Most of us have gone through some form of sexual abuse or trauma in our past. Very few people escape some sexual shutdown. It’s tough for many of us to heal, move on, and let it all go.
Often, these traumatic memories rise in the worst situations and cause problems in our current relationships.
If you’re in a relationship, you may enter into a situation where you may get triggered during sex or otherwise. If you’re the partner and you know someone who has undergone sexual abuse in their life, here are some things you can do.
Ariel Giarretto, Trauma Therapist and Somatic Educator
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If you’re in a relationship, there’s a point at which you may get triggered, during sex or not. If you’re the partner and you have someone who has suffered trauma, here are some things you can do.
Let’s start with honoring the person’s trauma.
Honor what shows up. Believe the person. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with you. It sometimes feels like no matter what you do, the person will get triggered. And what is being triggered? “Triggered” is the body remembering something from a long time ago. It takes the person out of the present and sometimes feels like it comes out of nowhere. It’s shocking both to the partner and to the experiencer.
It’s hard on a partner when there is a loving connection, and everything is excellent and beautiful and connective. Suddenly, it’s almost like the partner gets possessed by their history. They go on an autopilot of their body’s memory. Sometimes, it’s not even noticeable. People emotionally leave the situation. Their body is still there, but they are not with you anymore. They have disassociated. That is a general term for not being present in their body.
In the trauma world, disassociation is a fleeing response. It’s a way to run away without running away. You run away mentally and emotionally instead of physically. We look at it like a survival strategy that served them at some point. So, part of the healing is helping people stay in the present.
What does that look like? Firstly, once somebody is gone, the more that you try, the worse it gets. Again, when you feel that your efforts are making it worse, you start to feel bad about yourself, and it ends up in a trauma loop.
The best thing you can do is have a conversation when someone is not triggered. You won’t even know when someone has been triggered until it shows up. Sometimes, it’s a big shock.
What does it look like? It means you wait until you’re in a calm, loving space. You don’t do it in the middle of it because they’re already triggered if you do. Maybe it’s over breakfast. Perhaps it’s on a walk or driving a car. Those are nice safe places to have conversations. Although, sometimes having a little eye contact would be good. Also, make sure you are driving and not your triggered partner.
The questions you can ask your partner when he or she gets triggered are, “When you’re in that space, is there anything I can do to help. You’ll feel safer. Anything I can do to help you stay here? How do I help you come back? I also need to know what triggers this. What activates this experience in your body?”
Sometimes, we can predict it during the moment of penetration in some women. It could be wonderful. She’s turned on and connected, and the moment you enter her, her energy goes into nothing, and she leaves the scene emotionally. “They are gone!” There’s just a body here.
Or it could be places they’re touched or how you speak to them. There could be a combination of things. Being interested in when and how your partner gets triggered will help you support them through those moments. Someday, they may never again have those moments.
The important thing is to have the spirit of experimentation and make it okay that you’re going to do it wrong. One of the most significant ways that you might do something is to bring someone back in the present moment. Because that is all in the past or projecting fear into the future.
You’ll say, “Hey, hi. It’s me. Just me. The one who loves you. I am not the one that did that to you. I’m here with you, and I care about what happened. I believe what happened to you, and I know that this is beyond your control.”
I experiment with touch. The person gets triggered. They might be hot and angered. I’ll say, “I’m here, and I see you.” Sometimes, that might be too much for people.
Sometimes, you’re sitting on the couch and pressing your body against that person. You can give them enough space. But also, here’s something comforting. I’ll cuddle in right now. See how nice that looks. Sometimes, just a hand on the back. The sacrum is nice. You are grounding their back and touching and holding hands. Also, make sure that you’re calm. I like the hair-stroking. Calming and nurturing. Stroking the face can be excellent. You have to be willing to experiment and find out what works best and get feedback from your partner.
Many partners help heal the abused and traumatized person. That’s how we help each other. So, if you are the partner and you are watching this video now, thank you so much for being a person who stands for healing your partner’s sexual abuse. It is one of the most beautiful things you can ever do.
My husband healed my sexual abuse, and it took many years. He did the things we’re discussing in this series. You can get through trauma and come out as a whole, an average person with bad experiences. Now, you know how to have good experiences.
A big part of what you will see in this series is retraining yourself to have normal responses. By normal, I mean the pleasurable responses to the sensual pleasure that are available to you and are your birthright. That’s the magic that you do in the world.
Don’t miss the first segment, and this whole series is about boundaries. That is in and of itself perhaps the most important thing not just in people who have had sexual trauma, but also in sexuality boundaries. That is the platform for an opening to more pleasure. So, we’ll see you on the other side.