Thursday, January 28, 2010

Assessing Your Levels of Interpersonal Intimacy


Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.

Luke 9:18-21

Intimacy is another facet of interpersonal boundaries. Who are we close to? How much do we share about ourselves and with whom? These are important questions. Mismanaged intimacy leads to feelings of betrayal or abandonment. So, let's take a closer look at this issue.

I like to think of varying stages of intimacy like visiting different floors in a tall skyscraper. Just as most large city buildings have lobbies, so does our first level of intimacy. Our first floor is open to the public, like most building lobbies are. It is what we present to strangers and neighbors alike. This includes our physical appearance, our style of clothes, and the car we drive. Most of these things we know everyone will see so we consciously shape this public persona to reveal what we choose about our inner self.

The next several low levels of intimacy are what we share about ourselves with acquaintances and distant friends. It tends to comprise of details of our life that we consider low risk. This information may include which Super Bowl team we are routing for or what movies we've recently seen. It is what we typically share on our Facebook profile. Generally, we are not very invested in protecting these pieces of information.

Mid-level floors of intimacy are things we share with friends. We let this group know our thoughts, opinions, and some likes and dislikes. These are relationships that have some safety. We know these individuals and have found them trustworthy. We share more of ourselves which increases our risk.

Finally each of us have our upper most floors of intimacy. Here we share our emotional reactions, private opinions and thoughts, and deeply held personal likes and dislikes. Risk at this level is very high because we are sharing the core of who we are. Few people should be allowed to enter this level. They might include a friend or two, our spouse, and God.

There are a couple of intimacy related problems. First, some people have problems developing increasing levels of intimacy with others. Of course, not all relationships should become close and personal, but a few should. There is a complication if no relationships grow beyond casual levels of intimacy.

People also get in trouble when interpersonal intimacy is not mutual and reciprocal. Casual friendships should not be sharing deeply personal details or having sexual contact. Likewise, we will be very hurt if we discover our spouse or best friend have kept inappropriate secrets and hidden important parts of themselves from the relationship. If this mismatch occurs, feelings of betrayal are likely since the levels of intimacy aren't mutual.

This leads us to back to the original question. How well are you doing with your management of intimacy? Do you have varying levels of friendships? Are you on the same "intimacy floors " with your acquaintances, friends, and loved ones?

Jesus' relationship intimacy levels varied. He shared one level of intimacy with the Pharisees, then another with the crowd, a different level with the disciples, and finally a high level with his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John. Those three knew him so well that Peter correctly guessed that Jesus was the son of God.

This strategy won't protect us from all interpersonal pain. Even in the best situations, we will still have others disappoint or hurt us, but it will reduce our exposure. Even Jesus was emotionally wounded by his disciples. Peter denied him, Thomas doubted him, and Judas sold him out. But this technique will protect us from some interpersonal risk.

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