I have used sex and people-pleasing as my primary tool for experiencing a deep connection and sense of intimacy with others—whether that intimacy was rooted in love or not. It was my escape from reality into something intense, something that simulated or actually was what I needed. What I needed was love and intimacy. Unconditionally.
I grew up in a family with a father that was a healer and a clairvoyant for a living. He also checks the boxes for narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy. My mother was very invisible and an enabler for my father’s physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. I am the oldest of four children, and was a caregiver for everybody since I was maybe eight years old.
My family is a caricature of the pastoral, pathiarcial power the father in a traditional family can behold. Power struggles were present in almost every interaction, whether it was me manipulating the big Guru for scraps of personal freedom or my mother speaking softly to him, soothing his mood and ego, so she could get some space for herself. I learned that love was always a struggle, always abusive, always tied to terms and conditions. It was even a manipulative force one could use as the weaker one in a relationship, fighting for control or survival.
Of course, I needed love and intimacy, desperately—things I was groomed and trained to give to others but very seldom received myself without bowing down to extreme rules for my behavior, thoughts, speech, and even how much I weighed, how I wore my hair, and so on. My longing for deep connection spilled into my dating life as well as my social life. It grew stronger over the years, and heightened when I began to set boundaries with my parents and found myself completely alone at 15 years old, struggling with self-destructive behaviors, eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, depression, sexual violence, and substance abuse.
Our love was not problem-free, but our different experiences with intimacy have taught me more than anything I could ever imagine.
I would describe my emotional attachment style at that time as disorganized. It was antagonistic, contradictory, and desperate. My love/sex language was intense, spontaneous, and people-pleasing. I knew nothing about saying no. I froze when people came near me. (The body keeps the score, as they say.)
Somehow, I found love at 20 years old, with a man who deeply understood me and did not judge any of my past. He had issues of his own. He could go deeply, calmly, and passionately into emotional, physical, and intellectual spaces with me. We very quickly entered a co-dependent relationship—a relationship that was soothing, toxic, hilarious and loving through the years. As of today, we have known each other for almost seven years. Our love was not problem-free, but our different experiences with intimacy have taught me more than anything I could ever imagine.
The toxic parts of our lives, together and individually, eventually culminated. He crossed boundaries in our open relationship, and had a major, stress-driven nervous breakdown. I was finishing my master’s thesis in psychology, my friend died, and my brother tried to commit suicide. We had to break up with one another. I felt like everything I loved was smashed into tiny little pieces.We lost our closest friends and home in the break-up, not to mention, all the power and self-worth I had gained through building my own small family and world. I was hopeless for about a year and a half. I had relapse fantasies into self destructive behaviors and everything bad. I wanted to die.
But something really beautiful happened in the process that has been very transformative for me. For overcoming unhealthy past emotional attatchment styles and my self-destructive love/sex language. For reclaiming my life, finding hope, building healthy boundaries and creativite energy again. Maybe even for the first time.
Even though my ex had been a part of the problem, we kept in contact. We had an ongoing relationship that was sexless, deep, emotional and intellectual. We cried together, talked on the phone, helped each other with doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Netflixed for days. Everything you can imagine. Nobody around me could not understand how we did it. They kept pushing norms for how exes “should behave,” or simply raised their eyebrows and dissed my ex.
But, honestly, I am convinced that we saved each other’s lives. Our relationship taught me the difference between sexual, romantic intimacy, and the intimacy of unconditional love. It somehow healed past trauma, and taught me to trust love and intimacy above all—that unconditional love and intimacy really is one of the most important things that everybody needs in order to heal from their own personal darkness. Especially if that darkness is that you never received healthy love.
Nobody around me could not understand how we did it. They kept pushing norms for how exes “should behave,” or simply raised their eyebrows and dissed my ex.
For the people out there who suffer because of their abusive parents, it is important to reflect upon your love/sex language and your attatchment styles in friendship and dating—how these things interconnect and create patterns of thought, emotion, body sensations and behavior. After all, in couples’ psychology, the romantic relationship is sometimes described as “the second childhood,” in which past trauma has the potential to be healed.
Needless to say, that part of psychology is mainly white-cis-hetero-nuclear-family-monogamous-centered. Based on my experience, I would instead suggest that you can be healed by participating in healthy intimacy with a friend, an ex, or a lover. Hell, maybe even a pet?
Never underestimate how powerful it can be to give and receive intimacy and love. It is so delightfully rebellious to do in this cold, capitalist, white supremacist, cis-pathriarcal shit society that only values male sexuality, female caring love, and cishetero monogamous relationships as a unity of the two. Love is an eternal force, with no limits. Don’t be shy or hide the love you feel for someone. I am sure we all deep inside really need that kind of mutual human connection.
About the Author
Sølve Storm is a queer psychologist specialized in critical thinking and gender, couples therapy and intimacy. Sølve has also academically pursued a Gender Certificate+ from the department of sociology, gender studies at Copenhagen University, Denmark. Follow Sølve on Instagram for make up selfies or glitch art, or drop a message in Sølve’s dm’s telling what you feel and think about the article.
If you find yourself wondering about what abusive and toxic parents really are all about, and how that might cause you pain and self-doubt in your adult life, Sølve would recommend you read the book ‘Toxic Parents – Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life’ by Susan Forward.
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