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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

It's Not Always About You: How to Stop Personalizing Rejection While Dating

In a prior article, How to Stop Jumping to Conclusions and Personalizing Other People's Behavior, I discussed how earlier trauma can get triggered if you personalize other people's behavior. Most of the time, especially at the point when you're triggered, you might not recognize that your emotions have more to do with the past than the current situation because triggers can feel so powerful and immediate (see my article: Coping With Emotional Triggers).

Dating: Their Rejection Might Not Be About You
With regard to getting rejected by someone you're dating, it's very easy to get triggered, especially if you have unresolved abandonment or loss issues (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Rejection).

How to Stop Personalizing Rejection While Dating

To complicate matters, the person you were dating might not know how to communicate what they're going through, so you might feel left out in the cold as to why they don't want to see you anymore (see my article: 7 Reasons Why You Might Be Having a Hard Time Getting Over a Breakup).

But try to keep in mind that, unless that person tells you that you said or did something that offended them, they might not want to see you for reasons that have nothing to do with you, including:
  • They haven't given themselves enough time to grieve their former relationship.
  • They might like you, but they feel the two of you might not have enough in common.
  • Having nothing to do with you, they might feel too insecure and anxious to date.
  • They might feel overwhelmed by other things going on in their life and they don't have the time or emotional capacity to start a new relationship.
  • They might have their own unresolved trauma that is affecting their ability to be open to dating you.
And so on.

Tips on How to Deal With Rejection While Dating
  • Don't Take It Personally: Sure, it hurts when someone you like doesn't want to see you.  As previously mentioned, it can bring up a lot of your own insecurities, which might not have anything to do with the current situation.
  • Recognize That You Might Be Making Up Negative Stories in Your Head: When you have had a little time to step back from your hurt feelings, recognize that you might be creating a narrative in your head that has nothing to do with the situation. For instance, if your immediate reaction is to have negative thoughts like, "They don't want to see me because I'm not attractive enough" or "They don't think I'm good enough," recognize that these are your thoughts that are probably getting projected onto the other person (see my article: Feelings Aren't Facts).
  • Learn to Question the Validity of the Negative Stories You're Telling Yourself: When you're in a calmer state, ask yourself how likely is it that you were rejected because of the reasons you're telling yourself. If you have a problem being objective, talk to a trusted friend to get an impartial perspective.
  • Be Respectful of the Other Person: Although it's tempting to lash out, it's better to summon your best self, tell the other person you accept their decision, and let them go.  If they don't offer an explanation, accept that you're not going to get closure with them.  Don't try to convince them to see you or badger them for an explanation if you don't get one.  Recognize that most people don't want to be in the position of rejecting anyone so be compassionate (see my article: Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible).
  • Get Professional Help From a Licensed Mental Health Professional: If the rejection brings up earlier unresolved trauma, seek help from a licensed trauma specialist to work through the trauma so these memories no longer get activated (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).
Fictionalized Clinical Vignette
The following vignette is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information removed, and it will illustrate how earlier trauma can get triggered by rejection and how therapy can help:

After dating Sally for two months, Tom got a call from her to cancel their upcoming date.  Since they had been out several times and he thought things were going well between them, Tom was surprised and disappointed.

Sally sounded nervous on the phone as she told him that she didn't see things progressing between them and she didn't think they should continue to see each other.  

She was somewhat vague about her decision. She only said she wasn't sure, but things just "didn't feel right" between them and it might be because she started dating again too soon after her breakup with her prior boyfriend of five years.  

Tom felt hurt and he asked Sally if there was anything he said or did that might have affected things between them.  In response, Sally said her decision didn't have anything to do with him--she just wasn't feeling like their relationship would develop into anything more serious.  She told him she was sorry if she was hurting his feelings, and then she said she needed to go.

After Tom got off the phone with Sally, in addition to feeling hurt and disappointed, he felt ashamed.  He was in his early 30s and he had never been in a serious relationship before.  He was hoping that things would get serious between him and Sally.  Before he got her call, he thought he saw the possibility of a committed relationship, but now his hopes were dashed.

He could feel that familiar sinking feeling coming over him and his thoughts turned negative pretty quickly, "Women just don't like me," "They don't find me attractive," and "They don't think I'm good enough for them."

Soon he was immersed in these negative thoughts, and by the time he saw his therapist the following day, he was feeling hopeless.  

