The Role Curiosity Plays in Releasing Sexual Shame

This week’s episode starts with a listener question that leads Amy & Charna to dive into  the somatic shape of shame and how to unwind it. They explore the impact of family conditioning, trauma, and religion. The discussion guides them to sexual abuse, the function of shame, being with shame versus turning away from it, and how remaining curious plays an essential role in overcoming fear-based modes. Plus, Charna assigns a simple practice for shame you can do daily, within minutes.

Show Notes

Hello and welcome back to late open podcast. I’m your host chard XL. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified master somatic coach. I’m joined by Amy McLean. She’s a master facilitator and executive coach. Today we’re going to do something I love and that’s answer some questions sent in by my listeners, please don’t hesitate to send your questions in the form of voice memos or emails. Let me know if I have your permission to use your voice memo recording on the podcast this one is on a topic that affects all of us shame life is about to start trauma extension is honor deciders calm bla, so

here we go. Due to parenting, religion, etc. Many of us experience sexual shame. I mean, the Virgin Mary gave birth by Immaculate Conception for fucksakes They didn’t even want her to get a dick and her so God helped the rest of us. What would you recommend for women who want to release that shame, reconnect with their sexuality and really own it?

really own it? I think it’s funny that she says God helped the rest of us when she said the Virgin Mary was conceived by like Immaculate Conception and its religious name that starts us because I think that’s the intention, right that God helped the rest of us. I think that’s the real intention behind the religious piece

that literally that God will help. Yes,

the rest of us. Yes. But unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out.

I will say that one of the things that I see, in having worked with survivors of different forms of sexual trauma of last almost 20 years now that shame or as a result of religion, and Catholicism in particular, can live in the body, like sexual trauma like this, there can be the same kinds of symptoms that people have.

Interesting like what, like what,

at one point had a client who was Catholic, went to Catholic school. And so when you’re you know, you can have it a religious upbringing and then you go to school and if you’re in a Catholic school that’s particularly strict because I’m I just want to acknowledge that some Catholic schools are in name only right? Like they’re good education’s expressing her desires and her needs feeling sensation, taking up space, you know, even asking questions like questioning religion and being shut down and being you know, it’s like, Good girls don’t dot dot dot. There’s lots of different things that go girls don’t to being insolent right ask at being too curious is not encouraged. You know, in a certain way, there’s an interesting association with girls who are particularly sexual and exploratory and the curiosity so it’s almost like Oh, Curiosity is something to be ashamed of, and something to, to crush in somebody’s

curiosity killed the cat, the pussy cat. Oh, hey, while we’re talking about it, I guess.

But you know, if you think about shame on a somatic level, what it is, is it’s a pulling inward, right? It’s a when you get embarrassed, you shrink in size you shrink in with you, your shoulders kind of curl in your breath is usually held and you pull energetically towards your center, you’re like, I don’t want to be seen right now. Often shame there’s a flush of red in the face, right? It’s like lots of there’s heat, there’s discomfort and there’s wanting to you know, it’s like think about turtles or hurt you know, it’s like pulling into yourself and and not being visible to protect yourself. So when you’re if you think about your lifeforce as energy flowing easily through your body, and if you think of that also as like, that’s what’s happening during sexual energy. It’s like you want the energy to flow and breath to flow freely through your whole system. The more you bring oxygen into your body, the more sensation that you feel and that enhances that can enhance pleasure but can also enhance terror or other emotions that you’re feeling. Right so you

have to learn how to tolerate it just the way you talk about having a window of tolerance, you know, within which you feel regulated and out sight of what you feel dysregulated it’s a similar thing for we’ve talked about a window of capacity to capacity and what you can, what you can feel what your body is open to feeling before it shuts down.

What can happen for people who get brainwashed or trained into having shame when they feel desire, right, so that can happen for a child, if they’re, if they’re sexually abused. They learn to have these two things coupled, they learn, it’s like, there’s turn on that happens. And if they’re on the edge of having an orgasm, they might be overwhelmed by incredible shame because they feel out of control. They didn’t want to experience pleasure during abuse. Right? Yeah. And so then that person grows into an adult who feels incredible shame. Either they can’t orgasm, or if they do they, they’re just devastated by the amount of shame they feel. Yeah. Okay. So that can happen around sexual abuse, and then around religion, right? You’re, like told like, you know, you’re not supposed to masturbate? That’s a super common one, or you’re shamed for how short your skirt your school uniform is, right? Or there’s different, you know, different things around that, depending on how fundamentalist your religion is, because it’s not just Catholicism, right? There’s, there’s fundamentalism across the board. Yeah, in different religions. That’s like, whether it’s a burqa, whether it’s a, you know, if you’re Orthodox Jew, whether it’s like even covering your hair, all these different things, that it’s a very interesting thing. It’s like that that relationship between Can you be a deeply spiritual person and connected to God, and also be a sexual being? Yeah,

I think of Rumi

holds very sensual. And there’s this, there’s this love this, but love, it’s like, you know, there’s that line, I was on a meditation retreat at Spirit Rock. It’s of upasana meditation center. And it was people we were divided into groups of painters and writers and ourselves with 40 other writers. And then at the end, what we did was, we got to read a piece that we wrote while we were there. And I ended up sharing a piece that is very sensual, very sexual. And it was a very awkward and interesting thing to read, in the context of a Buddhist meditation retreat, it was like that, or a piece about my godmother dying, and I couldn’t, I would cry through that one. So I couldn’t get through it. But I noticed that I had a little bit of shame come up in me that I read this sexual piece. In that context. Yeah,

I think it’s important when you’re talking about us, not just Catholicism, because, you know, as a, as a Protestant, as a American Protestant with a deep history. In this country, the tool of Protestant authority is shame, and separation. So for Protestants, the whole generate, the whole generation of Protestantism, was leaving the church behind and being able to do whatever you wanted. But that became sort of the moral way of handling things. Well, if I don’t like what you’re doing, then why don’t you go do it over there. And I’m going to do my thing over here, because we’re all independent, you know, I can be independent, but but I can’t be together. So if you’re going to have an independent thought, then you’re going to be shunned or put out or you’re going to have to go do it somewhere else. And the tools of shame are, are basically used throughout the Protestant is the dominant religion in the United States. And so the tools of shame are really culturally oriented in the United States. You know, that whole thing good girls don’t bad, you know, bad girls do

right? I mean, and then around shame, there’s a new said separateness, right? There’s this piece around isolation. And, and that’s one of the things around sexual trauma that happens is it’s almost counted on that. The shame is going to keep you silent. Right, right. Yeah. And so that’s what also perpetuates it. Yeah. It’s like I’m an

outlier, aloneness. So what do we do? You really shame like that? Like, yeah.

