Most humans crave intimacy. Most humans are terrified of intimacy. What is it that makes us both crave and dread intimacy? I believe this is a complicated question that has to do with the formation of who we think we are in the world. The process of forming who we are goes all the way back to when we first looked into the eyes of our primary care giver. For most of us that is our mother.
Fritz Perls, who is credited with originating Gestalt Therapy changed the name “defenses” to “contact boundary disturbances”. This may seem like a simple somatic twist, but I think it was a brilliant stroke. He is describing what we are doing when me meet others in the world. What Freud called defenses is actually the way we manipulate others from meeting our authentic self. Intimacy can only happen in the absence of these manipulations.
What is this terror that drives us away from intimacy? If we have introjected, or swallowed beliefs from the world that something about us is unacceptable, or that the world will never meet our needs, and especially if this introjection happens in our developmental years, in our mind we become the person who is unacceptable, or the person who’s needs will never be met. Then simple human interaction can feel like a multiple front assault; we are confronted with the exposure of whatever it is we believe is unacceptable about ourselves, we face the assumed inevitability of not having our needs met, we are also faced with the possibility that the beliefs we hold about ourselves are incorrect, and therefor we are not who we believed ourselves to be, which, somewhat paradoxically can feel like an existential threat.
Vulnerability happens when we drop our defenses, when we stop all those skillful manipulations and show up metaphorically naked in the presences of someone else. This act of courage is the greatest gift anyone can give the world.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell describes the hero’s journey in his now famous book, “A Hero With A Thousand Faces.” The story goes as follows; The hero is going about in his life and receives a “a call to order.” It is usually a he because, well the patriarchy. This call to order comes in the form of some sort of crisis, a dragon is taking young maidens from the town, the enemy has stolen his loved one, or some force is going to destroy the world. The hero will often resist the call to order for awhile and things just keep intensifying.
Next, the hero will decide to go on the journey to conquer whatever the problem is. At this point the hero is entering another realm of existence, a magical world. He is usually met with a gate keeper that offers him a magical talisman of some sort to help him on his journey. The hero then enters onto his journey.
Once on his journey the hero must then do battle. He must slay the dragon, or enter into the realm of Hades, or even be annihilated. Once his mission on the journey is accomplished the hero is able to retrieve a treasure that will benefit his tribe when he returns from the magical realm.
Dr Campbell points out something quite amazing about this story. The story of the hero’s journey shows up in every culture on the planet, sometimes in multiple variations. This suggests that the story of the hero’s journey is talking about something common to all humans. I argue that the hero’s journey is the journey to the self. It is an inner journey. What we must conquer is all the beliefs that we hold that keep us from being authentic and present in the world. The hero’s journey is the story of the road to vulnerability. Intimacy is the destination of the hero. We are all on that Journey.