Sharing is the focus of this relational need discussion. We often think of sharing in terms of sharing experiences, for instance, sharing a meal or a movie. When we consider sharing as a relational need, it is the need to share ourselves. Individuals seek an emotionally protected environment in which to share. We need to share our thoughts and emotions without being edited, corrected or judged. When two people meet and a genuine, simple sharing occurs, they typically experience intimacy. As people increase their sharing, the experience of intimacy naturally increases.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning is everything.” This quote has been highly misunderstood. People have believed that he meant winning is the only acceptable outcome. However, he meant that everything a team does is focused on winning. The team eats, sleeps, and practices to win.
I believe “intimacy is everything.” We live our lives seeking intimate connections. Intimacy is the experience of being in a relationship in which both people feel free to be themselves without the fear of judgement or correction. In such a relationship, the understanding and deeper knowledge of each other naturally grows.
However, a paradox exists within this process. As we all seek intimacy, we also fear it. Being known and connected is risky. We all have mortality, which makes all relationships temporary. We fear abandonment, rejection and judgment. This fear thwarts the sharing process which limits the growth of intimacy.
The human skill which increases sharing is the ability for us to listen with empathy and the freedom to share ourselves. Try this exercise and, believe me, it is difficult. Sit facing the person with whom you want to build intimacy. Person “A” begins to speak. They are allowed to speak about anything without correction or editing. They are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings while Person “B” listens without interruption, correction or editing. When Person “A” has finished sharing, it is Person “Bs” turn to share, while Person “A” listens with an empathic ear. Person “B,” needs to remember they are sharing and not responding to or correcting the sharing of Person “A.”
The environment of empathic listening promotes sharing – i.e. people telling their stories. We all love to tell our stories. Like my grandfather used to say in that thick Oklahoma accent, “People are always talking about themselves . . .they just love talking about themselves!”
The relational environment of COVID has certainly gotten in the way of our process of sharing. Fear increases our need to control. The amount of unknown variables with this virus increases our fear. Therefore, our desire to control our environment increases. Criticism, correctness, and judgement enters into our relationships. Fear inhibits sharing, and intimate connection decreases. The very experience we need to have during a time of uncertainty decreases.
The ability to simply share of ourselves will increase our ability to survive, and maybe even thrive in this pandemic.
Lawrence J. Johnson, Ph.D., FAPA, is a clinical psychologist with over 38 years of diverse experience in the field.