First, take a deep breath. Because that’s a big one, right? It’s this is not a simple question. Shame, has a deep, deep roots and deep programming. There’s what happens in our family. And we know now science talks about this. It’s finally it’s like, oh, as soon as there’s there’s scientific proof, we see it as valid. What is it even like? 12 generations at this point, it’s being acknowledged that ancestral trauma lives in our DNA. Wow. Right. And so you think of like puritanical belief systems like all of those ancestors, shame, it’s not just your what happens in your direct family, but there’s also what’s happening in your culture, and then in your history, so maybe you didn’t grow up in a religious family, but it’s like, well, where Where did your family come from? And what were they believing back then? So it’s not just yours to unwind? I think that it’s a big job. I think that needs to be acknowledged.

I’m curious if there’s a question too, about like, what do you want to generate? Because I think that a lot of times for me, I feel like some of those tools have aim are there to help me understand right and wrong, you know, and to help me be moral and decent person who doesn’t do wrong to other people who doesn’t harm other people. And so there’s a place where it’s like, okay, where do I? Where do I feel a healthy level of shame? Or guilt? If I do something?

Yeah. Yeah, I would say there’s a distinction there. Right? When you think about ethics, and it’s like, I think there’s a subtle distinction between guilt and shame, but at finish your question,

well, so I guess what I’m wondering is, would it start with looking at what we want to create, because I think sometimes I get focused on like, Okay, step out of the shame, and you’ll just be free. But then freedom to me feels so unbounded. And like, what does that actually mean? And so do we want to start with an intention? Or do we just want to start with taking all the boundaries, or the possibilities for shame off,

I think that it’s also important to look at the function of shame. And we’ve, we’ve spoken about this before, but if you didn’t hear that episode, shame is something that you know, a three year old, who’s being sexually abused, or a three year old, who’s told don’t masturbate, right, who’s growing up in a religious household, and they’re hand slapped, and they’re, they’re told they’re bad, or they’re, they get a timeout, and they suddenly they don’t even know what they’ve necessarily done. But they know it was wrong, and it was bad. And then they got separation from their family, and then they so they know. So what you learn, it’s like, okay, you can either be with the family, and you’re a good girl, or a good boy, or you get punished and you get, you know, put in a timeout. And then there’s this association with isolation and separateness, and I’m bad. Because I was sexual in some way, or I did this thing, let’s say back to the example of, of sexual abuse, something totally out of their control, they will blame themselves for and they will feel ashamed of themselves for it, I should have run, I should have spoken, I should have fought back, I should have done something. So what shame can sometimes do is give us a false sense of empowerment. Right? So instead of feeling, being with the powerlessness of an abusive situation, or something that we have no control over? I’d rather feel shame. Wow. So that that even though shame feels horrible. It at least it’s not as bad as being powerless,

right? Because if I can, if I if it was my fault, I could have done something. That’s right. Wow.

And so there are these these things that we may feel we have? No, we’re powerless, we’re helpless. There’s nothing we can do about. And so shame is the closest relative to powerlessness.

Wow. So maybe we start with, I hear you taking a deep breath. And let’s look at like, what are the different steps we could take? Because one of the things I sort of hear you saying is like, okay, bringing your consciousness and your awareness to why you have that shame, or what that’s about can be helpful. What else can be helpful in just shifting it in our bodies? And what was the what was the ocean like going towards our liberation or

so we’ll go back to the question in a sec, one of the things that’s important with shame is actually speaking about it. So what happens is, when people talk about something that they feel ashamed of, often, it’s so uncomfortable that they want to shut it down, they want to dismiss it, and they want to stop the conversation. Right? They want to get away from it, which then perpetuates the shame and the person having to be alone with it. So the one thing is like we either don’t talk about the things we feel ashamed of, or when we try to, it gets shut down. So I’m thinking of two examples I’m thinking of there are priests out there who are abusing children, who then just get moved to another church, I had a client who wouldn’t even tell me I don’t even know exactly what it was about. But there was something that he felt a lot of shame about. And he didn’t want to share it with his partner. He didn’t want to share it with me. And it was the kind of thing that Eve you know, because sometimes even talking about the thing that you feel ashamed about, it brings up these feelings of powerlessness, and it’s so uncomfortable and intolerable, that I would just rather not even address it. Right. And that’s the one way that to make it manageable is to just not even talk about it.

So talking about it’s taking a deep breath, and just talking, finding someone who you can talk about it with

and you know, having a conversation it’s like, okay, so one of the things we believe around shame, the belief that accompanies that is I’m bad. Right? And so it’s like having if we were sitting here I’m sitting next to my good friend, Amy. And if she were to tell me some things, it’s like why do you think Why do you think you’re so bad? Why else do you think you’re bad? What else? Right? So there are all these things that we tell ourselves like, Oh, I did, I did this. And then I did this. And I should have done this. And I didn’t do that. And so having someone be with you, that’s one piece. It’s like, oh, like, oh, I, because I think this client’s fear is that if I share this thing with her, or you, it’ll change your perception of me. So we find it so hard to believe that if you knew this thing about me, there’s a super common with sexual trauma, that you’ll see me totally differently, you’ll really know that I’m bad. I’m not good. So part of what happens with religion and with trauma is that people have very black and white rigid thinking. So one of the steps in healing is doing a reality check. Because we make up so many stories and make so many assumptions about how other people are going to feel about us or what they’re going to think about us. And another one is living more in the gray. Right? Starting to see that it’s not so black and white people are not all they’re not all good or all bad.

