Boundary to Intimacy

I want to talk about a specific kind of boundary and vulnerability that I’ve often seen in Circling, and especially Guerrilla Circling (Google that). This boundary became very apparent to me in attempts to apply the practices I learned in circling with close friends and family. I often got a lot of push back and even aggression in the form of statements like these: “I don’t want to talk about it.”, “You don’t understand.”, “You seem to want me to talk in a particular way and won’t listen to me otherwise.”, and in the most extreme cases I’ve had people physically walk away from me out of the room.

At first I was very confused. How could they not see that I was genuinely interested in them? How could they not see that I care?

Vulnerability and Intimacy

The answer came in the realization of how intimate and vulnerable it is to share emotions or even hear someone else’s emotions. To be with someone and share my emotions openly and freely is not just me being vulnerable. It’s me creating an intimate space with the other person. I would argue that sharing my emotions openly and vulnerably is not so different than taking off my clothes and standing nude in front of someone. Really. Some people really don’t want to see my naked body. It’s too uncomfortable for them to see me naked. Some people don’t want to see my emotions. It’s too uncomfortable for them to see me vulnerable.

The reverse of this is more obvious, but I want to state it for completeness. When I ask someone what they’re feeling, I’m asking them to be vulnerable. I’m asking them to be emotionally naked. That’s a lot to ask. A lot of trust has to build before this point. When I am so direct to ask someone to be vulnerable… to get naked, if you will, they can feel defensive, vulnerable, uncomfortable… just with the question! No need for them to actually be vulnerable to become uncomfortable. Just imagine walking around asking people to get naked because you want to see them. “I want to see you, will you take off your clothes?” Ick! Just typing that feels uncomfortable for me. But if I was in a trusting and intimate relationship that same question could be soft, warm, sexy, yummy. I think the analogy works quite well. “I want to see you fully, how do you feel?” “Are you feeling hurt?” “Are you feeling angry?” Without trust, these questions can seem intrusive and the receiver may respond with aggression, defensiveness, deflection, etc..

Discomfort in response to questions and shares about feelings and emotions is not limited to people strange to circling. It happens in our circling. It happens with experienced circlers!

What do we do?

I think the answer is what I’ve already mentioned: build trust. And. Let go of any attachments to actually achieving emotional intimacy with the other, completely. This means you may not get the emotional intimacy you desire with the person and you are really ok with that.

We can build trust by repeatedly accepting the person with what they choose to share. We can accelerate this building of trust by appreciating the person for who they are and what they’re choosing to share! Appreciating! That’s a lot more than just accepting, though I’d wager acceptance alone will go all the way to building trust. But imagine appreciating a person and how much more they would feel safe and open.

The importance of the repetition of acceptance and appreciation cannot be overstated. A single moment of resistance, or reciprocal anger and hurt, on our part can destroy a lot of trust. Maybe even all that has been built thus far. These moments of resistance or anger can reinforce an idea that “yeah, that person’s got problems.” or “still got problems” or “I don’t feel safe… just like I knew I would.”

Let me give a more specific example: small talk. What if all the person is comfortable talking about is the weather. Can you really appreciate them while they talk about the weather? Can you even enjoy them while they talk about the weather? Why not? What isn’t there to enjoy by experiencing another person talk about the weather? What resistance is in me, or you, that doesn’t want this to happen?

How about we take out the content… what isn’t to enjoy about seeing another person’s face as they look at you and hearing their voice as they speak? We can drop the content as the primary thing we are aware of (without completely ignoring it or dismissing it) and pay attention to the living being before us that is engaging with us and even desires to engage with us! What a beautiful gift! Talk to me about the weather! Please!

I believe then, the secret is to see and experience the being in front of us. Allow the content to just occupy a small part of our awareness. Enjoy, appreciate, and accept.

The Last Step

Developing this trust is absolutely important to emotional intimacy, however, we may still not achieve intimacy if we never explicitly invite it. As the last step, I suggest to ask those questions like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this post: “How are you feeling?”, “Are you angry?”, “Are you hurt?”. Or share how you’re feeling.

Do this once. Don’t push for an answer. And immediately accept and appreciate the response, whatever it is.

If your interlocutor takes the invitation, then you can go deeper. If your interlocutor “rejects” the invitation then just continue on enjoying and appreciating and accepting as you were before. Nothing is lost. Trust is gained.

This is where non-attachment is really important.

Of Primary Importance

More important than emotional intimacy with another is emotional intimacy with yourself. In those interactions where there isn’t intimacy with my interlocutor, I try to pay attention to my sensations and feelings as I interact. I try to be completely open to my self, to my sensations, to my feelings. I try to allow them and not resist them.

This can be quite challenging if I really want intimacy with the other. It can be quite challenging if I have judgements about the conversation (it’s small talk, I don’t like small talk). It can be quite challenging if I have disagreements with what is being shared.

I don’t think there’s any hope of intimacy with the other if I cannot first be open to my own feelings. And accept them. I must have acceptance and appreciation for my experience first. This is of primary importance.

Don’t Forget Your Needs

You may need the emotional intimacy you are working for here. But you can find it with many different people. Allow the people that don’t want it to not have it. Be part of groups where there is an abundance of people that want it. Become close friends with those that meet your needs. You don’t need to cut people out of your life for lack of emotional intimacy. Just be sure to find sources to fill this need and cultivate those sources.

I hope Authentic Montreal is a place where you can meet those needs.

6 Replies to “Boundary to Intimacy”

  1. Jason, I enjoyed your article. Thank you.

    I wish to offer a practice to support building trust and emotional intimacy, which I may have learned from you.

    Before asking a question, you can offer your motivation for sharing or asking. Revealing your motivation for sharing or asking someone something personal can put us in a vulnerable place, and can let the other know our reasons for sharing. It can be helpful in building greater trust, connection and openness in your interactions. It not only models openness and vulnerability, it can also help the other to dispel any assumptions or projections they may have about you and why you might be wanting to know something personal.

    1. Yes, revealing intent is a practice I value for building trust and intimacy! Thank you Solomon for reminding me of that.

  2. Beautiful Jason. I want to make two points.

    First, there is a misspelling, which you picked up from me. It needs to be “guerrilla circling”. I updated the source article, here is the link:

    Second, what you point out is very true and very clear. Vulnerability is inherently “dangerous” on both the giving end AND (important to note) the receiving end as well. This is probably the reason it is so interesting and so exciting, at least for those of us who dig it. But it’s quite important here not to be a “circling nazi”. I have done this many times, even in Circling groups, let alone in Guerrilla Circling! This even happened quite recently. Someone in my group expressed a thought, a belief. Instead of just acknowledging the thought or belief, I attempted to probe the feeling that underlay the thought. But he wasn’t interested in probing his feeling, and probably not quite conscious of it! He just wanted his idea or belief acknowledged. Fortunately, others in the group intervened into my blind-spot there, and the day was save and we all got closer.

    1. Thanks Marc! I made the spelling correction, and yes, I did get the spelling mistake from your page 😉

      What you shared about your experience resonates with me and I’ve had similar experiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *