Developing Healthy Intimacy – A Cautionary Tale

The last few months have been intense, frustrating and scary. I have found myself avoiding writing because I felt I had been exploited, not in a scandalous kind of way, but emotionally.
This feeling of being exploited and exposed left me vulnerable and led me to withdraw from blogging as I felt it only further fueled the situation.

So what is it that happened….simply this: I had an emotional stalker.

Through social media (facebook, twitter, Pinterest) as well as my blog; I found myself the target of a person who sought me out for relationship.

Over the last 5-6 months this person decided that I was going to be their new best friend/soul mate/confidant/mental health consultant and spiritual accountability partner.

The trouble with this situation is that I did not want the same thing. At all. Period.

What I discovered in this situation is that many people misunderstand the concept of healthy intimacy.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve found myself in a similar position. Last year I blogged about another similar experience I had with someone who pursued me in an unhealthy and inappropriate manner in my post titled, “False Intimacy”.

I found myself asking some hard questions. Why is this happening to me? How did this happen again? Did I do something that may have misled this person? What part if any did I play?

In both cases the people who violated my boundaries, invaded my personal and emotional space and consumed my time and energy did so I believe due to the fact they both acted on a false sense of intimacy.

Both people used social media and texting as there preferred method of connection rather than the traditional means of face to face connection to establish and build a relationship.

The missing element in both of the situations I have experienced is that both people chose to pursue a virtual relationship exclusively rather than taking time to foster a personal relationship. Both people relied heavily on what they “thought” they knew about me based on social media and my blog.

In face to face relationships we do not always have instant access to the person we are establishing a relationship with. When dealing with others in person, we have the benefit of body language and feedback via social cues to help guide us as we move through the discovery phase of a relationship. This limited access allows for a nice pace and flow while building and establishing a friendship.

Online relationships differ as they allow for contact that is both instant and private. This privacy can create an unrealistic sense of being able to bare your soul in a way you might not do in person. There is no body language or social cues to give an accurate representation of the nature of the relationship.

In our hunger for intimacy, vulnerability and to be known, we offer our hearts too soon and miss out on the beauty of a relationship rooted and established in trust and time. We operate under the false assumption that reading about someone is the same as knowing them – and that feeds back into our unmet emotional needs.

Here are a few essential elements that need to exist in any healthy relationship.

Authentic intimacy requires:

1. Honesty – being genuine and truthful about who you are, what you believe. Without honesty there is no basis for the relationship.
2. Effort – anything worth having is worth working for. This is true of relationships as well. Relationships are work – even online.
3. Intentionality – be purposeful in the relationships you develop. You cannot be soul mates with everyone. Select carefully – your heart is worth it.
4. Time – deep relationships take time to develop. Rushing into things by backing the emotional truck and dumping does not equal intimacy.
5. Trust – relationships grow and deepen when we feel safe and when we can provide emotional safety for others. Be a trustworthy for others.
6. Reciprocity – relationships are based on give and take. If you find you are always on the giving end you may need to re evaluate things.

So friends, I’ve learned some hard life lessons in this situation. I’m sure there are a few more blog posts that will come out of this. So here’s a quick take away.

Boundaries are only good if they are enforced. Don’t be afraid to stand up and enforce your personal and emotional boundaries.

Silence is not always golden. Don’t keep it to yourself. If you are receiving unwanted attention or contact from someone, share it with a friend, a spouse or a pastor. You need others to help you keep a healthy perspective.

Sometimes it’s not about you. No really, its not. Sometimes as was in my situation, the person may have some significant issues that have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them needing to get some help. The hard part is in knowing that you can’t be the person to help them.

I hope this cautionary tale helps you to discern and know the difference in establishing and building healthy, appropriate relationships.

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10 thoughts on “Developing Healthy Intimacy – A Cautionary Tale

  1. Ann Marie V. says:

    Very insightful thoughts, Karen. Interesting that this happened to you twice … must be something about your generous energy and kindness that draws in the people who are looking for what you offer – but as with boundaries  – it’s their lack of boundaries, as well as yours, that comes into play.
    Thanks for sharing. Definitely useful to share these experiences and gain perspective from a close friend or advisor. ~ Ann Marie 

    • KAREN COOK says:

      Thanks Ann Marie. Yep, boundaries are a two way street and I’ve learned that I need to be the traffic cop!  Hope you are doing well friend – next time I’m back east we need to catch up! 

  2. Sherry says:

    Really good. And so true. There is something about social media and this new phenomena happening… more and more. I fear where it could take us all socially.

    I think it’s always been there for celebrities…right? Women falling in love with the hunky doctor on the soap-opera, boys going gaga over a dingy buxom, and teens melting over a singer that wants to be “your teddy-bear.” And THEN the creepy fan-mail starts, and who knows what else till it becomes obsessive unhealthy stalking. 

    But now this type of thing happens for the rest of us, us plain folk. Those of us being transparent and active with status updates, tweets, blog posts, pins, and all the other accouterments because it’s part of our marketing and platform <—ick did I just M.Hyatt that? ekkk.

    Anyhoo, so those that "follow" us know us well – and we know NOTHING about them. Even with some of my close friends – they know so much more about me then I know of them – and I don't have an attachment to them like they do to me. It's wonky navigation to say the least. Very tricky in-deed. The cure must be some type of 2-way street of awarness.

    • KAREN COOK says:

      Sherry – as usual you inspire me. Your response was both thoughtful and insightful. Thanks for being a great example of someone with great social media boundaries – you encourage me!  Thank you friend! 

  3. Shonaneff says:

    Karen, very timely article for me. I’ve been lucky that I’ve not had any stalkers via social media…I’ve been successful keeping people at arm’s length. However, I AM cleaning up my FB page b/c, not sure what it is, but just deleted over 200 people that I have no real connection with. I’ve been prompted from Above to change my approach to FB and streamlining is the first step. Your article is a type of confirmation to keep it real.

    • KAREN COOK says:

      Thanks Shona.  Good for you – I need to do the same thing with FB. After conferences and events there is often a flurry of “friending”. I am realizing that there are some people I don’t really know or have contact with.  Always important to re evaluate how we use social media.  Hope you are doing well & thanks for sharing my link on facebook w/your friends. 

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