Yeah, it’s interesting, I was having a conversation with some women that I sit with and practice spiritually with, and we were talking about, we were talking about racism. And inside of that conversation, something came up. And I felt somebody said something about an organization that I love. And I felt defensive on behalf of my friends who work for this organization, you know, and it was kind of this black and white thing, like they’re all there, oh, they did something bad with the money that was given to them. So they’re bad, and they’re not worth supporting. And I got, I got really defensive. And for me, it was like, I think there were like layers of things going on. Like there was some shame around, I didn’t know that they had done some questionable things with some money, then there was also like a defensiveness of like, Oh, these are people I know and love, and I know their intentions. And, you know, we can have a whole nother conversation about intention versus impact. But I noticed what happened for me was my heart rate started to go up, I start to lean forward. And I start to ask sort of defensive questions like, well, who said that? Or how did you how did you get that information that they did those bad things with their money? And like, is this a reliable source even because I know these people and they’re like, you know, like, so I noticed, for me, it’s like, my heart rate starts to go up, I get a little tense, I lean a little forward. And I think that like underneath, like, there’s anger up on top that’s and defensiveness and like this fight sort of questioning and then underneath, there’s a feeling bad that I couldn’t, that I didn’t know, or that I may have made a mistake by doing by supporting this organization or any of that kind of stuff. So I know, for me, it’s like, I don’t I don’t think my first response is to withdraw, I think my first response is to fight or defend or dig in. In that defensiveness, there’s a place where the the request in the group, and this is one of our norms, right? So it’s like when we’re talking about racism, which has potential, especially as a white woman, for me, I have potential to feel my white fragility to feel shamed, to feel sadness to feel scared. So there’s a norm that we have in the group that’s like, when you’re triggered, get curious. And I think we can sort of bring it back to the very first thing you were talking about, you know, about curiosity. And it’s like, okay, when you’re triggered, get curious, and how could I slow down notice my heart rates going off the charts, and get curious about what’s really happening there? Because I did have a legitimate concern about my friends who have this organization that I love. And you know, like, I didn’t want them to be slandered. Yeah. And there’s a moment of getting curious about what might be really going on there for the person across the way for myself for the organization, you know, and I wasn’t able to get there. Because I was like, Oh, my heart rate was like, okay. Yeah, yeah.

So, let’s, let’s bring it back to sexuality. Right. And so I’m curious if you’ve had an experience of your own, or you have a sense of how that kind of black and white thinking, either defensiveness or withdrawing into shame. Either way, instead of going into curiosity. Have you experience that?

Oh, for sure. I mean, I think if there are moments in my, you know, almost 20 year relationship where I felt you know, I think I just would have those moments sometimes where I’m like, does he even want me Does he even want to participate in this, you know, are you know, like, I would have those kind of questioning moments of like, you know, what is happening? And then of course, I would withdraw. I don’t think I would get defensive like that. Yeah. In the space of sexuality. I think I More withdraw.

Right? Right. I think that I think that’s it’s super common to kind of bring back topics of powerlessness, like racism is one of those sexuality, you know, all these, there are lots of interconnected topics, people go into a defensive mode, right, or a fear based mode. And it can be really hard when you feel really vulnerable and really passionate about a subject to remain curious. And so I think that when you’re naked, and you’re in bed, that’s a really vulnerable state to be in. And so I’m just thinking about the question that this woman asked, which is, what would you recommend for women who want to release that shame, reconnect with their sexuality and own it? And so, you know, if I put myself in the position of somebody in bed with another person or contemplating even because it could go that it’s, you don’t even get that far, right, considering engaging sexually with somebody. And that contracted state, I mean, a big piece around shame. Right? It’s examining your beliefs, starting to unwind what you believe. But what helps unwind it because your beliefs in your physical state are so connected? You can your your, your thoughts can create a physical shape and state, right, a pulling in and you’re pulled in state can create thoughts, beliefs and feelings. It’s self fulfilling cycle, yes. And not like a bicycle, because that’s a fun

cycle for menstrual cycle.

So that’s one thing like that’s in the moment. Let’s say you’re having just a shame response in the moment. And it’s how can I become aware of what my physical state is if I’ve gone nonverbal and I’m withdrawing? And don’t think I should ask for what I want. And I don’t think I deserve what I want. That can be a paralyzed, immobile state. In that case, starting to wiggle my fingers, if my voice isn’t frozen, because shame can be so strong, it can even immobilize, you know, paralyze your voice. I might say, Hey, I’m feeling disconnected right now. And I would love some contact, or I would love to be closer to you, or just physically move closer and make physical contact with the person next to you, whether it’s a sexual scenario or not, but that’s the thing is that we can kinda like, I’m thinking of my dog right now, my dog peed on a rug. And I was like a Toshi. And Toshi just immediately went submissive, and like, kind of coward and like, like, rolled over. Toe, she didn’t like Come towards me and cuddle up next to me. She was like, oh, no, what have I done? So So speaking of shame, in the in the in that scenario, if you do the thing that’s counterintuitive, and and this obviously takes practice, and I think it’s what what this woman has asked, I could do 17 episodes. Yeah, it’s so much. And that’s where it may sound like I’m talking around the answer. And it’s like, there’s just so many different levels and layers to a conversation around shame.

