The Five Levels of Intimacy

Psychologists have identified 5 levels of emotional intimacy we all move through as we get to know someone. They’ve been given several names, but for our purposes, let’s call them Level one through five, with five being the highest, or most intimate level.

Level One: Safe Communication

Level one is the lowest level of communication. We call it safe because it involves the exchange of facts and information. There are no feelings, opinions or personal vulnerability involved, and therefore no risk of rejection. This is the kind of interaction we have with people we don’t know well. It’s the chitchat we share with the clerk at the grocery store or a stranger at a party.People communicating at this level share minimal intimacy. An example of this level would be, “Lousy weather we’re having,” This is great pizza,” My team won last night.”

Level Two: Others’ Opinions and Beliefs

At level two we start sharing other people’s thoughts, beliefs and opinions. We are beginning to reveal more of ourselves through our associations. We say things like, “My mother always says…” or “One of my favorite authors said…” Such statements test the other person’s reaction to what we’re sharing without offering our own opinions. This is slightly more vulnerable than level one, but because we’re not sharing our own opinions we can distance ourselves from the opinion if we feel threatened by criticism or rejection.

Level Three: Personal Opinions and Beliefs

We start taking small risks at this level because we begin to share our own thoughts, opinions and beliefs. But like the previous level, if we begin feeling too vulnerable, we can say we’ve switched our opinions or changed our mind in order to avoid conflict or pain.

Level Four: My Feelings and Experiences

Sharing feelings and experiences is the next level of vulnerability and intimacy. At this level we talk about our joys, pain, and failures; our mistakes in the past, our dreams, and our goals. What we like or don’t like. What makes us who we are. This level is more vulnerable because we can’t change how we feel about something, the details of our past or current experiences. If we sense we may be rejected or criticized all we can do is try to convince others that we’re no longer impacted by our past. We’re no longer that person. We’re different now.

Level Five: My Needs, Emotions and Desires

Level five is the highest level of intimacy. It is the level where we are known at the deepest core of who we are. Because of that, it is the level that requires the greatest amount of trust. If I can’t trust that you won’t reject me, I’ll never be able to share my deepest self with you. Unlike the other levels, there is no escape at this level. Once I let someone see who I really am, I can no longer convince them otherwise. Communicating at this level means we offer someone the most vulnerable part of ourselves. And the greatest fear is that they could use it against us later. When we share things like, “I’m hurt when you don’t call,” I need to feel respected by you,” or “I want to spend my life with you,” we’re sharing not only our hurts but our desires and needs as well. It’s also the level where we let others see our emotional reaction to things, which if you’re like me, isn’t always a pretty sight. Maybe that’s why we save those for the ones closest to us, like our families.

© Dandan Li, all rights reserved