Love(r)

Exploring Love, Sex & Intimacy

Tag: insecurities

Dr. Philautia or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Self

Sorry for the unintended hiatus! The first two months of 2016 were filled with work (the kind I do for money so I can live), important projects and even some fulfilling creative writing. Sadly, what was neglected during this busy time was my beloved blog. But I am back now, so let’s get to it.

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Last time I wrote about The Porcupine’s Dilemma, whereby individuals crave intimacy, yet at the same time fear the closer they get to another person the more they will cause and receive pain. Hopefully, I did an adequate job of convincing you that there really isn’t much to fear. Sure, intimacy does make us vulnerable, but the benefits make it well worth the risks. I also mentioned that there are ways to strengthen yourself so that you are much less likely to get hurt while seeking intimacy, as well as ways to make you less needy in the first place. These strategies won’t prevent you from ever getting hurt in a relationship, but they will make you more resilient. One of the best ways to toughen up is to cultivate an abundance of philautia, or love of self.

Loving yourself is not a simple act, but it is a revolutionary one.

  • If you are a woman who has been told all your life that your worth is ultimately determined by how well you conform to our culture’s beauty standard…
  • If you are a man who has been taught a form of masculinity that is suffocating and narrow…
  • If you are a trans person who has to face the risk of violence on a daily basis while many of the powers at be refuse to validate your identity…
  • If you are a person of color, an ethnic minority, or a cultural outsider who has been devalued and disenfranchised by mainstream society…
  • If you are single in a culture that pathologizes being alone and says that the only way to be truly happy is to be coupled…

…then loving yourself is a rebellious and empowering act.

intersectionality

There are a staggering many reasons why our Western culture promotes, or at very least encourages, self-loathing and insecurity. The status quo is fueled and preserved more easily by such negativity and gains little from fostering individuals to have secure, loving connections. Just to name a few, insecure people are easier to sell products to, they are easier to influence with scare-tactics and they are easier to bully or manipulate. Additionally, it takes a lot more conscious effort to be loving towards yourself and is much easier to be mean. We also have to contend with religious and cultural traditions that often view self-love as a moral failing and see no distinction between vanity, selfishness, arrogance and a healthy love of self. And if those weren’t discouraging enough, our brain’s reward center is even activated when we feel shame! With all these incentives, self-loathing can easily become normalized.

Most of us came to be insecure and self-loathing out of necessity; it was a strategy we learned at a very young age to cope and it worked well enough to get us this far in life. It might have protected or motivated you to get through traumatic events. The time has come though, to adopt a new strategy for navigating life.It is also possible we lacked care takers who modeled healthy love for us. The people close to us during our development teach us how to treat others as well as how to treat ourselves. Thus a mother might be kind and compassionate towards her children, but if she is cruel to herself she is setting an example they will emulate later in life. Our own self-talk, those encouraging or bullying voices in our head, are often a composite of comments influential people said about us and comments we heard those people make about themselves. This is how self-loathing can live on generation to generation.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can learn to cultivate philautia, to develop self-intimacy and unlearn all our cruel, self-loathing patterns of behavior. Furthermore we can achieve these goals in kind, compassionate ways, rather than adding “loving myself” to the arsenal we already use to beat ourselves up. It defeats the point of cultivating philautia if we bully ourselves into it, or berate ourselves when we revert to old habits. Admittedly, the process can feel contradicting and even confusing. It is about learning to love what you are and can’t change, while at the same time working to change the things that are inauthentic about your life. Knowing the difference between the authentic and the fake requires a great deal of compassion and honesty. It takes curiosity and patience. It is an ongoing process that none of us will ever be perfect at. But it is totally possible.

Too often people mistakenly believe that love is simply a feeling that happens or doesn’t. They don’t see love as something that can be chosen or cultivated. But the truth is you can. Love can be a deliberate, conscious choice the same way we can choose to dedicate ourselves to pursuing dreams, even when the road is unclear or challenging. If you feel that you are not at this moment the sort of person you can love, then you have two choices: to love yourself as you are in spite of your misgivings or to become a person worthy of your love. Holding these two objectives in tension will pull you into alignment, like some internal cosmic ballet.

