Trust Resilience: Relearning Intimacy

Trust builds intimacy at Emancipating SexualityHi, my name is Pavini and I have trust issues. 

(If you do too, this post is for you… read to the bottom for a free resource for your trust journey.)

The themes of trust and betrayal has come up in all of my relationships.  Apparently, my core belief is that sooner or later, betrayal will happen.  (“Hi, I’ll take the bloody, pain-filled éclair please.”)

In my world, betrayal is defined as,  “You knew that I (fill in the blank) and you still (took the action that made me feel betrayed.)  For example: “You knew I wanted to see that movie, and you went without me.”  Or, “Even though I said it was fine, you know my history with Paul, and you know how I feel about him, and you went out with him anyway.”

I find that I am constantly vigilant in all of my intimate relationships, almost suspicious, because I ‘know’ I will be betrayed, and I’m just watching and waiting for it to happen.

As you can imagine, this puts my intimates into difficult and uncomfortable situations.

It’s taken a long time to realize how often I am viewing the world through the betrayal glasses, which color everything with mistrust.  When I stop to examine it, I realize that real intimacy is impossible without trust.  Problematic, oh teacher of intimacy.

So, assuming that I want deep intimate connections, it seems like relearning trust is the thing.  How in the world do I do that?  I was supposed to have learned it when I was a baby; is it even possible to do it now?

Yes.  And it’s work.

What is trust? Trust is not a feeling.  It is a belief about the other, based on our own observations or what we have been told.

Trust is a belief that someone will act in ways that support us, that are in alignment with what they say, and that we can depend on consistent care and honesty from that individual.  We can be vulnerable and be our real selves. Ultimately, it is a belief that someone is worthy of our trust. 

Truth: Some people are trustworthy, others are not.

And of course, there are varying degrees of trust we can bestow.  I have a dear friend that I lived through some very harrowing situations with, including being held at gunpoint in Eastern Europe.  I trust her with my life.  I do not trust her to return my library books.

In grown-up relationships, we must be both trusting and mistrusting.  We track the behavior of others, and use the information to discern the level of trust we give to someone. As evidence mounts that someone is indeed trustworthy, trust becomes a quality of a relationship. It’s important to note that if I am unilaterally mistrusting of everyone, the problem may be within me.  And it may have been within for a long time.  Like, most of my life.

In his Theory of Human Development, Erik Erikson theorized that how the infant’s basic needs are met by caregivers determine whether the child will essentially trust or mistrust the world.

The therapist, Buddhist and author David Richo goes further and explicates roadblocks to trust in his book “Daring to Trust.”

He said that our trust capacity is diminished when early caregivers:

  • Failed to show us love through the modalities of: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, allowing.
  • Were not attuned to and allowing of our feelings
  • Neglected us physically or emotionally
  • Abused us physically, emotionally or sexually
  • Had expectations of us that were too low or too high
  • Were continually arguing with or abusing others in our presence
  • Used us as a go-between
  • Had active addictions.

When I read first read these thoughts, I felt relief.  I’ve felt so damaged by this whole trust difficulty.  Like, everyone else got picked for Team Trust, and I’m over here, nursing my trust wounds.  Somehow, having reasons for my trust challenges is comforting.

And I see that if mistrust and betrayal were things I learned, I can learn to trust again.

The journey thus far of relearning trust has been significant.  First, I’ve had to see the ways my lack of trust has impacted relationships, past and present.

Here are a few things I’ve learned through the process

  • We can increase our capacity to trust by taking calculated trust risks, and having them be successful. 
  • We can also place our attention our resilience to recover trust after betrayal. 
  • Our trust in ourselves grows, as we trust again, and are rewarded by having our discernment about trustworthiness validated by the behavior of others.
  • Interestingly, our capacity to trust also increases when we commit ourselves to being trustworthy.

For example, I often find myself reflecting on my own behavior as a child to guide my parenting.  (Aside: I don’t understand how adults conveniently ‘forget’ all the rebellious choices and exploration they experienced as teenagers.  Luckily, I have journals from this period of my life that remind me exactly of my behavior and choices.)

