HELPING FAMILIES & COUNSELORS

LEARN/RELEARN INTIMACY

 

TIME STRUCTURING

     When people get together in pairs or groups, there are six different ways in which they can spend their time.  Eric Berne called this Time Structuring:  withdrawal; rituals; pastimes; activities; games and intimacy.  Quickly lets look at these.  Know that as we go down the list the intensity of stroking (positive recognition) and the degree of psychological risk increases.

 

     A.  Withdrawal  The person who withdraws may do so physically or mentally.  The stroking that takes place in withdrawal is through creating fantasies.  One can withdraw and have a pleasant fantasy or withdraw and have a negative fantasy.  The stroking that is going on is self stroking (positive or negative attention).  We tend to withdraw and recreate the type of stroking in which we have received the most of; positive or negative attention.  Withdrawal is an important way of structuring our time because all of us need time to be to ourselves and to be intimate with us.  Some people never learn how to do this in a self-valuing way, because, most of the strokes (attention) that they received growing up was of a negative nature.  As a result, they tend to withdraw and create negative fantasies which psychologically takes them close to home.

         This can be changed when people become aware and make efforts to change the negative fantasies to positive fantasies when they withdraw.

 

     B.  Rituals  Prescribed ways of doing things in which everybody knows exactly what to do.  The stroking involved in rituals is very precise and everybody keeps count.  For example:  everybody knows when we say "hello" the other person says something back, keeping precise balance.  When we say "hello" and the other person doesn't respond we feel cheated.  Rituals involve a little more psychological risk than withdrawal.  When someone doesn't respond to us when we say "hello", that is called a discount.  A discount is failure to get recognition or have someone acknowledge that you exist.  We attempt to avoid discounts when possible because they are the second most painful psychological pain we humans experience.

         We humans quickly find ways to make people pay attention when they don't pay attention in positive ways.  Negative (attention) strokes are much more predictable than positive strokes.  I can be sure to get a response from you if I kick you in the shin.  You may chose to not respond to me if I simply say "hello."  In situations where we perceive we can't get positive strokes we go after negative strokes to make people pay attention in some way. 

       It is a real empty feeling when somebody does not recognize or acknowledge our taking a risk to make contact with them.

 

     C.  Activities  Anything that results in production.  The stroking involved is delayed stroking.  There is a large amount of strokes at the end of the job.  There are positive strokes for a job well done or negative strokes for a job poorly done.  We all have an idea about how we set ourselves up to get negative strokes on the job.  There may be a progress report but most of the strokes in producing come at the end of the process.

     To perform a job reveals a little more about one than simply going through a ritualistic behavior or withdrawing, because, we are expressing our capabilities.  There is a greater degree of psychological risk.

 

     D.  Pastimes  This reveals even more about ourselves.  Letting others experience some of my feelings, beliefs and values.  There is a greater degree of the person not agreeing with me and thinking I'm full of bull, or rejecting the way I think and feel.

     In any pastime, the participants talk about something but engage in no action concerning it.  A frequent clue to pastiming is "pastime = passing time".  Most often, pastimers will be discussion what happened yesterday rather than here and now.  The light superficial conversation heard at cocktail parties typifies Pastiming.  In social interchanges, pastiming serves an additional function.  It is a way in which people "check out each other" as possible partners for the more intense stroke exchanges that take place in games or intimacy.

     Sometimes activities and pastimes can be interchanged in terms of both the intensity of stroking and the degree of psychological risk.  There are some jobs that may reveal more about yourself than some pastimes.  (Addiction therapists, for example, tend to share more about themselves at work than they do during their pastime activities.  This is okay, unless, we go home and share less of ourselves than we do at work.)  There are some pastimes that will reveal more about yourself than some jobs.

 

     E.  Psychological Games       These are a series of very precise ulterior transactions that involve some hidden gimmick and result in a payoff of a large amount of negative strokes.  The purpose is to shift responsibility from myself to the other person.  Games are a defense mechanism to regulate intimacy.  The purpose of games is to get a similar degree of psychological risk as involved in intimacy.  Games are played to get a similar way of stroking but without any psychological risk.