"I just don't think I'll ever find someone who will want me." he told his therapist.

In response, his therapist reminded him that these were the distorted negative thoughts he often had when he felt rejected.  She also reminded him that these were old feelings stemming from his childhood relationship with parents who were too preoccupied to show him love or affection when he was growing up (see my article: How Therapy Can Help You Become Aware of Distorted Thinking).

Tom recognized that what his therapist said was true.  During that session, he was able to stand back to look at the situation from Sally's perspective and he realized that her rejection didn't have anything to do with him.

Until then, Tom had not wanted to do trauma therapy to work through his childhood trauma which often got triggered when he felt rejected.  But he told him therapist that he was finally ready to work through his unresolved trauma so he would no longer get triggered by them (see my article: How Therapy Can Help You Overcome Your Fear of Abandonment).

Now that most people are dating through dating apps, there's even more of a chance of getting rejected due to the sheer number of people on the apps and all the dating possibilities available to people.

Although your disappointment and hurt are real, the negative stories you're telling yourself might have nothing to do with why the other person rejected you. 

Take time to step back to get a better perspective. 

If talking to a friend doesn't help you because old wounds are getting triggered, seek professional help from a trauma therapist (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have unresolved trauma that involves loss and feelings of abandonment, your unresolved trauma can make rejection much worse.

When you seek help in trauma therapy, you're taking steps to work through your traumatic history so you won't get triggered by it again.

Once you're free from your traumatic history, you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a 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.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Understanding Why You Choose Emotionally Unavailable People

I have been focusing on topics from Dr. Jack Morin's book, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment in my last several articles.  In today's article I'm focusing specifically on why some people choose partners who are emotionally unavailable based on concepts outlined in this book (see my article: What Are Your Core Erotic Themes?, which contains links to all the prior related articles).

Understanding Why You Choose Emotionally Unavailable People

Eroticized Longing
In Chapter 6 of his book, "When Turn-Ons Turn Against You," Dr. Morin discusses eroticized longing where people are attracted to partners who are unavailable or only partially or inconsistently available.  According to Dr. Morin, people who experience erotcized longing often discover that it is a central part of their eroticism.  

These are people who usually need the passion, excitement, storminess and uncertainty based on being involved with an unavailable (or partially available) partner.  These relationships can be passionate but, ultimately, they aren't fulfilling for people who want a long term commitment.  

These relationships often include a partner who is:
  • married or in a long term relationship with someone else
  • unable to make an exclusive commitment
  • ambivalent
  • vague about the future or eludes to a future but cannot be pinned down about the specifics
  • vacillates between being open and being avoidant
And so on.

People who have a pattern of getting involved with emotionally unavailable partners often say that they are bored with people who are interested in them and willing to make a commitment.  

They don't feel the same level of excitement if they're not yearning and feeling off balance with their partner.  So, they get involved in one relationship after another that doesn't give them what they want or they get it sometimes but only intermittently. 

Even though these people say they want to be with someone who can make a commitment, they feel their only options are to either pursue a relationship that will ultimately fail because their partner can't commit to them or they have to be with someone where they don't feel the same sexual excitement. This is an awful dilemma.

Understanding the Psychological Roots of Eroticized Longing
The attraction to unavailable people is usually unconscious.  Adding to this complication, people who are emotionally unavailable often don't present themselves in that way.  

In Dr. Morin's book he gives a clinical example of a client named Maggie, who was involved in a succession of relationships with men who were emotionally unavailable. 

Prior to coming to therapy, her last relationship was with a married man who kept telling her he was unhappy emotionally and sexually in his marriage.  

Based on what he was telling her, Maggie believed he would eventually leave his wife to be with her. He seemed like he would rather be with her.  But whenever he had to choose who he would spend a holiday with, he chose his wife.  

After years of feeling hurt and emotionally abandoned, Maggie chose to leave that relationship.  But even after she left, she was still obsessed with this man.  She would call his house to hear his voice or park her car outside his home to get a glimpse of him.

The pattern with these succession of men was that they were capable of being warm and loving towards her at times, but they couldn't sustain it consistently.  Whenever they would give her what she wanted emotionally, she was happy.  But, inevitably, she was disappointed when these men became avoidant and emotionally unavailable again.