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To get started, you might need to fake it till you make it. And yes, it actually works. Regardless of how critical or loving you feel right now, treat yourself like someone deserving of love (because spoiler, you are). Feelings can be inspired by actions, just as much as actions can be inspired by feelings. So court yourself like you would a new lover. Be compassionate and patient with yourself like you would your own child. Stand up for yourself. Protect yourself from cruelty. All those mean things you say in your head, those criticisms, put downs, insults, etc., imagine it was someone else saying those things to your face. Would you stand for that? If someone called you worthless to your face, what would you do? I would hope you’d tell them to shut up, get lost and not believe it. Then why is it that we tend to believe nasty comments we hear in our head that we would dismiss if it was someone else? Just because you heard it in your heard doesn’t make it valid. Protect yourself, even from the scared, hurt parts of your psyche.

I try to put this into practice in my own life to the best of my ability. It was recently my birthday and I decided to celebrate a little differently than I have in previous years. I consciously made the choice to spend the day alone, pampering myself and generally just doing things I enjoy. It was essentially a date with myself. A day filled with little acts of love. I made myself breakfast in bed, cuddled with my cat, luxuriated, went to a physical conditioning class, ate healthfully, went shopping and ended the day relaxing at the spa. I could have found company for any of these things, but I wanted to do it alone. I wanted to treat myself like someone worthy of my own love and attention. It was a satisfying success.

To plan a day like this and actually enjoy it would have been unthinkable for me only a few years ago. When I was younger I didn’t have a healthy love and respect for myself and it lead to all sorts of problems, including disliking my own company. I hated being alone. It caused me a lot of anxiety and emotional distress. My solution to this distress was to fill my daily life with plenty of distractions (food, television, video games, partying, sex, etc) and find ways to avoid myself. I often escaped into other people, preoccupying myself with their needs, caring for them, supporting them to achieve their happiness, sometimes at the expense of my own. Meanwhile, I totally neglected myself. I often felt I was nothing without someone. I based my own value and definition as a person on those around me and their love for me. I fluctuated and changed radically based on who I was with at the time. And if I didn’t have anyone I felt worthless and pointless. Back then I didn’t even enjoy masturbating, because honestly why would I want to fuck myself, this person I did not like?

Nine Inch Nails Quote

A song about a self-loathing individual who can only feel transcendent through the reckless abandonment that comes with sexual gratification.

I was not aware of it at the time, but I believed that if I helped others to be happy then their happiness might rub off on me in some Transitive Property of Joy. This did not really work, the way that cooking a meal and feeding it to others does nothing to satisfy one’s own hunger. Worst of all I did not know myself very well, nor did I care to know, my self-loathing was so strong. So of course I didn’t have a clear idea of who I was or what I wanted out of life, because I had never taken the time to explore those questions.

Love, romance and sex are used and abused by many people as an escape from self. In our culture there is a very popular idea of redemption through love, that we can gain value or be saved by the magic of people loving us. Adoration and validation from others becomes the goal, all the while we loath or neglect ourselves. If you care more about being liked by others than being liked by yourself, then you will try to change to be what you think others want. The paradox is though, that the harder you try to be likable the more inauthentic it will come across and most people won’t like that anyway. Or, if they do, then deep down you’ll be haunted by the knowledge that what they love is a photo-shopped version of you. They haven’t loved the “real” you and you’re convinced they couldn’t. You can’t build intimacy if you are scared of being discovered and seen.

You may find yourself always questioning your true love-ability and fear it is at risk of being revoked. You may feel like a fraud. That if people knew the real you they wouldn’t love you. You might censor or edit yourself. You might even lie. You try to change who you are in order to be worthy of love. But by doing these things you give your power away and then others can control you. If you believe that you are undeserving of love, then you create fear and a power imbalance when someone tries to love you.

