by Michelle Larson
In order to create sincere connections in our lives we must reveal ourselves.
By expressing what is really in our hearts and on our minds we invite others to do the same…and that’s where the magic happens. Sharing ourselves with others helps us to understand ourselves and we also help others to discover themselves. Until we can achieve real intimacy in our relationships, with our partners, with friends, family, co-workers and even people we don’t know, we are not experiencing genuine acceptance. When we filter ourselves and try to maintain an appearance of “everything is great”when it isn’t, or holding back even the best of news, because we are afraid it will be perceived as bragging, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are not relating to others in a meaningful way, as we are keeping them at a “safe” distance.
I have lived many of my years fearful of people knowing who I really am…sharing the ugly details…afraid that if they really knew me, they wouldn’t love me. How could they?
“The Seven Levels of Intimacy,” by Matthew Kelly (Super-summarized with some of my personal interpretation)
My goal is to become the best version of myself, and to help anyone I come in contact with, to be the best version of themselves. So every time I engage in a conversation with anyone…before I open my mouth, I should ask, “Is what I am about to say going to help me become the best version of myself and is it going to help the person I am speaking with become the best version of him/herself?” It really is possible to bring out the best in ourselves and the best in everyone we talk with, if we are conscientious about what we choose to say. With every conversation we have an opportunity to create a lasting impact, to reveal our spirit, or to have an intimate connection. Speech is one of the most powerful gifts the human person possesses, and like most of our gifts it can be used positively, to raise people up, or negatively, to pull them down. It’s a choice we can make everyday…
Level 1: Exchanging clichés
“Hi, how are you? I’m fine, thanks…and you?”
This first level is necessary and appropriate for an exchange with the grocery store cashier, but not with people that you have a relationship with. With all that we have on our “to-do” list everyday, and how preoccupied we get with what is going on in our lives, unfortunately, many of us relate by exchanging clichés with people who we are living with, working with, neighbors, teenage children, etc. This type of dialogue gives the illusion that we care, but in reality it just says…”I’m too busy for you.” Exchanging clichés is the way we usually start a conversation, but if it doesn’t go beyond that, the relationship will not grow and nothing is revealed of any importance. Communicating in clichés doesn’t give anyone a taste of our spirit. If we spend a little more time engaging, making eye contact, listening and sharing; it will go a long way toward creating meaningful interactions.
Level 2: Sharing facts
“The job is good. The kids are well. The weather is nice.”
Talking about the facts of our lives and the world we live in can be a bit mundane, but rarely causes conflict. So it can be a very safe way to communicate. Facts can have an upside though: Facts can include compliments for instance. Everyone loves encouragement and praise. Showering niceties on others can energize and motivate them. Facts can also be dangerous in that sometimes what we portray as a fact, can actually be a judgment against someone else. In order to be the best version of ourselves we need to stay away from spreading gossip and passing judgment on others. This does neither the speaker nor the listener any good….not to mention the hurt that the victim suffers. Passing on judgments also creates an atmosphere of distrust with the person you are speaking with…”if she is says this about so-and-so, I wonder what she says about me?” Remember, at every moment a relationship is being driven by positive energy or negative energy.
Level 3: Discussing opinions
“Our country is really in need of some healthcare reform.”
Opinions tend to differ and as a result can often lead to controversy. This is where many relationships tend to find themselves in trouble. What can happen in a discussion of opposing opinions is both parties (instead of having a mature dialogue) where both are interested in the other’s point of view, get into a battle of the egos and work very hard to prove themselves right. This usually ends with one person changing the subject to something more in line with a level 2 conversation,…”so anyway, how about them Yankees?…” This type of diversion immediately causes both people to want to end the discussion and most likely not speak with that person again anytime soon. This is fine at a dinner party, but with our primary relationships with family, friends or partners we must help one another to learn to agree and disagree in ways that are healthy. In every discussion we should first seek out what we can agree with in what the other person is saying. (Our tendency is to race to what we disagree with.) Keep in mind that the goal is to explore the subject, not to be right. Explore the path that has brought the other person to his or her opinion. Try to understand the logic behind the opinion. Always be open to new ideas and never shut yourself off to the possibility that you may have been wrong. A mind open to new ideas and willing to engage in dynamic exploration of different subjects is a thing of beauty. Acceptance is the key to the third level of intimacy. “I love you and I accept you, even if I don’t understand you.” We mustn’t push our opinions onto others. Everyone has a right to their own point of view.
Level 4: Expressing hopes and dreams
“Someday I want to travel the world and help women in need.”
