My Intense Need for Intimacy is Causing Me to Violate My Own Boundaries…

I really need your guidance with the following pain point; I am not sure if it is an addiction as it looks like one (when oneself goes against its own boundaries because there is this desperate need taking over). I feel I lacked and am craving so much deep connection, rawness, vulnerability and soul to soul not façade to façade interaction with humans, intimacy and feeling seen, that I am rushing relationships to get to that stage already. Based on your relationship book this is not healthy. How do I deal with this? I feel I am turning to God to source this and somehow He does not fill me up, either. I need this in order to live like a healthy human being without rushing relationships, skipping steps and going against my own boundaries.
I lost trust in God Himself because I feel He left me stranded. Please help, what do I do?

What you’re describing sounds like symptoms of psychological trauma. You’re describing a desperate need to experience psychological intimacy with others. I know you said “soul to soul,” however terms like rawness and vulnerability are referring to information about another human that is guarded by their subconscious, not their soul. If you were desperate for spiritual intimacy, you would use a different description–one that focuses on trying to find someone who shares the same moral code and view of God that you do. Instead, you’re talking about a relationship in which your subconscious will feel safe enough to be totally open about its current fears and stresses while your partner does the same with you.

Understanding the problem is an important part of the healing process, so I am going to explain some of the deeper mechanics that are likely happening here.

Root Causes

To enter adulthood in a relatively calm state of mind, we need our basic needs to be met when we are children. Our parents play a vital role in making this happen. The fact that we are so dependent on them as children causes them to be very powerful figures to us, and their power over us causes us to feel that their treatment of us is extremely significant and loaded with important clues that we need to decode for ourselves. For example, if your father is far more affectionate towards your brother than he is towards you, your subconscious and soul will automatically try to come up with a logical explanation for his favouritism. If you feel that your family members never give you as much focused attention as you need, you will once again try to come up with a logical explanation for their behaviour.

When our needs as children go unmet, we become very upset internally. We also leap to a lot of very negative assumptions about what other people’s behaviour towards us means. When those assumptions are not corrected early on, we automatically reinforce them to ourselves on a daily basis until they become firm beliefs. It is those strong, negative beliefs that get us stalled in a state of trauma. What kind of trauma we’re dealing with depends on which element is stalled: the soul or the subconscious.

Now in real life, it is very easy to end up in a state of severe trauma while the people who you consider to be responsible for your trauma had no malicious intentions towards you. This is largely due to the fact that other people cannot see inside of you, and therefore cannot accurately assess how much you need something. Plenty of parents who really love their children and sincerely want to meet their needs end up getting viewed as enemies when they fail to meet what their kids consider to be their essential needs. In these cases, the children who end up traumatized usually have needs that are unexpectedly high due to other life experiences that they have collected. Not understanding that their children need extra of something, good parents try to provide what they assume will be a sufficient amount of love, attention, affectionate touch, etc, only to find out much later on that their child felt starved out in one or more of those areas. The point I’m making here is that being traumatized doesn’t mean someone in your life tried to hurt you, although there are certainly many cases in which malicious intentions were involved. Happily, understanding other people’s motivations towards you isn’t essential for trauma recovery. The far more important issue is adjusting how you have interpreted your life experiences, because it is your own interpretations (right or wrong) which cause you to become stalled.

To understand why humans often fail to meet each other’s needs, it is helpful to understand some relationship mechanics. The following diagram illustrates how an issue like yours can be formed:

We start with you signalling your parent that you would like some focused attention. When children signal like this, they are not being as clear as they think they are. Rather than say “I need a lot of attention right now,” they mainly communicate their needs through non-verbal behaviours which they feel can only be interpreted one way. Examples here would be tugging on mom’s pantleg, trying to climb into her lap when she is trying to read, or simply showing up in the room where she is. Even a parent who is trying to pay attention can easily miss how much of their love, time, touch, assistance or attention is being requested. In these cases, parents with plenty of internal resources give only a small fraction of what their child is requesting. The child then feels stressed by the shortage, however they once again communicate their frustration in a way that is hard for parents to interpret. A lot of “bratty behavior” is often an expression of psychological frustration, but good parents who care about raising well-behaved children will often respond to those kinds of signals with discipline instead of what the child is really looking for. (To clarify, I’m a huge fan of parental discipline, as it is vital for helping children feel calm and secure. But to be effective, discipline needs to be delivered at the right time and in the right manner.)