Let’s speak about it. Because you’re really giving a couple of different layers already, like I can categorize Okay, taking a deep breath, wiggling your fingers, determining whether or not you want contact, being able to soften, I feel like that’s determining whether or not you want contact feels like a second layer, like first layer, kind of getting into your body. Second layer,

there have been times where I want contact, but the fact that I want contact, there’s shame around the desire for the contact. Because there’s a belief I have I value, historically, I’ve really valued being self reliant. And if you were shamed in your family for being needy, or having any needs at all, then you’re going to feel shame around the need for support or contact. Right. And then that can extend into this, you know, if you’re in a sexual scenario, for some people speaking into, Oh, I really want you to go down on me right now. I really want your fingers inside me. I really want you know, you to give me a blowjob, any of those things people can can have tremendous shame around asking for versus a freedom.

Would you say that it would be a good thing to practice? Like, imagine in your own mind saying some of those things. It’s funny because you say those things, and a little part of me already is like, yeah, like I put my hand in my mouth, and I tell her a little bit like,

Well, absolutely. I mean, one of the exercises I do with clients is have them practice asking for little things doesn’t have to be sexual. It could be sexual. But let’s say that we were doing an exercise right now. And I’d say okay, Amy, it’s your turn. You get to ask for something. And I’m going to do that for you. for five minutes, right? It could be that I’m playing with your hair, I’m tickling your arm could be I’m giving you a foot rub. And then you give me really specific feedback. Right? You want to give it a try.

Ask for something. I’m like, will you take me for ice cream? Actually, it’s called will you take me for hot chocolate?

I like that hot chocolate. Can you make it a little warmer? That’s delicious. Can you put extra marshmallows in it? I love it. So yes, it’s practicing making a request. And giving a positive affirmation or approving of the person and how they’re doing it, right, you’re like, I’m going to ask you for something. And then I’m going to tell you what a great job you’re doing. And I’m going to tell you what a great job you’re doing again, and then I’m going to ask you to shift a little more like little to the left a little more to the right. And then I’m going to tell you how great you’re doing it. And so you can get in this habit of doing that with nonsexual situations. And then you can apply it to sexual ones. You’re like, oh my god, your fingers inside me feel so good. Can you do a little more pressure towards my belly button? That feels incredible. I’m feeling shivers down my legs. I love the feel of the heat of your hand on my thigh. Can you touch me a little more lightly? And so on? So I obviously will not necessarily obviously, but in my therapy office, people aren’t putting fingers inside people actively.

In your office, people are not fingering each other. Yes. Oh, there

No, I actually talked, I may tell them how to do it, but they’re not actively doing it. I actually have this little statue, this little wooden statue. And it’s, it’s like a It’s looks like a child and a grown woman. But they’re just like not detailed carving. It’s just like kind of a vague shape. And but it also the space between them is like the perfect entry. It’s like at the introit s it looks like a good vaginal opening. So I use it sometimes as a put there, to how to ground and then how to you know, so I was like, put my thumb in to kind of ground down as if my hands underneath the bottom and the thumb is inside the vagina. And my son got stuck when

she said the hole between the mother and the child looks like a vagina. She did not say put your fingers in the child.

I put your fingers in the negative space between the mother and the thing in the negative space with positive me everything. Oh my goodness, he’s Yubico. Yes, welcome to the eighth.

It’s a good time. I like that song.

So you were saying they do smaller things in your office, they do smaller things.

They, they there may be foot massages. And there may be hair playing with and back rubs and things like that. But no, but I may give instructions with other things. But it doesn’t happen. I

think it’s interesting. Like I liked that idea of asking for something smaller, practicing giving that kind of feedback, that kind of saying what you like and then saying something to be altered or corrected. And I think

it practices a lot of things, right. So it coming back to the topic of shame. It helps you. Some people aren’t comfortable using their voices. They’re not comfortable making sounds, they’re not comfortable making requests. So it helps get your voice online. And there’s going to be emotions and things that are that come up as you practice that. Right.

Okay, I kind of went from my question, which was, can you practice imagining for yourself asking those things, because when you spoke about the requests, I immediately felt like giggling and I immediately felt a little embarrassed. And so there’s a place where I’m like, okay, in my meditation practice, my Dr. Joe Dispenza, meditation practice, I imagine myself feeling grateful for something or feeling joy about something or feeling inspired about something. And in order for me to really feel it in my body, I have to think of a time when I was inspired or grateful, so that I can practice calling up that feeling and it’s taken me a little while as someone who suffered from depression, and immobilization, and just the, you know, the sort of Anhedonia the the lack of ability to feel anything I’ve had to practice and imagine, just on my own before I would even consider, you know, speaking into someone else

totally. Well, you know, I mean, here’s the thing is, is something that you said that’s super important that I often do with clients is you can use a state that you’ve experienced previously and use it as a resource in the future. So if the antidote to shame is pride and feeling expansive, right, if you’re at a closed state, that’s like Okay, so, what needs to happen if your shoulders are curled in your breath is held your fist circle clenched your bellies tight, your pelvic floor is pulled up and you don’t feel anything from the chest down. Okay, so let’s start by seeing if you can maybe, you know any, any place you can soften in your body. Right, start to, maybe it’s your breath, maybe starting with your breath. Just the edges. Maybe it’s your pelvic floor. If you know what your pelvic floor is, right, the the muscles around your genitals, and anus, breathe, breathe, bear down. Maybe if your feet are pulled up, put your feet on the ground. See if you can breathe out your feet, press your feet into the floor. If your hands are curled, open your hands and imagine you can have breath actually flowing out your palms, fingers. Often when people are feeling shame, or nervous. They will pull their hands are often curled. And it’s like it’s like a way to pull your energy in towards yourself instead of extending it out. So re extending. Opening your hands, your eyes are cast down, look up. A really simple practice you can have on a day to day basis is noticing where does your gaze fall? Is it on the horizon? Or is it down at your feet? A shame body the shape of shame is often curled forward and your eyes are cast down. Right when someone yells at you or when like that dog peeing on the rug. Right? Oh, right. Tail tucked, not extended. Yeah, so breathing that way seeing does your belly soften what happens step by step as you start to open your hands, open your breath, breathe into your feet, relax, feel lower into your body. If you’re standing or or sitting either way. Notice if you rotate your hands, your arms, rotate them out. So if your thumbs are kind of towards your body, rotate them out towards the walls. And just notice what happens. And if it feels like too much sensation, you can let them rotate back in. But they’re all these really subtle things that create more openness in our body.

