Continuing my series on his model, the sixth stage in Erik Erickson’s model of psychosocial development is that of intimacy and isolation, which he suggested happens in young adulthood, up to the age of 40.
Erickson suggests that what is front and centre developmentally through this life stage is the development of loving, intimate relationships. It’s important to note that this does not mean sexual relationships, intimacy means close, honest and loving, it’s about being able to be fully who we are and to be with someone else who is fully being who they are, and to feel comfortable with this.
For those who are able to navigate this process, what results is a strong social support network, and lasting close relationships with friends, and with romantic partners. They are able to have meaningful connections with a depth, their relationships can last through the bumps and bruises of life, overcoming conflicts, and lasting through the personal growth of both parties as time goes on.
Intimate relationships call on us to reveal ourselves, psychologically, and sometimes physically. To this we need to have a secure sense of our own self, and to have the self-esteem to be able to comfortable with difference, and with the vulnerability of laying bare what is not seen by everybody. We do this on a reciprocal basis, receiving and witnessing the other, advocating for them, enabling them - meeting them as they are without wish or need to change them.
Where intimacy is not tolerable, people may withdraw, or avoid, and this can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. They may not venture into relationships, or may not find they can stay in them. There can be many ways that this came about, from childhood experiences to past relationship issues to loss. Often difficulties in attachment arise from our early experiences, but this does not mean that we are doomed to remain as we are, we can heal and find our way to increasing intimacy with support and time.
While working on social skills such as self-disclosure and listening can be helpful to build confidence, relationships develop through repeated actions to begin, develop and deepen them. If you struggle with connecting, reaching out, and receiving in relationship then psychotherapy may be helpful as a setting in which to experiment and explore with ways of being with others.