This is a typical pattern in these relationships:  The partner who is basically unavailable is available enough to provide their partner with intermittent reinforcement.  Each time the person who is yearning gets what they want, they hope their partner will finally be able to sustain the love and warmth, but they are continually disappointed.  

In other words, there is just enough of what they want to keep them hooked into the relationship, but it's never sustained over time and they are disappointed over and over again.

In Maggie's case, Dr. Morin explains that, on the surface, there seemed to be no logical explanation as to why Maggie couldn't find a man who would love her and be committed to her:  She was attractive, intelligent, kind and she had a lot to offer a committed partner.

Maggie explained to Dr. Morin that, over time, many men, who were stable and dependable, pursued her and they wanted to make a commitment to her.  But she was bored by these men.  Eventually, these men entered into other relationships with women who wanted to be with them.

Her unstable relationships had several things in common. These men were:
  • adventurous in their everyday life as well as sexually
  • somewhat rebellious 
  • playful and spontaneous 
  • unreliable in terms of showing up for dates, calling her or remembering special dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc)
  • unable to make a long term commitment 
They also had an emotional vulnerability at times that intrigued Maggie--giving her the feeling that they needed her.  

Their rebelliousness was the opposite of Maggie, who considered herself to be "a good girl" who was responsible and reliable.  Although she admired their rebelliousness, especially since it was a quality she didn't have, she was continually disappointed by these partners.  

Maggie also had difficulty focusing on herself in her therapy.  She focused on the emotionally unavailable man she was seeing at the time and attempted to analyze him, but she had difficulty looking at herself.  

At one point in her therapy, she said she believed if her current partner could just overcome his problems, they could be happy together.  She told her therapist she believed if she could just win him over, she would feel loved.

When her therapist asked Maggie what she thought it would be like if her boyfriend didn't need to be won over (if he just loved her), she admitted that she didn't think she could handle that.

As Maggie and her therapist explored her childhood home, at first, Maggie described an ideal family.  However, after a while, she admitted to her therapist that her father was often away and when he was at home, he was aloof with both her and her mother.  She also indicated that her mother was overwhelmed by responsibilities, sad and deeply unhappy with her marriage.  

Apparently, her mother suspected Maggie's father of having an extramarital affair, but she never confronted him about it.  Instead, she suffered in silence.  

So this was the relationship template that Maggie grew up with as a child.  Throughout her adolescence, she read books about delayed romantic fulfillment.  

She also realized in therapy that her relationships with unavailable men all had a persistent undercurrent of grief and loss as she was emotionally abandoned over and over again by these men.  

One of the keys to understanding these types of relationships and why Maggie and others continually get involved in them is that during the intermittent times when these men do provide Maggie with what she wants, she experienced excitement and passion.  

In Maggie's case, she was repeating her experiences with each of her parents.  Her father was emotionally cold and unavailable to her, and she also had a strong identification with her sad, long suffering mother, who suffered in silence.

Fortunately, many people, who are drawn to emotionally unavailable partners, eventually get tired of being continuously disappointed and this motivates them to change.  But others spend their lives in these hurtful relationships.  And many others just give up on relationships altogether.

Choosing Healthier Partners
In Dr. Morin's book, he outlines 7 Steps to change these patterns so that eroticized longing related to emotionally unavailable people are no longer erotic turn ons, which I summarize briefly below and add in italics my specific recommendations:
  • Clarify Your Goals and Motivations: Get clear on what you want in a relationship. If you want someone who is emotionally available and able to make a commitment to you, make that your goal.  Erotic turn ons can change over time so that people who are emotionally unavailable on a consistent basis no longer seem exciting.  Instead, they seem boring, emotionally limited and immature.  
  • Cultivate Self Affirmation: It's important for you to believe that you deserve to be with someone who loves and respects you and who can be there for you emotionally on a consistent basis. You need to be able to put yourself first.  While you're working on this, rather than criticizing yourself, be compassionate and recognize that these erotic patterns were formed early in your life.
  • Navigate the Gray Zone:  The gray zone occurs when you're in the midst of change. You're no longer where you once were in terms of being attracted to emotionally unavailable people, but you haven't arrived to where you want to be in terms of making healthier relationship choices.  When you're in the gray zone, you might feel lost and confused.  It's a matter of tolerating the ambiguity of this stage until your path becomes clearer.  Gradually, your attractions to unavailable people can change, especially if you understand the psychological underpinnings to your longing, which is rooted in your earliest relationships as a child.  Sometimes when you're in the gray zone, you might choose to refrain from dating for a while until you get clear about what is driving these unhealthy attractions and you learn to turn away from them.  After a while, as you examine your eroticized longings for unavailable people, you will probably discover that these longings include fear, hatred, sadness and shame.  Once you experience these emotions, your experience of them can motivate you to steer clear of emotionally unavailable people because you know, on an emotional level, that these relationships are fraught with emotional pain.
  • Acknowledge and Mourn Your Losses: Grieving the loss is part of the healing.  Once you see that your attraction to unavailable people is linked to traumatic memories, you can mourn these losses and, importantly, work through the early trauma.  
  • Come to Your Senses: Attractions to unavailable people often involve a disconnection between your mind and your body (My Note: Reconnection is possible through experiential therapy that is rooted in the mind-body connection).  
  • Risk the Unfamiliar: Insight into your problems isn't enough.  While insight is important, it's not enough to help you make a big change in the emotionally unhealthy attractions you feel.  (My Note: Change occurs when the mind and the body are in synch, which occurs in experiential therapy, see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy).
  • Integrate Your Discoveries: Changing the people you are attracted to isn't easy.  Along the way, you will probably experience setbacks.  Working with a skilled psychotherapist who helps you through this transition can make a big difference in terms of successfully navigating through the changes and making them last.