As we did that little few minutes there, I noticed just there’s a moment where I had a little flashback to my own childhood and a little flashback to my stepfather who carried so much of his own trauma and pain. And one of the ways that he reflected that back into our family was with humiliation. Right? So anything you do you do the dishes and leave a speck of something on the dishes, any little thing you know, and he would make a humiliating comment. You know, he also had some violence and some addiction, but that humiliation I feel like was so it’s so potent for what we’re talking about today in terms of shame. And so we were doing that little exercise and I felt I saw his face. And I I literally like felt that feeling of I’m bad. And I don’t usually have that as a verbal thought, in my mind. I don’t usually have like that recreation of like, you don’t deserve it or you’re a bad or you’re not a good person like those, those words don’t tend to come into my head and plagued me. I don’t have thoughts like that. I don’t understand when people have thoughts like that, you know, but just for that moment, I sort of experienced that, like I saw his face and I was like, it doesn’t matter what I do, nothing that I do is gonna be good.

Right? Right.

So it’s interesting to go okay, now I can I if I’m as I’m tracking my body right now, because we’re doing that. I go, okay, where does that go? That’s like a downward signal from my heart goes right down into my gut. And then it’s almost like it gets choked off at my diaphragm and I want to start to cry. So it’s interesting, like, can I just open up and go, Okay, that’s a manifestation of shame. And actually, if I was handled with loving care, or curiosity, if I was handled with tenderness in those moments, you know, he might have scooped me up and been like, what’s happening for you? You know, or, you know, done something differently.

Yeah. Or if there’s, you know, third of those people in your life. This shame is such a tricky one because it can really it can be used as an unconscious tool to shut conversations down. Like let’s say there was something that that happened between you and your partner, and you wanted to let them know you’re upset. And the person if they immediately go into shame, they there’s no room for your feelings. There’s no room for your hurt or your anger or anything and it just kind of shuts it all down. And so shame is it’s so tricky between two people right? Like so let’s say you’re you’re in bed with up partner, and they’re dealing maybe it’s with the inability to get an erection in that moment, because for whatever reason, and there’s a lot of emotion around that, and there’s often there can be some shame around it. Sometimes your curiosity can be received well, right? Sometimes it’s something that’s like, oh, just soft, open curiosity. Other times, it’s no I don’t, you know, even even a conversation can feel like too much attention. And it’s like, they don’t want to feel what they’re feeling. And so, a prolonged conversation feels like too much. But it’s, it’s like, there’s between two people, right? Because sometimes if if you have a partner, and they, let’s say, they’re not getting an erection, and you have you, that part, you may have your own reaction to that. That’s less sensitive. Right? And then you go into your own shame about why that’s happening. Yeah, right. So there’s, I’m bringing all these little examples up, because it’s like, shame can be such a river flowing through so many interactions. Yeah. And making making so much so many stories up about the other person’s level of disappointment or their feelings about us or

I have felt angry in moments like that, I have felt defensive and angry and was like that, and in bed with my former partner where he used to have stomach stuff. And it was like, you know, he’s very sensitive person, and when he would not, when he would feel frustration or resentment or regret, he would feel that in his stomach, and it would make him feel like he didn’t want to engage sexually. And so he would say something was going on with this stomach. And I would know that that meant something was up. And I would get frustrated and angry before getting curious. And I think this one of the things that continues to go through my mind as we have this conversation, how generous curiosity actually can be, it doesn’t have to be a question asked, it could just be a state of reasoning and focused on the other person, rather than taking it personally or making up a story that I did something to cause that or making up a story that he’s a jerk for thinking that I did something to cause because I didn’t do anything. But like how generous it can be to just slow down and bring your curiosity to the moment of what’s happening. Oh, okay, I see you. You know, I love you. I see you always have said here.

And so check in with yourself, as you’re saying that, right? Like, you can all check in with your own bodies. When you’re in a state of curiosity. Two things feel tight, or do they feel open? Are you is it hard to breathe or easier to breathe? And so as we continue into this conversation around sexual freedom, sexual freedom is a state of expansion and openness. Right. So in anything that causes those constrictions and places of tension and held breath in the body, I mean, sometimes you can recite held breath, but generally speaking, those are states that closed down our access and our freedom. Yeah, so we were talking about curiosity, and that it’s, it’s an optimal state

doesn’t kill the pussy. It feeds the pussy. Hmm. And you can see her now, she looks like alfalfa. She just waited alfalfa gum.