 

     F.  Intimacy  The most intense stroking of all is experienced in intimacy.  All of us have a daily need for stimulation and recognition.  We need lots of strokes daily to keep us emotionally, spiritually and mentally healthy.  We can't survive without strokes.  Most of us learn to behave in certain ways because that is the only way we got strokes, attention, recognition and care taking when we needed it.  Stroking is just as powerful in shaping behavior as breathing.  If you only got oxygen when you did what people wanted you to do, imagine how quickly you'd learn to do what they wanted you to do.

     Incorporated in our society are myths about stroking.  There are all kinds of prohibitions against getting our stroke needs met.  As grownups most of us go around stroke deprived.  We often use games to get our stroke needs met rather than getting them met directly.  We also get the message not to give others positive strokes because they will think we want something from them, or we are trying to take advantage of them.  And we learn it is not okay to ask people for positive strokes because they will think we are weird or conceited or bigheaded or something. 

     As we grow up we come to know that it is not okay to stroke ourselves because you might go blind. 

     We all know it's not okay to reject negative strokes we don't want because that will hurt peoples' feelings.  The fact is that we get all kinds of messages against really exchanging strokes in a free open way.

 

ATTAINING INTIMACY

      As I speak to you today, my voice will carry many words.  These words will contain my frame-of-reference, and as you receive them, you will apply your frame-of-reference.  So as you can see, each person interacts with the world based on his or her own frame of reference.  Often we don't share our frame of reference and we become confused about where the other person is coming from, because, everyone has his or her own unique frame of reference.

      My son slid on the hardwood floor past the doorway from the dinning room to the hallway.  I stuck my head through the door and told my son not to slide on the floor.  From the entrance to the kitchen at the end of the den my wife stuck her head through the doorway and asked, "Is that your mother or your father talking?"

      "It was my father."  Our parents speak through us often, and it is important that our children know, so they can avoid as much contamination as possible.  We are developing their frame of reference.

      The word SECURITY will be heard in terms of our own frame of reference.  And there are probably as many meanings to this term as there are people listening to this tape.  Lots of terms in our language mean very different things to different people.  We listen to people and what is coming in is redefined in light of our own frame of reference and a lot of communication problems that occur are because of the difference between the two people's frame of reference.  (Listen to the Managing Conflict tape if you get a chance.)  People don't make explicit what they mean (based on their own frame of reference) and don't check out with each other what the other person means.  They assume they know what the other person means, which often sets them up for conflict.

      Conflicts usually develop not because the other agrees or disagrees, but because they think you don't understand.  It is important that you take the time to really understand where the other person is coming from based on their frame of reference.

      This idea called intimacy can be defined as: an open, warm, caring relationship in which unconditional positive recognition (positive strokes) takes place.  It is an open, honest, game free relationship, where people are basically affirming each other for being.  Intimacy is the intense experience of really making contact with another human being (male or female) and experiencing the freedom of being fully open and honest and getting free in their relationship with each other.

      Some key ingredients of intimacy are:  vulnerability; understanding; empathy; compassion; respect; trust; acceptance; honesty; communication; compatibility; personal integrity; and consideration.

     Intimacy seems to happen when people get beyond their own frame of reference and hook up in a trusting child-like way, (free child to free child).  This is a very vulnerable place to be if there is not a sense of mutual caring, protection and valuing of both self and the other person.  Lots of times people don't know how to do that.

     As mentioned before, some people think of intimacy as being child to child, and as you can see, for intimacy to occur a person must be in an environment where they can feel safe and protected. 

    Intimacy is the greatest way of being human to human and having human-to-human contact.  In intimacy, we also take the biggest psychological risk.  The risk is of being open and honest and facing the possibility of the other person rejecting us.  Rejection is the most painful psychological pain we humans experience.

     As an example, Marianne Williamson in her recent book, A Return To Love, writes on page 113, "I'm afraid to show you the real truth about myself-my fears, my weaknesses--because I'm afraid that if you see them you'll leave.  I'm assuming you're as judgmental as I am.  And I'm also not really jumping up and down wanting to see your weak spots either because it makes me nervous to think I'm involved with someone who has them."

