Relationships

Empathy and Emotional Intimacy

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This final section is an objective description of an extremely subjective experience -- empathy and emotional intimacy. At right is a video which describes emotional intimacy.

Emotional Support in personal relationships

Personal relationships are about support for the welfare and well being of each other. In close relationships, this includes mutual emotional support. Feeling that someone is "there for you" emotionally is a subjective experience, but it is based on real, objective behavior. Whether or not someone supports another emotionally can be objectively determined. The main criteria is that one genuinely tries to understand the feelings of their partner, through things like listening patiently and asking questions for clarification. Last, they should show empathy for their partner's feelings, rather than dismissing them or condemning them for how they feel.

Making an effort to understand

The beginning of helping another person is understanding what the problem is. In the case of emotional support, this means understanding how the other person feels. Whether or not one is trying to understand how another feels is observable (see the link below on empathetic listening). Caring is demonstrated by making an effort, of one's own initiative, to understand how the other person feels:

Trying to understand often takes the form of "active listening", in which you repeat back what's been said in order to confirm your understanding. Whatever the form, when one person is making a sincere effort to understand how another person feels, that behavior can be objectively recognized. Examples of not listening include:

The following responses demonstrate that a person is making an effort to understand the feelings of the speaker, showing a sincere desire to be supportive and that they care.

Not making an effort to understand

For comparison, below are responses which demonstrate not trying to understand or support the other person.

The Need for Emotional Intimacy

Humans are social animals with social needs, best described as the need to belong, or to love and be loved. The peak experience of being loved is when we open up, are vulnerable and share our true feelings, and find the other person accepts us and empathizes with us. This creates emotional intimacy between two people.

To the degree the need for love/emotional intimacy is met, people are happy and fulfilled. The biggest factor is a person's quality of life is the quality of their relationships. When one's social needs are not met, their mood is worse, even if they have success in other areas of their life (such as work).

Negative emotions are an inevitable part of life. We experience countless hurts and disappointments growing up, and the rest of life is no always fair or just. When people don't have emotional intimacy, they feel lonely, isolated, and experience chronic negative emotions. This is why, despite having enough material resources, people can still succumb to addiction, depression, divorce, child abuse, violence, crime, and other self-defeating behaviors. Most people suffering from these problems are not experiencing hunger or homelessness (material want), but are suffering from chronic emotional stress (anger, hurt, loneliness, etc.). Such negative emotions are healed or resolved by emotional intimacy, which frees people from their pain (and creates closeness between two people). It's as if people can't truly forgive themselves unless at least one other person re-assures them it's OK to feel how they feel, and when another person acknowledges it's OK, it becomes possible to forgive ourselves.

Emotional intimacy described

The actual process of creating emotional intimacy is described below (and in the video above).

The above exchange creates emotional intimacy, but requires two partners who are able to communicate directly about their feelings, care about each other, and have the qualities of emotional intelligence (such as being able to empathize). Emotional intimacy is difficult to achieve, but the experience is priceless, and something all people need on a regular basis.

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Disclaimer: This is a personal website expressing the opinions and observations of the author.
Last modified: 2010-11-17
http://www.cgstock.com/relationships
Chris Gregerson - chris@cgstock.com