When I first considered becoming a personal coach, I met with an experienced men’s coach here in Minneapolis named Craig Bloomstrand, but everyone calls him Snake. Snake told me the men he works with, often CEOs and military veterans, come to him looking for something they feel they are missing. They have high-powered jobs, financial stability and a history of achieving, but they need something more. Quite often, the open and vulnerable conversations they have with Snake, provide that. Ultimately, Snake said what his clients are looking for is intimacy. He said personal coaches end up being intimacy coaches.
Perhaps there’s a Powerpoint for intimacy?
I have not forgotten Snake’s words. I believe they ring true. In “New York Times” columnist, David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character, he talks about how we have lived in a meritocracy for the last several decades. The meritocracy focuses on achievement and outer success. We learn skills and a vocabulary to advance our career and intelligence. We are inarticulate when it comes to cultivating the inner-life and intimacy. Brooks says, “The noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from the depths.” At one point, Brooks also says we attack life and spirituality like we attack a homework assignment or a school project; we read self-improvement books (guilty, so guilty) and break it down into strategic progress markers (admittedly, this works for me).
I believe we have focused so hard on advancing and strengthening ourselves, we have forgotten how to tune into the soft warmth and humility that truly feeds us. We struggle to create a loving connection with ourselves and with others. Because we primarily strive to improve our status, we don’t hone the moral integrity and deep intimacy that allow us to make unshakable commitments. Surface goals are moving targets. We chase the carrot, neglecting potentially rich relationships along the way.
And if we are not chasing a more marketable self, it is possible we are doing what we can to avoid facing difficult topics like our imperfections, failures and bad relationships. Technology, books, television, booze, shopping, fitness, shallow friendships — all serve as distractions from humbling truths.
The other night my boyfriend and I sat closely on the couch watching an episode of the Showtime series, Shameless (starring William H. Macy). It happened to be a very sad and emotional episode. Spoiler alert: there was a suicide attempt witnessed by the whole family (children too) on Thanksgiving. Watching the family react with tears and sadness, just wrecked me. I could not stop my own tears from flowing. My guy just pulled me closer, kissed the top of my head and asked what part was making me so sad. He was the perfect comfort. I felt so OK about crying in front of him. The only way I can describe it is it felt intimate and safe. I had only really felt that with my parents and my closest friends. Many times I worried my emotions would be used against me, silenced, seen as a nuisance or would make someone else uncomfortable. This couch crying incident seemed to bring us closer — like a wall lowered and our hearts were able to communicate a bit more directly. There was a warmth and sense of ease that spread throughout my body. I am holding that feeling within me.
Armor is cold
The catalyst for the intimacy was a willingness to be vulnerable. The sealing of the intimacy deal was the acceptance of the vulnerability. The meritocracy frowns upon vulnerability. It gives the competitors an edge. They can step on you where you’re weak and gain ground ahead of you.
When I attended Michigan State University (50,000 students) and when I lived in Chicago, I learned to fight for whatever ground (campus jobs, financial aid, parking spots, machines at the gym) I could claim. I thought it was great I learned how to be tough and independent. I developed a nice protective, assertive armor. I was proud of my accomplishments in the big aggressive world. I did not realize how heavy that armor I wore was, until years later. That toughness was an intimacy killer. Later, my husband wore a similar armor. We had a hard time shedding the armor and getting to vulnerability with each other. We thought we needed to be strong to be loved. A little weakness or a chink in the armor might have sparked intimacy.
The lack of comfort in my marriage, drove me to find it elsewhere. Starting within myself. Comforting myself was my go-to response. I found a lot of depth and reassurance within books (#1 “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland). Meditation also gave me a sense of calm. Later new friends and writing connected me to the peace of creativity.
Eventually, through years of dating post-divorce, I learned comfort can come from others. It was OK to count on someone else. This led to true intimacy.
It is really possible for partners to soothe each other’s nervous systems. Touch, affirming words, reliability and presence — all of these offer a form of reassurance. They all soothe. I grew up thinking financial stability and your own hard work and achievements were your safety net and security blanket. My parents were wonderful parents. I knew I was loved. I always had everything I needed financially, but there was not a lot of hand-holding. We were raised to be fairly independent. There are benefits to that, for sure. I just learned how to soothe myself, instead of learning others could give that comfort.
I was praised for doing well in school, so I did that. I was praised for being easy to raise. So I made sure I didn’t burden anyone unnecessarily. That praise fed me, for a long time.
I remember my dad generously hugging me and my grandpa massaging my shoulders with his strong hands. My mom was not a hugger until later in life. Those moments of touch took the knots out of a somewhat tense young girl’s muscles.
I never knew how much I craved that loving and reassuring touch, until I found it. I’d had plenty of touch from loves, but not the soul soothing, sweet kind. Hint: It’s more like stroking a cat or a bunny versus petting a dog or brushing off lint.
I never knew how comforting optimism was. It’s a ray of lovely nourishing hope. Makes me feel open and willing to share my optimism.
I never knew how wonderful it was to know someone loves you for you, until I let myself be real within a relationship and did not get judged for it.
I never knew how important it was to give comforting reassurance to others until I read a bunch of self-improvement books that told me so. 😉 But the real proof was in the loving intimate reactions I received in return for my responsiveness.
My point is, notice what comforts you and how you comfort others. What message is conveyed? Is it stoking intimacy or repelling it?
I’m so fortunate because advancing my career means learning ways to increase intimacy.
What or who comforts you? Can you reciprocate the reassurance? If so, how do you do it? How much intimacy do you feel?
Experiencing art widens your emotional repertoire.