I know I’m kind of talking all over the place around shame. Many people who aren’t practicing with other people, right? They’re not sexually engaging, they may not be masturbating. And so there’s something really important about depending on where you are in the continuum of sexual expression. And if there’s a certain level of numbness in your body starting to even think about, well, at some point in my life, what has there been an experience of whether it’s curiosity, whether it’s turn on whether it’s feeling good, it’s like a mat? And maybe there hasn’t been that experience? And can you even imagine that being a possibility? And is there someone in your life if you can’t even imagine that? It’s like, Well, is there someone in my life who really embodies that quality? Can I imagine being in their skin? What would that be like? What do they feel in their body? What do you know? What is it? What do you imagine it’s like to walk around in the world as them. Maybe you don’t even have a friend who’s like that, but there’s a character in a movie. Right? So sometimes you have to repeatedly visit an imagined experience before you can start to feel it and experience it in your own body. Like, many years ago, I didn’t use to fill my legs, right, I was told by an energy worker that there wasn’t a lot of energy flowing in my legs that would breathe, and I would intend energy follows attention. So I’d put my attention on my legs. And I would breathe and intend that the energy was moving through my legs. Right? So in this example, you know, it could be, well, I’ve never had an experience of pride, or feeling really open sexually. It’s like, what do I imagine that might feel like? Can I and would, it will, okay, if shame is a contraction in my chest, and it’s all tight, and I can’t breathe, then what I start with opening my breath, opening my chest. And imagining that I’m getting this award that I’ve always wanted, or I’m being told congratulations by, you know, these, a lot of these things can be so emotionally charged, because you’re like, oh, all the times when I didn’t get that. I didn’t know. No one ever said they were proud of me. Or, you know, so it can take a lot of creativity and often trauma can can crush our imagination and creativity. And for other people, your imagination, creativity was your escape your dissociative escape latch. Yeah. So it just depends on the person. There’s not one answer.

Yeah, yeah, imagination was not my escape. And it was for my husband. And for me, too. Yeah, my husband was all about fantasy, like, he would just escape into a whole nother world and be happy there. And for me, I never could manifest that escape. So that’s, that’s the place where I, I keep going to, okay, I have to think about what it might feel like. And then practice trying to feel that in my body.

That’s a great practice.

And, you know, the other thing I want to say about that, as when I’m tracking how I felt, you know, when I was tracking how I felt, when I had that little flash at my stepfather, and I literally felt the energy like, sort of point down from my heart and contract the muscles in my midsection. And I want to cry, you know, there’s a place where it’s like, for a long time, I would, I would just cry. And I would go into these places where I would cry, and cry, and cry and cry and cry and not feel better. And I feel like, it’s important for me to notice, as someone who has struggled with depression, as someone who didn’t have that sort of fantasy, out mode to stop sometimes, like not just to keep crying, but to stop that crying and imagine what it would feel like, in a better direction, which is not like circumventing the feelings. It’s like Breaking the Habit, right? That the system has of being sad,

right? What you’re, what you’re talking about is super important, which is how we have habits, right, we have these conditioned responses to situations or to upset or things that don’t feel good. And the more that we can develop an observer, and that’s a big piece of why meditation is useful, is developing a more resourced adult part of us. So we have these young kid parts that are that part that, you know, you could feel that just wanted to cry and cry and cry and cry. And it’s not about shutting it down and turning it away. And, you know, going and watching Netflix, but even being able to turn your attention towards that young kid part that wants to cry and be like, Hey, bud, you’re really sad. What are you sad about? Yeah, you know what, I’m right here. And then bringing your kindness and developing this, this kind of adult part that wasn’t present to take care of you in that moment when you were little. And it’s still waiting for that, in that we can provide that for ourselves as frustrating as it is to have to be the the adult who does that, because we had to maybe, you know, do that even when we were five, but that piece or an interruption. It’s all it’s a whole other thing that we can talk about around a trigger plan. But it’s one of the moves, right? It’s one of the things that if you’re with a lover, and you’re triggered, and you know, you can either get swept up in that trigger, and totally dissociate. And this seems to be what happened for me is I would get so frozen and so overwhelmed and I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even say to the person I was with what was going on for me. And they would get frustrated. And I would just be trapped in this crying or frozen body. So it takes a certain kind of evolution to then move to this next stage, which is being able to either with your partner or just yourself, change the direction of what you’re doing, do an activity that doesn’t feel as triggering, or pause and be with that upset part of you and give that upset part of you the attention that it never got.

How important is it for you to be in dialogue with your partner about the things that frees you up specifically I was watching this TV show where or it was really looking at me to the me to movement, it was really looking at at an experience of sexual assault. Where for the man in the experience, it just felt like the natural extension of what was happening for the rest of the time that they were together. And watching the show, you could see the look on the woman’s face, and that she was frozen in fear. And she didn’t know what to do. And she wasn’t responding positively. Yeah, but he couldn’t see that because they he was kind of involved in stuff. And he and she never said no, and he didn’t, you know? So it’s like, how important is it for you to share with your partner or, you know, to know yourself in that way so that you can have someone be attuned to whether or not you can actually say no,

okay, what you’re asking is so complex, and it’s so Oh, my gosh, oh, right. It’s so important, because first of all, you have to be conscious enough of what those things are to even be able to share them. Right? So if you’re not aware of how much historical trauma, sexual or non sexual freezes you up or affects your response and your nervous system, then you don’t even know to tell anybody anything. What if it’s a one night stand? What if it’s your first date, you also don’t have access, you might not be comfortable enough to share your history. If you’re in a, you know, if you’re in a long term partnership, I mean, in an ideal circumstances, yes, you’re like, I know myself. So well, these are my triggers. But that’s so not a part often not a part of initial dating with people. And people are like, Oh, okay, I want this person to know me well enough, before I like, unpack my bags, man, my history. And I do a lot of couples therapy. And there’s something called co regulation, right? So self regulation is you managing your own nervous system, if you are dysregulated, you’re overwhelmed. Regulated is in a state of, of ease in your body. If your partner you really want your partner to get to know those places, and the signs that you’re about to be dysregulated. So even maybe before you get out of your, your window of capacity to be with what’s happening, right? Because then you can come back into your window with more ease. Okay, so if it’s kind of like, if, you know, I had my first car was a 68, Dodge Dart, right? And there might be signs the car might make certain signs like, oh, the carburetors about who bowed on the freeway, motherfucker. And so, like, there might be sounds and signs that the car is gonna give me and if I know my car well enough, I can, I can avoid an accident. Okay, I can anticipate. And so if you’re really committed to that person, there’s a certain amount of that, that you want to engage in with each other, still taking care of yourself, not like, you know, in a codependent way, but in a in a co creative, participatory way. And then there’s ways of working around it, an exercise that I do a lot with my clients is creating a list, right? This is often or always something I’m down for in terms of intimacy, and being sexual or non sexual, but just close connection. These are things I’m sometimes down for, and these are things I’m never down for. And for one person that never is a finger in the butt, or a foot massage, sometimes that is for someone else that always list it could be the only thing on their list is sitting close next to me on the couch and pressing your shoulder against mine. I mean, there are, you know, people have really different ranges. Okay, so getting to know what those things are for people can be really useful so that the partner who maybe has more sexual freedom doesn’t feel rejected all the time, because that’s its own challenge in a relationship. So you want it’s like oh, what are what are the risks I can take in moving towards you sexually without it getting shut down?

