From Self-criticism and Confusion to Sexual Wellness: Harness your Life-force Energy for Personal Growth and Leadership.
If you have ever taken an interest in who you are as a sexual being and felt confused, you are not alone. Let me explain why this is normal, how you’ve been impacted by the culture we inhabit and how acknowledging the ways your relationship to your sexually got confused and distorted opens a gateway to your personal transformation
Our sexual behaviour is a reflection of our psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
We live in an extremely complex and potentially stress-inducing world that serves to over-tax our biological system, take us out of contact with our bodies and constrain us in social structures that are not easily conducive to real intimacy.
We are rarely educated and supported to manage and process our own emotions or trauma. Often the only time we feel mobilised or justified to seek support is when our perceived dysfunctions reach a climax and either result in, or move us towards, the loss of a major attachment relationship. Alternatively the pain of our loneliness or relentless tirade of our self-criticism eventually drives a part of us to seek the possibility of change.
Our sexual behaviour is a reflection of our psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
Many of us are led to believe something is wrong with us because we’re not holding down a relationship, not having or wanting sex, having too much sex, or with the wrong people. Perhaps the type of sex we’re having is not good enough, or frequent enough, or parts of our body aren’t complying with what other parts of ourselves or others are desiring. Others of us turn a blind eye to even thinking about sex and detach from the painful reality that this critical component of our wellbeing is missing.
I’m not suggesting that we all need to be sexually active, with other people, on a regular basis to be well. I am suggesting that we take our sexual behaviour seriously as an indicator of our overall wellbeing and state of psychological integration.
“I am suggesting that a life disconnected from your own sexuality and from the application and expression of your own creative life-force energy is a life that holds you back from fulfilling your potential for a meaningful contribution of your personal and unique gifts in the world”
This article is written with the intention that you might understand a little more the way your sexual system could be operating and use that to inform decisions about your life and who it is you want to become.
It is my hope that by more frank and open conversations about sexuality we might re-educate ourselves on the critical topics of sexual and interpersonal development and more of us might feel empowered to integrate this vital life-force into ourselves and into the co-creation of sustainability outcomes and solutions for our planet, natural environment and social systems.
An introduction to multiplicity of mind: Understanding the Psyche and Eros Energy
What if I told you that all your feelings, compulsions, fantasies, avoidances, enthusiasm, curiosities and frustrations about sex are a response to your environment, your upbringing, your culture and family of origin and your uniquely perfected personal survival strategy for life?
Contrary to the popular belief that each of us is a single, consistently acting personality, and towards, but different to, many Spiritual traditions which recognise the non-dual nature of our existence and the existence of a Central God-Self around which the ego cheekily tries to get in the way, I’d like to present a different perspective. This perspective is taken from the work of Richard C Schwartz, founder of the evidence-based therapy known as “Internal Family Systems” which is finally gaining the traction and awareness it deserves in this challenged world.
Find out more about IFS here: Internal Family Systems Institute
The Internal Family Systems perspective offers that each person/psyche is made up of multiple “parts” vying for control of the person (organism), in a semi-organised way , in response to the needs of the organism and its internal and external environment.
In a perfect world, each of these parts would perform certain essential social and physical functions for the individual in their life: different parts coming on line at different ages. The management of the whole system is guided by a loving and ever present “Self”, our individuated aspect of the greater spiritual “god-Self” that has incarnated through our unique physical body.
In reality, parts pick up “burdens” from life experiences, childhood developmental trauma, adult trauma or the ancestral line, that distort the healthy functioning of the individual. Burdened parts organise themselves to protect or hide vulnerable or unwanted parts of the personality (“exiles”), keeping them at bay with functional managerial aspects of the personality (“managers”) that seek to control the individual or those around them to prevent exposure of these vulnerable or unwanted parts to the outside world. When this control system fails and the exiled parts seek to emerge, more extreme aspects of the personality (“fire-fighters”) run in to numb or soothe or dissociate from the feelings, with little regard for the health of the individual or its relationships to others.
This distorted organisation creates a hierarchy of command where an individual experiences being at the whim of any number of parts of the system, all of which are frozen in time at an age younger than the individuals real age, and who carry extreme beliefs or emotions that cloud the lens of current reality. These parts then command control of the system, body and behaviours without any conscious awareness of the person they are commanding.
Most of us are living our lives day to day, organised and run by hard-working and often scared child aspects of ourselves who are trying to keep us safe in the best ways they know how.
