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I have treated many women who are disconnected emotionally and physically from lovemaking because of the pain associated with attempted intercourse. Though there is a high success rate using appropriate treatments, these feelings can linger for longer than desired. I thought this segment on empathy may resonate.
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
~ Charles M. Blow
Through empathy we perceive and share the emotional reality of another in that living moment. To bear such witness requires releasing the desire to change another’s emotional dynamic, because wanting only to “fix” another’s pain may come from our desire to escape feeling it ourselves. Typical defense mechanisms we use to displace empathy include minimizing, maximizing, or distracting.
People who weren’t shown empathy in childhood may struggle to practice it as adults. Classic non-responses to childhood distress include, “Stop crying,” “Tsk, you’re okay,” or even, “Here, have a lollipop.” Lack of empathy stunts the reparative neurophysiological process that builds secure attachment, and substitutes an endless psychological loop from emotional stasis to disruption to dissociative lapse, over and over again. And it’s not just painful feelings that get stuck without the healing connection of empathy. Success may also have rarely received empathy–approval, but not empathy.
It follows that a crucial tool in any relationship is self-empathy, especially as a parent or spouse. If we block self-empathy, especially during our bleakest moments, we’re certainly going to be limited in our ability to empathize with others. While empathy lets us see into others, self-empathy keeps us from being invisible. It can be as simple as checking in with yourself during any conversation or situation to voice in your mind, “This is difficult for me right now,” or “I am triggered,” or even “I feel joyful” in whatever tone speaks to you.
DAILY HEALTHY SEX ACTS
• An elementary step toward empathy is reflecting back what we hear without inserting our own thoughts and feelings. Ask a willing participant to relay an emotional event from the day, and simply try to connect with that experience by repeating key phrases. If the person says, “I felt uncomfortable,” then simply repeat, “You felt uncomfortable” in a similar tone. Observe your capacity for bearing witness without trying to fix or distract.
• How do you practice empathy during sexual and romantic times? Truly seeing and being seen by your lover can align bodily pleasure with emotional connection. Sexually experiment by bringing empathy to your bedroom.
From the MIRROR OF INTIMACY book The Daily Meditation Book by Alexandra Katehakis and Tom Bliss