Getting Help in Therapy
Although changing your sexual attraction to emotionally unavailable people can be daunting, many people have successfully navigated this change in therapy.

Rather than remaining stuck in relationships that are unfulfilling and hurtful in the long run, get help from a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to make a lasting change.

About Me
I am a 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.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

What Are Your Core Erotic Themes?

The concept of Core Erotic Themes was developed by sex therapist and researcher, Dr. Jack Morin and discussed in his book, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment.

Core Erotic Themes

See My Related Articles:

What Are Core Erotic Themes?
According to Dr. Morin, each person has three categories of sex scripts (see my articles: Understanding Your Sex Script, Changing Your Sex Script and Changing Your Sex Script: Understanding Your Sexual Motivation)
  • Cultural scripts: The culture you grew up in
  • Interpersonal scripts: Between you and another person or persons
  • Intrapsychic scripts: Within your mind
    Intrapsychic Sex Scripts
Of the three types of sex scripts, the intrapsychic script is the most idiosyncratic.  This script is made up of challenging life experiences beginning from early childhood.  Since each person is different, there are an infinite number of intrapsychic sex scripts.

Dr. Morin wanted to find the connecting threads between sex scripts, so he came up with another term from drama: Themes.

Dr. Morin distinguishes sex scripts from erotic themes by comparing them to scripts and themes seen on a TV program.  

For instance, on the popular detective program, "Columbo," which can still be seen in reruns, the theme of the show is that the viewer gets to see who committed the crime in each episode and then gets to see how Detective Columbo goes about solving the crime.  Although the theme doesn't vary, the script varies with each episode.

Whereas scripts are detailed, themes can be summarized in a sentence or two.  

In addition, although most people are capable of having many intrapsychic sex scripts, they usually only have a few erotic themes.

Core Erotic Themes

Dr. Morin defines the Core Erotic Theme (CET) from each person's peak erotic experiences. As the name implies, these are sexual experiences which are the most arousing, the ones that stand out in your mind as being the most exciting and sexually satisfying.

Your CET links your current peak sexual experiences with crucial challenges and difficulties from your childhood and adolescence.

According to Dr. Morin, although the link between CETs and unresolved challenges from your childhood might seem counterintuitive, in order to understand your erotic mind, you need to know that "high states of arousal flow from the tension between persistent problems and triumphant solutions."

Even though you don't need to know your CETs to enjoy sex, if you take the time to understand them, you can develop a greater ability to understand and influence your sexual choices.

Examples of Core Erotic Themes (CET)
In order to understand CETs, the vignettes below, which have common CETs experienced by millions of people, illustrate the connecting thread between the CETs and the challenging childhood experiences of these two individuals, Laura and Ted (the names and characters in these vignettes are fictional):

A Core Erotic Theme: Being the Object of Pursuit:  

When Laura was growing up, she was told by her mother countless times that she was "the smart one" and her older sister, Ellen, was "the pretty one." 

She grew up being resentful towards Ellen because she wanted to be "the pretty one."  