You can imagine the implications of this for our relationships and our sexual expression!
What’s also important to understand is that each of our parts carries life-force energy (EROS) and is a vital part of a whole and complete system. When we are operating in consciousness, holistically, under the management of “Self”, we have access to lots of EROS energy, creativity, confidence, clarity and the capacity for connection. We can easily navigate the river of life with grace and courage in our choices.
However when we are fragmented, dissociated and split off from access to this internal source of leadership we are also unable to access this energy. The container for our life-force is leaky; lots of energy is spent suppressing vulnerable parts or repairing the damage from out of control fire-fighters. Manager work tireless to hold things together and we seek energy from others or give it away to others freely in exchange for feeling safe under their care and leadership.
A whole life can be lived on the drama of emotions and the games played out unconsciously in this internal world, and in relation to the internal world of others, without ever tapping into the true essence of your “Self” and its potential.
When we take care of our own systems we feel energised, creative, expressive, playful, calm, patient, and we might find an abundance of Eros energy seeking mobilisation, either towards creative projects and solutions or towards building connection and harmony with others and the natural world.
Why are we having Sex in the first place?
Aside from the obvious biological imperatives for procreation, Sex in our modern society serves a number of other key functions:
Sex is a way of feeling and expressing our POWER in a world where power often resides in the hands of the few.
Sex is a critical part of BONDING and ATTACHING in a key relationship, to a provider, or co-parent of a child, or to a person that supports our capacity to survive and thrive in the world, as well as expressing Love.
Sex gets us back in our BODIES and provides PLEASURE and PAIN RELIEF from the hormones and neurotransmitters released during physical touch and especially orgasm.
Sex MOVES ENERGY, mobilising our life-force and creativity, enabling processing of previously stuck emotions and supporting us to feel ourselves and our partners more deeply (when approached with consciousness and the avoidance of recreational drugs and alcohol).
Expressing our life-force through contact with our sexuality, whether in the act of sex or simply tapping into our erotic current whilst in nature or immersed in a piece of art or music, gets things moving, gets us back in our bodies, in present time and in connection with all of life and who we really are.
Understanding how different “Parts” of us can “Organise” around our Sexuality.
It’s important to realise that at our core “Self” we are inherently creative and available to connect with others, in the different ways that that expresses, and I’ll talk in the next sections a little about how our cultural environment and legacies distort our self perception. In addition, trauma and conditioning often result in further dissociation and force our parts to “hijack” aspects of our natural sexual expression for their own purposes.
Parts of our personality are driven by meeting our needs and keeping us safe, whether that’s in maintaining our relationships, holding down our jobs, taking care of our bodies or protecting ourselves from perceived threats in the outside world. Their intention is always positive, even if their behaviour is confusing, conflicting, or antisocial.
There are many parts of our personality that can mobilise or disconnect us from our sexual energy or sexual urges or ideas in perceived support of our survival.
For example, a part of us might intellectualise that it’s been a long time since we’ve had sex with a spouse and that it would be good practise to engage sexually to show them we care about them so thing keep running smoothly.
A part of us might tell us we want to have a casual, edgy sexual experience with someone we see sunbathing topless in the park, catalysing lusty fantasies of seducing strangers and feeling powerful or worthy of someone’s time and attention at a time when we, ourselves, are feeling isolated and disempowered.
Another part compulsively turns our attention to pornography in avoidance of the deep feelings of shame, and fears of rejection that arise when we consider sharing ourselves sexually with another person.
We might never feel sexual and instead find ourselves increasingly distracted by this project or that thing that needs doing as our system works hard to distract us from dangerous sexual feelings that have previously resulted in our emotional or physical pain or violation, keeping human intimacy at safe distance and preferring the company of real animals or other people in denial of their inherent animal urges.
Parts could be seducing, independent, loyal, pleasure-seeking, pain seeking, power-seeking, nurturing, objectivising, addictive, needy, loving, masochistic, accommodating or bullying, and they are all motivated by the same drive to survive.
No matter how they express and what their actual impact is in our lives they are ultimately attempting to meet our conscious and unconscious needs best in the ways they know how.
When sexual feelings are mobilised they are often powerful and even sometimes overwhelming, and quickly highlight lack of integration and balance in our system.
When one part gets its needs met by taking control of the system, rather than allowing “Self” to lead the system in a conscious way, the other parts react and respond to how that impacts their experience of the world, and they might have quite a different perspective.