Hopes and dreams are a crucial part of life, and of any healthy relationship. They also say something real about who we are. This is the point where, when sharing, we get into our higher-level relationships. We generally only reveal our dreams to those that we feel accepted by. Our dreams are important to us and we want to feel supported in having them. We want the person we share them with to celebrate them and encourage us to fulfill them. Dreams tell a lot about a person, not only who we are today, but also what we would like to become. They tell us about values, and passions and what we center our life upon. We must support each other in our hopes and dreams, as individuals and with our partners. If we truly want to be intimate with the people we love, we need to know what drives them. And we need to understand that like us, what drives them today, can be totally different than what drives them next year. Dreams are usually something that we have as an individual, but as a couple we need to be flexible and may have to compromise at times to allow our partners the ability to live their dreams as well. Give and take…mutual respect and loving support is required for each person to be able to fulfill their dreams.
Level 5: Talking about feelings
“It really hurts me when…..”
Feelings are defined as “emotional reactions” and we have thousands of them every day. Learning how to share these feelings in a way that allows the people we love to know us on a deeper level is where we come face to face with the fear of rejection. Our feelings are the raw-emotional nerve endings that very often reveal our brokenness, our humanity, our need to be held, listened to, and loved. The revelation of our feelings makes us extremely vulnerable…and this is the price we pay to create a higher level of intimacy. The reward of making ourselves vulnerable is mental health. No man or woman can live a full life without at least one other person that truly knows them - a confidant worthy of our trust. We might feel that this type of revelation is too scary, but with the right person opening the doors to our hearts will reap huge rewards. The sharing of our feelings brings more and more commitment to one another. It’s important for us to agree to decreasing each other’s loneliness, and increasing each other’s happiness. We must always remember to be a good listener, because while we want to be heard, we also need to reciprocate. Intimacy means to know and be known. To really know another person we must be quiet and take in what they have to say…to feel them. There is value in everything people say. The more we are able to listen, the more intimacy we will experience. As we grow, we will focus more and more on positive feelings that create unity, rather than on negative feelings that create separation and isolation. We will focus more on the trust rather than the distrust, more on the gratitude and appreciation than the anger. Allowing the people we love to freely express their feelings, and them allowing us to do the same, is one of the greatest gifts we can give and receive.
Level 6: Exposing faults, fears and failures
“I am so afraid of being abandoned again.”
It is often at this level that we have to tend to the wounds of the past. Cleaning our wounds can be an excruciatingly painful experience, but if we are to recover and grow strong again it cannot be avoided. This is the level where we expose ourselves…the emotional equivalent of nakedness. This is where we let down our guard, take off our masks, share our faults and ask for help. This involves owning up to who we are, who we have been, what we are capable of, and how we have failed. Revealing the mess. The ability to be able to admit that we need help, we screwed up, we are afraid, is a sign a great maturity in a person. The 6th level of intimacy is about being set free from the shackles of victimhood. It gives us the opportunity to change and grow. When we can accept each other’s faults, fears and failures and offer to stand by each other’s side, without making the other feel shameful or guilty, we have reached a level of intimacy that can be truly amazing and everlasting.
Level 7: Knowing each others legitimate needs
“I need to feel close on a physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual level.”
People and relationships thrive when their legitimate needs are met. Through the acceptance of each other’s differences and sometimes opposing opinions, the revelation of our hopes and dreams, the honoring of each other’s unique feelings, and the awareness of each other’s faults, fears and failures, we learn to celebrate the individuality of our partners. And now with the 7th level we can collaborate in the most dynamic way to know and tend to each other’s legitimate needs, creating a lifestyle focused on whatever it is that makes the other thrive. For instance: You may want some alone time at some point each day. Your partner wants to be with his/her friends now and then. You want to hear the words, “I love you” often. It’s important for your partner to have dinner once a week with family….and on and on…. We must not make the mistake of expecting our loved ones to know what we need. We must ask for what we need, without being critical or judgmental, with grace and appreciation… not demanding, but requesting. And in this collaboration of love for one another, working toward supporting each other to be the best version of ourselves, real Intimacy will flourish.
It is beautiful when once we accept ourselves fully there is nothing to hide. And in the sharing comes a weightlessness that is so freeing.
Open up. Get closer. Love more.
Pull two chairs very close to each other and sit so close that your knees are touching. Look into each other’s eyes, hold hands, and for three minutes each, take turns telling the other person as many personal facts about yourself as come to mind. Try not to lose eye contact even if you cannot think of more personal facts. It is amazing how powerfully the bonds of intimacy can be formed.
Choose 1-3 people in your life that you would like to have more intimacy with. Think about how you could use the 7 levels to create a closer connection with these people.