      On page 115 of A Return To Love, Marianne writes that, "Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden but not embarrassed.  That doesn't mean they were physically naked.  It means they were emotionally naked, totally real and honest, yet they were not embarrassed because they felt accepted completely for who they were."

      Some children get the message, "I love you but don't bother me."  This is the LOVE/REJECTION message.  In adult life these children are attracted to relationships where they are rejected, because they equate love with rejection.

     The fear of rejection stimulates some people to play Psychological Games.  These games are used as regulators of intimacy.  When people don't feel safe they will often enter into a game and use games as a substitute for intimate contact.  More on this later.

 

THE WARM FUZZY TALE

      A story has been told that illustrates the point.  Once there was a village in a valley surrounded by tall mountains.  Everyone in the village carried little sacks around their shoulders or waist and when citizens passed each other they would reach into the pouch, pull out a warm fuzzy, and give it to the other person.  The warm fuzzy would snuggle up to the person and make them feel warm, loved and cared about.  This had gone on for generations and there were no medical problems to mention.  Headaches, stomach aches, lower back pain, high blood pressure and other common conditions didn't exist.

     Now one day the Wicked Witch of the North decided to market her magic salves and potions in this valley.  She moved to one of the mountaintops and set up shop.  She learned in a very short time that her magic salves and potions were not selling.  So one afternoon she took a trip to the village.  She quietly stood behind one of the men (Tim) in the village (who was married and had a little boy and girl) and told him that he had better be careful, because his wife was giving away too many "warm fuzzes" and she may not have enough for him if she kept this up.  Tim turned to see who was talking to him, but the witch vanished. 

     This played on Tim's mind for several days and he began to notice how often his wife gave away "warm fuzzes".  Before too long Tim was nagging his wife to decrease the number of warm fuzzes she gave away, and because she loved him very much, she began to give away less warm fuzzes.  This pattern caught on and before too long others in the village were doing the same.

     As time passed it wasn't unusual for citizens to find people dead as a result of their back bone shriveling up.  The witch began to sell her salves and potions and some people in the village invented "cold prickles".  When people passed on the street they would exchange "cold prickles" which didn't make them feel the way "warm fuzzes" did, but, it kept people's backs from shriveling up and less people died.  Some people even gave away "plastic fuzzes".

     As sometimes happens, a new schoolteacher came to town that was called the "Hip Lady".  She discovered that the children were not exchanging "warm fuzzes" freely so she began to encourage the children to give "warm fuzzes" to each other.  The idea caught on and to the children's amazement every time they put their hands into their pouch, there was a "warm fuzzy".  In fact, there had always been a never-ending supply of "warm fuzzes" and no one ever ran out.

     The leaders of the town caught wind of this and a special town meeting was called to discuss these radical changes taking place with the children and the new schoolteacher.

     What do you think the out come of the special meeting will be?

 

INTIMACY CONTINUED

     Strokes in intimacy are the warm fuzzes given unconditionally.  They are simply strokes for being. Validating other people as having worth and value and dignity simply for being, apart from what they do or did.

     Intimacy can be experienced with oneself, in a one-on-one relationship, in a group, or by belonging to a large group in identity.  If you have traveled to a foreign country and ran into other Americans, you know how upon meeting each other there is a strong common bond that unites you.  Instantly there is a warm smile, hello or some type of recognition.

     Berne said:  "Intimacy is a candid child-to-child relationship with no games and no mutual exploitation.  It is set up by the adult ego states of the parties concerned, so that they understand their contracts and commitments with each other."

     A problem in our society is that people get intimacy and sex confused.  Intimacy may or may not occur in sex.  There is a lot of intimate contact in which sex is not a pert.  Intimacy is the intense experience of really making contact with another human being when people are experiencing the freedom of being fully open and honest and getting free in their relationship with each other.

     There are a lot of folks in our society who go after sex when they want intimacy.  And often are disappointed because you can never get enough of what you don't need. 

     There are a lot of folks in our society who attempt to substitute sex for nurturing, caring and intimacy in relationships.