We can end up feeling in internal conflict or disharmony, or find ourselves in disharmony with the outside world and in our relationships as a result of our behaviours.
Cultural Implications on Sexuality
Society has distorted our relationship with sex to the point where it’s quite normal to experience strong and conflicting impulses inside ourselves, in response to strong and conflicting messages from the outside world. There is also often little or no safe space to discuss these inner conflicts, especially when they impact relationships with our loved ones or risk our sense of security or belonging in a key community. Even many therapists are so engrained in the same cultural hang-ups that their capacity to offer safe space for integration of sexuality-affecting parts becomes constrained and contorted.
Sexuality gets pushed deeper and deeper underground, people hide away more and more of their true essence, counter-culture groups identified around sexuality and gender issues emerge to create safe havens for healing and personal expression and our society becomes increasingly polarised around what’s “right” and “wrong”, “morally acceptable” or ”socially repugnant”.
We add layer upon layer of shame and fear in each subsequent generation as we continue to perpetuate the myths that our essential nature is dangerous and abhorrent and needs to be more deeply and tightly controlled.
Some of us work to take these layers off, whilst others push away those who dare to embody parts that express sexuality in the ways that we are yet unable to accept and integrate in ourselves.
I’d like us to start to work together to unwind legacy and cultural burdens around sexuality and begin to liberate ourselves into our full potential so we can take this vital energy and re-orient it towards the systems changes our world so desperately needs.
The Burdens of Materialism, Patriarchy, and Individualism.
Richard Schwartz in the recent book “Internal Family Systems, Second Addition” identified 4 major cultural burdens in the United States of America. Patriarchy, Individualism, Materialism and Racism. Although there are nuances to the American experience as a result of its history of occupational establishment, many of these burdens are also familiar and playing out across a number of other major Western Cultures, including in the UK and beyond. We will look at a few of these here, and I’m leaving our Racism, not because it’s not important, and because as a white-middle class woman in the UK it’s been less apparent in my personal story and I feel less able to speak to it and do it any justice.
A materialistic culture monetises everything, including the value of sexuality and sexual energy, and in so doing, turns the female body, from a sacred vessel for the creation of life, to a purchasable object for sexual gratification. It also places male value firmly in their capacity to acquire wealth, money and power and in their capacity to therefore acquire the best women, bypassing a support system for their vulnerability, emotionality and right to deep, intimate and loving connection with others.
We become obsessed with our bodies and how we look, whilst being unable to feel them. We sit for hours and days at desks or focussing on our digital devices, with all our energy concentrated in our heads and none in our Pelvis. We loose our capacity to sense and intuit, valuing thinking over feeling and orienting too large a proportion of our time and energy to navigating the complexities of the outside world and data/information/choice overloads, whilst simultaneously loosing the connection to our inner and natural landscapes: promoting disease, mental health degradation and environmental harm. Stress impacts our bodies and our sexuality and we tend towards shut down and avoidance, or addiction for self-soothing and pain relief.
A Patriarchal culture requires both sexism and misogyny, in order to sustain itself. Cornell Philosophy Professor Kate Manne argues, in a recent interview on Vos on the 7th March this year, that “one way of looking it is as that we have these patriarchal social structures, bastions of male privilege where a dominant man might feel entitled to (and often receive) feminine care and attention from women. I think of misogyny and sexism as working hand in hand to uphold those social relations. Sexism is an ideology that says, “These arrangements just make sense. Women are just more caring, or nurturing, or empathetic“, which is only true if you prime people by getting them to identify with their gender. So sexism is the ideology that supports patriarchal social relations, but misogyny enforces it when there’s a threat of that system going away”
We enforce monogamy with social norms, fail to educate sexual awareness and health management regimes that facilitate alternative and more fluid sexual relational structures and accept that our preferred structure comes hand in hand with infidelity, prolific inherent rates of STI infection, divorce and a lack of personal ownership for one’s relationship to ones’ own life force. (Please note I am not advocating any life choice as better than any other, simply highlighting that a “one size fits all” strategy, doesn’t fit everyone and that monogamy, whilst looking like a cultural choice that empowers women, is actually one that actually disempowers women in favour of ensuring all men, including those with less power, still have access to females. Find out more about this controversial viewpoint in this video, courtesy of WomenLovePower founder Ayesha K. Faines: Why Monogamy is for broke men (Youtube)
An individualistic culture can create unrealistic expectations and broken families, destroy social support structures and leave people isolated and expecting that life should be manageable on their own, when we are in fact designed to operative collectively and collaboratively.
