spirit.
Why do I tell this story? Because it’s the experience of living in a world where you don’t get both, and it’s like there’s a fire, and you only get to take the one that means the most to you, and the other you have to give up. All of us kind of have a predilection, or I don’t know about all of us, but many of us have a predilection wherein freedom has to come first. It has to come first. For others of us, what has to come first is connection. In a dysfunctional situation or just being raised not to understand the richness of these two qualities, we often feel like we don’t get to hold both, so we have to choose the one we need the most to survive. This is true in so many different ways and this exercise of holding both that I teach. This concept of holding conflicting Core Gifts, conflicting deep parts of you is something I’m going to be talking about in many different ways, but I chose one which is this one of freedom or the desire to connect.
Need For Freedom
I’m going to talk a little bit about each one. I think that people who have this deep need for freedom carry a particular pain in them, because they’ve had to say no to connection to maintain that sense of freedom. When your survival depends on having that freedom, and that freedom, that sense of separation or integrity or dignity of self, or if you grew up in an environment where there was emotional abuse and manipulation, maybe your survival was saying, “No. I’m not going to merge in this family. I am not going to fully join this family, because it would mean the annihilation and the suffocation of my individuality, of my truth, of my clarity, of my freedom.”
We learn then in those cases, in deep, deep ways, that connection can be the enemy of freedom. It can be the enemy of autonomy. It’s difficult to have that gift of freedom being so important because often, we think we’re flawed in our ability to love, “What is wrong with me that I can’t love like other people? What is this call to freedom? What is this need for space that I have that has made me lose relationships, that has made me run, that has made me flee, that has made me separate?”
I know a story of a woman who kind of had that tendency and had also a lot of consciousness. She and a man were in love with each other, so they decided that they were going to get married, but she let him know from the beginning that she had a part that could make no eternal promises forever. She had a suitcase, which was her leaving suitcase. She had it packed and she said to him, “I love you. I want to commit to you, but I need this suitcase because I cannot promise you that at some point I don’t want to leave.” Amazingly, you know, he knew that she really loved him, and I guess he had just a lot of spaciousness. That suitcase remained there for decades and they remained together, but she needed the suitcase.
For me, I used to wonder why I couldn’t sleep close to anybody for more than a few minutes. I would start to feel kind of claustrophobic. I would need space, and I thought that this was a fear of intimacy. I later learned that highly sensitive people often need that extra space in bed, and that need for a space marked so much of why I could not find a relationship for so many years, because I didn’t know how to honor this odd and strange need for space that made no sense and made me feel really kind of guilty. It wasn’t until I learned to say, “I need space,” which was not easy, was just incredibly, incredibly hard.
We don’t realize that our problem was not fear of intimacy but our language of intimacy.CLICK TO TWEETMy mom is a very, very amazing woman. She’s a 92-year-old street artist, Holocaust survivor, but we’ve had to work on this issue because I have felt in my life that it was sometimes hard to be close to her, because I felt like I couldn’t breathe, because her relationship to space was different than mine. It took me so long to realize that this was not fear of intimacy. It was my language of intimacy. I’ll never forget that time that I was able to get past my guilt and kind of self pathologizing and say, “Mom, I’m feeling like I can’t breathe.” Somehow there is not enough space around me in this conversation, and I need more space because I’m not happy in it now, and I’m wanting to pull away. This was just such a great thing because of all the growth, she was able to say, “Oh, yeah. I get that. I’m being kind of pressury. I’m just going to lay back and give you space.”
Anyway, this was kind of like a path out of a cage that I had been in for a really long time, and I’ve had to do this endlessly with my husband to let him know ways in which I just needed space because that was the language of my being. When I couldn’t do that, my deep insights knew that they would not be protected, so I created what’s called a primitive defense, which is a wall. I wouldn’t let closeness in or I just kind of was gravitating again and again toward unavailable people, because I could breathe with them and with someone who was just available and there, I would start to feel like I couldn’t breathe, but as I learned to treasure this need for a space, that began to all change for me.
