Busting The Gilded Cage of Social Conditioning, Shame & Repression
One of my clients grew up with a mother deeply immersed in the feminist movement. She had taught him to be a gentleman and respect woman for their minds and not their bodies. He grew up feeling ashamed of his carnal desires, although he admired and desired women’s curves and the way they moved. Out of fear of being seen as a predator, he withheld on dates, and often received feedback that he would be a good friend.
In a Somatica Method and Embodied Sexuality session, my role is to create a “relationship lab” for my client where they get to work with me as a real and vulnerable “potential date.” Each client is working through different challenges, and each session is different. In this session, we worked with the hypothesis that women weren’t interested in my client because he was hiding his desire and his authentic expression. So I guided my client through some experiments.
Since I knew he had shame about objectifying women, I wanted to give him an experience in which he had full authority to explore this part of himself. I stood up, walked closer, gazed down into his eyes, and said, “I’m going to crawl, dance and move around the room. I want you to objectify me. I want you to look at every part of me and notice what turns you on. Do you want to do this with me?” He did. At first it was difficult, and he looked away and laughed a lot. During our first few rounds of debriefing, I focused on reassuring him that it’s okay to check me out. He had to break that cage before we could go further. He needed permission to try something that he’d organized his behavior to avoid. I explained that men seem creepy and fall into friend-zones when they are not in integrity with their heart, mind, and cock. Repression causes things to slip out sideways, in a shadowy way, and our focus was to find a way for him to own his true experience in the safety of our lab.
There wasn’t much eye contact. I noticed that I wanted him to look into my eyes occasionally as he stared at my body. We checked in; he still felt nervous, like he was doing something wrong. I explained to him that when I’m objectified but don’t feel someone’s presence, it feels creepy to me. Yet when someone “checks me out” with presence, attuning to me and the impact of his moves, words, and touch...then I feel turned on. I asked him to do another round, occasionally locking eyes with me until he felt connected. This time, I felt his desire and his presence. He now presented as a man in his seat, rather than a scared little boy.
Over the weeks ahead, we extended the practices into touch and verbal expression, with a focus on him learning more about the power of his presence and the impact of how he was showing up. His awkwardness shifted into hungry eyes as he surveyed me like his prey. He was in his body and not just his head. Because I felt him “listening” to me and our connection, I felt safe.
Over time, his confidence grew. His fear of rejection was the next layer we explored, as we gradually dismantled the obstacles standing between him and his full embodied expression. He continues to report that his confidence and ability to be both turned on, attuned and present with his lovers has launched him into a world of inner freedom, intimacy and deep satisfaction.
If you had told me years ago that I would be compelled to create a body of work related to eroticism and sexuality, I would have laughed nervously and secretly wished you were telling me the truth.
All my life, I’ve been enthralled with the satisfaction of feeling erotically alive in the natural world, laughing with friends, and rolling around in bed with lovers. Over time, I have felt compelled to stalk through the darkness of my inner jungle, sniffing out the parts in me that try to hide from my primal joy. It is time for our bodies to awaken from the fog of repression, shame, and confusion.
Living in a paradox of desire and repression
Like many of us, my sexual expression has been directed by both desire and shame. I’ve rolled around in bed with shame and fear, which is not very sexy or fun. When dating, I’ve felt the tension of living with the gas and brake pedals pressed down at the same time, the engine of my lust revving while conditioned voices of fear and judgment warning me against releasing the brakes. What happens if we allow our authentic, natural, sexy selves out of the cage?
Social messages about intimacy and connection begin in the womb. Messages from our culture, loved ones, and life experiences teach us what is acceptable and what is "too much." We all have to work to detangle those messages from our true desires.
This is part of the impact of growing up in a culture that objectifies sexuality, and uses shame and fear to cut us off from natural intimacy. In this society, it’s normal to fear that you might be shamed or violated for being “too sexy” in public. It wasn’t until I was in my first year of Somatica (a sexuality and relationship coaching program) that I realized that I enjoyed being objectified by the people I dated. It turned me on. I was used to shrinking from that pleasure because I learned that “a strong and independent woman shouldn’t lower herself to being objectified (aka desired).”
Instead of feeling good about what turned me on, I had been caught in the story that I couldn’t be both intoxicatingly sexy and independently powerful.
Many people in my training were both turned on and repulsed by their desire to be the focus of someone’s hunger. Together, we began to reconcile internal and external contradictions like this.
I learned two primary messages from my early social-sexual experiences.
One said: “If you want a lot of sex, then you’re a slut, and you’ll be judged, damned, or scarlet lettered.”
The other message dictated: “Don’t bother knowing what you want or setting boundaries, because if you do, you’ll come off as a prude or hurt his feelings. No one will desire you if you’re too up-tight. Your needs don’t matter; just be good in bed.”