If you live life for yourself first and others second, then you won’t compromise yourself to please them. This can be a hard concept to come to terms with, but no one else gets to define who and what you are. Not society, not your family, not your romantic partner, no one. They can try, and they will, but only you get to define yourself. This is just another reason why integrity, trust and intimacy with yourself is so essential. If you know and trust yourself, then no one else can gaslight you into doubting yourself. Of course people you trust can tell you what they see, but in the end you get to decide. Learning how to tell the difference between feedback that comes from someone who genuinely loves you and has your best interest at heart and someone out to manipulate you is a priceless life lesson. 

It is well known that communication is the foundation of a good relationship. Honesty, openness, curiosity and disclosure are all things we strive for in our relationships with other people. We understand these things bring knowledge and experience, which in turn fosters intimacy. Yet, so many of us neglect communicating this way with ourselves, inhibiting the development our self-intimacy.

These concepts might seem cliche or trite, but their value is too often overlooked. If you don’t love yourself how will anyone else get close enough to love you? If you don’t have intimacy with yourself how will you build it with others? If you don’t know how to please yourself how will anyone else know how to please you?

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Recently a friend of mine confided that he hasn’t had a crush on anyone in a long while. He and his partner decided to open up their relationship to polyamory a little over a year ago and he was surprised to find that his heart just wasn’t in it. On paper the idea of exploring sex or intimacy with other people sounded great, but in practice he was apathetic. When we discussed what the cause of his indifference could be, it brought us back to self-love. My friend was lacking a strong or clear sense of what he liked about himself and did not find much joy in his own company. We agreed that lacking any curiosity about himself was probably discouraging him from feeling curious about anyone else. I hope my friend reads this and through cultivating philautia develops a crush on himself!

I hope we can all agree that loving yourself and caring for yourself are important, and that there is far too much self-neglect and self-loathing out there. Yet most people would still rather find the love and validation they crave from others and not bother to give any to themselves.  

Learn (do whatever it takes) to enjoy your own company. It may take time, but get comfortable with being alone. Work through whatever fears, anxiety or unpleasant stuff being alone triggers. It will pass. Get in touch with your own thoughts and feelings. Try journaling or morning pages to help start the self-exploration. Learn to identify and take responsibility for your own needs and desires. You are your only true lifetime companion. In a way, you are your own soulmate. So treat yourself accordingly.

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In the end, if feeling ashamed of yourself comes more naturally than loving yourself, I am here to offer some help and to tell you…

  • You are not perfect
  • You are not shameful
  • You are beautiful in many ways
  • You are valuable in many ways
  • You are deserving of trust
  • You are deserving of intimacy
  • You are deserving of love

It is okay to believe these are true. Go ahead and give yourself permission. Positive affirmations like these can feel awkward and phony at first, but if you use them to counteract any negative self-talk you have, over time they will feel less and less like lies and more and more like the undeniable truths they are.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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  • Leave a comment below!
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How Vampires Represent the Modern Ideal

*EDITORIAL NOTE*

I originally wrote this with the intention of publishing it right before Halloween, because y’know, vampires. But due to hectic setbacks I was not able to finish it in time. Then in November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month challenge, which consumed all my writing time and energy. On the bright side, I did win the challenge!

So here we are, it’s the beginning of December and I just decided eff it, better late than never. So without further ado, enjoy your modern social critique sprinkled with vampires.


 

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It’s almost Halloween (*haha just kidding) so I thought it would be appropriate and fun to talk about vampires! Vampires have been part of our collective mythos for a long, long time, but their image and what precisely they symbolize has evolved. Vampires have had a resurgence of popularity in the last decade or so and have taken on a different, sexier form.

Originally vampires were supposed to be terrifying. Stories of Vlad the Impaler (aka Count Dracula), Nosferatu and the rest of the old school vampires were meant to scare and scandalize people. Vampires were the embodiment of our repressed urges and tapped into human fears surrounding death, violence, cannibalism, blood and the dread that animalistic desires lurk inside all of us.

Eventually our culture embraced the latent violent/erotic connotations vampires had and exploited it, especially for TV and movies. This is when we started to see vampires who were sort of terrifying and a little sexy, like Christopher Lee in the Hammer produced Dracula films, or Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins on the Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. Nowadays vampires are mostly sexy and a little bit terrifying (except for Twilight – there is nothing terrifying about the vampires in Twilight except for the messages they are sending to impressionable adolescents).

