Differing Motives versus Distancing Motives

I’ve been puzzling over this complex reality of feeling close and being different. In some ways, that is the whole story: Autonomy and Intimacy. But that is a different post. Right here I am thinking about how people feel close to each other. We have internal motives to be close: to feel safe, to feel loved, and to feel loving. These innate motives are threatened by fear: fear of conflict, fear of abandonment or rejection, fear of being inadequate, fear of being raged at. We are altering and editing our relationship involvement and communication on the basis of these two opposing forces that strongly impact our internal states.

Often what we have learned in our early relationship patterns is that to be close to another person we have to be like that person. In other words, commonalities and agreement make us feel closer. This is because we can avoid conflict and rejection if we do not introduce a different perspective. Part of our development, if we are lucky, is learning that truly being close to another person is about knowing that person, as he or she is. That means that understanding differences is as important, if not more important, than understanding similarities. It is difficult to teach ourselves to tolerate the uncertainty of difference. We have to build a very solid inner core of ourselves in order to be safe enough to know about another person’s differences. In other words, it is a developmental milestone to feel closer based on clearer understanding rather than based on agreement.

Children as young as 3 know that a person can say one thing and mean another. Even small children know that what is expressed may not represent a person’s genuine thoughts and feelings. Part of gaining that capacity to present ourselves publicly–that is to feel one thing and show another–is about learning to live in the world of people and adapting to the demands of the environment we are in. The thing is, if we want to genuinely know another person, and be close to him or her, we have to be able and willing to know all those meanings and motives that stir around inside of him or her, regardless of how we feel about them.

So having differing motives is not the same as having distancing motives. Being different is not the same as being distant. Distancing motives are based in fear–all those fears that we hold regarding relationships. While we need intimacy, it makes us vulnerable to being hurt. We create distance as a pre-emptive defense against that pain. So distancing motives are about protecting ourselves, not about coming to understand each other.

It is difficult sometimes to distinguish distancing motives from differing motives. In other words, we cannot always know what underlies another person’s differing views and feelings, and often, our own. What we can do is build our inner connection with ourselves, try to retain an open and expansive heart and mind, and hold an attitude of curiosity and good will.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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