There were many times as a child, that the need for freedom outweighed the need for being in integrity.  I often acted in duplicitous ways, in order to achieve my goals of fun, friends and freedom.  I was not trustworthy. This eroded my sense of trust in myself.

Now, as a parent, I can choose to be trustworthy.  I can choose to be honest and integrous with my kids when approaching conversations about topics like sex, alcohol, drugs, and all those other challenging and exciting teenage decisions. 

We can all choose to be impeccably trustworthy.

This means getting super clear with our boundaries.  It means saying “yes” or “no” completely, and not changing our mind later, or if we do, having a conversation about it.  It means owning what is ours, and moving away from blaming.  It means doing what we say.  It means holding our intimates well, and holding ourselves well.

Ironically, as we choose to be trustworthy, it actually increases our own capacity for trust.  Since we are acting in trustworthy ways, we begin to believe that others are, too.

Okay, so at this point in my trust story:

  • I’m able to realize how I see the world through my betrayal lens, and question my core belief.
  • I’m able to practice putting new core beliefs next to the problematic one, such as “Many people can be trusted, most of the time.”
  • I’m acting in trustworthy ways, and that is increasing my capacity to trust others.
  • I’m taking calculated and small trust risks, and they are successful.
  • I’ve learned to track people’s words and behavior, so I have good data on which to base trust decisions.
  • When I feel betrayed, I notice my resilience to trusting again.
  • I base the giving of my trust on past experiences with individuals.

Last night I dreamed that my partner betrayed me, and then confessed to me.  I felt the feeling of betrayal; it is so painful and devastating.  It feels like nothing will ever be right, ever again.  When I woke, to his sleeping form, I knew it was just a dream reminder of the work I am doing.  I am learning to trust him.  I am learning to trust myself.

I see that I still have work to do: settling into the body sense of trusting my beloved to hold me well, to communicate, and to stay present.

If you would like to examine your own fluency with trust, here’s a worksheet I developed for one of the Intimacy Technology classes.  Taking a trust history will give you qualitative data on your own life.  Reflection on the journey is where the real learning happens.

Trust History Exploration: Free Resource from Emancipating Sexuality! 

I teach trust skills in the Intimacy Technology series. The next class is called “Trusting Again and Risking Love.”  Monday, November 25 at 7 p.m. in San Francisco.  We’ll be exploring how to trust again after serious relationship betrayal, and practicing new trust skills with a supportive and playful group.  I trust you will join us if you need to!

Trusting Eros: Being Taken by the Fuck (in an alley)

Sex in an Alley“Can you take it?” Togan asked, his hands wrapped around my throat, as he stands above me, gazing down at my face. 

It was hard to answer: my pussy was being seriously banged by Dramal.  “That’s all you got?” I barely whisper, and watch as his face contorts with anger and pleasure, simultaneously.

Yesterday, I practiced being fucked in a filthy San Francisco alley. 

 I don’t typically have casual sex.  My trust issues prohibit it.  The sex I have is connected, meaningful, intimate.  I am incredibly selective about my partners, and tend to have sexual relations that span decades instead of minutes.  My relationships tend to depend deeply this kind of strong trust. Trust allows me to surrender, to open my body and my heart. This is how sex feels good to me.

And yet. There is a part of me that yearns to explore uninhibited, no-strings-attached sex.  The kind of sex where you have to pick the gravel out of your knees for days after.  The kind of sex that leaves the stench of garbage and piss all over your boots. The kind of sex that burns hot, extreme, and strikes like lightning.  Ironically, the kind of sex that is beyond trust. 

Erik Erikson was a psychologist known for his theory on psychosocial development of human beings.  If you’ve ever said “I’m having an identity crisis” you can thank him for that phrase.  He theorized that there were 8 stages of psychological development in humans, and that each stage allows one to master (or not) a crucial life skill.  If not mastered (because the needs around it weren’t consistently met) it can become a core wound, an area of your life in which you consistently experience challenges.

The first stage of Erik Erikson’s theory centers around the infant’s basic needs being met by the parents.  This experience leads to either trusting or mistrusting the world. Erikson defines trust as “an essential truthfulness of others as well as a fundamental sense of one’s own trustworthiness.”