So many people I think have a passion for freedom, and what those people, what us people need to do who have that is to learn to honor that language of a need for freedom, and not so quickly call it pathology but call it space. Call it the need for space, and when that’s honored and dignified, it’s a very, very different experience. The poet Rilke talked about this in a really interesting way. He said, “An artist needs to feel like they can walk miles and miles and miles in their own internal world without having to be in touch with anybody or in contact with anybody during that time.”
Need For Space
There are other pieces here in addition to the freedom piece, the space piece. There’s the ambition piece, people who are on fire in ambitious ways who need the space to be able to kind of like be on fire with the arc of their passions and their ambitions, another thing that needs to be really treasured and honored. When we can do that, because often, you know, we’ve got this one thing that we pick out of the fire, and it’s the thing that we most are organized to need, but then we lose the other. As we learn to claim and honor that kind of more primary or dominant need, then there’s space to be able to see its complement, and until we see its complement, until we see the opposite part, we’re going to be victims of clumsy compromises that we have to make. We’re going to shut people out. We are going to feel blocked. We are going to have problems loving ourselves, and we will either find ourselves, again and again, doing those acts of either suppression of self or acting out of self in a not very helpful, wonderful way.
This learning to treasure and dignify both is just such a rich and important journey, but now I want to talk about the people who need connection most and that experience. I think that people who need connection kind of first in that primary way have another kind of suffering, and that’s like, “What is wrong with me that I need love so bad that I’m actually willing to give up parts of myself?” That’s a very, very difficult and painful thing to face. That’s kind of codependency.
In many ways, codependency is just a misuse of the quality of caring about connection. It’s kind of poor use of that deep and profound need for healthy connection, where we fill up the space that the other person is not meeting with our own energy, with our own life, with our own resources. Once again, there’s a particular pain that those of us who have that as a primary kind of part of ourselves. That’s what we pick out of the fire and run with is the need for connection. I can give up my freedom to some degree. I can give up my integrity because I’ll die without connection, and it’s a very profound, profound thing. It’s painful and it’s humiliating to think back on how we’ve given up pieces of ourselves because we wanted love so badly, but there is a treasure here.
Those of us who do treasure that part of ourselves, and realize that even though our culture shames us for that need in a million different ways, our need for connection is wisdom, and it’s actually a kind of wisdom that the world is hungry for now. It’s a wisdom that’s denigrated in our culture. There’s this kind of over celebration and overemphasis on independence versus interdependence, and the amount of pain that that has caused for our planet and our relationships and our inner lives is breathtaking.
I have a friend who was a flying doctor in Australia, and he told me that when he worked with these Aboriginal tribes, if one of them had an injury, you couldn’t just go in and say, “What hurts? Let’s talk about it,” because that seemed like the height of disconnectedness. You would have to start and say, “How is your family? How is the community? How is,” whatever the broader questions are, because it would just feel like such a violation to just jump into talking about this person. It would just feel so kind of unkind and unconnected. This is a culture that in these ways, treasured connection.
Many of us have a belief that freedom has to come first. But the truth is what has to come first is connection.CLICK TO TWEETI say this all the time. Our longing for love is wisdom. It is not weakness. So there is, just like with that primary need for freedom, there is a kind of grieving that has to happen when we face this and we say, “Look how much I’ve given up. Look how much connection I’ve had to give up from my love of freedom, my need for freedom. Look at how much of myself I’ve had to give up because of my need for connection.” There’s a grieving that happens, but then there is also a reclaiming. There’s a rescuing that needs to happen with both of these.
In both cases, it’s like rescuing yourself from this picture of pathology and being able to say, “This is how I am built. This is so important to me that I will not give it up.” That has to be honored, and so that grieving and also that honoring are things that really need to happen, because when we shift and start honoring that part of us, we finally grow up in intimacy, and our world of intimacy changes when we stop shaming ourselves.
I would like each of you now to take a minute and think about this. It’s such a great, great question like, “Which did you pull out of the fire in your life? Which was the one that you had to pull out of the fire?” It could be not a simple answer of one or the other. It could be in certain situations you’ve had to pull out one. In certain situations, you’ve had to pull out another, that there’ve been a series of sometimes clumsy compromises that didn’t end up working. Take a minute to think about that for yourself, and you could even pause the recording and just think, “What did I need to pull out of the fire? What did I lose? How have I dishonored myself for this part of me or for both of these parts of me?”