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The current popularity of vampires obviously says a lot about our erotic or violent imaginations and general wish fulfillment in the form of immortality and power. However, I believe their popularity also has a lot to do with the way they exemplify some of the ideals our 21st century culture obsesses over. I would go as far to say that if a person was capable of fulfilling all our contemporary aspirations towards youth, beauty, perfection, etc, which is impossible, the result would essentially render that person into a vampire.

What sort of ideals am I talking about? Well, our modern western culture has a lot of obsessions, beliefs it emphasizes and qualities it pushes us all to strive for. Some of these ideals are pretty ridiculous, others unattainable, while still others are straight up harmful and frightening when deconstructed. 

Let’s break this spooky shit down.

Vampires are forever young (and conventionally attractive)…

Our culture is extremely preoccupied with physical beauty and puts a great deal of value into being young and attractive while prescribing a beauty ideal that is very restrictive. We are even lead to believe that youth and beauty will empower us and make us happy, but that is a misleading oversimplification of reality.

Vampires fulfill this ideal perfectly: they are immortal, in most cases forever youthful, almost always conventionally attractive and these superficial characteristics do indeed bestow them with power. As far as 21st century vampires go I have rarely seen an ugly one, or even an average looking one. Every vampire in Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Interview with a Vampire, and so on is practically flawless. Why do we rarely ever see a vampire who is old or doesn’t conform to our culture’s beauty standard? Because most people would find that unappealing and it would defeat the point. People love modern vampires, because they play into our fantasies of being young and beautiful forever. Almost as if to say, immortality wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t get to look like a thin, 22-year-old, airbrushed supermodel for all eternity. 

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Vampires never eat…

Well, at least they never eat regular human food. They might be blood-thirsty, but vampires don’t have to worry about their diet. They are the flawless undead and no amount of blood is going to make them gain weight. Not surprising that in a culture ripe with eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food, beautiful creatures that get to opt out of eating food entirely are so popular. I had not given this aspect of vampires very much thought until a friend of mine pointed out how many times in the book Twilight the main character, Bella, talks about not eating, or how much she admires the vampires for not eating. 

“The anorexic’s fantasies of bodily absence [in] her pursuit of extreme thinness might be seen to express the desire for ‘the impossible fiction of the non-body’ (ibid.). Here ‘…the ideal is not merely a thin body…not just a reduction but an eradication of the body’.” – Sally Miller, Vampires, the Body and Eating Disorders: A Psychoanalytic Approach

Vampires are always rich…

At least the ones we like and care about. Every popular vampire protagonist comes from a wealthy family, or is inexplicably rich. They all have luxurious lifestyles, in fancy houses, with fashionable wardrobes and tons of them own night clubs. For some reason being noble, aristocratic, or well-to-do seem to be prerequisites for becoming the undead. The point is, we like our vampire the way we like our reality TV stars, living lavishly.

Vampires are very, very white…

They are almost always white, and their paleness or “whiteness” is often fixated on as a beautiful, admirable or desirable quality. Needless to say it is extremely problematic that most depictions of vampires are white and they are praised for their whiteness. It’s creepy and racist with colonial undertones. 

“[The Twilight] saga upholds dominant ideas about race that associate whiteness with civility, beauty, and intellect on the one hand, and indigenous people with animality and primitivism on the other.” – Natalie Wilson, Got Vampire Privilege?: The Whiteness of Twilight

Vampires are sex-negative…

Being sex-positive means you think sex and the desire for it is healthy and that pleasure is nothing to be ashamed of. If we look at the blood-thirst vampires experience as analogous to sexual desire (a comparison many stories make), then we see how vampires exemplify our own culture’s dysfunctional relationship with sex. A vampire’s thirst for blood is often shown as conflicted and fraught with only two possible outcomes – evil vampires who embrace their desire and become monstrous, or reluctant vampires who struggle and feel ashamed of their nature. So whether you’re a horny human or a thirsty vampire, the message is you’re doomed to either be a tortured soul or a monster! 

