NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, April 17, 2022

What is Your Erotic Blueprint? Part 2

In Part 1 of this topic, I gave a basic description of the erotic blueprint based on Dr. Esther Perel's book, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.  In this second article about the erotic blueprint, I'm providing a clinical vignette to help illustrate the dynamics involved  in a particular case and how therapy can help (see my article: The Paradox of Love and Sexual Desire in a Committed Relationship).

Overcoming Sexual Problems in Therapy Related to Your Erotic Blueprint

To recap briefly from the prior article: What gives you sexual pleasure and how you learned to love is derived from the impact of your relationship with your caregivers, including:
  • How did you learn to experience pleasure (or not)?
  • Did you learn to trust others?
  • Did you parents monitor your emotional needs or were you expected to monitor theirs?
  • Were you able to turn to your parents for protection or did you have to flee from them to protect yourself?
  • Were you rejected?
  • Were you humiliated?
  • Were you abandoned?
  • Were you held, rocked and soothed by your parents?
  • Did you learn not to expect too much from your parents?
  • Did you learn to hide when you were upset?
  • Did you learn it's okay to thrive when others might be hurt by your thriving?
  • How did you learn to feel about your body?
  • How did you learn to feel about your sexuality?
  • How did you learn to feel about your gender?
  • What did you learn about opening up (or shutting down) emotionally?
  • What did you learn about being daring or being afraid?
All of these experiences shape your beliefs about yourself and others.  They also affect what you expect from others, including what you expect in romantic relationships.  

Clinical Vignette: 
The following vignette is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information eliminated:

Tom, who was in his early 40s, sought help in therapy because he had a long history of erectile dysfunction.  

As part of the history taking to determine the problem, his therapist asked him if he had problems with erectile dysfunction when he masturbated.  Tom responded that he never had problems while masturbating.  He said his problems occurred in all his sexual relationships with romantic partners.

At that point in time, Tom was in a six month relationship with his girlfriend, Marie, and his erectile dysfunction was an ongoing problem.  Although he knew that Marie was patient and compassionate, Tom wanted to resolve the problem before it led to the demise of this relationship.  

Prior to therapy, his medical doctor had already ruled out any physical problems, so his doctor suggested that Tom seek help in therapy for what appeared to be an  underlying psychological problem.

When Tom and his therapist discussed his early childhood history, Tom said he had a very close relationship with his mother, but his relationship with his father was distant because his father was away on business much of the time.  Even when his father was home, he was emotionally distant.  

As an only child, Tom was often home alone with his mother, who was very depressed.  He explained that he considered her to be a good mother.  But he was very aware, even as a young child, that his mother was unhappy, and he spent a lot of time trying to find ways to make her happy (see my article: Children's Roles in Dysfunctional Families).

As a child, he worked hard to get good grades in school to please his mother.  He also made cards and gifts for her during arts and crafts in elementary school to cheer her up.  But although his good grades and thoughtful gifts pleased her momentarily, his mother would often spend whole days in bed because she was too depressed to get up.  

Whenever his mother stayed in bed, Tom would try to entertain her with jokes and funny characters to cheer her up.  In response, she would compliment him for being a "good boy." But he sensed he had little impact when he tried to change her mood, and this made him sad and frustrated (see my article: Shame and Enmeshed Families).

As he got older and he developed friendships in the neighborhood, Tom felt torn whenever his friends came to get him to play baseball or go to the movies.  On the one hand, he wanted to have fun with his friends but, on the other hand, he felt his mother needed him.  

Although his mother encouraged him to go out, Tom sensed that her encouragement was only halfhearted and she really wanted him to stay with her because she was lonely.  

When Tom turned 40, his mother died suddenly from a heart attack.  Shortly after that, he realized he had foregone a lot of pleasure in his life in order to focus on his mother.  

In hindsight, he also realized that, over time, his mother's disapproval of all his girlfriends throughout his 20s and 30s contributed to the end of those relationships because he felt compelled to please his mother (see my article:  Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing).

