I remember, during those long years when my marriage was unraveling, thinking that my then-husband had an “issue” with emotional intimacy. At the time, it was much easier to point the finger of blame in his direction. Now, ten years and a lot of therapy later, I can see a bit more clearly that the problem was not just his. Yes, despite my deep desire for an emotional connection with him, I played a role in our lack of it.

In fact, as I’ve worked through my own divorce journey, and partnered hundreds of clients through theirs, I’ve discovered that this simultaneous longing for and fear of intimate connection is a universal human experience. We all suffer from it to one degree or another. And yet, like everyone else I know, I want more than anything to have close, intimate connection with others – open, trusting, transparent, to be seen, known and loved for all that I am, and to love in return -- joyfully, whole-heartedly, without reservation.

And yet, for most of us, time and again something gets in the way of that connection. But what is it? Why, when we want so desperately to be intimately connected with others, do we resist, pull away, create barriers?

Emerging research in the field of human behavior may offer clues… and hope. Many experts are zeroing in on shame and unworthiness as the roots of fear of intimacy. Uncomfortable words, shame and unworthiness, words we don’t talk about much in everyday conversation. But the research suggests we all carry some elements of these – if you’ve ever felt embarrassed, or reluctant to reveal something about yourself, or had trouble admitting you made a mistake… you can be sure that shame and unworthiness are close by.

These inklings of unworthiness are the source of our deepest fear: that if someone knows us – really knows us, with all our imperfections – they could not possibly love us. So, we keep our real selves, our wounded and flawed and afraid selves, sealed off from view. We resist being “vulnerable” – many of us run like mad in the other direction in the face of the “V” word (and I’m speaking from personal experience here). And so our loved ones cannot know us, cannot see us as we are, because we haven’t let them. And we’re left with less-than-satisfying connections.

There is a way out. The antidote to shame and unworthiness is what Dr. Brené Brown calls “the courage to be imperfect”. According to Brown, the practice of living authentically and transparently, embracing our flaws and imperfections, is the key to “wholeheartedness” – the quality that allows for vulnerability, intimacy and connection. (For more on Dr. Brown’s research, visit www.brenebrown.com).

Easy to say. Scary to do. But at 49 years old, I think I can finally say I’m ready to take on the V word. I’m ready to live the second half of my life in a more connected, intimate way, embracing my imperfections, befriending my flaws, and allowing others to know them. And I know it will be a practice, something to work on every day. I’d better get started.

If you care to practice with me, we will be devoting our spring retreat to the topic of Authenticity, Self-Esteem and Connection. For more info or to enroll, visit our web site www.OneJourneyConsulting.com.

Author's Bio: 

Renee Cooper is coach and co-founder of One Journey Consulting, a coaching practice dedicated to personal renewal and rediscovery through life transitions such as divorce and mid-life. More information can be found at http://www.OneJourneyConsulting.com