My core wound is trust.  I am petrified of betrayal. 

This fear has haunted me in all of my relationships.  It has been prohibited me from exploring the full extent of my sexuality, because I seek to meet my need for trust in my sexual relationships.  Perhaps you can relate!  I am often suspicious, and can question a lover to the nth degree, until I find the betrayal I am certain exists.   This behavior is not particularly conducive to intimacy, and thus my sweetheart has requested me to examine when I am viewing through a situation through my betrayal lens, and I am attempting to comply, by finding situations where I can practice and be held with love.

This weekend I attended a Body Electric workshop called “Outside the Boxes.”  It was a time for queers and genderqueers of all flavors to explore body, sex and pleasure.  The intentions included to expand Eros through embodiment, especially using breath and pelvic focus.  To discover edges, and to deepen into living in one’s whole body. To participate in communal erotic ritual, in a container that is about presence and Self, as opposed to hooking up and Other. It is an amazing chance for us to do our personal work, in a supported, focused environment.

There were many interesting activities and rituals over the course of the weekend.  However, it is the last encounter about which I write today.  The culmination of this weekend was in giving and receiving erotic massages in groups of three. To tell you about this, I must rewind a few weeks into the past, and tell you about attending an event at the Center for Sex and Culture called “Perverts Put Out.”  Writers and storytellers ply their erotic crafts and share their work this juicy evening.  One of the stories that night was read by local writer Jen Cross, who conducts Writing Ourselves Whole writing workshops for survivors of sexual abuse and trauma.  The story she told pierced into my brain like an arrow shot through an apple, and has remained lodged there in the weeks that followed.

She told a kinky tale of mindfuck: a submissive boi being taught a lesson on manners and assumptions about power and gender. As if I were there, I saw it… in a crumbling alley off of Folsom… the three of them locked in a gritty urban embrace of filth and power.  In my mind, I watched the scene unfold: the boi choking and gagging, learning to deepthroat from a woman wielding a large silicone cock while Daddy watches on.  Boi assumes Daddy is in charge, and he’ll get to play with him if he tolerates the attentions of the skirt.  The mindfuck is that actually the Top in the situation is Mommy, schooling the ignorance right out of the boi’s disgustingly stupid head.

Back at the workshop, I’m asked what my intention is before getting up on the table.  The truth is, I want the kind of internal trust that would let me experience being that boi in the alley.  It’s not that I want his role, I don’t want to be someone’s boi, per se. It’s just that I want to be able to open my body, beyond trust, beyond safety, and know that I’ll come out the other side intact.

I choose my partners.  They are edgy, genderqueer and I’ve watched each of them get fucked in turn, both preferring hard fucking and not so much the lovey-dovey.  I haven’t met either of them before this weekend, and while I have an affinity with them, I’m scared as I walk towards them.  They are waiting, blindfolded, at the massage table, for us to make our choices.  Perhaps I should choose less dangerous types for partners, perhaps picking instead a gentle older woman or a young sweet femme. I head towards the tattooed and muscled pair, my hands sweating.  They uncover their eyes, and I see them appraising me, wondering how this will go.  I don’t expect either of them to turn down the volume of their Eros, I just pray I can open to receive it. 

I tell them the story of the alley.  I tell them my intention is to practice having sex in an alley.  I see the diabolical light enter into Togan’s eyes.  I know I am in a safe container to practice this, but it’s still scary.  Dramal’s touch is gentle at first, and I want more.  Each time he asks me, “Is this okay?” until I say that I actually don’t really want him to ask me… and he gets it quickly.  “I’m asking you once and for all, do I have your permission to Handle you?” he whispers scathingly in my ear.  My yes is weak on volume, but it will do.

Their touch is strong.  I fight against it, and the slickness of the oil and sweat covers us all as we wrestle and fight.  I’m laughing, mocking them into giving me more, making it more real.  I want them to Want to do this, want to force their touch on me.  My face, smashed into the table, searing hands around my throat, fingers slamming into me.  It’s not exactly pleasurable, but there is something here, something erotic beyond what I can name.  It’s brutal, primal.  I check in with my pussy: “How are you doing down there?” and my pussy screams back “Shut the fuck up!  This is amazing!”  I smile, inspiring more force.