Vampires also represent a sexual desire that is predatory and thrilling. Most sex researches recognize that rape fantasies often come from a conflict between desire and shame, that they are about giving into forbidden, sexual desire that a person believes they are not supposed to have. Vampire stories play out like elaborate rape fantasies where they seduce, “glamour”, or mind control their victims into passionate, hedonistic, blood rituals. A vampire is the perfect solution for a person who wants sex, but who feels they are not supposed to want sex. Vampires represent the part of ourselves that wants to control our “shameful” urges, but simultaneously wants to give into them. I believe that this facet of vampire fascination is another subtle expression of the rape culture we live in and need to learn to recognize, process and protest in a conscious way. 

In conclusion…

So let’s review, our modern society idealizes being young, beautiful, not needing to eat (or at least not needing to worrying about your diet and resulting body weight), being rich, being white and having a conflicted, fraught, shameful relationship to your own erotic desires. Sounds like a vampire to me. The problem though, is that we are not undead, immortal creatures of the night, we are humans who have complex, legitimate needs and who come in a myriad of colors, shapes, ages, socio-economic classes, sizes and appearances.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal. I know I found the concept of vampires very alluring when I was an angsty, teenage girl myself. There is nothing inherently wrong with fantasizing about vampires or enjoying the books, movies, television, etc made about them. I do however, see something very wrong with aspiring to be like a vampire, or exploiting people’s insecurities in order to reinforce unhealthy ideals we have in our culture. The popularity of vampires is a reflection of dysfunctional parts of our culture that we simultaneously fear and desire – parts that we need to shed some light on and examine.

In the end I don’t think vampires are creepy, but the unattainable ideals our culture beats us with everyday as well as the messages we internalize about what we need to be happy are scary as hell.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Internalized Misogyny

Art Credit: Jemimah Vaughan

Art Credit: Jemimah Vaughan

This is the second part of what I intend to be a three part series discussing sexism and/or misogyny and how they affect our relationships. You can read the first part, “How Society Conspires Against the Feminine” here. Today I want to explore the insidious and cognitively dissonant problem of internalized misogyny, or in other words, when female people learn to hate femininity.

For some of you out there, the concept of internalized misogyny makes no sense. How could it be possible for a person to hate their own gender? But the sad truth is, it’s very common. I used to be a mild misogynist myself, without really being aware of the harm I was doing and the sexism I was unwittingly perpetuating. I know many other female people with similar experiences, and those who struggle with it still. Really this is just a case of the sexist messages of our culture being so successful that even the victims of these messages buy into the hate and go on to perpetuate it. It is the same as a gay person believing all the homophobic bullshit they’ve heard all their life and becoming spiteful and closeted. Or an African American internalizing racist messages from our society, learning to resent their own race or culture. 

If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, start by asking yourself, how many times have you heard a woman say the following, or as a woman said these things yourself? 

  • I’m not like other girls
  • I’m one of the good ones/fun ones/cool ones
  • I don’t have many female friends, mostly male friends
  • Girls are catty and petty and cause so much drama
  • Women are boring and dumb
  • I’m just one of the guys
  • Other girls pick on me/tease me

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Why do we say this shit? Why do we throw other women under the proverbial bus and try so hard to differentiate ourselves as somehow “better” than the rest? It’s because when girls say this stuff they are striving to be the “Exceptional Girl”. She’s cool, she’s not catty, she’s “one of the guys”, she’s EXCEPTIONAL GIRL! A superhuman with all the sex appeal of a female and none of the drama and negativity our society dumps on femininity. She is a very common pop-culture trope, often used to reinforce patriarchal ideals. The reality though is that insulting and judging other females as you try to scramble your way to the top will only hurt you in the end. By fighting to be the Exceptional Girl you endorse sexist ideas about women and you reveal your own self-loathing. Because how do you really expect to feel happy and whole if deep down you hate what you are?

Unfortunately these sorts of ideas get reinforced all the time. If I had a dollar for every dude who ever told me “you’re not like other girls, you’re fun/cool/[insert positive attribute]” who meant it as a compliment (and trust me I took those words to heart as compliments) I would have way too many dollars that I would not be proud of now. I look back at my younger, more naive self and wonder, why was I so eager for male approval, especially at the malign of my fellow females? The answer is because all women in our society are conditioned to seek out male validation and to regard other females as competition.  