And then if it isn’t one nightstand, dudes pay attention? If she looks frozen, it is not a yes.

Yeah, attunement is its own. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s, it’s when you’re super turned on and your attention is just like on your throbbing deck, or pissy me you know that you may not be trained as a trained like when you have a history of trauma, and you’re tracking people constantly. I know that you and I both have a skill of tracking the micro expressions of what people are showing and revealing not everybody has that or is interested in learning how to do that. But it will help your partner feel seen when you’re able to read what’s happening on their face and their breath and their shoulders or their shoulders pulled up to their ears. Good sign they’re frozen, but I do

want to talk about this about me too and the impact on people in terms of big It really does have an impact in terms of shame. I feel like what’s happened for men and I, as an instructor in this area, like I go into organizations at times, and will lead gender partnership dialogues where we talk about how men and women treat one another, and specifically the patriarchy and how men are in positions of power. And in those conversations, we’ve started to talk about me too. And what is a man’s response to me too, and what I’m hearing from the male executives that I’m working with is that they just don’t want to extend towards the women, you know, they won’t be in a room with a closed door, they won’t go have a walk with a conversation where you know, where sometimes those conversations for advancement happen, men are really pulling back. And they’re not having those sort of more social interactions with women, because they’re fraught with peril. And I’m just curious, like in the bedroom.

Why seeing that, but what you’re saying relates back to our earlier conversation about shame. Yeah, people do not like to feel powerless, and they do not like to feel shame. If you’re having a conversation that’s out of your depth, it happens for white folks around racism, right? And it happens for men around sexism, like, Oh, God, am I going to miss step? And I’m, am I going to then feel shame? And then am I gonna then ruin these connections and feel powerless? And so the response the is aversion, I’m just going to avoid the topic. I’m not going to go there, and then I won’t have to feel the feelings. Yeah. And so that’s the only way I know how to manage it. And, you know, the, there’s so many topics that that this is true round. It’s like if I just avoid it, or you know, and then people do that in their personal lives. Right.

So and in, in pulling it all together? I’m hearing that the answer to the question is one, working on your own self regulation, that is noticing where you’ve feel shame, how you feel shame, and then working on managing yourself to open it like doing some of those micro movements, you were talking about turning your hands out, taking up more space, noticing how to unwind your own body. So there’s like that one point you made. And then there’s also this other sort of point about imagining if that works for you, so that you can start to practice a certain feeling of more expansiveness. And then there’s that point of small moves. Like small practices, like the hot chocolate, and I’m gonna give you direction about how to give me hot chocolate. And then there’s the bigger practice moves like hot pockets.

Right, so you practicing speaking about the things that you feel ashamed of. I mean, you know, that’s the power. I think originally in a and 12 Step programs, one of the useful things in those programs, and they’re not useful for everybody, but is having a witness having a compassionate witness. You know, being able to speak about things that you thought were unspeakable. And not feeling shamed. Is is huge for people. Yeah. Great. Still being like, Oh, my God, you’re still here. Yeah, I’m not alone. Yeah. Yeah,

I think there might be a practice to have coming back. Like, do you have a coming back practice for when you’re out with someone? Like, that’s one of the things that I’ve noticed in my, in my

not out to dinner? You mean out dissociated? Yeah. Like,

like, when I was in my primary relationship of many years, one of the things my husband was amazing at was coming back, you know, like, we would have an argument, and I wouldn’t know how to recover, I wouldn’t know how to come back and be affectionate again. I would be like, you know, and he would be like, come here. And sometimes it was a little patronizing. But, you know, a lot of times it was just like, Hey, come on back. We’re gonna, you know, like, Come give me a hug. Come on, we love each other. Let’s remember, that was something that was really helpful for me to have someone willing to help me soften.

Absolutely, I mean, the the relationships that I see, work the best, whether it’s friendships or lovers, is that one person while one person is out of their window, the other person is regulated? Right? That one, they’re able to stay regulated at least long enough to hear the other person and support them through what they’re upset about. It doesn’t mean that it won’t ping to their turn, you know, a day later, there’s the capacity for someone to hear all of the upset and invite them out of that, that space of being, you know, a scared six year old or hurt six year old back into adulthood.

Yeah. And be pleased to practice to your partner to a little practice of like, oh, I absolutely hang space when they’re upset. Well, I

do I you know, I do those. I do a lot of those kinds of practices with my clients in the room. And it’s doing these it’s like really slow. Micro moves from really getting to know and studying. When one person gets says this one thing, what happens? The other person’s physical body? And how are they breathing, like really studying all the subtleties in what happens in each person’s body. And then there’s this ping pong, ping escalation. And if at any point, you can interrupt it, and change it, and then kind of like we, we want we keep redoing scenarios like, oh, well, we’re could what are the openings? What other choice could you make? What other thing could you say? You know, what happens if you do this with your body instead? And so just starting to open up all the different pathways for a different option, rather than this walking the same trail again and again, and not thinking and thinking, believing there’s no other possibility?

Yeah, I think we it’s like trigger towers. I like that, you know, it’s like, I send my signal to you, and then you send your signal back, and we’re both triggered and mobile, blah. I have to say, having a 16 year old. I’ve had to learn how to calm my trigger tower. Lots of Perec for goodness sake. Yeah. You say one thing, and they’re like, Mom, you’re so awful, and have to go. Oh, I’m sorry, that felt bad for you, son.

