Intimacy and distance

Holding hands
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday

In order to powerfully serve our chosen audience, we have to get intimate.

We have to know their desires, their values, the fears that keep them awake at 3am.

We love them deeply. We think about them constantly. We speak their words.

In many cases we ARE them, or used to be.

We live in their skins.


In order to powerfully serve our chosen audience, we have to get distant.

We have to be able to see the things they don’t, to know what they can’t know, to see them better than they see themselves.

We stand back and watch. We stand back and assess.

We distance ourselves from them.

We watch them through the microscope.

How do we reconcile this dichotomy?

In the comments, please share how you manage the duality of intimacy and distance. How do you stay close and yet stay apart?

What’s most difficult? What made it feel more natural?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts…

Need to talk out your answers? You should sign up for Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy, the wonderfabulous newsletter, and use your free 30-minute Marketing Check-Up to figure out what works for you.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Valerie Everett

15 thoughts on “Intimacy and distance

  1. Catherine,

    As a teacher of students with serious learning problems and special needs this is am important lesson – and one we in this profession learn quickly. 

    To do my job well I have to understand my student’s pain and frustration.  For that is my fuel to make their school life successful and supportive.  But to do that role effectively I can’t allow myself to feel their pain because then I would need someone to help me.

    And it not’s just the students pain I see.  There is also that of the parent’s and teachers.

    So this is what I do.  When I am listening to a student, parent or teacher’s pain or frustration I visualise holding their voice and feeling in my hands.  In my hands I can still hold them close.  In my hands I can direct them where to go.  In my hands I can teach them the skills I need.  In my hands I can also move their pain to a shelf when I need to take care of another student, parent, teacher or me.


  2. Intimacy can be through the welcoming and exploration of our differences.  Paradoxically appreciating individuality can lead us to becoming closer.  Not sure how this applies to marketing though.

      1. Catherine,

        This post really made me think. I clicked on it from Twitter, because I was thinking that I don’t engage nearly enough with the people I love on Twitter. And, now this. I find I keep a distance. I don’t like it though. It’s a transfer from my personal life and how I manage relationships. Marketing effectively is about relationships, the store owner that gets repeat business does better. People may initially buy a product/service because of a recommendation, but they keep buying because of how they felt about the transaction.

  3. the major component of staying distant in my work is in remembering that my client’s actions, choices and words are not influences in my personal life – it’s not about me. 

    not the way it is when a friend says something abotu you or to you, or the way you have opinions and reactions to something a loved-one is doing.  

    the intimacy i’m creating and sharing with a client is the space itself – wide enough to spread out in, with walls solid enough that you don’t panic when you spread out, i have to be a strong enough presence that you can lean on me, anchor to me while you explore and reach out in a blindness of some kind and easily grasp me – but i also have to be agile enough to get myself, and my ideas about how it should go out of the way when you suddenly take off.

    the distance part comes from the fact that it’s not about me – your confessions, your life arrangements, your perspectives, your reactions – even to me – are all for you to get a deeper knowing of yourself –  my instincts for how to point those things out to you and draw your attention in deeper are built out of my own feelings and thoughts – but it’s not ultimately a negotiation between us the way it is in inter-personal relationships…

    when i’m too distant or too intimate it usually means there is something i’m empathizing with that is a challenge for me – and instead of giving it space i’m trying to resolve it – both through the client and for myself.  Usually it means i’ve forgotten that their lives are their own and i’m not as important as i’ve started to feel, or i’ve forgotten we tend to handle ourselves and our struggles just fine left to our own devises so it’s probably not the end of the world like i’m makign it out to be (if i don’t fix it for them right now!!!) or i have started to feel unsafe getting close to something i haven’t ‘figured out’ yet or that ‘scares me’.   in those moments i call up someone to council and guide me through whatever of my own stuff is making the dance between intimate and distant jerky and clumsy. 

    but it’s other things, too.  I have to be well-versed and always feeding my insight and perspective – the fact that the things they say remind me of things i know that are complex and deep and things you wouldn’t neccessarily think of if you weren’t thinking about and doing this all the time automatically creates a professional ‘distance’.  it’s what maintains my expertise. 

     the intimacy comes from being comfortable in my own skin and the parts of life that are normally avoided – from being connected to the work the client is doing with me by doing it always myself going deeper and deeper so that I am always expanding what I am able to offer.

    I’ve learned to never, ever be without support of my own.  no matter how brilliant I am as a therapist – I just can’t take on the intensity and complicated dualities of that work without a working and well-used system of checks and balances. 

  4. I like the metaphor of scanning, like Google Maps–scan in to get the details, scan out to get the big picture view. 

    Scan in when you’re planning a trip between two specific points, scan out and see how the lay of the land is beneath the road, arching around a lake.

    Distance is fun for me–I love the big picture view, the strategy, the planning. 

    As for intimacy . . . when I do intuitive work with people they often open up quite a bit. They want to be seen, listened to, validated, and I hold space for them to be heard and for myself to hold compassion for them and remain present in the moment.

    Do you think intimacy v. distance might boil down to creating and nourishing boundaries? There’s that invisible fence as it were, possibly sometimes only apparent by the almost noiseless sizzle that comes up when it is crossed. Finding and negotiating the right boundaries can take a bit of dancing. They are so necessary, though.

    Ainslee’s metaphor of the hands is beautiful. 

  5. I’m still learning the best way to maintain distance while keeping intimacy in tact.  Reminding myself that clients’ problems aren’t mine, even if I’ve been in those shoes before, is a big help.  But I’ll admit that I still get frustrated sometimes when I wind up too entangled in the intimacy part and the person I’m trying to help fights me.  The tipping point between caring and caring too much is a hard one for me to see when I’m too close.  I need to learn to foster caring distance if I’m going to preserve my sanity.

  6. I think of it as putting on their skin, seeing the world through their experiences and emotions. But part of having worn so many “human skins” is noticing how much of the human experience is universal, and reflecting that knowledge back at your client to show them that wider perspective. 

    hmm. Based on that description I sound like a Navajo skinwalker. Cool.

  7. Doing readings, I absolutely must maintain my objectivity (distance) or I become biased and my reading becomes inaccurate. The way I’ve done this is to allow myself a moment to become too intimate with my client. Feel what they feel, see what they see, rail against the world. Then I step back. And I keep stepping back until I can see the big picture again.

Comments are closed.