So obviously when this game has been set up to be every woman for herself, female people start to believe they can’t trust each other. Last time I discussed the sad reality that females are taught to believe their value is something they have to earn from males. If your value comes from men desiring you then why would you fraternize with the enemy (aka other females)? You’re also likely to do and say whatever is necessary to make your competition seem less desirable, in order to succeed in this stupid, zero-sum game where women are pitted against each other. Furthermore, asserting power over another human is much easier if that human is insecure and lacking in strong emotional bonds with other people. Thus the strategy is to undermine female people’s trust in themselves and each other – divide and conquer. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who want to keep women divided so that they are easier to conquer and control. 

Yes, some women are petty, catty, etc, but so are some men, so are some human beings of any kind! We need to learn to appreciate that female people are people first and female second. Every woman out there has as much potential for greatness, villainy and everything in between as her male peers do. Ideally, she will be judged on her actions and character rather than just her sex and/or gender.  

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Part of the reason internalized misogyny persists is because it does have certain appeal and incentives in our patriarchal society. Some of the appeal of being the only female (who has been deemed exceptional, or at least tolerable) in a male social group comes from a boost to the ego that it gives, while some of it comes from laziness. When trying to make friends with people where physical attraction is not the default current pulling you together you have to make more of an effort to be a decent and interesting human being. Thus the reverse, being friends with people who are sexually attracted to you, is easier – you just don’t have to try as hard. 

There is also a more insidious dynamic at play. Due to the widespread objectification of the female form, women learn to objectify other women just as much as men do. So much so in fact that both men and women’s brains perceive “men as people and women as body parts“. This disturbing quirk causes women to draw comparisons and size each other up in our daily lives to the point where it’s almost impossible to turn this process off. It’s unconscious and instantaneous. Most women walk into a room and instantly rank themselves and the other women present according to this unspoken hierarchy of attractiveness, which only intensifies insecurities and the hunger for outside validation. It can feel tremendously fulfilling to earn the friendship and approval of men you’ve been taught to defer to, who have the power to validate you and make you feel special. While on the other hand, it can feel challenging to be friends with the women you’ve been taught to objectify, compete against, and who are a constant potential trigger for your own insecurities.

“Women to varying degrees internalize this outsider view and begin to self-objectify by treating themselves as an object to be looked at and evaluated on the basis of appearance. Self-objectification manifests in a greater emphasis placed on one’s appearance attributes (rather than competence-based attributes) and in how frequently a woman watches her appearance and experiences her body according to how it looks (McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998). Objectification theory also posits a mediation model that may explain how self-objectification leads to women’s mental health risks via negative psychological outcomes.” – Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research, Szymanski et al, 2011

So by now I hope it is clear that not only does internalized misogyny exist, it is pervasive and damaging to the intimacy a female person has with herself, as well as her ability to have healthy intimacy with other people (male or female). As I have written previously, it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to truly have healthy intimacy with someone you have been taught to dehumanize into a sexual object. And as the research shows, not only are men doing this to women, but women are devaluing and dehumanizing themselves. If we are going to love ourselves, love others, be satisfied with our lives, get in touch with what we truly want and then fight for it, this sort of systemic and toxic loathing of femininity needs to stop.

So what can we do to alleviate our own internalized misogyny and possibly prevent it from developing in the first place?

First you can start by recognizing that women don’t have to be your greatest enemies, they can be your greatest allies. Because what are you really competing for anyways? The attention and validation of men? Girl, take it from me, it’s okay to want it, but by no means do you need it. It’s grossly overvalued and not actually going to make you happy or satisfied with yourself. Because true satisfaction is not something other people can give you. It’s something you build for yourself. When you build a relationship with yourself that contains true love and intimacy, you won’t need other people to define and reassure your value. A million men can tell a woman she is gorgeous, but that by itself isn’t going to make her feel any less insecure. And knocking down other women through teasing, criticizing, bullying, slut-shaming, gender-policing, and generally not supporting each other will only hurt you in the end. Hating other women leads to hating yourself, or vice versa, having the feminine things about yourself be ridiculed or scrutinized leads to resenting other women.

