Working with sexuality

It doesn’t take a bodyworker to tell you that sexuality is a touchy topic in modern life.  Sex is one of the driving forces of our human existence, and its prominence in what drives us is evident equally in the suggestive images and messages that bombard us daily, and in the repressive messages we still receive from family, church, and politics.  Sigmund Freud – perhaps a bit too obsessed with sex – based his entire theory of psychology on what he called the “sexual model.”  But whether he was obsessed or not, it is undeniable that sex and sexuality are major issues for many people seeking therapy of one kind or another.  Sex is powerful, and society’s mad efforts to control it, promote it, discourage it, regulate it, sell it, and use it to sell us other stuff we don’t need can seriously screw up our relationship to it.

The therapy world has a problematic history with clients and sexuality, starting with Freud and continuing to this day.  Therapists have taken advantage of patients who, in their vulnerability and trust, have expressed sexual or romantic interest in them.  Bodyworkers – particularly massage therapists – often have to navigate sexual responses in clients, inappropriate requests, and even assault; some also assault their clients.  Our professions are rife with potential issues because so much is in the room: emotional difficulty, sexual difficulty, deep connective trust, and in some cases, touch.

In Rubenfeld Synergy, the focus on the body and the touch – though explicitly clothed and non-sexualized – can easily evoke sexual response, remind a client of a sexual experience, put the client in touch with his or her emotions and fantasies, or trigger a traumatic response associated with a sexual assault.   I explicitly deal with clients who have issues around sexuality, and I’ve encountered a number of different questions around how to deal with sexuality in sessions.  I want to explore them individually, in an effort to bring light to something that is too infrequently discussed.

In future posts, I will discuss clients who come in for other issues but then reveal sexual difficulties; clients who become aroused during sessions; clients who attempt to take advantage of the therapeutic relationship to indulge their fantasies, and clients who need grounding around touch and sexual trauma.  There are strategies for walking the fine line that can thread itself through these sessions, and I hope to explore them in detail in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned…

 

[Rerun] Trauma and streaming, or, why I was shaking this morning after falling down the stairs

Yes, this morning I fell down the stairs.  I had put on comfy fuzzy socks, and was looking at my phone a little, and my foot slipped and I tumbled down a half-flight to the landing, bracing myself with my left hand.  My forearm got bruised up and I’m still figuring out what’s going on with my neck (the chiropractor might get a visit), but I’m mostly fine.

What interested me, though, was the aftermath, once my body realized I was no longer in danger and hadn’t been badly hurt.  In a few minutes, my hands started to shake, and I was buzzy and shaky for a while as the adrenaline rush left my body.  Luckily, my body is pretty good at doing this; most of ours are.  But for people who have experienced serious trauma, things can be a bit different.

In our training, we called it “streaming.”  This is distinct from “flooding,” where a client becomes overwhelmed by an emotion and needs to be brought down from it to safer ground.  Streaming is a phenomenon that may or may not be accompanied by emotion, but generally is far more physical.  I’ve seen it many times in the training, a time or two in my office, and have experienced it personally once.  It can be disconcerting and is certainly uncomfortable, and it’s not very well understood, but for whatever reason, Synergy really lends itself to it.

So what is it?  Basically, a client will be lying on the table.  The Synergist will make contact in one way or another.  And the client’s body will start to shake.  Often, their jaw will shake as well, as you might if you were very cold and shivering.  One colleague of mine described the sensation as moving in waves down her body.  For another, her eyes moved around a lot as well, and tended to fill with tears, though she didn’t feel sad.  The movement is involuntary, like shivering, and tends to come up especially for people who have experienced trauma in their childhoods.

In my own experience, I became very angry during the training one year, and got caught up in some drama surrounding a fellow student.  I carried the anger with me over a few days, then had a Synergy session, as we do in the course of our training.  During that session, I began to process through the emotions I was having, and as I did so, my body began to shake.  It almost felt like I was going to cry, but I didn’t, and instead I felt waves of shudders moving through me, top to bottom.  It was bizarre, and a little frightening, and my Synergist just held my head and helped me move through it safely.  It stopped after a few minutes, and I felt freer and cleaner than I had in days.  And a lot less angry.

At some point prior to this, one of the faculty explained how an animal – like, say, a deer – will shudder after an encounter with a predator or some other danger that it manages to escape.  In such moments, when our fight-or-flight response kicks in, adrenaline and cortisol flood our systems, and afterwards, when the danger has passed, it needs to be cleared.  An animal’s muscles will spasm quickly to clear the stress hormones and move them toward their eliminatory systems more quickly.

But sometimes, an animal – usually a domesticated animal, or especially, a human – will not clear the experience right away.  Sometimes the trauma is too great, or is repeated often, or for some other reason, the moment of stress becomes frozen in the body.  The muscles lock around the feeling of danger and terror, and the trauma becomes imprinted.  Instead of having a traumatic experience, but then moving toward healing, the body and mind develop a new loop: the experience is re-lived, fully, vividly, triggered by words, images, smells, and mundane experiences.

It’s only later, then, that the streaming occurs: while meditating, or receiving healing, or lying awake at night.

Or that’s the theory, anyway: that streaming is one of the ways the body gets triggered, an attempt to clear old wounds long after they’ve happened.  For me, it was the accumulation of a few days’ rancor.  For others, it seems to repeat for them, over and over, like flashbacks of the trauma itself.  Over time, one hopes that it improves, as the accumulated stress is released.

