I've seen a lot in my almost 40 years of personal growth and more than 20 years of psychotherapy.
The changes, the trends, the breakthroughs in relationship and trauma theory have reshaped therapeutic environments. And I've seen a lot in my time of exploration into the subject of sexuality and relationship I can tell you.
And, what I have witnessed and been prey to at times, in the name of 'personal growth' in the last 30 years in a few select New Age workshop environments, has in retrospect, bordered on what I'd now call abuse. Fortunately, as I got older, and being lucky enough to have trained with professionals of a high calibre, I developed a pretty big BS monitor and found my way to steer clear of environments that felt wrong, or a bit sleazy and I'm so glad I did. Because this area of sexuality 'growth' has been fraught. It can be a minefield of crossed boundaries to be part of the 'herd', the culture of normalising behaviour that in my psychotherapy book, is unhealthy and an unsafe environment for the vulnerable, who often don't even know they are vulnerable.
The body truly is a wonderful barometer. After more than 2 decades of compromising my body sexually within my own relationship, that is, going against what felt right, allowing sex when I wasn't ready or didn't want to, coerced into it against my will, (all in the name of 'growth' and 'freeing' myself mind you) left me with a determination and a conviction that NO MATTER WHAT, if it didn't feel right, I wouldn't put my body, my heart, my psyche through that. EVER again.
So it arked up one day in a workshop with a famous Tantra teacher (not Diana Richardson) when we were meant to participate in something that just felt too intrusive, too wrong, totally voyeuristic, and just plain uncomfortable with a male who was a complete stranger to me. But the egging on and shaming I got, the attitude that I had some kind of hang-up, and that this would 'free' me, and my constant refusal to participate, eventually broke me down to the point I ended up crying in the corner.
Despite that result, this was a defining moment in my own personal empowerment. At 46 years of age, in the space of 60 other participants, I took back my own authority as a woman. The authority over my own female body. And this has been a principle I have lived by and encouraged in women, and men, ever since. After too many years of compromise, a kind of anger energy in your solar plexus builds up. That's the power with which you can finally say no.
Looking back on that now, I am proud of myself. I knew how far I could go. But what if you don't have that internal compass? What if you are pulled along into something that you regret or wish you could press replay on? Or if you were too small or young to even know how to change things or escape?
Yes, this brings us into the territory of trauma. A subject that is tender and raw. And one that needs a great deal of care in tending to, to heal from, to return from.
What can make you start to say 'yes' to intimacy when your whole being wants to say no?
There are a few very important factors that must be present to be able to start on that road to intimacy and making love.
The first is to recognise that past trauma, crossed boundaries, activates our autonomic nervous system, which is an inbuilt system that responds automatically (without even thinking consciously) to keep us safe.
And certain situations, such as intimacy and closeness, can take us into automatic responses and adaptive behaviours to survive what the body perceives or feels is a threat.
And it's important to recognise and determine when these responses take place. Until we have begun the road to heal, we have no control over them. And even then, the body is wired so that if the nervous system becomes overwhelmed, or highly activated, the automatic response will kick in.
It is inbuilt in our system as a result of past threats in our environment. So to say to someone, 'just open up sexually!', well it's like telling a depressed person to cheer up. It's insanity. Because they don't have the resources to do so. The situation may seem perfectly normal. For example, here is my partner, he or she loves me. I should be able to open up. But as soon as he/she comes near me, my body tightens up, my breath becomes shorter, stress levels rise. Then I think there is something wrong with me.
No, there is nothing wrong with you. Your body is your beautiful companion. It is protecting you. And has all your life.
Next, it's good to recognise when our systems are in a highly activated state. You will no doubt have heard of these states - Fight, Flight, Freeze, and perhaps to a lesser degree, Appease.
FIGHT - the tendency to attack or defend.
FLIGHT - running away or retreating in the face of feeling unsafe, eg. the imminence of the sexual exchange.
FREEZE - shutting down, being silent, still there, but frozen and unresponsive.
APPEASE - pleasing, submitting to placate another to avoid danger/conflict.
THE ROAD BACK TO INTIMACY
The road back for me was not anything I learned in a training or through study.
Over a period of several years, through my own direct experience of The Making Love approach, following an innate curiosity and the wisdom and intelligence of my own body, I have come to be able to recover to a large degree, from my own sexual trauma.
The trauma happened in the body and the healing happened through the body.
Through the felt experience of slowly, gently, little by little, in small doses, allowing myself to enter into the intimate exchange with a partner who was patient, kind, and loving, and who was encouraging of me to trust my own body and never to compromise, I was able to recover from complete shutdown and flight.
This resulted in me uncovering a natural system to recovery, MY ROADMAP TO INTIMACY. It involves the body, the heart, the mind, and a little bit of courage. I'd love to share that with you.
So if you are curious for yourself or another, have suffered from abuse or trauma to whatever degree, I welcome you to join me and the Documentary filmmaker of Did I choose my Trauma? and TEDx speaker, Yemi Penn this Thursday 16th September for a webinar/interview to gently unpack how you can start to move into intimacy in a safe and empowered way.
Sex after sexual trauma is a taboo subject but it's a conversation that must be had. One doesn't have to have had major sexual trauma to be affected, simply by the sheer unconsciousness and lack of education around making love and sexuality in general, we are all affected.
Please join us for what will be a rich and insightful conversation on 16th Sept in Australia, 15th Sept in UK, and US. Link here.
If you'd like to give your relationship a chance to really experience deeper intimacy in a safe space, join me at The Making Love Retreat.
Love to hear how this resonates for you ... feel free to leave your comments below.
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