Internalized misogyny is a damaging cycle we definitely need to break. And we break it through loving ourselves (including our femininity), appreciating the femininity in others (including men), and by striving to see female people as PEOPLE. 

Tune in next time on Love(r), as I continue to explore the topic of sexism by discussing how sexism hurts menfolk too.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Jealousy – Facing Some of Our Worst Relationship Fears

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As a polyamorous person, one of the questions I get asked the most is: how do I handle the jealousy? Time and time again I have heard people say they could never be in a non-monogamous relationship (even if it seems intriguing) because they would get too jealous. Non-monogamy is not for everyone, nor is monogamy somehow “worse” or “less evolved” than polyamory. My modus operandi is not to convert everyone to polyamory, it’s to help people have healthy intimacy in their relationships of all types (monogamous, platonic, relationship to self, etc). However, limiting one’s self in this way doesn’t make sense to me. It is frustrating to see people express a desire to explore alternative relationship structures, only to dismiss it pessimistically as something that will never work solely because they are afraid of jealousy and the potential discomfort that comes with it.

I am here to let you all in on a couple secrets:

1) Everyone experiences jealousy – yes, everyone – yes, even me

2) Jealousy is not as terrifying as it’s made out to be

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It is true that we are part of a culture that encourages us all to feel possessive towards our romantic partners and to feel jealous when our relationship is under a perceived threat. This behavior is seen as normal and expected. Popular song lyrics, poems, tropes on TV shows, etc involving jealousy are commonplace. Trying to make one’s partner jealous is seen as a way to prove they indeed care (or don’t), and as a way to fulfill one’s desire to be noticed and wanted. Desire and jealousy have become knotted together in our cultural consciousness to such an extent that it is normalized.

Ew

How do you know for sure your romantic interest reciprocates your desire, especially if they won’t admit how they feel? Make them jealous. How do you get your significant other to stop neglecting you and notice you? Make them jealous. How are you supposed to respond when your partner is interacting with someone they could potentially be attracted to? Be jealous. In popular movies like Moulin Rouge the main conflict (arguably the only conflict) and source of tension in the story is jealousy and possessiveness.

Ugh

How has this dynamic come to be seen as normal, accepted and in some cases even celebrated? It’s not romantic. It’s disturbing at worst, and wildly immature at best.

Ew

Ewwwwwwwww!!!

Possessiveness is problematic and toxic. You can’t own a person. No matter what, each of us are autonomous beings free to make choices, free to be in relationships and free to leave them. Your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant-other/wife/husband/spouse does not belong to you, nor you to them. Seeking to possess others will never create a secure relationship with healthy intimacy. People in a relationship need to be free to express themselves (within the boundaries of whatever agreements/compromises have been created for that relationship) and free from the control or manipulation of others. People need to be free to leave relationships to ensure that it is choice and not obligation keeping them committed to it. Intimacy cannot be demanded, it can only be invited.

“There is a difference between loyalty and bondage. There is a difference between faithfulness and fearfulness. There is a difference between being devoted and being dominated. The difference is called freedom, and it is all the difference in the world.” – Bryant McGill

This doesn’t mean we are free to do whatever we please, regardless of how it makes our partners feel, and they need to learn to just deal with it. It just means that it should be communication and negotiation dictating what you and your partners do/don’t do in your relationships, not control and possession. What we can do is negotiate agreements that work for everyone in the relationship, have faith in each other to uphold these agreements, forgive one another when we make mistakes, and ultimately build trust and intimacy through mutual integrity. I believe part of that integrity is facing our jealousy when it happens, working through it and supporting our partners to do the same.