He told his therapist that he began seeing Marie shortly after his mother died, but he couldn't help feeling that his mother probably would've disapproved of Marie as well.

His mother always wanted a traditional, quiet woman for Tom, but Marie was anything but traditional and quiet.  She was unconventional and outspoken, and she was assertive in promoting her business.

Although he loved Marie, he felt conflicted to be with someone he knew his mother wouldn't have approved of for him.  His divided loyalty between his girlfriend and his deceased mother made being present during sex difficult, which contributed to his erectile dysfunction.  

Intellectually, he had enough insight to know he needed to live his life without worrying about being loyal to his deceased mother, but on an emotional level, he felt torn--similar to how he felt as a child when he was in conflict about staying with his mother and going out with his friends.

His therapist suggested that they do Parts Work therapy so he could give voice to each of the parts of himself that were in conflict (see my article: Parts Work Therapy Helps to Empower You).

When his adult self imagined looking at his younger self (the same child self who wanted to please his mother), he felt a deep sense of sadness come over him.
For the first time in his life, Tom realized on an emotional level just how impossible it had been for him to be a child trying to please his mother.

As part of his healing process, Tom experienced grief and self compassion for the first time for the child he had been.  And, also for the first time, he felt anger and resentment towards his father, who was so emotionally absent even when he was at home.  

Looking back on that time, Tom realized on a deeper level than ever that his father was self absorbed to the point where he wasn't emotionally supportive of his wife or of Tom.  When his father was at home, he mostly spent time by himself in the den either reading or watching TV, and he seemed oblivious to his wife's and his son's emotional state (see my article: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?).

After doing Parts Work to distinguish the different conflicting parts of himself involved in his childhood attempts to emotionally rescue his mother, his therapist recommended EMDR therapy to work through his history of unresolved childhood trauma (see my article: EMDR Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Over time, Tom was able to see the parallels between how he sacrificed himself as child with his mother and the self sacrificing he was doing as an adult by not allowing himself to experience pleasure with Marie or any of his prior girlfriends (see my article: What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later on in Adult Relationships?).

Even though none of his girlfriends were depressed or needed to be emotionally rescued, Tom unconsciously responded to them in the same way as he did with his mother by not paying attention to his own needs.  He realized he was so focused on their pleasure that he didn't feel entitled to experience his own, which also contributed to his problem with erectile dysfunction.

This realization was like a revelation to Tom.  In addition, the Parts Work helped him to distinguish the different aspects of himself that felt conflicted so he felt less emotionally enmeshed with the memory of his mother.  

At that point in his healing process, he needed to learn to focus on his own sexual pleasure at the same time that he focused on Marie's pleasure (see my article: Sexual Wellness: Savoring Pleasure).

Since Tom had no problems with erectile dysfunction when he masturbated, his therapist suggested that he incorporate masturbation when he and Marie were having sex.

At first, Tom worried that he was being selfish and uncaring by doing this, but Marie encouraged him. 

Gradually, Tom became comfortable with feeling he was entitled to experience his own pleasure at the same time that he was being attentive to Marie's sexual needs.  

As he continued to get comfortable experiencing his own sexual pleasure with Marie, he no longer had problems with erectile dysfunction.

Your erotic blueprint includes your early personal history in terms of how you relate sexually as well as what gives you pleasure.

The vignette above is one example of many as to how patterns of relating from early childhood often continue into adult relationships.

When there are unresolved traumatic issues, as there were for Tom, a trauma therapist can help you to work through these issues (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

New ways of relating sexually also need to be found to break old patterns that are creating sexual problems, as in Tom's case.

Getting Help in Therapy
Shame often keeps people from seeking help in therapy, especially when it involves sex.  

Often people feel they're the only ones who are experiencing their problem.  They don't realize that many other people experience the same problem.  

If you have been unable to resolve your problems, you could benefit from working with an experienced mental health professional.

Rather than suffering on your own, seek help from a skilled psychotherapist so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.