It’s a natural arising in time where there are too many people and land, food and resources become stretched. The drive for increased personal power is a natural drive for survival and it comes at a cost to our capacity to share and to belong.
The “every man for himself” approach to life, especially when combined with strong drives for personal and economic growth” acts to destroy landscapes, dominate nature and permeate the lives of many with deep feelings of shame and inadequacy as they fail to reach the riches and status held by the few.
Dr Lissa Rankin, in her 2016 TEDx Fargo Talk (Watch here) drew attention to loneliness as the Number 1 Public Health Issue Doctors aren’t talking about. Loneliness is a pervasive issue in our society with far reaching health consequences, and perpetuated by the Cultural Burden of Individualism
By shaming the feminine side of ourselves that connects and works as a social creature, in favour of the masculine drive to provide and separate, we loose the skills essential for relational intimacy and then often fail to raise our children in the safe, loving connected, multi-gendered, multi-generational environments that support healthy integration of life-force energy and sexuality, which really starts to come on line for most children at around age 5, after a healthy developmental and individuation process preceding that.
How our culture contorts gendered sexual expression
We breed a culture of women who give themselves away sexually, undervalue themselves, over accommodate others at risk to their own physical health and psychological wellbeing, shut off their life-force energy, shame other women who, against the grain, manage to stay connected, and masculinise and desensitise their own bodies in order to stay safe and navigate an atmosphere that is literally toxic to their inherent nature.
Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are an epidemic. Medium levels of Anxiety and depression are considered a social norm. Diseases of excessive caregiving; cancers, arthritis, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, diabetes, become a standard for many women from middle age onwards.
Far too few women can be present in their bodies sufficiently to truly enjoy sex and orgasm and sexuality is a topic with the potential to flood the body with shame and cause dissociation in survivors of trauma, religious upbringings or co-dependent relationships.
We breed a culture of men who struggle to feel and emote, who intellectualise themselves out of their bodies, whose potent sexual drives get suppressed and made-wrong until they explode out sideways, thus proving the fearful projections accurate, or who live in fear and contraction, who relate more easily to digital devices and pornography than to real women, whose bodies fail to function sexually due to stress and performance pressures and who are expected to know what to do with a woman’s body when she doesn’t even know what to do with it herself.
Suicide rates are high for young men and our men are dying of heart-attacks decades too young after a life-time of being cutting off from their vulnerability. Stress-induced illness is high. Levels of emotional intelligence are concerningly low and sex often happens through biologically driven imperatives between the brain and the penis with little engagement with the rest of the body and those parts the with capacity for real intimacy and connection. And of course I’m generalising.
Neither gender is taught to communicate with each other about the challenges arising due to the cultural distortions that are impacting our sexual experience and identity.
Either gender is prone to numbing with alcohol, recreational drugs, smoking, over-working, over-exercising, over eating, binge tv-watching, sex addiction, shopping, the list goes on.
We also do little to nothing to support those individuals who chose to step outside culture norms and drop traditional gender or sexual identities in an attempt to experience themselves as greater than the norms and identities enforced upon them. We become scared of those who question what we don’t question.
So how do we step into greater consciousness with our Relationship to our Sexuality?
Cultivating the path to Self leadership, that ultimately provides you the opportunity to break out of a sexual self experience and self perception filled with shame, confusion and potential a shut-down of the potency your own life-force, is a multi-pronged approach. I suggest below a few suggestions to start you on the path, knowing can trust yourself to follow any threads that speak directly to you.
- Start paying more attention to multiplicity in your Sexual experiences: Allow yourself to begin to separate yourself from your sexual experience and track the parts of yourself that are playing out. Who is initiating or responding, who is involved in creating the experience, who is having a good time and who isn’t, who is feeling what afterwards, who isn’t getting heard, who is holding back. Start to experience yourself as multiple and get curious about your own system. Do you feel integrated? What’s working and not working for you in your capacity to express fully through your body. Can you even allow yourself that that could be possible? What would that look like?