     It is really important to differentiate between intimacy and sex.  They are not the same thing.  In our society when we talk about intimacy people usually think sex.  This is a contamination that needs to be decontaminated.

 

 BLOCKING INTIMACY

     The feeling that blocks intimacy from happening is FEAR.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of becoming dependent or the other person becoming dependent on us.  Fear of giving up part of oneself.  Fear of loss of masculinity (in men) and fear of losing control in women (and sometimes men).

     In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson (MW) says, "Our job is not to kill disease, but to turn its energy back in the direction it came from --- to turn fear back into love."  "Our ego would prefer that we never look too directly into the pain."

     "A miracle is an authentic switch from fear to love." MW

     Expectations are an enemy to intimacy.  "In order to learn the most from relationships, you have to focus on your own issues." MW Open your own can of warms and count them, not the other persons'.

     Intimacy comes through struggle.  Often we aren't willing to take the risk and go through the pain to get to intimacy.

     Judith Staples says, "being chemically dependent is a primary way of making oneself emotionally unavailable.  We need to relearn intimacy."  (Changes Magazine, 1987)  This is true for any addiction.

    Our job is to love the world back to health.  Service means giving the needs of another person the same priority as our own. MW

     Love is a commitment to the attainment of the conditions of peace for everyone involved in a situation. MW

     To truly communicate, we must take responsibility for the heart space that exists between another and us. MW

     "The ego's patterns have to be rooted out, detoxed from our system, before the pure love within us can have a chance to come forth."  "Spiritual progress is like a detoxification." MW

     Rage turned outward is called rage.  Rage turned inward is called ulcers, addiction, cancer, lower back pain, headaches, depression and things like that.

 

 

ENHANCING INTIMACY

 1.  Send care capsules:  a note; telephone call; flowers, looks - unexpected gestures.

2.  Tell them at least three things each day that you like about them.  You'll avoid the negative attention seeking.  It only takes about a week to change negative to positive stroking patterns.

3.  Take time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life:  a sunset; wind in the trees; birds singing; take time for a few moments together.

4.  Share hard times and difficult times.

5.  Plan regular breakouts from your routine:  go to the beach; go to the next town and check into a motel for the night; take an hour off in the middle of the day and do something special; do something unexpected.

6.  Recreate romance:  candlelight; music; favorite songs with special meaning.

7.  Playful Banter:  teasing that is not hurtful; kidding around.

8.  Create experiences on a regular basis for touching:  walk in the evenings; jog; clean up after dinner together; just sit and talk and share.

9.  Share important memories together:  memories of special times in the relationship; "play do you remember when?"

10.  Appreciate and value your partner's special ability in specific areas where one will take the lead, particularly in areas where the other is not as comfortable.  Dealing with the in-law's conflicts for example.  Let the other person know you value their actions.

11.  Have regular times during the day when you make physical contact:  hug; handshake; touch; just to let the other person know you are there and you care about them.

12.  Honor the people you love.  Gary Smally had the group he was presenting to pass a Stradivarius Violin to one another.  The old, in need of repair, violin was carefully passed from person to person.  Everyone was intrigued and honored the violin by valuing it and handling it with much care.  Gary asked the group if the wood shaped into a violin was more valuable than a human being.  Then he asked if the participants treated their family members the way they treated the Stradivarius violin.  Honor the people you love. 

 

REMEMBER:  "We need to get certain things done before rigormortis sets in."

 

 

 SPECIAL THANKS AND REFERENCES

 Special thanks to Vann Joines, PhD, Southeast Institute, Chapel Hill, N. C. who helped me improve my ability to experience intimacy and from which much of the content in this lecture came.

 Thanks also to Paul Ware, MD, Shreveport, LA and his concept of "Personality Adaptations."

 

Suggested Reading:

Games People Play, By Eric Berne, MD, Grove Press, Inc, NY,

TA Today, By Ian Stewart & Vann Joines, Lifespace Publishing, Chapel Hill, NC (919) 929-1171.

Treating Chemically Dependent Families, John T. Edwards, PhD, Johnson Institute, (800) 231-5165.

A Return To Love, By Marianne Williamson, Harper Perennial, NY, NY.

Return to Homepage