The Primary Intimacy Need of Childhood

Currently in our #Thursday Thoughts blog posts we are busy with a mini-series that considers how childhood experiences affect our adult lives and influence our parenting.  (You can start here if you’re only joining us now.) Last week we looked at how self-esteem is affected by how well our intimacy needs were met in childhood. In today’s post and over the next few weeks, we will examine what those intimacy needs are. These posts are based on Owen Connolly’s insights shared in his book for fathers called “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”. Let us know what you think by engaging with us on our social media profiles. We look forward to hearing from you.


The primary intimacy need is acceptance/forgiveness. We say forgiveness because we often feel accepted but only conditionally. We need to assure our children that they are loved unconditionally – “I will love you no matter what you do or what issues come up but please be open and honest with me. I love you and will forgive you.” For children, there is a lesson to be learned from that acceptance/forgiveness process that enables them to accept and forgive others and themselves. The result of not having this need met is that they can be deceived into feeling that they are accepted but that it’s conditional – i.e. “I’m accepted if I’m good and behave,” etc. They end up being a people pleaser or someone who doesn’t want to please people at all! So you can find children who are house angels and street devils or street angels and house devils. Their behaviour is more determined by the company they keep rather than by themselves. So to make children value who they are, they need to have acceptance that’s unconditional. Otherwise, they live with the fear of rejection. “I’m not what my parents want, etc.” When you believe that, it’s a very painful and awful world to live in, because you’re living at the behest of everyone else. You’re inviting yourself to be a marionette while somebody else pulls the strings. marionettes

How well a child feels accepted can be seen from how well you’ve gotten to know the child. When a child is loved unconditionally, they’ll let you get closer. As a parent, remember that it’s easy for children to believe that our love is conditional just because of the way we comment favourably or unfavourably on their behaviour. To a child, “You’re a good boy” means “I’m loved” and “You’ve been a bad boy” means “I’m bad” because for them the world is very black and white. When a child is criticised for crying or displaying a need, they might decide “It’s wrong to feel this way.” They get all this “wrong” stuff in their heads so they strive to be “right” all the time and have an enormous fear of “wrong.” And this can cause a child to be lacking in emotional response, because their fear of wrong paralyses them. They completely shut down because they have a childlike vision of wrong. They don’t have a flexible understanding of right and wrong.

A good way of helping children feel accepted is to share something of your own past and childhood with them, including childhood pranks. This will cause them to feel the warmth of harmony with you, and that they’re OK and not bad. Another important part of acceptance is to make them feel welcomed and greeted – that you’re pleased to see them after an absence. Children also have a need to be believed as part of their need for acceptance, and they need to be able to bring their friends home and to share what they have with others. Acceptance brings a sense of permanency – that what they have at home is lasting – and this feeds a child’s need for security.

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