Therapy Homework: Disgust and Vulnerability

Therapy Tuesday has come and gone.  It was my longest session yet.  Almost a full two hours.  I don’t know why he lets them go on for so long.  I drank so much water during the session that thoughts of Niagara Falls started rushing through my head near the end.

I really wanted to discuss all my awesome homework around my reflections around anger, but he’s too smart for that, I guess, because he zeroed in on something entirely unexpected.  I said in passing that my husband had stopped coercively kissing me.  Yes, this is something that he does.  My husband has been withholding sex since mid-2012.  We’ve had sex about 18 times since then.  It’s 2015.  18 times from mid-2012 to April 2015.  That’s…bad.  My husband is completely fine with it.  I am so not.  And, that has set the scene for subtle and not so subtle behaviors on my husband’s part that are harmful to our relationship and erode trust.  Most of his physical abuse has been sexual.  I find it a bit ironic actually since the biggest hurdle I’ve had to overcome in my life is a history of sexual abuse.  And, here I am in a long-term relationship where sexual abuse is on the table.  I’m disgusted by that.

And that’s what my therapist observed in me.  Disgust.  I have a very strong disgust reaction when my husband makes me kiss him.  His habit has been to completely avoid sex and sexual scenarios for over two years while demanding some sort of privilege of intimacy like hugs and kissing.  In the beginning, I was so confused but hopeful (and desperate) that I, of course, went along with this.  Anything I could get, right? But, as time went on, I began to see that this was the new normal.  He would use psychosexual or even physical abuse to control sexual situations in order to control his anxiety, which is almost a disability at this point.  He also experienced a decrease in libido due to taking an SSRI.  This is common, but what is not common is his response to me.  No matter how much I asked him to do something about it he did nothing.  He had no empathy.  ‘I don’t want to,” became the response du jour.  The response de l’année.  My pleads seemed to make him angrier, and that is what triggered his reactionary emotional expressions that fueled his behaviors.

One can’t take a few years of this sort of thing without finally feeling it.  I had compartmentalized it all until I went to therapy.  I knew that it would all have to come out of the boxes I had so neatly put them in.  When I did the anger work, I knew there would be repercussions.  I would feel what the anger was protecting me from.  I consequently felt disgust.

Why? It took almost two hours to get at it.  I wasn’t dodging.  I wasn’t even not answering.  I was trying to figure it out just as much as my therapist.  I did disgust work in EMDR with another therapist a few years ago.  As I sat there in the “hot seat” trying to collaborate, he finally asked me: “Do you need to have control in certain situations?”  I thought about it.  I don’t need to control other people.  I’m well beyond needing control over everything now, but I don’t like feeling like I don’t know what’s going to happen next particularly with a person that I have learned not to trust.  Feelings of uncertainty put me on edge.  I feel hypervigilant, and hypervigilance sets off my limbic system.  And, if someone does something that startles me when I’m in a hypervigilant state, then I will freeze.  When I freeze, I can’t speak or act.  That means I can’t defend myself.  If I can’t defend myself, then I’m easily victimized.  And this absolutely disgusts me.  The thought of being sexually victimized again.

And this is what my therapist was trying to get at.  The root.  And I felt my defenses go up.  I pushed my back into the chair.  My eyes glassed over.  I did not want to start crying.  He leaned in and said, “Oh, I see.  I understand it now.”  He went on to gently validate me.  As much as I like validation, there is a part of me that does not like it when people speak to me gently.  I am not used to it, and I feel strangely when it happens.  Like I need some sort of special care.  I notice that it causes defensive feelings to arise, and that is how I felt.  Defensive.  When he leaned in he said, “This must be very traumatizing for you to go through all this.”

Durrrrrrrr…

Well, of course, it is, Sherlock! ::she says sarcastically::

All of this is to say that many of our feelings and emotional responses are rooted in something else.  Something unexpected.  Something we don’t want to talk about.  Ah, therapy.

So, my homework this week is to observe that sense of vulnerability I feel before I freeze if I can.  The point in doing that is to de-identify with it.  Become separate from it as I did when I did the anger work.  I feel much less angry now after I did the anger work.  The point in trying to become an observer of the feelings of vulnerability is eventually to lessen their power so that I won’t freeze.  Ultimately, this disgust was about me.  Not about him.  Not exactly wonderful but important nonetheless.

I’ve said it before.  i’ll say it again.  If you are in a less than great relationship, then go to therapy.  If you are in a relationship where any kind of abuse is present, then go to therapy.  It’s hard, but it’s so worthwhile.  Truthfully, I am not enjoying it, but I am enjoying not feeling so angry this week.  I will enjoy not being so disgusted soon.

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