What messages did you learn?
What messages do you wish you’d learned?
Gender confusion and polarization
Men in this culture are conditioned to be unmoved by emotions. This silent suppression can feel like a cage of lost self-expression and disembodiment. Meanwhile, women are conditioned to believe they’re too emotional. This dynamic is particularly evident when men and women polarize into these roles.
We’ve all been affected by this polarization in some way. These stories are decaying, however, as more and more people claim the right to be both emotional and discerning. Transgender and nonbinary people, in particular, are unearthing a catalytic force of evolution during this time of collective growth.
How do we reclaim who we are when our society and media have instilled deeply ingrained ideas of what a man or a woman should be?
When the #metoo campaign emerged, I felt both grateful and conflicted.
I felt grateful for the shadows surfacing, and the witnessing and processing of the victims who stood in front of the entire world to share their story. Many of these life stories, including my own, had been silenced for decades. Women have walked in the shadows for too long, dodging threats of violation and labels of “slut” and “prude.“ This time of revelation felt important.
I also felt conflicted about the increasing polarization resulting from this movement. I listened to the men in my life apologize for being men and my heart ached. I spoke with men in my Somatica coaching school, strangers I met on trains and airplanes, men I deeply love, and waiters in restaurants. I listened to them and cried. They felt conflicted and confused. Many shared that they didn’t feel safe to express their desires or turn up their heat, for fear of overstepping a boundary and being labeled another predator.
Shame and repression is not gender based: it's a human dilemma.
Withholding our truths, repressing our energy, or fearing overpowering another with our desire is a universal dilemma, and one that needs our attention.
A Revolution at the banquet table
We are in a pivotal time of awakening, change, and growth on this planet. The world is spinning right now, as the #metoo campaign has unveiled the dark underbelly of dynamics related to power and sex.
A revolution is rising, fueled by our pain and our care. Conscious connection to our power, integrity, and embodiment is needed to move beyond limiting ways of being together. This takes great courage, for all of us; every pioneer has to peer into shadows. When we do this hand-in-hand, we find strength we need in each other.
We are marching towards the creation of a new world, in which we remember that we are Love, and we are in this together.
How do you feel caged?
Unlocking the cage starts with being aware of the beliefs, thoughts, emotional patterns, and behaviors that create shame or “stuckness.” Often these patterns live in our blind spots, which is why we need trusted companions to reflect the ways we tend to hide or express ourselves with incongruence. Guides can assist us in the process of inquiry and integration. Here are some questions to act as guides for you.
EMOTIONS AND VULNERABILITY:
What’s your relationship to your emotions? Are you familiar with your emotional spectrum? Do you welcome and fully express your emotions? Do you suppress, ignore, or distract yourself from them?
How do you relate to others’ emotions? Do you feel comfortable when others display their emotions, or do you feel overwhelmed?
How much do you allow yourself to be vulnerable?
What did you learn from your parents and/or conditioning environment about being vulnerable?
Do you feel you need to have all the answers or fix problems when they arise? Do you give yourself permission to sometimes be unclear, not have the answers, and simply allow your emotions to flow?
Do you judge yourself for your deep sensitivity? Do you feel like you’re too much? Or do you perceive your emotionality as an empathetic superpower that helps nourish and direct you and others?
What are your shame traps? Where do you hear yourself say, “I’m too much,” “I’m not enough,” “I wish I was more like so and so,” or “I have to…”?
Where, within you, do you feel you should be different in order to be accepted and worthy of love?
Are you ashamed of your wounds and insecurities?
Are there parts of yourself you hide, even from those closest to you?
What fantasies or desires arise within you that you quickly snuff out?
Do you love your partner but want to be able to explore with other people too? Does flirting with other people cause arousal and then guilt?
Do you feel guilty about your sexual desires and erotic life-force?
Do you feel that your erotic nature is unspiritual, or “base”?
What does sacred sexuality look like to you?
Do you allow yourself to merge your spiritual self and your sexual self?
What are your fears related to intimacy? Do you avoid attaching to people? Do you often merge quickly, and in doing so, find yourself losing your sovereign sense of self? Do you feel engulfed when someone needs you?
Do you feel that love is limited, and you must get all your needs met by one person, or is there a lot of love in your life?
How do you fear being judged by others?
Is there any arena of your life where relationship feels most daunting — at work, with your partner, with family or friends?
Think of a relationship that’s important to you, or one that has been in the past. What is or was your biggest fear in relationship? Where do you feel that fear in your body? What do your thoughts sound like when that fear emerges?
If you’re noticing some of these signs of “stuckness,” you’re not alone. It takes tremendous courage to slow down, suspend our habits, and engage in an honest inventory of the experiences stirring beneath our surfaces. Sometimes it can seem easier to ignore the nuances of our experiences if we suspect, on a subconscious level, that the truth will ask us to change. Choosing the path of embodiment calls on our open minds, compassionate hearts, and wild courage.