The desperate craving you’re experiencing today is being caused by a sense that you’re extremely short on certain internal resources. The first question to ask is “How was this shortage created?” The fact that your mind is focusing on human relationships as the place where it will find those missing resources strongly suggests those shortages were originally caused by your interactions with certain people from your past. Whoever those people were, your mind would have viewed them as being essential to your well-being. We don’t get this panicked when we’re rejected by people who we don’t care about.

I’m now going to ask you a series of questions. As you read through them, see if any faces suddenly flash into your mind. Your subconscious prefers to communicate with images rather than words, so if starts bringing up faces, it will be telling you who it feels were the main contributors to your current stress.

Have you ever felt frustrated by not being able to get someone to fully focus on you? Have you ever really wanted to connect with someone only to feel like they were always keeping you at a distance, shutting you down, or refusing to engage? Which relationships have caused you the most pain in your life? Which have been the most frustrating? Have you ever felt like someone who should have been really interested in you just refused to be for some reason? Think of the people who have failed to “see” you in life. Which of those people have caused you the most pain by their refusal to acknowledge you? If you could get just one of those people to start really noticing you, who would you choose?

In this exercise, you’re looking for people who existed in your life when this frustration was first forming. You don’t become this desperate overnight, so you’ve probably felt this building for a very long time, and those feelings probably first started surfacing during childhood. If I were to ask you what some of your most painful childhood memories are, what kinds of images does your mind pull up? Are there any faces in those memory files that also appeared in our first exercise? Your mind will probably be willing to dialogue with you about these issues if your soul isn’t being hostile towards it.

Now in cases like yours, there is often a history of you trying to relate to someone who was in a state of trauma themselves. There are many kinds of traumas which cause people to intentionally act aloof and refuse to emotionally engage with others. In parent-child relationships, this kind of situation usually plays out in one of the following two ways:

Both of these situations will result in you rapidly building up a severe shortage of your basic needs. By the time you reach adulthood, you’re feeling a desperate need to get someone new to make up for what the person from your past did. The problem is that your adult partner is not the person from your childhood who originally upset you.

Symbolic Partners

Often in cases like yours, the mind is pursuing multiple agendas. First, it wants to locate emotional resources that will help it feel less starved. But it’s probably also trying to find someone who can act as a substitute for the person who originally hurt you. If this is the case, there are actually two goals being chased. The first is to start getting some of those missing resources met (attention, mutual sharing, vulnerable conversations, etc.). But the second goal would be to try to symbolically repair the original relationship.

The only reason I’m getting into this subject is because I think it’s probably very relevant to your situation, and I want you to understand how your mind’s underlying goals can hamper your healing process. I’m going to keep using a parent example here, because primary guardians are usually the only ones with enough power to cause the kind of desperation you’re dealing with.

Let’s say that your parents were both workaholics who were absent for long hours of the day. When they were physically home, they were still mentally at the office, and never had time for you. For their business associates, they had endless time and attention, but you were always being waved away like an annoying distraction. Over time, the emotional deficit built until here you are: an adult who is desperate for anyone to have a focused conversation with you for more than 5 seconds.

In cases like this, your parents are the Original Partners (OPs) who caused your mind such frustration. In some kinds of trauma, the mind is primarily focused on fixing damage, and it doesn’t feel that the identity of the OP is very important. But when the OP is a parent, child, sibling, or spouse, the mind often becomes obsessed about finding a replacement for that OP in your life. In the scenario of you having two workaholic parents, your mind would not only be trying to fix the emotional damage that they did, it would also be trying to replace them in your life.

