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  • Carlien Serfontein

Intimacy during a time of isolation

After nearly 16 months of pandemic-orientated narrative, people have started turning inward. This means that not only do people spend more time away from social gatherings and crowds, but they have been dealing with immense feelings of loneliness and isolation (Novotney, 2019).


The age-bracket 18-40 (young adult and middle adulthood) is particularly difficult. Our bodies have biologically matured and we are supposed to be at the zenith of our existence. BUT the transition from being a dependent child to becoming an independent, influential and successful adult challenges us on an existential level. Questions like, “Who am I”, “what is the meaning of my life”, “do I have a purpose”, “who will I spend the rest of my life with”, “I am so different from my family- what does that mean” takes on an urgent tone. It is however, difficult to find the answers with so much noise of day-to-day life.


For that reason, we start to feel lonely in our bubble while being outwardly social and engaged – but not connected.

Feelings of loneliness and isolation are exasperated by thoughts of a comparative nature, which stop us from reaching out to others when things are not going well. Or by comparing our successes to that of others and feeling vulnerable and ashamed. The current circumstances have plunged everyone into some sort of tragedy on one level or another and therefore it is assumed that it is better to deal with it ourselves. The result is that individuals turn inward and do not rely on their support networks for distraction. This is a worrisome state as feeling “connected” to others is a fundamental human need and crucial for well-being and survival (Novotney, 2019).


We have become experts at being alone without spending time with the “self” resulting in an isolation or dissociation from who we are and the meaning we create for ourselves. We find ourselves in a state of confusion about decisions we have made; reactions we had in triggering situations; we fail at relationships and therefore harbour mistrust for ourselves and others. A sense of “disconnect” and numbness dominates our emotional capacity and through all of this loneliness forces us to ask, “what is the point?”

We are limping to fulfil our need for intimacy.

We yearn for something that allows us to form close and loving relationships whether they are social, professional or romantic (Alley Dog, 2021). When a relationship with another seems intimately connected we feel the freedom to express our thoughts, safe enough to be vulnerable and a balance within yourself (Regan, 2021). Furthering this, we will feel enough confidence to mentor others and even eventually contribute to a legacy (Regan, 2021).


Ironically, the best way to build intimacy is to work on yourself to cultivate and solidify your own identity (Regan, 2021). Putting it simply, we will really struggle building secure and intimate relationships if our “self” or identity remains fragmented (Regan, 2021). A well-balanced and intimate relationship will therefore be built on individuals who have eliminated confusion in themselves and formed an identity that they are comfortable with and proud of (Cherry, 2021).


Another element that affects our sense of isolation is that of attachment (Dolan, 2020). There are four attachment styles in adults: secure, anxious, avoidant and fearful-avoidant (Gonsalves, 2020). Attachment styles is said to reflect the dynamics we had with our caregivers in our infancy and explains why we react emotionally to others (Gonsalves, 2020). Insecure attachment styles create a sense of isolation as it finds its foundation in fear of abandonment, having a fear of intimacy and being emotionally unavailable; and also to desperately crave affection but struggling to commit or open up in relationships (Gonsalves, 2020). Identifying our attachment styles can go a long way to deepen our understanding of the “self” in a world that aims to distract us at all costs from the truth of our isolation.


Existential isolation comes in three forms. The first ‘interpersonal’ isolation creates a sense of loneliness because we struggle to connect with other people; the second ‘intrapersonal’ isolation is where we feel disconnected from ourselves; and finally the third “existential’ isolation speaks to the fact that we are truly and ultimately alone – you entered this world alone and you will die alone (Berry, 2021).


This idea of existential isolation makes us uncomfortable and we choose to distract ourselves with people and things. We cling to the idea of having relationships, because we feel so lost without them (Berry, 2021). Irvin Yalom (p.364), teaches of a “need-free love” where individuals do not seek others to complete the deficiency in themselves, but rather choosing to be with someone because the truly enhance your life (Berry, 2021; Yalom, 1989). It can therefore be reiterated that, before we can have the ability to be intimate and vulnerable in a connection with another, we first have the be comfortable with our isolation, consolidate our identity and self-being (Berry, 2021).