I see the rats, smell the garbage, feel the rough pavement beneath my ass.  I use my imagination to practice being in this scene.  I allow myself to become that boi, taken and used. It is delicious.

Sex in an Alley

When it’s over, we collapse against each other on the table, panting, sweaty, spent.  I wonder how it’s been for them, if they felt the animal of Eros as I did, or if they were just good at crafting this kind of experience so that I could play with what happens in the space that is beyond trust.  They wrap me in sheets, and stand with their attention focused on me for the next ten minutes as I dream and fly.  Smiles and giggles come and go… I feel so happy, so free.  I have opened my body to two people I don’t know, and probably won’t ever see again.  I have trusted in my own ability to stay present.  I have travelled a new road of Eros, that was often beyond what I would have named as my desire, and found it exquisite and satiating.  It’s sex, but not how I’ve known it.

This is the kind of trust I want in myself.  I want to be true to all of my desires. I want to explore my edges and beyond, trusting that I will never fall into victimhood.  I burn with the need to expand my erotic capacity.  I like practicing.  I don’t know when I’ll be ready to enter that wretched alley and have that kind of sex.  I trust that I will know when I am ready, and I trust that when I do it, Eros will take me exactly where I am meant to go.

If you are interested in exploring trust, and wanting to learn how to expand your capacity for it, plan to attend the Intimacy Technology class I am offering on Monday, October 28.  We’ll practice trust skills in a gentle, supportive way (in my living room, not in an alley!) and you will be in choice about all activities we do.  You can register here for Terrifying Trust.  

What do you need for Intimacy?

I’ve been compiling a list of intimacy skills.  You know, all that stuff we learned in human sexuality class in school.  Yeah, right.  Anyway, what do you think?

Skills for Intimacy

  • Speak truth (gently and frankly.)
  • Know my desire (and be able to ask for what I want, even if you can’t give it to me.)
  • Listen compassionately (without being dismissive, moving to fix it or offering advice.)
  • Be responsible for my own emotional landscape (discerning what is mine, what is yours.)
  • Hold an open heart (work at it, know when it’s closed, breathe into it daily so it stays connected and available to you.)
  • Vulnerability (without expecting it to be reciprocated and without expectation that you will fix, save or rescue me.)
  • Boundaries (having good ones and maintaining them, as well as honoring yours.)
  • Energy (me noticing mine, and having some internal regulation and accountability about what I project.)
  • Saying yes to your desire (more often than not.)
  • Receptivity (being able to actually receive love, touch, care.)
  • Gratitude (being thankful for all the joy, support, as well as work.  Being grateful that you are such a good mirror for me.)
  • Awareness of differing needs (my needs are different than yours, and both are valid.)
  • Trust  (you care deeply about me and my best interests. You will tend your boundaries.  You will honor mine. Assuming good intent, even when I don’t understand your actions.)
  • Risk-taking (trust and vulnerability are required.  I have to let you have the ability to hurt me, and trust that you’ll try not to. Allowing you to see my shadow.)
  • Ability to let go of my story and of being “right” (and acknowledge that your story is true for you. This included forgiveness when you fuck up.)
  • Ability to hold space for your feelings. (No greater gift I can give you.)
  • Acknowledging when I fuck up. (Having empathy for the pain I inadvertently cause you.)
  • Cooperative, not competitive engagement with each other.  (I can depend on your care, support and well-wishes for my life.)
  • Generosity (well wishing for your life, being able to back-burner my own stuff when yours is more pressing, being available to make your life more wonderful.)

My dear H.R. Bremner ,(another fabulous somatic sex coach) and I are exploring these skills together.  We will be teaching “On Fire with Desire” on October 4.  Register here.  Getting in touch with, naming, asking for and receiving your deep desires are all skills we will work on!

Any glaring intimacy skills not on this list?  What level is your skill set at?