Your mind assigns a different value to each of your relationships. While some feel expendable, others feel critical to your well-being. When critical relationships fail, your mind is often very resistant to accepting that loss. When it feels it cannot accept the loss of a critical partner, it often tries to find someone else with similar characteristics who can step in and fill the critical partner’s role in your life. If your mind is doing this today, then the humans who you feel the strongest need to chase will all have some traits that remind your subconscious of your OPs. It’s easier to recognize this pattern if you first identify who your OPs were. If the same faces kept appearing in your mind as you read through the questions I asked previously, and if those faces belong to people who were playing important roles in your life back when you were first starting to feel this frustration forming, those people are probably your OPs. If your mind is now trying to match you with people who are very similar to your OPs, that is a problem, because by matching you that way, it will end up recreating the same dysfunctional dynamics that you experienced in the past.

I explained all of that because I want you to see why simply “following your gut” isn’t going to be a great idea when your “gut” (which is really your subconscious) is trying to direct you towards dysfunctional partners. Once a pattern like this is in place, it takes intentional effort on your part to try to redirect your mind. If you let it persist in what it’s doing, it will keep pushing you into one miserable relationship after another as it tries to keep recreating the same crummy dynamics that you had with your OPs.

So how do you break out of this negative cycle? The first step is to strategically change your social behaviours. The way that you are currently behaving is strongly attracting abusive partners towards you. When you share too much too fast, and/or allow someone who you barely know to be too physically intimate with you, it’s like you are hanging a neon sign over your head that says “Come abuse me. I like it.” Now obviously you don’t want to be abused, but your behaviour is sending an opposite message, and other humans assess you by the way you behave because they can’t read your mind.

There are many kinds of trauma which result in people feeling as desperate to abuse as you are to experience emotional intimacy. I won’t get into the inner mechanics of abusers here, but these people are dealing with their own intense internal misery and many feel that stomping on someone like you is the only way they will experience some relief. When you spill your guts to a virtual stranger, you are essentially arming that person with weapons that they can then use against you whenever they need to feel a surge of power. When you allow a mere acquaintance to fondle you or sleep with you, you are severely hampering their ability to form sincere respect for you. Without respect, a casual relationship cannot progress on to an intimate relationship. The key point I want you to understand here is that by acting the way you currently are, you are repulsing functional people and attracting abusers.

Functional people do not want to abuse or be abused, and that means they don’t want to participate in imbalanced relationships in which power is not being distributed equally. When you try to rush intimacy, you either come across as trying to bully someone into sharing more with you than they want to (which will cause functional people to run for the hills) or you come across as desperate and extremely high-maintenance (which will also cause functional people to flee). By changing your behaviour, you change the message you are communicating to other humans. By changing the message, you change who is attracted towards you and who is repulsed. To put it simply, you want to start behaving like you’re more functional than you actually are. That will not only help you learn how to become more functional, but it will also keep you safer by repelling potential abusers. So how do you do that? Here are some guidelines:

  • Do Exercise I in Chapter 9 of my relationships book in which you categorize your personal information. Resist the temptation to stuff every fact about yourself into the Neutral category just so you can justify sharing it right away. Instead, notice when dwelling on certain facts about yourself causes a negative shift in your emotions and move those facts to either the Private or Highly Sensitive categories.
  • Keep a list of your Neutral and Personal categories with you on your phone for quick reference. When talking to a Stranger, restrict yourself to only sharing facts from your Neutral category. When talking to Casual partner , restrict yourself to only sharing information from your Neutral and Personal categories.
  • When you share any piece of new information about yourself with someone, do not share another piece of information until they tell you something new about them.
  • When someone who you barely know shares what sounds like Private or Highly Sensitive information with you, recognize that they are trying to rush you and respond by sharing something from your Personal category (which you will have with you on your phone). By responding this way, you will block intimacy from forming too fast and cue the other person that you have boundaries which they will have to respect. Remember that intimacy is only healthy when it grows at the same rate as trust. When you and your partner exchange a bunch of intimate information before anyone has a chance to earn trust, you both set yourselves up for pain.
  • When texting with someone, do not send multiple texts in a row. Send a single text that is short or medium in length (no long paragraphs) and wait for them to reply before you say anything else. Limit your emojis to strings of 1 or 2. Long strings of emojis comes across as way too intense when relationships are still in Casual mode. Bombarding someone with multiple texts, posts, or emails, is extremely off-putting to functional people because it causes you to come across as hounding, controlling, insecure, pushy, and a bunch of other negative qualities that you don’t want to be associated with.
  • If you are female, another important guideline is to adjust your clothing to be modest when you are trying to pursue any kind of relationship with a male partner. The reason for this is that men are naturally wired to find female chests, stomachs, butts, and thighs extremely distracting. When you are looking for focused attention and deep conversations, you need to help a man focus on your words by not thrusting large amounts of flesh in his face. Gender is not just an anatomical thing. There are significant psychological differences between males and females which cannot be changed (for some interesting examples of this, see Male-Female Communication: Male Compartmentalization & The Female Need for Words). Men are designed by God to be more visually stimulated and singularly focused than women. While these qualities can certainly benefit women in their relationships with men, they can also become detrimental when women do not treat these differences with respect. Just as you would have a very hard time focusing on what your female friend is saying if she was surrounded by a cloud of sparkling butterflies, men have a hard time focusing on what you’re trying to say (and respecting you in general) if you are dressed in a manner which is exposing your breasts, cupping your butt, or giving them a view into the depths of your shirt. By choosing higher necklines, clothes that aren’t suction tight, shirts that reach well below the top of your pants, and pants that cover your legs at least down to a few inches above your kneecaps, you essentially remove the cloud of butterflies so a man can focus more easily on what you’re saying.
  • Another key point for females to understand is that men are designed by God to view relationships differently than women do. While emotional intimacy is an extremely important factor for women right from the beginning, respect is at the top of men’s lists when it comes to judging the quality of a relationship. If a man does not feel respected by you, or that you are worthy of his respect, he will rapidly lose interest in dealing with you. When women chase men and try to lead the development of the relationship, they automatically undermine a man’s ability to respect them. Often neither the man nor the woman realizes how much this is happening until it is too late, so to avoid making this common mistake, wait for a man to initiate a conversation with you via text or phone instead of always being the one to start a new chat. This principle becomes especially important after you have had a successful one-on-one meeting with man (even when no one wants to call it a “date”). In such a case, do not try to set up a second meeting yourself. Instead, wait for him to extend that invitation, then respond positively (while avoiding long strings of emojis or a bunch of CAPS). By allowing him to pursue you, you give him time to process his first encounter with you and decide how interested he is. Men process information differently than women do, and their different processing style often results in what women consider to be a “delayed response”. When trying to move a relationship from Casual to Intimate, one of the worst things you can do is rush a man and eliminate his time to process by constantly being the one to suggest another meeting.
  • Another instant respect killer is allowing a man to sleep with you for free, and by “free” I mean not demanding any serious level of trust, intimacy, respect, or commitment from him first. Men are designed by God to want to feel that sleeping with their wives is a valuable privilege they have earned, not some worthless “freebie” that any man could qualify for. The only way a man can experience this level of satisfaction is if a woman helps him out by treating access to her body as a privilege that must be earned. When a woman does not hold appropriate physical boundaries, and instead gives a man more access than he should have in order to “keep him interested,” the man’s ability to respect her and enjoy sex with her steadily erodes until he finds himself not wanting to deal with her anymore. Even men who start off really liking their girlfriends and perhaps hoping to one day marry them can find themselves surprised and confused when their respect for those women starts automatically eroding due to an inappropriate level of physical intimacy. The key point to understand is that there are a built in differences between the genders that must be managed correctly for a relationship to thrive. While many religions teach that sex should be saved for marriage for moral reasons, it is actually psychological factors that cause extramarital sex to be so detrimental to the long-term health of a relationship (see Getting Legally Married: Is It Worth It?).

