Cultivate Self-Intimacy to Enjoy Healthier Relationships

6 min read

Fewer people are interested in having children these days or getting married, and a recent study showed that Gen Z folks prefer “nomance” to romance in movies and videos (Rivas-Lara et al., 2023). Another important finding is that Gen Zers would prefer more aromantic and asexual characters in their media. Clearly, the fairy-tale happy ending doesn’t have to involve a wet sloppy kiss as a couple fades into each other’s arms or the sunset. While the preference is for less sex or sexual relationships onscreen, there is a desire for a greater focus on Platonic relationships and strong friendships. And these are the relationships that can endure and offer a buffer to us when our romantic relationships fall apart.

The value of friendship can never be overestimated. True friends offer us the space to truly be ourselves. A recent Pew Research study, which confirms my own prior research, found that most of us have at least one good friend on whom we can lean when life gets heavy and with whom we can celebrate when things lighten up. The intimacy of close friendships gives us a place to explore our softer edges and let down boundaries. Intimacy provides a sense of safety and connection — and it is most fully achieved with others when we’ve opened ourselves to self-intimacy.

Learning to Accept the Bits and Pieces of Yourself You Don’t Like So Much

Self-intimacy is about knowing yourself and knowing yourself in relation to the others in your life. Knowing yourself can be a scary proposition if you’ve grown up in a home where you were devalued or led to question your self-worth. When the only messages we have received regarding our sense of self and our value have focused on our faults, whether they are real or projected by hurtful others, they can lead us to turn away from the literal or metaphorical mirror.

However, it is only through learning to accept all of who we are that we are able to truly engage in deep intimacy with ourselves or with others as friends or lovers. It’s important to note that merely being aware of the layers of identity that make up who you are is self-awareness; however, self-intimacy is about being not only aware of those pieces of yourself, but intentionally relating to them. Self-intimacy involves engaging with and relating to the parts of yourself that make up the whole of yourself (Milliken, 2017).

How to Begin a Lovingly Intimate Relationship With Yourself

When you first meet someone, you may notice their most apparent flaws or strengths, depending on your focus. It is only as you get to know someone more deeply or see them in multiple contexts that you truly begin to know them more authentically and see their more intimate layers.

Growing into an intimate knowledge of oneself requires the same invested attention. Just as you bring your close attention to someone to whom you are attracted or someone you’d like to know better, you must observe yourself with the same curiosity and acceptance you offer to that other. In fact, you must be able to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you for who you are and who knows your worth to truly grow more intimate with yourself. Our self-esteem develops based on how we assume others perceive us — whether our assumptions are accurate or not. Our self-intimacy, however, requires that we see ourselves as we truly know ourselves to be. Not through the eyes of others, but through our own self-loving and self-accepting eyes.

Becoming truly intimate with ourselves teaches us how we are showing up in our lives, where a little boundary-stretching might benefit us, and where we may need to begin to draw lines of protection from influences that harm rather than enhance us. It gives us space to explore who we are when we’re on our own, as well as consider who we are and how we show up in relationships with others.

5 Ways to Enhance Your Most Important Intimate Relationship

Choosing to spend time alone isn’t about choosing loneliness; it is about valuing your personhood and attending to your well-being. Here are some activities that can deepen your self-intimacy and ground you in your individuality:

  1. Allow yourself space to “be” in your body. Whether you’re on the yoga mat, on a mindful walk, or standing in line for your coffee, settle your body, rein in your thoughts, and just sink into your physical being. Bring conscious awareness to your feet, legs, torso, chest, hands, arms, neck, and head. Feel the lightness or the heaviness, feel your anxiety or your fatigue, and feel your joy or your sadness. Get to know how your body feels when in its present space and place. Suspend judgment; just notice with acceptance as you feel yourself in your body more intimately than one normally does.
  2. Engage in daily meditative walks. Whether you’re on a garden path, on the concrete sidewalk between buildings, or on the treadmill in your basement, use the walk as a space to connect with your feelings and thoughts as they rise to the surface. Again, don’t judge yourself, just notice, accept, and take into consideration your thoughts and feelings as appropriate. Making time to turn over the ”rocks and stones” of your thoughts and feelings can give you insights you might normally let slip by.
  3. Make time to intentionally reflect and journal. Freewriting or following prompts (if you have a hard time getting started) are effective ways of bringing to light parts of yourself that might otherwise remain hidden.
  4. Please your physical body. Engage in sensual activities that bring you pleasure. Enjoy your favorite delicacy in a mindful and sensual way. Whether it’s luxurious-feeling fabrics in clothing or bed linens, warm massage oils, long showers, or sensual baths, revel and take pleasure in your physical body. Learn what feels good and what feels amazing.
  5. Stop running and hiding from the parts of you that frighten you. When we filter out the truths or fears that we have about ourselves, we deny what may actually be the keys to motivation for growth. Until you are able to admit that you have a need for change, it’s unlikely that change will happen. Loving and accepting yourself as you are is essential for self-intimacy, but responding to your own felt need for change is part of self-love and self-care as well.

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