I love the picture of Kristen Wiig, former cast member of Saturday Night Live, displaying a face of disgust in her typical, humorous fashion. Yet, while Kristen often makes a subject that would otherwise seem embarrassing or "yucky" sound and look hilarious, in reality, we tend to experience otherwise.
In fact, when most people think of disgust, they typically recall a person, place, thing, or experience in their lives where they felt ashamed, disturbed, and/or grossed out.
In my work with both adult men and women with intimacy disorders (i.e., issues with sex, relational conflict, infidelity, betrayal, to love/relationship/sexual anorexia as well as love/relaitonship/sex addiction, to SASOP™, sex addict sex offender-potential™), every single person has reported an experience in their life where they felt repulsed or disgusted, only to unconsciously sexualize the experience as an adult in an attempt to master the trauma that is attached to it.
The reason for this is because what is repulsive and disgusting often becomes arousing (sometimes hyper-arousing) and lustful as a way to resolve the unresolved. Dr. Patrick Carnes has labeled this trauma repetition (Betrayal Bond, 1997). Many folks with histories of trauma will traumatically bond to individuals who are unhealthy, unsafe (dangerous), as a means of replicating past trauma. The brain, after all, will repeat patterns unless and until it learns new patterns of coping (patterns that are healthy).
This also presents as Eroticized Rage (ER) at times; anger turned sexual. ER gives one a false sense of feeling powerful when they feel powerless. It can also give a false sense of "equalling the playing field" when one feels wronged. This thinking is obviously a cognitive distortion.
Some individuals may act out their ER or trauma by crossing over into more perverse behavior. They may create non-hands on or hands on victims (exploit others). Robert Stoller describes this term in his book with the same title (Perversion,1975) as "The erotic form of hatred" (p.4).
This too, according to Stoller, is often an attempt to master trauma from one's past. However, instead of replicating past victimization by being victimized in one's current life, the victim becomes the victimizer. They use power and control as an illusive means of resolving past trauma.
How does an individual go from experiencing unresolved issues that manifest as addictive lust and disgust to having healthy sexuality?
While this is admittedly a process; it is definitely possible. First, it takes commitment. A person must be committed to engaging in a structured program that specializes in treating intimacy disorders (not just anyone can treat intimacy disorders).
Next, it is important to explore an individuals past to determine what created the "disgust/repulsion"(i.e. neglect, bullying, sexual, physical, emotional abuse, early exposure to porn, genetics).
This will help an individual understand how the disgusting event(s) (including an event that were not necessarily sexual) has impacted their current problematic non-sexual and sexual behaviors. This includes unhealthy "lust"; it is one way something "disgust" is demonstrated. Note: we acknowledge that lust is a natural part of healthy sex that often has gotten mi-sused as a result of past trauma.
Using Carnes' Task-based and structured model, we identify and treat co-occurring disorders and addictions/anorexias knowing that without addressing all addictions, aversions and disorders, we likely perpetuate one's acting out behaviors.
We work with individuals to resolve shame, identify and self intervene in their cycle, as well as explore the dissociative trauma model of addiction to see when, where and why their protective addict shows up and how it believes it protects their inner child from pain("the vulnerable child"). We teach, demonstrate, and have clients practice healthy core values, including learning how to ask for what they need to cultivate honest and satisfying relationships.
We incorporate EMDR and mindfulness to assist individuals in learning how to self regulate challenging emotions and resolve past trauma.
We explore the stages of courtship and steps to achieving healthier courtship patterns (especially since no one is ever taught healthy courtship). We weave in discussions of positive sexual focus as well as books such as Alexandra Katehakis's book Erotic Intelligence to take the integral steps towards healthy sexuality. We encourage partner therapy as well as couples therapy to support individuals who are in committed relationships in finding and cultivating lasting and healthy recovery together.
These are just some of the ways in which we work with individuals in order to go from the extremes of the intimacy disorder spectrum towards healthy and enjoyable intimacy and sexuality. Intimacy as well as sex deserve to be honored and enjoyed for what they are instead of what they have been used for in one's addiction/aversion (i.e., a "drug" or method of escape).
Opportunity of the week: Notice where you are on the intimacy disorder spectrum (i.e., do you bond to unhealthy people? Do you have a love addiction or relationship addiction? Are you addicted or averse to sex and intimacy?). See if you can identify what in your past was "disgusting" or repulsive to you and how that may be feeding your addictive intimate and/or sexual behavior or sexual/intimacy aversive behavior. Explore how you may have turned your feelings of "disgust" into unhealthy patterns of "lust" or avoidance. Process this with a safe person, your therapist, and/or your group. This is a positive start on the path towards healthy sexuality; when we learn to identify the "why", we can intervene on our own behalf. It helps teach us how to make healthier decisions regarding lasting non-sexual and sexual intimacy.
And, as always, know: YOU ARE WORTH IT.