Jealousy is often perceived as something evil, ugly or unbearably painful that will ultimately rot even good relationships unless prevented. This can lead people to go to great lengths to police their own behaviors, their own feelings and even those of their partners in order to avoid something unavoidable. This policing in turn can limit freedom, trigger arguments, cause resentment and erode trust. But the truth is you’ll never be able to completely avoid feeling jealous, it will happen from time to time no matter what. Everyone experiences jealousy. EVERYONE. Even people who have been in polyamorous or open relationships for a long time. Even people in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships can and will experience jealousy now and again. We are all complex, and at times insecure, creatures, so it is bound to happen. Instead of limiting ourselves and trying to control our partners, why not face the fear, conquer the jealousy and relinquish our expectation of possession?

If there is trust and open communication then any jealousy can be overcome. It may mean facing some deep fears and insecurities though. You might have to come face to face with your biggest insecurity and then admit it to another person as well as take responsibilty for all the yucky feelings it dredges up. This is a process even strictly monogamous couples trying to build secure intimacy have to go through.

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You see jealousy is the smoke, not the fire. It’s signaling something important, but it is not the issue itself. Jealousy usually informs us what our deepest fears or biggest insecurities are. For me, I often am comfortable with whatever fun stuff my partners are doing as long as I am included in some way. Many of my most jealous moments have been triggered from feeling “left out”, whether or not that was an irrational take on the situation. Usually a little reassurance and some attention is all it takes to process the insecurity and move on from it. This used to be a much more challenging and emotional process for me to work through, but it gets easier with practice. Now I handle a lot of the maintenance myself, but it took patience and compassion from my partners and especially myself.

Check in with yourself in those emotionally charged moments – what could your mind be trying to tell you, or protect you from? What is the painful fire (the fear) that is creating the smoke (the experience of jealousy)?

It might be:

  • Fear of abandonment
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Comparing oneself to others
  • Lack of trust or open communication
  • A violation of an agreement
  • A trigger point from a previous bad experience

Now sometimes jealousy isn’t triggered by your own fears or issues. Sometimes that fire in your belly is a sense of injustice, perhaps feeling hurt because a partner violated one of your agreements. Feeling hurt in this way is not something to ignore.

If you can create emotional space and validate your own feelings it will help a great deal. You will learn you can overcome this experience. Write it out. Talk it out with a friend you feel emotionally safe with. Take some time to process how you feel on your own before sharing it with your partner. Be honest with yourself and try not to interfere with your truth. Often we feel embarrassed that we are jealous, or ashamed, believing we should not be feeling the way we do, but it really is valid no matter what. Take responsibility for your feelings, they are yours. They might have been triggered by something your partner did, but they are not your partner’s fault. Ask for the support you need, you deserve it.

“When we tell our partners that we feel jealous, we are making ourselves vulnerable in a very profound way. When our partners respond with respect, listen to us, validate our feelings, support and reassure us, we feel better taken care of than we would have if no difficulty had arisen in the first place. So we strongly recommend that you and your partners give each other the profoundly bonding experience of sharing your vulnerabilities. We are all human, we are all vulnerable, and we all need validation.”
― Dossie Easton, The ethical slut : a practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures

Once when I was feeling jealous and deeply insecure I spent time journaling to get clear on exactly what I was afraid of. Afterwards I saw how detached from reality my fears were and that conclusion in itself was comforting. Then I reached out to my partner calmly and asked that when they had the time and energy if they could please reassure me of my significance in their life. This lead to receiving a text message full of all the loving, comforting, reassuring and specific examples of my significance that I could want. When we are jealous it can be difficult or feel embarrassing, but asking for the attention/reassurance we need is not selfish or unreasonable. And when we are the partner being asked to do the reassuring we should keep in mind how important this is to fostering trust and intimacy.

In the end jealousy is not as destructive and frightening as we are all led to believe. It is normal, nothing shameful, and something we can each work through. In fact, working through it will lead to a better knowledge of yourself, greater self confidence, deeper trust with your partners and healthier intimacy with them too.

If you are interested in more resources and perspectives regarding jealousy, The Ethical Slut has an exhaustive chapter about dealing with jealousy, you can also review the basics with Laci Green or check out this insightful piece on the experience of jealousy and how to process it written for The Stranger by Mistress Matisse.

Remember, you’re not in this alone!

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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