As people progress through life, they develop new interests, goals, and needs. Sometimes our changed priorities come from a career shift or new life circumstances. But because our needs change based on where we are in life, these changes often come in stages. One of these stages is a struggle between intimacy vs isolation.
Psychologists have noticed that people tend to shift their needs at certain stages in life, and that many share similar desires at similar life stages. For example, people between the ages of 19 to 40 tend to feel a strong desire for intimacy and interpersonal connections.
If this rings a bell, you may be going through what is known as the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage of Psychosocial Development.
The desire for meaningful connection is completely normal! After all, most things in life are more enjoyable when shared. But forming these connections can be quite an undertaking, and in this article, we’ll explore some ways you can get on track to achieve vulnerable and intimate relationships.
What does intimacy vs. isolation mean?
Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson and his wife Joan Erikson theorized that each person undergoes roughly nine stages of social development.
The Intimacy vs. Isolation stage is the sixth stage that starts around age 19 and persists through most of adulthood. This stage encompasses the desire to form and maintain meaningful connections with others.
Some other components of Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development include Trust vs Mistrust as an infant, or Identity vs Confusion in the teenage years.
As the term implies, the intimacy part of the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage is defined as the desire to form meaningful connections. This doesn’t include solely romantic partners either, as this desire could be the desire for friendship or greater familial connections. Intimacy can be categorized differently depending on the type, such as:
Physical Intimacy: This includes physical sensations such as touching, hugging, and sex
Experiential Intimacy: The ability to enjoy leisure time with one another
Emotional Intimacy: The feeling of mutual trust and kinship with others
Cognitive or Intellectual Intimacy: The ability to freely communicate ideas and thoughts with another
On the other hand, isolation is what those in the Intimacy versus Isolation stage struggle with. This struggle can manifest in a myriad of ways. Sometimes, the fear that nobody understands us can paralyze us from taking the necessary steps to connect. Or other times, the fear of rejection and remaining lonely can make us unlikely to take action.
What’s more is that loneliness has a myriad of biological effects on our brains. When we’re lonely for long periods of time, it causes stress on our brains that cause it to degrade at an accelerated rate, which in turn makes it even harder to find motivation to change.
It’s no wonder why isolation is such a struggle when both our bodies and our minds are fighting against us!
How can I move from isolation to more intimate, vulnerable relationships?
Now that we know more about intimacy vs isolation, the hard part is how we overcome this hurdle. Fortunately, there are a few ways we can move away from isolation and toward the authentic, vulnerable connections we deserve!
What are my needs?
Before taking any action, it’s important to identify what your intimacy needs are. Everyone is different and has both different needs as well as different ways to meet said needs.
For some people in the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage, the desire for a romantic partner is strong. But for others, it could be the desire for intellectual peers, people you can enjoy hobbies with, or even stronger relationships with your family members.
It’s important to sit down and assess what your needs are, and from there, you can work out on how to meet those needs.
Where am I struggling?
Like with assessing your needs, it’s helpful to examine what you struggle with. When it comes to the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage, ask yourself where some of your fears and uneasiness come from.
Do you have trouble making friends? Why could that be? If you’re afraid of rejection, is there any reason why that’s the case? Identifying some of these problems is important for general self improvement as well as figuring out if there’s something you may need more help with.
Nobody is perfect, but there are always steps we can take to be a stronger person than the person we were yesterday.
What do I like?
The easiest place to start is with what you like. In a 2015 study, researchers examined some of the underlying factors of friendship chemistry. Some of these factors include personality similarity, reciprocal candor, and mutual interests.
The natural course of action is to ask yourself “what do I like?” From there you can look into different groups in your local area. Whatever you enjoy, there are bound to be others who also enjoy the same thing!
In addition, having common interests is an easy way to strike up conversation and meet some of your intimacy needs such as experiential and intellectual intimacy.
If there aren’t many local groups in your area, or you aren’t comfortable with face to face interaction yet, online interactions are also a great way to meet and interact with many like-minded individuals!
Your next steps
Finding intimacy while overcoming the fear of isolation is a monumental undertaking for any single person.
If you ever find yourself struggling to get back on track, don’t hesitate to reach out to understanding folks in an anonymous Supportiv chat.
People here get the need for intimacy vs. isolation. We’ll be there to listen and pick you right back up whenever you need it!