So far we’ve talked about root causes and ways to reduce damage while you are trying to heal. But now we come to the issue of how to heal this issue at a core level. It is vital that you put effort into doing some core healing. If you don’t, your current mindset will cause you to overwhelm and suffocate any future partner even if an intimate relationship is established, because your desperate need to get them to share everything with you will result in you trying to punish them when they try to draw boundaries with you. Everyone has secrets, and some secrets are never shared, even between close spouses. A healthy marriage dynamic creates a safe environment for both partners to share highly sensitive information, but it does not try to force them to do so. The level of trust that is established at the beginning of a marriage often does not feel like enough for a partner to share his deepest, darkest stuff. In a healthy marriage, trust will continue to deepen over time, and this often leads to some surprising revelations being shared far down the road once the withholding partner finally feels safe enough to take a big risk. Your current level of need would cause you to try to pump such information out of your partner far too early on, then view him (or her) as unfairly withholding if he refuses, and of course this kind of pattern won’t lead anywhere good. So to get you prepared for a functional relationship, you need to reduce how much you’re needing the things you’ve listed. By dialling back the intensity of your need, you automatically adjust your behaviours to be more functional and cause you to not panic or feel threatened when every interaction you have with others isn’t super deep.

Changing Goals

To understand how psychological trauma is corrected, let’s use a metaphor. Suppose that during the first week of January, you made really bad food choices. Normally you eat fairly decently, but during that week you scarfed down a bunch of low end take outs and cheap candy. You were so busy that you often skipped meals, compensating with loads of caffeine to keep you going. As a result of your really bad food intake, your body became stressed and exhausted, which caused its immune system to weaken. At the end of the week, you came down with a nasty illness that resulted in you being bedridden for months. As a result of your terrible illness, you lost your job and missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that you’d been planning for years. As you lay in bed waiting to recover, you analyse the series of events and trace all of your misery back to that one week of abusing your body with terrible food intake. You now wish you could go back in time and relive that week so that you could make better food choices, keep your immune system healthy, and skip all of the misery that occurred.

This is how we often respond to cases of trauma: we become obsessed with what went wrong in the past and we keep trying to return to the state we were in before that rotten thing happened. In other words, we think that recovery means “reverting back to who I was before that bad thing occurred.”

In your case, the bad thing is having so many of your emotional needs withheld by others. The fact that you’ve been starved and then forced to live with that starvation for so long has changed you in some significant ways. It has changed your perspective of life, people, and even yourself. It has probably also changed your perspective of God. It has also introduced you to a form of suffering that you didn’t know about before. So now what?

Your current attempts to pressure others into being more intimate with you than they want to be is essentially an attempt to go back in time and undo what happened to you. Back then something was withheld from you, and its absence devastated you. Today you want to eliminate the devastation by locating that missing thing and popping it into place. The problem is that even if you could do that, you would not get the results you are hoping for.

Going back to the food metaphor, it’s simply not possible for you to go back in time and change that bad week of food. To obsess over this goal is a waste of time which will only prolong your current misery. To get unstuck from the past, we need to accept what happened as something we can’t change, and be honest about the damage it has done. But then we move on to a very important third step: using our current resources to move forward.

Suppose you accidentally fall over a cliff and end up lying on the ground below feeling pretty banged up. What do you do? Do you sit there saying, “Until I figure out how to go back and time and not fall, I’m not moving from this ground”? No, you assess your current injuries and work out a realistic plan for how you can get up and continue on. This is the kind of mindset that you need to switch to today. You can’t go back in time and avoid being emotionally starved, nor can you find anyone today who can undo the damage that’s been done by the past. But while you are damaged, you are not dead. You still have resources, and you still have options. The key here is to start valuing what you actually have, not toss it aside as being less than what you should have.

