Intimacy vs. Isolation

Erik Erikson’s sixth stage of psychosocial development roughly spans ages 19 to 40, when the main conflict is intimacy versus isolation. Love is the goal—but that doesn’t only mean love within a couple, “romantic love” bathing everything in a glow of perfection and bliss. Rather, the goal includes love between various individuals (family members, friends, and so forth).

An even more enlarged perspective on love is described in To Find The Way Of Love (Oliver’s book). Briefly stated, the way of love is a way of living with other human beings, a way that opens our personal world for connectedness and openness, a way in which isolation is not the primary state of being.

While discussing Erikson’s sixth stage, we happened on an article by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times (March 27, 2012) on the compelling subject of “Forging Social Connections for Longer Life.” Brody describes losing her husband of 44 years, with whom she shared a deep bond. She reports how, for the first year after his death, her very loving social network gathered around to ease the emptiness—but as time passed and life’s demands on those people made them less attentive, she felt ultimately alone.

The article goes on to mention some research findings that we all know intuitively as truths. For example, people in healthy relationships or with good social networks tend to thrive and live longer; even people who suffer heart attacks and persist in unhealthy lifestyles but maintain social connectedness live longer than heart attack victims without such connections.

Much has been written about the demonstrated healing properties of touch, and it’s no surprise that chronic loneliness is probably linked to depression, because we are not wired to be isolated. Punishment involving excessive restriction, such as solitary confinement in incarceration, can put both sanity and health at risk.

Many animals live in groups, some even as lifelong pairs. It is biologically and psychologically human to want and need connection. Within healthy social interactions are support, reinforcement, affection, and the experience of being seen and heard. The isolated person, however, often suffers from profound injury to trust, bonding, and capacity to relate. Some solitude is good and healthy, and the ability to enjoy one’s own company is valuable—in balance with the ability to connect and form bonds.

To be human is to be one among many. Although life’s demands, expectations, stresses, disappointments, and inevitable losses can feel overwhelming, looking into the mirror of people who reflect our humanity and seeing a friendly space in which to gather our strength is life-affirming and health-promoting.

At the most fundamental level, energy reverberates between two or more energy fields. At the human level, this can result in shared humor, shared pain, the complete experience of sharing. We all need to find the way of love, to make our time on Earth as satisfying, enriching, and long-lasting as possible.

Oliver &  Barbara

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