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by David Truman

The popular search for complete autonomy has drastically reduced the capacity of men and women for success in intimacy. Many helping professionals are unintentionally feeding that social dysfunction. Years ago, therapists and growth gurus were preparing us for love; now, many of them seem to be helping us live without it. Perhaps their first project helped create the second one.
Human potential teachers praise self-reliance as if it were the Ultimate Goal. And spiritual leaders say that finding your center should take absolute priority over loving your brother. The clear message from all sides seems to be, "Do your own thing." Who can deny the wisdom of becoming a strong person? A solid relationship requires two strong people. Mature self-reliance is a necessary foundation for intimacy.
The trouble is, people are not just enthusiastic about self-reliance; they are also afraid of love, and getting more afraid and alienated all the time. The trend towards self-reliance has actually increased social dysfunction alarmingly. Nowadays, very few people can even imagine a strong love relationship, much less participate in one. Intimacy is practically an endangered species. Would-be lovers, beware!
When it comes to social functioning, real progress depends upon BALANCE. Self-reliance is like wine: a little may make you healthy; too much will make you sick. We may idealize autonomy today, but human beings will be social animals forever. We'll always have real emotional needs for loving companionship. If we fail to meet those needs for any reason -- even to "get strong" -- dysfunction is sure to increase. Needs are needs.
The era when unhealthy dependence was the main threat to intimacy is past; the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Today, people "individualize" to excess, ignoring the emotional alienation and de-socialization that often result. Independence, or rather the search for it, is what threatens intimacy now.
Alienating therapy
Psychology feeds alienation, accidentally, with the popular theory of "individuation." Psychologists have theorized that many or most problems of love may be due to incomplete personality formation. If a man is overly dependent, for example, it is assumed that he may have "weak boundaries," and therefore he may lack the starch to maintain his identity while relating to others. From this theory, a life-changing conclusion follows: that the challenge of intimacy can only be met by thorough cultivation of individualism BEFOREHAND. That sure seems logical, but will it work?
If the individuation theory worked for love, how come so many self-sufficiency gurus fail in intimacy?
The general population has obviously accepted the individuation theory. Millions of people are pursuing individualized destinies with determination. Many of them sincerely believe that this path will prepare them for love. Has anyone checked to see if this popular strategy is actually WORKING? Apparently not. People seem to presume, naively, that as long as actions are based on a logical-sounding theory, or a widely-accepted one, those actions MUST succeed as predicted.
Historically, blind faith in theory often leads to trouble. Society found that to be the case with bloodletting, for example. In this case, evidence suggests that the search for individuality does not always improve social functioning. In reality, it often leads to deeper social dysfunction. Consider that even self-sufficiency leaders -- ESPECIALLY the leaders, in fact -- rarely seem to enjoy a viable intimacy.
Likewise, consider the millions of lonely people who attend modern support groups. They are the main consumers in the "growth industry," and the most faithful followers of psychological theory. As instructed, many of them have been on vacation from intimacy, individuating like crazy, hoping to get stronger before trying love again. But it is common knowledge that having lived alone for years, few of those people can even imagine themselves back in relationship, or remarried, etc. That's the "bleeding edge" of psychology.
Obviously, popular theories die hard whether they work or not. But with intimacy near extinction, we can't afford to follow a nice theory into even deeper alienation. Only fresh insight can help us now.
We must return to trust, so that, in deep relating, love and loving can gently heal us.
Real emotional health and personal security are certainly prerequisites for love. But clearly, healing cannot be gained merely by isolated self-effort. Love is the key ingredient in any recipe for emotional healing; it takes love to get ready for love. Therefore, to protect intimacy as a social option, we must reverse the fear of love, and slow the drive for independence. Each of us must return to trust, the foundation of intimacy. Only then can we enter openly and constructively into relationship where, slowly but surely, love and loving can heal us, and gently expand what we can do.
Revising doctrines of alienation
There are many factors contributing to the decline of intimacy. But we are confident that the main obstruction is a philosophical aversion to love that results from studied fears about loss of self. Therefore, both trust and intimacy can be improved by the careful revision of habitual assumptions about the nature of self and of intimacy.