I was grateful this morning to feel my body shivering as it cleared the fear: the danger was past, and I’m merely bruised and sore, not traumatized.  But what happens to the child who is hit constantly by his father?  Pretty soon, just the sound of his key in the lock will cause the adrenaline response; just the sound of his voice will put the child’s body on alert; just the father turning to look at him too quickly will cause him to flinch back.  In such an environment, one’s guard can never be down.  It’s never safe to just let the hormones clear and go on with life as normal.  And, unlike prey animals, we have sophisticated mental and emotional systems: memory, pattern recognition, prediction, and consciousness.  All of those flinches go somewhere; it makes sense that all of that accumulated tension might come spilling out later in life in a physical way.

RSM, among all the other things it is, seems to be a way to access and begin to clear those traumas somatically – without having to re-live the trauma, or even know what it was.  We’re making contact with the body and helping it learn to feel safe again, to return to a state where calm is possible, and being constantly on alert is no longer necessary.  For some people, streaming appears to be a necessary part of this process.

Here’s a pretty great article on this phenomenon, from someone who does Jin Shin Do Acupressure.  I’m not familiar with the practice, but the descriptions of what I’m talking about are very useful.  Bonus story about a horse, too.

The fitness industry's war against your body

I have long been suspicious of the fitness industry, and in particular the more recent, particularly self-punishing styles of workout that have become so popular.  For my own part, I believe in eating whole foods, indulging from time to time, and being as active as you can in a way that doesn’t cause injury.  I’ve found new levels of fitness lately, doing an activity I love.  I will never be as ripped as a fitness model.  But I’m getting into reasonably good shape.

I don’t fault those who push themselves to their limits, and discover that their limits aren’t where they thought they were. What I object to are the constant, insidious or sometimes overt messages that say that we should ignore our bodies’ messages, push ourselves past our limits to injury, and collapse, puke, or pass out rather than fail.

Today’s beautiful if rageful response to this culture is from a father of a young girl, who doesn’t want her growing up in a world where heroin-chic has been replaced by hypergymnasia, a newfangled approach to anorexia that involves obsessive exercise instead of not eating.  The article is a response to six images from Fitspiration, most of which show fitness models posing sexily and text like “Your body isn’t telling you ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I need to stop.’ ‘It hurts.’ ‘It burns.’ Your mind is.  Shut it up with more.”

And that’s the message: your body is a weak vessel whose voice should be ignored, your mind is lying to you, and when you think you should stop because it hurts, you shouldn’t listen to yourself.  What part of you is left, exactly, to push back at the meatsack you are apparently inhabiting at this point is unclear.  It only knows that you need to look like a fitness model or you’ll never be happy or sexy.

Health is a wonderful thing.  Fitness is glorious.  And exercise is good for you.  But this kind of thing is really, really screwed up, and it makes me sad that our culture has gone so far afield from the idea of befriending our bodies that we’re actually making them our enemies, to be dominated and overcome (for their own good, of course).

Read it here.

The fitness industry’s war against your body

I have long been suspicious of the fitness industry, and in particular the more recent, particularly self-punishing styles of workout that have become so popular.  For my own part, I believe in eating whole foods, indulging from time to time, and being as active as you can in a way that doesn’t cause injury.  I’ve found new levels of fitness lately, doing an activity I love.  I will never be as ripped as a fitness model.  But I’m getting into reasonably good shape.

I don’t fault those who push themselves to their limits, and discover that their limits aren’t where they thought they were. What I object to are the constant, insidious or sometimes overt messages that say that we should ignore our bodies’ messages, push ourselves past our limits to injury, and collapse, puke, or pass out rather than fail.

Today’s beautiful if rageful response to this culture is from a father of a young girl, who doesn’t want her growing up in a world where heroin-chic has been replaced by hypergymnasia, a newfangled approach to anorexia that involves obsessive exercise instead of not eating.  The article is a response to six images from Fitspiration, most of which show fitness models posing sexily and text like “Your body isn’t telling you ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I need to stop.’ ‘It hurts.’ ‘It burns.’ Your mind is.  Shut it up with more.”

And that’s the message: your body is a weak vessel whose voice should be ignored, your mind is lying to you, and when you think you should stop because it hurts, you shouldn’t listen to yourself.  What part of you is left, exactly, to push back at the meatsack you are apparently inhabiting at this point is unclear.  It only knows that you need to look like a fitness model or you’ll never be happy or sexy.

Health is a wonderful thing.  Fitness is glorious.  And exercise is good for you.  But this kind of thing is really, really screwed up, and it makes me sad that our culture has gone so far afield from the idea of befriending our bodies that we’re actually making them our enemies, to be dominated and overcome (for their own good, of course).

Read it here.

An informal poll: What's the first thing you want to know?

Image

Inquiring turtles want to know

Readers: when you are looking for a therapist, counselor, healing practitioner – basically someone you’re going to work on life, emotional, psychological or other such issues with, what are you looking to see on the first page of their website?

That is, what do you want to know about a practitioner that’s going to make you more likely to contact them for a session?

As I’m reworking my website – which will likely be hosted here at WordPress in the future – I want to have a better sense of what catches people’s eye and makes them see that they may have found the practitioner they want.  So what piece of information, what bit of language, what type of image or feel, what sense that you get makes you press the “Contact Me” button – or, what turns you off and makes you go look elsewhere?

Your comments wanted!

An informal poll: What’s the first thing you want to know?

Image

Inquiring turtles want to know

Readers: when you are looking for a therapist, counselor, healing practitioner – basically someone you’re going to work on life, emotional, psychological or other such issues with, what are you looking to see on the first page of their website?

That is, what do you want to know about a practitioner that’s going to make you more likely to contact them for a session?

As I’m reworking my website – which will likely be hosted here at WordPress in the future – I want to have a better sense of what catches people’s eye and makes them see that they may have found the practitioner they want.  So what piece of information, what bit of language, what type of image or feel, what sense that you get makes you press the “Contact Me” button – or, what turns you off and makes you go look elsewhere?

Your comments wanted!