The next time you’re in a relationship and you feel a need for space and you feel like, “Oh, my God. I’m so screwed up that I need this,” or you feel angry that you’re not getting it and you want to handle it in a reactive way, or you want to suppress that need. Instead, ask yourself, “How is this connected to a Core Gift of needing space and freedom inside myself? How might I be able to honor that?” Then the next fabulous question is, “What would I need right now in this situation?” It’s a completely different path but man, it makes a difference. The next question is, “How can I express this with kindness and seeing the other person, but really make room for it at the same time as I’m making space for them, but making room for this need?” This is radical intimacy and radical intimacy with self.
Holding Freedom And Space
Now I’m going to lead you in an exercise that I adore to help you be able to do this. I call it holding both, and I’ve taught this in I think one other episode in the past, but I’m going to share it now because it’s so connected to this. I’m going to ask you to do a visualization with me, and the thing that I’ll say first about visualizations is don’t worry if your capacity to visualize is like Swiss cheese, filled with holes. Mine is – don’t worry if you focus somewhere else, you lose focus. I do. It’s okay. What you just want to do is have those kinds of sweet moments where you’re there and you’re present and enjoy those moments, and those moments, if you do this with heart, you will have those moments and that will carry you, so don’t worry about visualizing perfectly or anything like that. Sloppy spiritual practice, I am a huge, huge champion of that.
So, okay, I’d like you to close your eyes if you can, only if you can. We’re going to start together with one of these qualities. Let’s imagine that you are a parent and you’re sitting down, and you’ve got these two children. Let’s just start with the child who needs freedom, and who even unconsciously pushes things away that in any way encroach upon that sense of freedom and autonomy and space. Just picture that part of you because we all have that part of us, a part that needs that space, and has had pain in the world because it hasn’t gotten that. It hasn’t known how to ask for it, and maybe has had to push love and intimacy away because it didn’t have words to speak its truth and its boundaries.
Picture this child of yours, the child for whom freedom comes first, and look at their face. See if you could let yourself see their beauty just like, you know, this beautiful quote by Edward Hallowell, “The child who needs your love is not the child you’ve pictured you should have. It’s the child who’s right in front of you right now.” This is the child who’s right in front of you right now. It’s the part of you that has to be able to breathe and have space and freedom. Now imagine that child sitting on your knee, one knee you pick. Your arm is around this child and you’re just letting them be them, and you’re thinking of what it’s going to be like for them to make their way in the world with this particular beautiful and complicated gift. Just have your arm around this kid. You’re not trying to change them or help them grow or shift. You just have your arm around them, and you love them, and you’re thinking about them.
Now imagine the child for whom connection comes first, the child who will give up pieces of themselves for closeness and sweetness and goodness and connectedness. Look at this child’s face. Look at the beauty in this child’s face, and the hurt in this child’s face that they have incurred. Let this child come sit on your other knee and put your arm around this child. Think about both the pain and the beauty this child is going to face in their life journey. Now, just imagine. All you have to do is imagine that your arms are around both of these children and you’re holding them both. You’re not doing anything to fix or help or anything. You’re just holding them both as these kind of amazing beings who have a path ahead of them, and they’re your children. Just hold them and feel what it’s like to hold both. Just hold both. Take as long as you want with this. You could pause the recording if you like. Imagine what it would be like for you because you are the parent. You are the primary caretaker of both of these parts of you.
Imagine what it would be like to live this way, kind of holding both like that kind of very spacious and aware kind of parent who’s maybe a little bit wry, but also very loving and just seeking reality, and seeing the differentness of their children. Just stay with that experience. Just loving both of them fully and just holding them both. With that experience, just slowly come back and open your eyes. I am so excited for you to think about your journey. I’m excited for all of us. I’m excited for me. Think about our journey as we grow in our ability to give language and dignity to those two parts of ourselves in our relationships. How amazing that will be. Thank you so much for listening to this episode, and you can find a full transcript at DeeperDatingPodcast.com. I look forward to connecting with you on the next episode.
Watch the episode here:
- Deeper Dating
- Will Roscoe
- Living the Spirit
- Christian de la Huerta
- Coming Out Spiritually
- Edward Hallowell
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