What is it that we can do for ourselves so that will allow us to create more intimate connections to feel less isolated?


Reparenting – Reparenting is based on the belief that a lot of our psychosocial issues are as a result of how how our needs were met as a child (Hayes, 2018). The child that does not feel secure or loved unconditionally could grow up as an adult who struggle to form secure attachments. Reparenting thus suggest various ways in which we can heal our inner-child and restructure our attachment styles to form close and intimate connections.


Daily affirmations – Simply, affirmations are statements that challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts (Moore, 2021). The science behind these repetitive thoughts shows that certain neural pathways in the brain increased when people followed self-affirmation tasks (Moore, 2021). This increases our ability to view threatening information as possibly valuable (Moore, 2021) as this relates to how we process information about ourselves. Affirmations are also shown to decrease health-deteriorating stress, it increases physical behaviour and it has been linked to high academic achievements (Moore, 2021).


Routine and scheduling – Routines have far-reaching benefits for individuals in that it improves our sleep, reduces anxiety and improves cognitive functioning (Smith, 2020). Good time management can help children feel safe and secure, develop social skills and improve their academic success. For adults, scheduling your day will provide you with valuable time to build connections with partners, family and friends to fight feelings of isolation (Smith, 2020).


Start a hobby – Instead of keeping yourself busy with your phone, choose a hobby or task that requires physical and mental presence (Nemo, 2020). Doing tasks that seem repetitive opens up headspace to feel less anxiety, less over-thinking and enhances our emotional regulation skills (Nemo, 2020). Hobbies can include sport, books, cooking, photography, collectors, gardening, gaming, writing, pottery and many more (Witty Companion, 2020).


There are many more ways in which individuals can chisel and design their identity. The most important part is that the distractions become secondary and the main objective lies within the journey of the “self”.


Therapeutic intervention in this case is a valuable tool as trained professionals could provide the guidance needed to form an unquestionable and confident “self” capable of intimate connections that does not leave you feeling numb and alone.



References:


Alley Dog. (2021). Intimacy. Retrieved from Alley Dog: https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Intimacy

Regan, S. (2021). Intimacy vs. Isolation: How This Stage Of Psychosocial Development Shapes Us. Retrieved from MBG Relationships: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/intimacy-vs-isolation-everything-to-know-about-this-stage

Cherry, K. (2021). Identity vs. Role Confusion in Psychosocial Development. Retrieved from

Very Well Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/identity-versus-confusion-2795735

Dolan, E. W. (2020). Existential isolation is more associated with avoidant than anxious attachment, study finds. Retrieved from PsyPost: https://www.psypost.org/2020/05/existential-isolation-is-more-associated-with-avoidant-than-anxious-attachment-study-finds-56856

Berry, W. (2021). Existential Isolation Is Key to Healthy Relationships. Retrieved from

Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-second-noble-truth/202102/existential-isolation-is-key-healthy-relationships

Gonsalves, K. (2020). What Is Your Attachment Style? Attachment Theory, Explained. Retrieved from MGB Relationships: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/attachment-theory-and-the-4-attachment-styles

Hayes, L. N. (2018). What Is Reparenting and Why You Should Consider It. Retrieved from

Talk Space: https://www.talkspace.com/blog/reparenting-therapy-why-consider-it/

Moore, C. (2021). Positive Daily Affirmations: Is There Science Behind It? Retrieved from

Positive Psychology: https://positivepsychology.com/daily-affirmations/

Smith, L. (2020). The psychology behind why we love routines and schedules. Retrieved from Yahoo! Finance: https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/the-psychology-behind-why-we-love-routines-and-schedules-050053932.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAHFY5LYXQB9y_9gpQ1QNe8z3HN2V74eRPkioXbm0swgwfXXRVeoIss-TNggz4KeBp6F5

Nemo, L. (2020). The Psychological Benefits of Picking Up a Hobby. Retrieved from Discover: https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/the-psychological-benefits-of-picking-up-a-hobby

Witty Companion. (2020). What Your Hobbies Say About You – Psychology Explained . Retrieved from Witty Companion: https://wittycompanion.com/what-your-hobbies-say-about-you/

Novotney, A. (2019, May). The risks of social isolation. Retrieved from American Psychological association: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation



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