How YOU can help save intimacy from extinction in our society.
We don't know whether a general reorientation to love could happen in time to save intimacy from extinction in our society. But we know that you can help. Intimacy will be restored when enough individuals have revised their personal beliefs which idealize independence and create fear of closeness. In particular, two beliefs will need revision:
1. "No one can love or relate effectively until and unless they are completely separate and fully autonomous." Certainly, to be competent in intimacy a person must be emotionally strong; however, a person does not have to be separated or isolated to be strong. As we noted previously, some amount of autonomy builds strength, but too much separation WEAKENS people. It is painfully obvious that many people who are trying hard to achieve "personal independence" are literally starving emotionally, growing lonelier and more desperate all the time. Interdependence feeds emotional strength. Only a person who is positively open and vulnerable to love, and who is well connected to others emotionally, is likely to succeed in intimacy.
2. "Differentiation of character is a yet-to-be-achieved goal of adult life." It is clearly essential that we realize our individuality, but that does not mean we have to create it, as popular psychology seems to presume. Real self differentiation is achieved before adulthood, and it appears to be irreversible. To assert the opposite is counterproductive: when any person accepts the notion that his or her self is inadequately differentiated, then fear, social retreat, and alienation are almost sure to increase.
Individuation occurs naturally; but the choice to love, each individual must make.
Emotional problems often attributed to a lack of individuation -- such as irresponsibility, excessive reactivity, unethical behavior, etc. -- can be created by any person, however well individuated. This acknowledgment emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility, and denies that differentiation of character is a magic love potion. Though individualism has its place and its value, no degree of individuation or autonomy can prevent social dysfunction -- much less reduce the need for personal responsibility.
A heart healthy way to think about love
The core beliefs of the popular love-destroying philosophy could be replaced by love-supporting beliefs such as the following:
A. "I am a fully formed self already and I can never be otherwise." When we admit that our true self is ALREADY independent, we can experience our real strength. We no longer feel such a great need for protection, and we are no longer desperate to "achieve" the individuality we already have. In short, we are real now, and ready to love NOW.
B. "I am strongest and most secure when I am joined with life, and close to other people." Love is a basic human need. A real need is not an expression of weakness, it's an expression of nature. Also, a real need never goes away if unfulfilled: either you meet it, or antisocial behavior results (compulsion, violence, depression, insanity -- the stuff we see all around us). We do better to validate our needs and meet them, than to hate our needs, fight against them, and starve ourselves into desparation.
On to a healing practice
Step two: Rebuilding social skills through the practice of deeper than usual relating between friends.
Obviously, philosophical change alone is not enough to insure a life of intimacy. Social skills must be systematically rebuilt by means of progressive and constructive social involvement. We have three recommendations for people who wish to improve their prospects for intimacy:
ONE: Face fears of love in very objective terms. Love is not scary. We believe that any sincere investigation will reveal that the so-called problems of love have nothing to do with love; they result from exaggerated fear of relating and from chronic unconstructiveness. We believe that honest inquiry will further reveal that fear and unconstructiveness are problems that only love can solve.
TWO: Find and study a philosophy system that is intelligently and consistently PRO-LOVE. Such a philosophy will stress the value of both intimacy and personhood. It will not place higher emphasis on individuation, cathartic self-expression, limit-setting, or personal survivalism than on interdependence and love. The balancing influence of pro-love thought is essential for constructive reorientation to intimacy.
THREE: Practice intimate relating as much as possible. Initially, it may be advisable for most people to enter into intimacy in the form of deeper-than-usual friendship, rather than romance. That can minimize trauma and emotional overload. It will be necessary to find people who are relatively constructive and sane, who can maintain deep intimacy without expecting immediate sexual involvement, and who are willing to talk deeply and progressively about all things -- especially about taking personal responsibility for being a loving person. Though such people may seem hard to find, the effort is sure to pay off.
Onward and upward
We recognize that the path to love can be steep and rocky. But, where there's a will -- plus plenty of intelligent, well-directed effort -- there's a Way. Godspeed!

by David Truman

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