“I don’t deserve love”
“I’m not enough”
“My body is ugly.”
“I am not in control.”
Do any of these sound familiar?
Our brain has a natural ability to process information. The problem occurs when the self has experienced some forma of trauma, and the brain struggles to complete or encode the information effectively. While we often think of trauma as big “T” events like PTSD, being in the war, sexual assault; trauma can also be small “t”, meaning as a result of distressing events, messages, or brief interactions causing a contraction of our selves. These events big or little can each have an impact on the development of how we see the world and ourselves living in it. And what we believe about ourselves, the world, and others will influence our behaviors and reactions moving forward. We find ourselves tensing up when someone or something reminds us of an old experience.
When we experience trauma, it’s like our brain short circuits and can’t complete the full process of moving through and integrating the difference aspects of the event–mental, emotional, physical–and gets stuck midway. As a result, the brain continues to want to make sense of it all so it can return to normal operating and will continue to bring up these pieces at different times and as a result of being triggered (reminded) in similar situations moving forward. We have flashbacks, startle responses, unexplained body aches, loss of memory, disconnection from our bodies, low motivation, nightmares, avoidance, and the list goes on.
What’s more, our body holds the memory of these traumatic experiences in our muscle system and central nervous system, as if it’s hijacking the natural process. Many women who experience painful sex (vaginismus, dyspareunia, etc), experience strong contractions of the pelvic floor muscles preventing painless intercourse. Often (but not always) this is the body’s response from past trauma now used to protect the woman from harm. In regards to the central nervous system, trauma can impact the stress response, causing the sympathetic system (fight or flight reaction) to kick in during times that there is no actual threat (although we perceive it). Have you ever started feeling incredibly anxious and want to crawl out of your skin from discomfort? You feel it happening in your body, but you just can’t shut it off?
In this disrupted processing, we develop negative personalized beliefs about ourselves to “make sense” of the situation, for instance: “I am worthless.” Not helpful. You can then see how this belief will impact your actions moving forward. If I believe I am worthless, I probably won’t speak up for my needs. I may avoid healthy relationships or living situations because I don’t think anyone will recognize value in myself. I may shy from romantic advances or avoid intimacy completely.
To live life with these struggles can often feel unbearable and almost hopeless. “What is going on with me?”
Luckily, there are MANY ways you can move through the pain and processing in order to come back into a body that does not feel so dangerous or uncomfortable to be in. Ways in which I work with individuals is by recognizing all the parts involved in the processing of information, the mind, body, and emotions. Yoga and breath work practice help to connect the body to the mind and recondition the body to respond differently to stress. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to target past experiences, current triggers, and future potential challenges for alleviation of presenting symptoms, decrease or elimination of distress from the memory, improved view of self, relief from body disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers. Psychoeducation helps individuals to understand the body’s process, so as to relieve the concept that “I’m broken.” No, you are not. Your body is in an active state to protect you and it’s process has appeared to get stuck.
In this week’s episode 11 of Eat Play Sex, in iTunes, Diane and I talk about sexual shame and how it’s impacting your ability to be open to your own pleasure and intimacy with others. We hear all those names that you refer to your vulva, and they aren’t so kind. I also talk about sexual trauma and how it relates to contractions in the pelvic floor and painful sex.
I also have for you lovers a FREE meditation to help you drop down and relax into your body, building presence with your vulva. You can download that here
Here I’ve included some resources about how the body keeps the memory, research on the brain and trauma, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and Yoga for healing. You do not have to go this alone. Let a professional help you through it.