When you get up from your nasty fall and discover that you can’t put weight on one of your ankles, what do you do? Sure, it’s frustrating, but with some creativity you can find a way to keep pressing forward. You find a branch that can serve as a walking stick and suddenly you’re able to start moving forward again. That is progress. It’s not smooth or fast, but it’s still forward motion and that’s all you need to reach a better situation. But the only way you’re going to keep hobbling forward is if you accept the new limitation of not being able to walk the way you walked before. If instead you lie in the dirt and say “I’m never moving until I can walk normally!”, you’ll never get out of your miserable situation.

In your current pattern, you’re trying to get everything you need from a partner right at the start. This is like trying to get your normal ability to walk back right away instead of accepting that your ankle is wounded right now and needs time to heal. To get unstuck from where you’re at, you need to change the way you’re viewing relationships. Humans who give you a small amount of attention are still giving you something. It’s not as much as you want, but it’s way better than nothing. If you focus on appreciating the little bits and being thankful to even get some of those instead of going in with a mentality of “all or nothing”, you’ll find that this desperation will start to dissipate over time. Right now you’re discarding the small stuff as too trivial to be worth bothering with. It’s like you need $100 and people are only offering you pennies. But over time, pennies start to add up into larger and larger amounts. If you change your focus to go for what’s actually available (pennies) instead of trying to demand the full amount that you feel you need, you’ll stop chasing people away and stop winding up feeling rejected, used, and hurt.

Now I know this sounds frustrating, but here’s an important point to bear in mind: if you don’t put pressure on your partner, the relationship will have a much better chance of deepening. Suppose you find an online group that you can join where people discuss some activity or hobby that you’re interested in. As you join in the discussion, you’ll be getting social interaction, attention, and some laughs. Will it be deep? Not at first, but if you take a mindset of “appreciating the pennies,” you’ll allow yourself to actually enjoy the casual conversations instead of brushing them off as meaningless. Intimate relationships always begin as Casual ones. Just as a sapling doesn’t start life with enormous roots that dig far into the ground, an Intimate relationship doesn’t start off with any depth. The depth is developed over time as you appreciate and cherish the superficial exchanges that occur in the beginning. The more Casual relationships you are cultivating, the more chance there is that one of them might evolve into something deeper. But the key is to cherish what exists right now, not reject it or try to force it to become something else.

Trauma is designed by God to permanently change us. At first, we only see negative changes, which is why we feel desperate to go back in time and undo what happened. But if we give it time and allow God’s brilliant design to unfold, we will end up reaping wonderful internal rewards from having gone through our crushing experiences. Rather than view ourselves as forever broken by trauma, we should view our previous selves as lost, then focus on cultivating the new and improved version of ourselves that God has prepared. It’s rather like how the seeds of certain trees can’t germinate until they are exposed to the fierce heat created by forest fires. What seems like a terrible, destructive event ends up making new life possible–life that couldn’t have emerged any other way (see Is Total Recovery Possible?).

The God Dynamic

Your relationship with God involves very different mechanics than your relationship with humans. God doesn’t share His vulnerabilities with us (because He doesn’t have any), and He doesn’t fully expose us to His Divine perspective because He knows it would severely damage us if He did. When you’re relating to a human, you’re dealing with your equal: another creature who is on your same level. When you’re relating to God, you’re dealing with a non-human Being who is so different than you that a lot of special rules need to be put in place for the relationship to even work. God engages with us in ways that He knows will work for us, given our limitations and creature perspectives. Since He is so different than us, the relationship feels very different and does not satisfy our need for human connection. Since you’re currently focusing on finding an intimate human connection, it’s not surprising that God does not feel like a suitable substitute. But while you need human relationships, you also need a relationship with your Creator, and no human can be a satisfying substitute for God in your life.

At first, it’s quite natural for us to expect God to directly supply things for us that He designed us to get from other humans. It takes time to figure out how our relationship with Him is supposed to function, but He helps us get there one step at a time.

I will address the issue of feeling abandoned by God in a separate post. Meanwhile, for more help with recovering from your current trauma, I recommend that you also read Practical Steps for Correcting Traumatic Beliefs.

This post was written in response to a Alias01.