Let’s continue with the previous post. Intimacy is the basis for us to know God and our neighbor, which also includes our spouse. But it is difficult to put into practice if we have not learned to have intimacy in our families.
Sadly, history tells us that Adam and Eve disobeyed and sinned by breaking their close relationship. Sin is the number one enemy of intimacy. The first four commandments deal with going against intimacy with God. And the other six are about going against intimacy with our neighbor.
Intimacy and vulnerability between God and mankind
When the intimate relationship that existed between God and mankind was broken as a result of disobedience, the intimate relationship between men and their neighbors was also broken.
Gen. 3:7 says: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.”
The expression “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” speaks of the powerful effect of guilt. This is the emotion that is felt when we have failed God, our neighbor, or ourselves. When we violate God’s trust or our neighbor’s, guilt is experienced.
“Their eyes were opened” refers not to the physical transformation, but the knowledge of good and bad. It means that they recognized that they had sinned, and the result of their discovery was experiencing guilt and shame. This feeling of guilt led them to understand that they were naked before God and their neighbor.
Emotions that influence our intimacy
Guilt is a primary emotion. The primary emotional responses are a direct reaction from the amygdala, consistent with the immediate situation, helping Adam and Eve give the appropriate response to the situation. If guilt is not dealt with properly, it leads the person to feel shame. This is exactly what happened. The last part of verse 7 says that they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings because they were ashamed of their nakedness. Shame is enemy number one of intimacy.
The maladaptive or secondary emotions are also direct reactions to situations, but they no longer help the person deal with the situation that provoked them constructively. Rather, they interfere with effective functioning.
Secondary reactive emotions follow a primary response. In the secondary emotions, Adam and Eve reacted against the initial primary adaptive emotion (guilt), and it was replaced with a secondary emotion, shame. This “reaction to reaction” darkens or transforms the original emotion (guilt) and leads to actions that, again, are not entirely appropriate for the situation.
Before sin, it was natural for them to be naked before God and their neighbor, but guilt showed that they had broken God’s trust and their neighbor’s, and they felt ashamed. They now had something to be ashamed of, something to hide. They could no longer afford to be transparent because being so would lead to judgment.
Shame and vulnerability
What is shame? It is the intense, painful feeling or experience that comes from believing that you are inferior and therefore not worthy of being loved and belonging. Shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, a sense of having failed and not being capable enough as a human being. It feels like you are bleeding inside.
That is why our insecurities push us to put on some clothes, to cover ourselves so that we are not known and rejected, just as Adam and Eve did. We want to avoid being hurt. We try to keep things as quiet as possible, so we do not share anything that someone could question about us. Many of us have covered ourselves with emotional clothes.
Emotional clothes that prevent intimacy
Does all this sound familiar to you? Many times, we feel the same way Adam and Eve did, ashamed of what we have done, for having broken our intimate relationships, either with God or with others.
Sometimes it happens that our spouses have no idea who we are. Our thoughts, desires, frustrations, and feelings are all buried under protective layers because we have not established an intimate relationship. We have been hurt, and we hurt others. We have been victims of abuse, and we abuse others. Sadly, many people respond by adding another layer of isolation and hiding from their spouses, children, friends, and church members and that is why intimacy does not exist nowadays.
Three reactions to shame
Dr. Linda Hartling talks about three reactions to shame. There is the group we just have mentioned, the ones who leave, hide, or retreat. The other group are those who move toward other people, but not to be intimate, but to appease and please. These are the ones who become addicted to pleasing others but do not get intimate.
The last group moves against others by trying to gain power over others by being aggressive and using shame to combat shame. These are the ones who have problems with anger management, who are aggressive, who use any means they can to produce shame in those around them, to calm the emotional pain they feel from their past.
The pain that is felt due to rejection and shame, the pain that leads us to hide and avoid intimacy at all costs, is very deep.
In 2011, a study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health found that when it comes to the brain, physical pain and the intense experience of social rejection hurt equally. Advances in neuroscience have confirmed that emotions can turn into wounds and cause pain. This is the pain that leads many to react the way they do.
Shame is an enemy of intimacy
You cannot experience shame and intimacy at the same time. The deepest wound carried by a person driven by shame is the inability to establish intimate relationships.
Do you understand now why when God approaches Adam and Eve to talk to them, they run and hide? There is no intimacy when your shame leads you to hide your true identity.
Do you understand why it seems difficult for you to be intimate with God? Your family’s shame, mistakes, tragedies, trauma, abuse, and generational shame has led you to distance yourself from God. Or maybe all of this has led you to seek God but not in the right way, or perhaps your shame has led you to rebel against God, blaming Him for the sad things that have happened to you.
Do you understand why it is hard for you to be intimate with your children? It is because you live hidden behind fig leaves to cover your shame. You hide behind the trees using perfectionism, the victim mentality that leads you to mistreat your children by demanding they live a holy life, a life that you have not been able to live.
Vulnerabitity with your children
How can you be intimate with your children when your shame leads you to live a false life? How can you experience true intimacy with your spouse when you hide the truth of your past from him/her, and the only time you want to be intimate is when you want to have sex? God did not create sex just to satisfy a glandular desire. You cannot be intimate as long as your true is hidden behind emotional clothes.
The lack of intimacy developed in our families is why this society is building men and women with anxious, ambivalent, and avoidant attachments. These people with insecurity problems find it difficult to develop intimacy with others.
A couple that is emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically intimate does not get divorced because true intimacy is the antidote to divorce.
The secret to regaining intimacy
In Genesis 3:9-13, God is looking for Adam and Eve. They were afraid and hid because they were naked. What would have happened if they had not come out from hiding? If we analyze it, Adam and Eve made themselves vulnerable before God, they showed their nakedness and told Him what had happened.
Therefore, the first element of the formula is to be vulnerable. But there is a false concept: I cannot take the risk of revealing my deepest feelings. If I let others know what I am, I might be rejected. This false concept stops many, preventing them from becoming vulnerable and thus achieving intimacy.
What the word vulnerability means?
Have you ever wondered what the word vulnerability means? The word vulnerability comes from the Latin vulnerable, which means to hurt. Being vulnerable means being open to attack, exposed, and powerless.
Vulnerability in a relationship requires the courage to love, but openly, to be honest regarding your feelings and doubts. It also involves the willingness to risk exposing the truth about a painful past and some emotional difficulty. Vulnerability is being open to pain, but it also opens the door for the blessing of intimacy.
A dear friend who is reading these lines.
I challenge you today to take your mask off and have the courage to be imperfect and to love yourself. Have the courage to let go of what you believe you should be, so you can become what you are. And how can you do it? By being authentic and asking for Heavenly help, and, if necessary, professional help. Besides, if you accept negative emotions, you will be on your way to true intimacy with God and others.
Have you ever experienced the benefit of allowing vulnerability in your life, in your interpersonal relationships? What effect or changes did it make in your life? Share your answers with us in the comments section. God bless you.