Intimacy vs. Isolation: The Importance of Relationships

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

Everyone needs a life partner to get through life with. They need someone to share their lives with, to build a deep, meaningful connection with, and to be satisfied with. Nevertheless, what happens when one cannot form these important relationships?

Intimacy vs. Insolation

Erik Erikson spoke about this in his theory of psychosocial development. There are five stages before the intimacy vs. isolation stage. They are as follows −

The Prerequisites to the Sixth Stage

The sixth stage takes place from the ages of twenty to forty. Here, healthy young adults have established stable self-identities during adolescence, making it possible to enter intimate relationships with others. Here, they are eager to fuse their identity with others, and efforts are made to commit themselves to partnerships. There is strength in abiding by such commitments irrespective of the significant compromises and sacrifices (Erikson, 1963). Success or failure here no longer depends upon the parents but on one's success or failure at earlier stages.

Adolescents emerging from the fifth stage are eager to fuse their identities with others. For this to happen, however, appropriate ego strength is required to endure the intimate encounters of young adulthood.

Defining this Stage

This stage is characterized by the capacity of one to commit themselves to concrete affiliations and partnerships. Here they develop moral strength to abide by such commitments, even though it calls for compromises. Intimacy needs the firmness of ego strength. Intimacy includes friendships, combat, and inspiration as potential sites for intimate encounters.

Understanding Intimacy

Erikson said that intimacies and establishing intimate relationships are not the same things. The intimacies involved in sexual intercourse are not the same as having the ability to establish close relationships with others. Intimate relationships go beyond just sexual closeness. According to Erikson, a truly intimate relationship is between partners with clearly established identities and loyalties. Adolescents that struggle with their identities cannot love in the truest sense.

Erikson says that adolescents engaged in passionate infatuations with each other result in intimacies. Only young adults, however, are capable of loving. Mature love involves the mutuality of mates and partners in a shared identity. It is the mutual verification through an experience of finding oneself as one loses oneself in another. Such deep involvement puts one's identity at risk. So young adulthood is characterized by individuals capable of taking chances with themselves to explore and develop intimate relationships.

Erikson remained consistent with the psychoanalytic tradition by emphasizing genitality as a sign of maturity. He views encounters with the opposite sex as a developmental milestone of intimacy. He highlights that sexual intimacy may precede true and mutual psychosocial intimacy. These lay down the tenets of mutual devotion and sexual maturity. Healthy relationships are great for the people involved and society. Here is what a healthy relationship entails (according to Erikson) −

Some components of a healthy relationship

  • Mutuality of orgasm

  • With a loved partner

  • With whom one is able and willing to share mutual trust

  • With whom someone is able and willing to regulate cycles of work, procreation and recreation

  • Someone to secure offspring with so that the offspring also satisfactorily achieves development

The Opposite End of the Spectrum: Isolation

Those young adults who cannot develop a capacity for intimacy and productivity develop a sense of isolation. Isolation here refers to the inability to take chances with one's identity by sharing intimacy. Such individuals tend to be self-absorbed and engage in interpersonal relationships on superficial levels.

Loneliness is one subjective experience of isolation too. Some feel that others do not understand them or feel pressured to act in inauthentic ways. If this loneliness becomes persistent, it could lead to physiological problems like heart disease and stress-related disorders and cause anxiety and depression. Factors like marital status and socioeconomic status are contributing factors to loneliness.

The Relation to Childhood Development

Intimacy goals are true engagement, shared identity, and mutual devotion. These are supported by virtue of love and provide the basis for generative people. The generative people are responsible for guiding and establishing the next generation. Isolation prevents the intimate connection process, thus not succeeding generations. This inability threatens the livelihood of developing children. Distant young adults become distant older adults. They will have the power to influence the succeeding generations, but they will also be blinded by prejudice and consumed by the polarized notions of society.


Looking at the bright side, young adults that develop their capacity for intimacy more than isolation earn the virtue of love! Love is mutual devotion. It is the greatest, most dominant human virtue. Love is the virtue that binds the other stages together. Love is in every stage, from an infant's attachment to the mother to an adolescent's infatuation. Adult love is mutuality as mates and developing a shared identity. This stage foreshadows the next stage. The ability to subsume in an intimate act of caring for others is crucial. Those lacking self-awareness usually cannot distance themselves enough to set healthy boundaries.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47