Intimacy ambivalence

This diagram shows the psychodynamics of the concept of intimacy ambivalence. It hypothesizes that all human have an ambivalence towards emotional intimacy in relationships. Intimacy is something they want, one could even say it is something we humans all crave and we must get it to some degree or we begin to deteriorate psychologically quite quickly.

Intimacy ambivalence expanded Jpeg

The problem with experiencing emotional intimacy with another is that it also frightens people. The basis of this idea is that as soon as you allow self to be emotionally intimate with another that means you have to be close, trust, be vulnerable, form attachment and so forth. All these things as we know, are difficult for people, for some they are very difficult because one can be hurt, be rejected, be abandoned, be discounted or shamed by the other. If the other so wishes he or she can cause considerable pain and disquiet for the other who is displaying their very vulnerable Free Child.

As this is a natural aspect of the human psyche, it can be considered normal, and therefore is a function of the Free Child (FC), as shown in the diagram. In addition to this is the injunction Don’t be close. Some people are given this injunction in childhood by their parents. The child learns in their relationship with mother or father that being close is not OK. Usually they have been hurt in some way by mother or father when they we emotionally close to them. They may have been shamed, put down, abandoned or simply advised by a parent not to be close to others because of the parents own fears of closeness.


This woman has a fear of closeness like us all.

She may or may not also have the parent injunction “Don’t be close”


If the child accepts this injunction then it is not a function of the FC but becomes an adaption to the parental script directive and hence is abnormal, and would be seen as a function of the AC (Adapted Child ego state). This person gets a doubling up. Their FC is naturally scared of closeness and they also have further fears of closeness which come form the AC. The individual who does not have the Don’t be close injunction does not have this doubling up effect but will still have the FC fears.

This can have significant psychotherapeutic implications. A therapist may diagnose a client with a Don’t be close injunction when in fact it is not. It is just their natural FC anxiety about closeness with another. One needs to be careful when making a diagnosis about ‘closeness issues’.


Don’t be close injunction

Parents can communicate this to a child in a variety of ways. They may be remote, fearful of touch, too busy or uncaring. Benign neglect. The mother may suffer post natal depression and hence have a narcissistic presentation where she is consumed by her own emotional needs. Alternatively the parent may die or for some reason have to be removed from the child such as through illness. Thus a decision can be “I will never get close to a man (woman) because it hurts too much when they leave”

These people become physically and emotionally isolated which of course has a direct impact on relationships – they will lack in intimacy both physical and emotional. Sometimes both parties have this and then people say things like, “the love or zing has gone out of the relationship”. This also leads to the stroke deprived individual as they can only get strokes at a distance. This can result in a whole range of problems such as depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and just feelings of isolation or a lack of meaning.

Dash 2

It is more common in males as females generally are more relationally focussed whereas men tend to be more activity focussed. It is generally more OK for females to touch than males.

One significant area of difficulty with this injunction is when it get confused with sex. Of course sex requires quite a high level of physical closeness. These are two very basic human drives. The sex drive and the drive for closeness. One needs to develop the ability to have non sexual touch as this can significantly enhance relationship quality.

This can be a difficult problem for some men with the Don’t be close injunction. They feel stroke and touch deprived, but they have what is known as an allower. An allower is a specific circumstance where in the persons mind the injunction does not apply. Some men with this injunction have the allower to have sex. When there is physical closeness with a female he initially feels discomfort as he has this injunctive prohibition against closeness. But in his mind he quickly converts it into sexual closeness which is allowed and the discomfort with the closeness ceases. He develops the pattern where all closeness with a female becomes sexualized because he is allowed to have that kind of closeness. However over time this leads to relationship difficulties as the female is also wanting to have non sexualized closeness.


Women can also have problems with this but in a different way. She discovers that sexual closeness satisfies her need for psychological closeness, temporarily. This can develop into a period of promiscuity where the Child ego state converts, in her mind, the sexual closeness into emotional closeness. But of course in the long run it does not work. Her Child eventually realizes this and she gives up on the idea.

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6 Responses to “Intimacy ambivalence”

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  1. Rosie says:

    Hello Tony.
    Just having a visit to a few blogs tonight, and as you know I always will visit you. I love the new blog btw.
    R. x.

    • Tony White says:

      I assume this is Kahless? Good to hear from you and hope all is well for you. You should come and see some kangaroos again. Best wishes and yes I like the new blog. And I also have control over most of it which is great. I have always wanted to be able to do my own website and now I am at least half way there. Tony

  2. Rosie says:

    Indeed it is the fearless lion here.

    I have a new job and travel a lot, so maybe i may come to oz at some point.
    I went to Shanghai a couple of weeks ago and it was awesome. When i have some time i will post the video. The amount of construction was unbelievable.

    I am a Londoner too now. So maybe you should come an have a decent pint again.

    Best wishes
    Kahless. x.

  3. Tony White says:

    Hi Kahless,
    A trip to china sounds adventuresome. It is something I must do one day and I have never been there. I have been to Hong Kong but I suppose that does not really count.

    It is quite likely I will come to the UK in the not so distant future and that could easily include London. So I will let you know. I think I have your email.

    All the best to you
    Tony xx

  4. R.suresh says:

    Dear Tony,
    I read the article and i have doubt about the picture on the ego state model you have put. It is because you have mentioned that the free child is getting afraid that it might get hurt or rejected. i disagree with it and would rather say that the free child will not be afraid to experiment, i fact it would be an ideal situation for it to rebel even if it is hurt but it is the adapted child which will feel afraid of getting hurt or rejected. looking for your comments

  5. Tony White says:

    Hi R.suresh,

    I am afraid that I disagree with the theory you propose. If a person makes self vulnerable then I would see it as the Free Child which is in fear of getting hurt. It is an appropriate reaction to what is happening in the current relationship.


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