That’s awesome. What? What, uh, my mom and I used I started therapy at 14. And so when a tone of voice because it would be like the the escalation would go Tone, Tone tone, you know, and we had a safe word. And our word was arugula. If she if I asked for a ride to my friend’s house, and she had a certain tone, and then that escalated my tone. Either way, one of us could say, arugula. We would collapse and laughter. And then we would start over.

Wow, that’s beautiful. Yeah.

Don’t use Google it’s taken

to find something that makes you laugh as opposed. Like, you know, use your safe word. And then it’s like, Okay, fine. We both have to walk away for five minutes, but fuck you.

Right, right. yours. Yours could be Calgon take me away. At bath salts commercial,

I’m gonna go have a bath after this. That sounds like a good plan. I think so.

The process of connecting with your sexuality. Again, these are all these are beautiful, big, plump, questions.

Big plump, but oxes.

So there are a couple things, right, a couple of ways to connect with your sexuality is is getting to know well what do I What do I like? What feels good to me? Curiosity, curiosity, back to curiosity, watching movies, reading erotica, you know, starting to step outside what might be familiar and in studying your emotional and physical response to these things, right? Taking notes what actually are in sometimes, I mean, it took me until, I don’t know, maybe my eye, I would feel turned on. But it was like later in my 30s, like my early 30s that I kind of, I was like, Oh, this is I have a type. There’s something that really does it for me, you know. And so there can be range of things that really turn you on, but getting a sense collecting those facts about yourself. And it takes experimenting, it takes experiencing and if you’re in one committed partnership, that means might mean like watching movies together, reading books together, playing around, get you know, where you’re gonna say something.

I just think that it’s so important to think about the different things that you like and don’t like, because for myself as a codependent person as someone who like really is focused externally, on what’s happening. I did that a lot when I was dating in my 20s, before I met my husband, where I would just like, I would be in the situation tuned into who was tuned into me, instead of being tuned into who I thought was cool, right? It was like I was tuned into who was tuned into me and then I went through many little many relationships where someone was tuned into me, and I didn’t actually feel for them what they felt for me, because I wasn’t even paying attention to what I felt.

Yeah. Right. And that’s a very, I think, very common thing, especially for young girls in high school, and even college. And then also given if the habit is is numbness and external focus. Yeah. It’s like, Oh, you like me? Okay.

Yeah, I did this practice about a year and a half ago, when I was working on coming out of depression. And the practice literally was I went to Italy and I just started walking around. And I was by myself. This is the first time I ever took a trip by myself the first time I was ever really on my own for an extended period of time. I’m in a space where I could just be there to have some fun. And see what I enjoyed. And when I didn’t enjoy Yeah, and I literally went around three little towns in Italy and just was like, I liked this cheese I do not like this cheese. I love this gelato. I didn’t like this gelato. I liked this experience with this waiter person. And I don’t like this experience with this musician, person, you know, or whatever was happening at the time. Absolutely. Yeah. It’s kind of nerve wracking, but it was good.

Yeah, it’s funny, because I, you know, I have a very opposite experience of that, right? It’s like, Oh, I feel almost overly sensitive around like, I know exactly what I like. And I know what I really don’t like. And so for me, it feels quite extreme. And I, I would love to like, not want like things as much as I do or not like, in both directions. Yes, very enthusiastic, or, and it can feel a little sometimes like the I call, I call it my mean Queen archetype. Go Off with her head

with her head. It’s like, I’m like the North Pole. And you’re like the South Pole,

we had? Well, it’s like, you know, if I eat out, I really like to like my food. Because I can cook well. So I can either if I can, if I can cook it better at home, not into it versus Food is fuel is how some people live. For me. It’s like food is passion. Right? It’s like, I know what I like a new. So reclaiming your sexuality. A thing that I have mentioned repeatedly hear is masturbation homework, right? And so especially if you’ve come from a religion or a family where masturbating was not permitted, and it was you were shamed for it, maybe you were caught once trying that out. And there can be micro steps towards that, right. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do. And I will say that most of the women that I’ve given that assignment to don’t do it, and that, yeah, and that men will more eagerly take it on because they’re more conditioned to it. People think it’s weird, If men don’t masturbate, it’s like, oh, you’re, the more that you do something, the more comfortable you’ll get with it. So like, let’s say dancing, right? So dancing can even be a movement towards reclaiming your sexuality, any physical practice, right? Something where you’re breathing, where you’re moving, you’re feeling your body, and you’re experiencing what it’s like to be inside your own skin. And you notice what kind of movements feel good to me. What kind don’t feel good to me. And then there’s a whole other set of practices when you’re in relationship and learning how to let the other person know these things. But you have to really start with yourself and being with the sometimes paralysis or the feelings of shame that may arise. And being compassionate with yourself around them, rather than letting that knock you out of the park. It’s like, Oh, that makes so much sense to me, I totally get why you would feel that and seeing if you can be with yourself inside of that. And hopefully your partner is compassionate and can be with you too. And in patience, I would say patience is super, super core, because literally there’s a programming if it’s religious, you know, if the if the belief systems are based in religion and family and deep conditioning, you just really need to be patient with yourself. It’s not going to happen overnight.

This was not the first and won’t be the last time we talk at length about shame. Especially around the topic of sexuality and freedom, it comes up again and again. as uncomfortable as shame is it serves a function or we wouldn’t go into it. Remember, the more we bring our shame into the light with compassionate people who can listen to our experience rather than shut it down, the less power it has over us find that community that will hold you with love and tenderness. If you have additional questions around sex, and trauma, or shame or anything else you can reach me at laid open podcast@gmail.com I’d love for you to follow me at laid open podcast on Instagram and Facebook and read more about my work at passionate life.org Until next time, take good care


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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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