False Intimacy vs. True Intimacy

False intimacy is often mistaken for true love because it can be intense. The "Figure-Eight", as it relates to relationships problems and false intimacy, is a great way to explain how this intensity develops in a relationship.

Beneath the waterline of awareness in the Iceberg Model lies the emotional woundedness of abandonment, shame, and contempt.

The abandonment represents the original emotional wounds caused by unmet dependency needs, the shame is an emotional infection that sets in, and the "scab of contempt" represents all of the crusty feelings of anger, bitterness, & resentment that come from having to live this way.

"Wounded people, wound people" -- below is an example of the effects of abandonment, shame, and contempt in a relationship of false intimacy.


Let's say, as an example of false intimacy & the Figure-Eight, that two people started a new relationship a few weeks ago. They are in love and have been spending lots of time together enjoying what is commonly known as the "honeymoon" period of their new connection. Things have been going very well. They have agreed to meet at her house at 7pm on Friday night where she is to prepare her first home-cooked meal for him.

False Intimacy vs. True Intimacy

The Figure-Eight

A = Activating Event: It is now Friday night; she has gone all out and is very excited about the evening. 7pm comes and goes but he has not shown up. 7:15pm no call, no show, dinner is getting cold...she starts to wonder...7:30pm still not there...her abandonment gets triggered. (See the Chemistry of Drama to learn more about the "Payoff" for re-enactments abandonment cycles).

B = Beliefs (The meaning she makes of his absence). She thinks to herself, "I wonder what happened…maybe he got in a wreck... Maybe he's hurt or worse...Maybe he's dead!"

C1 = Emotional Consequence: Fear and anxiety C2 = Behavioral Consequence: Calls the local emergency rooms


A = New Activating Event: 8:00pm still no call, no show and not at the ER. -- More abandonment, but this time accompanied by shame and contempt.

B = Beliefs (New meaning about the false intimacy are made) Her self-talk, "You should have known this was too good to be true! You are such a SUCKER!"

C1 = Emotional Consequence: Abandonment, shame and internalized contempt C2 = Behavioral Consequence: Another part of her talks her down, "You don't really know what happened, there is bound to be a perfectly good reason for this." She also begins to call his home and cell phone...no answer left several messages.


A = New Activating Event: 8:45pm; still no show, no call and no returned messages... increased anxiety due to underlying fear of abandonment & loss

B = Beliefs (New meaning made) It occurs to her, "Omigosh…maybe he is lying in a ditch somewhere! Maybe he is hurt and needs me!"

C1 = Emotional Consequence: Fear, worry, anxiety C2 = Behavioral Consequence: Calls the Police and Highway Patrol. They promise to keep an eye out.


A = New Activating Event: 9:00pm; There is a knock at the door. She opens it and it's him! She asks, "Where have you been? I was so worried about you!" He replies, "Sorry babe, I overslept..." Before he could say anymore she is instantly flooded with contempt... (No room for abandonment or shame this time around)...

B = Beliefs (New meanings about false intimacy are made or old ones reinforced): Her self-talk, "How could I have been so stupid!! All men are the same; careless, thoughtless, selfish pigs!"

C1 = Emotional Consequence: Internalized contempt at her self, externalized contempt (rage) at him as a representative of the male of the species. C2 = Behavioral Consequence: She unloads every hateful angry thing she can think of on him, calling him every name in the book. And tells him to GET OUT!!


A = HIS Activating Event: Her C2 (Behavioral Consequence) became his first A (Activating Event). He didn't get a chance to explain that he just laid down for what was to be a short nap because has been up for 48 hours strait - fixing the antique rocker left to her by her recently deceased favorite grandmother.

B = Beliefs (meaning he makes about this false intimacy) His self-talk as she unloads on him, "Omigosh…what have I gotten myself into! She's a maniac just like my mother!! She doesn't even give me a chance to explain! Well…I am not putting up with this!!"

C1 = Emotional Consequence: Abandonment (feeling like a victim), shame (from the meaning he made of the raging and name calling) and externalized contempt (self-righteous anger) C2 = Behavioral Consequence: Unloads on her telling her how happy he is to find out what she is really like before this went any further, then yells at her, "You have no idea what I went through the past two days trying to surprise you! I'm outta here!!" He throws the rocker in the door and leaves. They separate and both go to sleep angry...

Next Morning…

They both wake up without their anger and, instead, feeling a sick feeling of fear and sadness (abandonment) in the pit of their stomachs…both thinking something like, "Now look at what I did! I just messed up the best thing that ever happened to me!" (internalized shame and contempt).

She calls first to apologize for jumping to conclusions and says, "I know I've probably blown it (shame) but I wanted to apologize anyway." He apologizes too and blames it on being stupid (shame) and not having enough sleep. They talk it over and wonder together how all of that could have happened. They make up over the phone, get together for breakfast, make love and promise each other never to let that happen again! - The honeymoon is back on - right?? (Yeah, right -- until next time!)


The above example is a fairly common occurrence even in mild-to-moderately dysfunctional relationships (they can also occur in close friendships). There is a lot of intensity in these break-up/make-up scenarios -- negative intensity in the break-up side of the cycle, and positive intensity in the make-up side. But each time a couple goes around the cycle they accumulate even more abandonment, shame, and contempt.

The positive intensity of the make-up side of the cycle can be so powerful that false intimacy is often mistaken for true intimacy and love. But the positive intensity begins to wear off with each new occurrence as it becomes harder to believe that "We can get it right next time".


Let's Have a Conversation!

Are you a helping professional, someone caught-up in/or recovering from enabling behaviors, or just a curious observer?

Would you like to submit a question, give feedback, tell a relevant story about you & enabling, or just communicate with people who share your interest in this topic?

By Don Carter

Click on the following link to go to the Enabling Behaviors Discussion Forum


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Go to Addiction Help





This information is not a substitute for professional evaluation and/or treatment. Reading the information contained here may trigger strong emotional reactions. If you have an emergency, call 911, other local emergency contact, your local emergency room, or law enforcement agency.

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