- Start listening to the quieter voices: Pick one or more parts of yourself that you notice, even a “1-liner” self-critical voice or part that says “I didn’t like that” that gets ignored and take a moment to sit down with them and give them a little more space to tell you about their experience or what they are afraid might happen if they didn’t speak up or act in the way they do. Approach with gentleness and curiosity only, never a desire to change or get rid of a part or it won’t open up to you. Remember its intentions are good, even if its behaviour is unhelpful. Get to know it. Update it on your current age. Build relationship. Understand what it needs. Give space to feel and work through your suppressed emotions and get support or educate yourself if you don’t know how to do that. IFS therapy (below) is a great step).
- Get Therapeutic Support: If you step into the path of personal sexual development and are committed to growing your potential and/or improving your sexual experience then make sure you are not doing it alone. Relational ruptures cause our self-dissociation and relationships support our repair. It’s very hard to fix what we’ve been denying in ourselves by ourselves in the early stages of healing. A good IFS therapist (AIT is also great) will support you to build a relationship with yourself that facilitates healing and more long term resilience and self-sufficiency, which you’ll need on your path to greatness and self acceptance.
- Pick the Right Partner: Be really discerning who you are having sex with and why. Sex builds attachment and attaching to someone who continually re-triggers your trauma or locks you into old relational patterns will not serve you. Look for someone who is available, responsive and emotionally attuned to you before committing. Know that when you have sex you’ll be under an Oxytocin high for several days which will have you not thinking straight about that person, and know that when you ejaculate or orgasm during sex you’re sharing and exchanging subtle body energy like thoughts and feelings and it will be harder to differentiate yourself from the other. Take care of yourself and sexually partner with people who care about you and who have proven trust, wherever possible. If you are finding yourself really struggling and in inner conflict with some part of your life it’s possible you’ve denied a part of you that wants to be seen and integrated and it’s important to discover if the relationships you’ve chosen for yourself can support that part of you when it returns. Sometimes we chose relationships that keep parts of us safely locked away. Be aware the implications of looking inwards on the relational structures we’ve built our lives around.
Patricia Rich, Internal Family Systems (IFS) Trainer and Therapist describes Self-led sex as Spacious, Savouring, Sensual, Satisfying, Sensitive and Safe, and in my experience the more of this type of sex is experienced the more vulnerable parts come up to be seen and an inner dance of self leadership and growth unfolds.
I’ve still got a long personal journey with really deepening my understanding of Self-led sex and the potential for personal transformation and there may be many others out there who understand this much better than I do.
For now what I find really important is that we’re having conversations about these topics and taking the time to prioritise ourselves and our bodies and our sexual experiences as a vessel for transforming our culture and how we relate to the world.
Understanding the art form of how to pace the unfolding depth of intimacy and creativity possible in our lives and unpicking who we’ve been told we ought to be requires deep work, time, attention and lots of emotional and relational processing as we build resilience and inner harmony
Where the balance point lies where we can fully embrace our parts, including those that are still burdened and wounded whilst stepping into a full and expansive expression of ourselves in our lives I am still to feel fully in my body and look forward to the visceral experience of that level of embodied integration one day on this path.
In the meantime, I’m not advocating a large counter-culture movement around sexual liberation like we saw in the 60’s. Rebellion isn’t integration.
I am advocating self awareness, personal development, self compassion and the openness to the possibility that we can create massive change in the outside world by simple and profound changes in our internal energetic systems that serve to unlock our potential, our creativity, our capacity for sexual mobilisation, interpersonal connection and personal power.
I invite you to fall in love with all parts of yourself and come together to realise yourself as the change-maker that you are.
With Care and Respect to all parts of you, those on the surface and those yet to be discovered
Emma K Harper
I am passionate about Healthy Sexual Expression, as a critical component of good overall health.
As an IFS informed Sex Educator, Psychosexual Somatics® Therapist and Sexual Empowerment Coach, I am a strong advocate for open and transparent conversations about sex. My work is to support conscious, sexual adults to re-educate themselves about sex and take their sexual and interpersonal development to the next level. Sexual aspects of ourselves become split off or blocked by shame and fear due to the nature of our culture or personal trauma and I champion the creation of spaces which support reintegration of these critical aspects of ourselves for a more connected life.
Learning healthier ways of intimate relating supports deeper inter and intra personal connection and safer sex for everyone. For a trauma-informed approach to healthy sexual relating, Discover your Sexuality, Integrity, Freedom at www.emmakharper.com
10% of my proceeds are fundraised on behalf of Treesisters.org: a feminine reforestation movement.
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