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The vulnerability of intimacy and being 'free'

Intimacy can be a scary thing. When you are intimate with someone, emotionally or physically, you reveal yourself; think 'into-me-see'.

If there are parts of yourself you think are weak or easy to hurt, then those may also be seen by someone you are intimate with. There's not much way of getting around that - if you want mutual intimacy you must be willing to accept the risk that goes with being open.

Being free and having independence are totally natural, universal human needs. However, it would be mistaken to think that these needs (or values) are at odds with being very close to someone and having a deep intimacy.

Of course, you may have certain beliefs, memories and fears about getting close to people, which tie you up and leave you feeling far from free. But if that's the case, it's not a conflict between intimacy and freedom, but rather a conflict in your way of thinking. Luckily it's one that can be resolved.

The world is in a constant state of change, and so are you. One of the biggest catalysts for positive change in relationships is recognising that the future does not have to equal the past, and then taking the necessary risks to allow the changes you'd like, to take place.

Fear of intimacy is often fuelled by a fear of inadequacy. If you don't believe that you're worthy of the love that you'd like, then showing yourself to someone you feel strongly about would seem to invite the pain of rejection and the confirmation of your inadequacy.

Repetition forms part of the solution; repeated, progressive sharing of self, as you'd like to share it, thoughts, affection, feelings and needs. You can re-frame rejection, find inner acceptance and learn again how intimate, loving connections are built.

If it's more a case of fearing commitment rather than closeness or intimacy, then you may be surprised to learn that you can still be free while having a strong commitment in a relationship. It all depends on the frame of mind in which a commitment is made and how clearly each person understands and accepts the other's needs, while honouring their own.

One of the keys to staying free in a committed mutually supportive relationship, is to get clear on your personal emotional responsibility and to cultivate a certain way of being supportive.

As soon as you try to help or offer support to someone out of a sense of obligation, thinking "this is what I 'should' or 'must' do" you feel less free. If, instead, you start by giving yourself permission to do whatever you feel is best, given the situation and what's truly important to you, then you can weigh up the options and decide. You can then own the decision and give freely and joyfully - if that is what is important to you.

Similarly if you offer support to someone with the idea that they then 'owe you', or that if they don't accept then you are somehow less valuable, then you are also less free. You become tied up by your thinking. So then, it is by giving freely and learning to take responsibility for your own feelings, that the risks involved with intimacy are made much smaller.

"Healthy Loving Relationships" explores how intimacy is developed and many of the obstacles that can prevent or undermine it. The book is focused on finding solutions that honour and satisfy everyone's needs, including the needs for safety, freedom and independence. The book also looks at the nature of 'commitment' and how it can be shared in a way that works well for both people, how sometimes compromise can be good for everyone, and how freedom can be gained in any situation.

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