Brene Brown, one of the best writers and speakers on what it means to be human, says that the deepest need we have is to be seen by others, to really be known by someone else. When we are deeply known, and know others deeply, we can say anything, be completely honest, with no fear of rejection. This is more than mere acceptance, it is affirmation of who we are at the deepest level of our selves. Acceptance is in many ways conditional, but affirmation is unconditional. Once we are affirmed, it can’t be taken away.
In the visual model of the Matrix of Needs, Intimacy is supported and empowered by the Fulfillment Needs of Autonomy and Affiliative Relationships. Like many people, I have experienced divorce, and as I struggled with my brokenness, a friend who was a psychiatrist told me that I shouldn’t enter into another relationship until and unless I could be comfortable with being alone. She knew the psychological truth that people who were not comfortable in their own Autonomy would use Affiliative and other relationships as a way of taking, rather than giving.
For many people, the word intimacy carries with it sexual connotations. Intimacy can involve sex, but it absolutely does not have to. Intimacy, being seen and known by others and at the same time accepted by them is the place in which the self, to use Maslow’s word, becomes real, becomes actualized. I have a friend and colleague named Nancy, whom I only see every 4-6 years, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. I asked Nancy to serve on an advisory committee in the process of developing the Matrix of Needs, and as I was describing Intimacy, she said that this was the kind of relationship we had. She can tell me anything, she said, and she knows we will still be friends and colleagues tomorrow.
Achieving this state of Intimacy is hard work. It can only come about when we feel safe in our relationships, when our needs for Subsistence, Attaching Relationships, and Communication are met. People with significant histories of abuse and neglect have a much higher risk of contracting STD’s primarily because they have more sexual partners. It is as if, according to Dr. Susan Hillis, people are seeking to use sexual behaviour to find intimacy. One of the lies people with trauma histories tell ourselves is that we are unlovable, and as a result we try to earn love by our Achievements, or by having as many Social Relationships as possible, or being as Autonomous as possible, or by being a member of every group we can think of.
Intimacy is a need that can only be met when all the other needs in the Matrix model are met in healthy ways. The damage done by Adverse Childhood Experiences is far reaching, not only in terms of a single lifetime, but in the ways that the pain and woundedness we feel are transmitted to our children, and our children’s children, through the process of epigenetics and the unhealthy behaviours we use to compensate for our pain.
The term “betrayaI trauma” was coined by Jennifer Freyd, because almost all of the Adverse Childhood Experiences came from people who betrayed the trust people placed in them. When betrayal is a central life experience, achieving Intimacy will be almost, if not completely, impossible, until and unless the opposite of betrayal – faithfulness – is experienced. Research shows that the earlier people experience betrayal trauma, the more pervasive the effect of that trauma will be. Likewise, the earlier people are when they encounter Faithful Childhood Experiences the more pervasive the effects of hope will be.
The systems of care and support that we put into place to address Adverse Childhood Experiences need to be faithful to what we know through research and what we know through the personal stories of survivors of abuse and neglect. We need to do more than just care for the bodies of children and adults, we need to support the healing of the whole person. The indigenous models from New Zealand (Te Whare Tapa Wha, or 4 cornerstones of health), the Seven Sacred Teachings of Native American and First Nations peoples in the US and Canada are just 2 ways to think of the whole person in our supportive work. It will be through supporting the whole person to achieve their own sense of Intimacy that healing can take place for the person and the community.