Taking responsibility in a holistic approach: transforming polarization and blame
In order to take responsibility for our actions, we start by welcoming all parts of ourselves to the table. This includes the disdaining inner critic; the violating internal voices of blame and shame; and the compassionate voices that celebrate our superpowers. Becoming self aware of how we habitually shut down or ignore parts of ourselves, including proud parts or shame-based parts, builds the bridge to walk these aspects of ourselves back home and out of exile.
One of my clients is a CEO of an international marketing organization. He is a creative genius with an earnest heart, but his inner critic drives him to excel at the expense of his health and relationships. When he’s stressed, he withdraws and criticizes. After reviewing his results from a 360 Leadership assessment, we determined that the biggest bang for his transformation process was to focus on his reactive habit of passively blaming others through withdrawing or sarcastically criticizing. We spent time exploring the ways in which he judged himself and oriented his life towards controlling everything in order to avoid uncertainty. He could see that the patterns caused pain and exhaustion for himself and those around him.
My client asked his wife, leadership team, and the CFO to give him feedback when he wasn’t taking responsibility for his critical and judgmental behavior. For the first six months, he was stunned at how automatic his thinking routed towards, “they’re all doing it wrong; I should do it myself.” That’s why he was running into burn out. He had to learn to be clearer about his expectations, to ensure everyone was on the same page.
His practice was to notice his critical behavior and course correct, when possible, towards curiosity and noticing the assumptions he was making to create a case. In moments when his reactive impulse was too quick to catch, he practice admitting it and repairing it. It takes a strong and powerful person to become this vulnerable!
Week by week, we listened to his internal voices, and his compassion for himself and others grew. He started to cut himself some slack, be gentler with others, and draw clearer expectations. His sleep improved, his relationships deepened with his team, and he and his wife started to have a lot more sex. He broke through the pattern by opening his heart to the beast within, without letting those fear-driven impulses run his life.
Our reactive habits have served to protect us. Instead of blaming ourselves or other people, we have a choice to look within and open our hearts to what we find. If we have the courage to do so, Love is generous in its rewards.
Taking the leap: my personal fear and risk-taking
In my own personal and professional life, each day I step further into my authentic self and confront fears of being rejected, ostracized, misunderstood, or judged. Sometimes I am facing voices outside of me, sometimes voices within.
These are the same voices that have caused a divide for centuries, and have separated us from freedom, sovereignty, and power, forbidding the sacred expressions of our pleasure, sexuality and intimacy.
I have a thriving management consulting and leadership business, in which I guide executives in the corporate domain to live their most powerful, embodied, and authentic expression of leadership and presence. Our conversations about their desires, vision, and power link directly to their fears: of going for what they want, of failing or being rejected, of not getting capital for their business endeavor. These topics sometimes open us into conversations about sexuality, since the challenges that live at a professional level show up in the bedroom too.
I am cautious when entering the delicate terrain of someone’s sexual life in a business environment, and yet that is often what is needed. It often requires courage for me to bring my curiosity and questions into the places that will most liberate the leaders I work with, because this could be considered crossing the line of professional appropriateness. Yet, each time I do, something opens deeper within my client which reveals clarity in a multitude of ways.
I am taking a risk to launch this work of erotic intelligence and embodied sexuality into the world, and I know it. There are days when I attempt to convince myself that I’m being irresponsible. Clients who rely on me as a consultant, personal confidante, and coach for their organization’s strategic direction, succession planning, and corporate culture may go away if they learn about this work. I may be trying to bridge two worlds that are still too polarized in our collective norms. I don’t expect these two worlds to weave together but I am taking a passionate stand for both and surrendering to the form and outcomes that serve the highest good. This part is not up to me. I’m committed to my passion, integrity and desire to co-create an embodied world of leaders.
My passion is leading foreward anyway. To lead is to believe so deeply in your purpose that you are willing to risk not being liked, not belonging, and not getting it all right. This is my spiritual practice.
I want to expose the social messages and cultural norms that have many of us trapped in pockets of shame, repression, guilt and suppressed desire.
I want to talk about the ways we blame each other for our disappointment, hurt and unmet longings.
I want to guide people in the descent from the safety of living in their head, to the power, wisdom, and joy that floods naturally from the heart and being.
Embodiment and awakening doesn’t seem to come without deconstructing the concepts and images of who we think we need to be.
My work with individuals and groups is to travel into these places together, so that we can expose, welcome, and integrate our shadows.
Let us find a new way to come home together. Let us start a revolution that is focused on remembering our power as erotic beings who can heal, integrate, and connect.