Feeling inferior to her sister, Laura tried to get boys' attention by being flirty and coy when she was a teenager.  She wanted these boys to pursue her so she could feel attractive and desirable. But she was usually disappointed to see that the boys she liked were more attracted to her sister.  This confirmed for Laura that she less attractive and inferior to her sister.

Even when she got older and she got more attention from young men, Laura never felt quite secure unless a young man pursued her persistently to show that he was really interested.  

Even after she was happily married, Laura's peak sexual turn-on was when her husband, Joe, initiated sex.  When her husband took his time to seduce her and initiate sex, she felt sexually desirable and it made sex much more pleasurable.

Laura's favorite sexual fantasy was doing a role play with Joe where Laura was a high-priced escort. As a much sought after escort, she could choose among hundreds of men, who wanted her for her beauty, sensuality and charm (see my article: The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

Joe would take on the roles of the different men who pursued her hoping to be chosen.  Each of these men would try to persuade her with money, extravagant gifts and compliments to her beauty hoping to gain her favor.  

Laura felt like a queen who could either bestow her attention on these men, if she chose to, or dismiss them without a second glance.

As part of the role play, when Laura chose one of her admirers, she told him that, even though he was paying her, he would have to do what she wanted sexually.  In response, Joe, played the all-too-willing pursuer who would do whatever Laura wanted.

    Analysis of Being the Object of Pursuit: Note that this fantasy is not only sexually satisfying for Laura, it is also psychologically and emotionally healing because it allows her to feel attractive and sexually desirable after years of growing up feeling unattractive compared to her sister.  Even though Laura knew Joe found her attractive in real life, she got to experience herself as being wildly attractive to hundreds of men in this fantasy--so much so that she was now the one who would choose them and they would do whatever she wanted. This was in stark contrast to her childhood experience of her mother telling her that her sister was "the pretty one" and her teenager experiences when she felt rejected by men who preferred her sister.

A Core Erotic Theme: Being the Catalyst For Turning On a Shy, Ambivalent Woman: 

Ted grew up as in a strict, conservative household where everyone placed his father's happiness and well-being above everyone one and everything else.  As a result, Ted learned to be a people pleaser (see my article: Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing).

When his friends began dating in high school, Ted was still too shy to speak to girls. His first sexual experience was in college with Dee, a young woman his friends set him up with at a party.  

Dee was sexually experienced. She was attracted to Ted, but she realized, based on Ted's awkwardness, that he never had sex before.  When she saw how shy he was, Dee took the initiative to lead him to one of the empty bedrooms at the party where she proceeded to kiss and fondle him.  

Ted got so nervous that he ejaculated before Dee finished taking off his shirt.  Ted felt so humiliated that, despite Dee's kindness and patience, he rushed back to his dorm and avoided Dee and his friends for days.

As Ted matured, he had better sexual experiences with women over time, but he continued to feel insecure throughout his early 20s.  

To cover up his insecurity, he once tried to imitate other young men's behavior by posing as a  "player" or "womanizer" (see my article: Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Identify Themselves as "Players".  But he didn't feel good about himself when he gave women pickup lines and tried to manipulate them into having sex with him, so he stopped after that one time.

When he was in his late 20s, he met Sheena at a local bookstore.  Sheena came across as shy and quiet.  Initially, she was ambivalent about having sex. But Ted was patient and he soon discovered that, underneath her shyness, Sheena could be very passionate when she was turned on.  

Although he was no longer a people pleaser like he had been as a child, Ted loved taking his time to please Sheena sexually.  He especially loved seeing her transform from being a shy, sexually reticent woman into to passionate and sexy woman--especially knowing that he was the catalyst for her transformation.  

This experience changed how he felt about himself. His sexual fantasies about being Sheena's catalyst became a part of his Core Erotic Theme. In those fantasies he imagined being the catalyst for shy, reticent women. 

    Analysis of Being the Catalyst For Turning On a Shy, Ambivalent Woman: Note how being in this role served Ted in terms of his history of being shy and feeling sexually inadequate.  Before he met Sheena, Ted carried that young shy boy inside him even after he was an adult. But when he met Sheena and he watched her transform before his eyes from being shy and ambivalent to being on fire, he experienced himself as a man who could turn women on.  So, this experience was transformative and healing for Ted, and it became part of his Core Erotic Theme.  This is a common theme for many men--the fantasy of turning a prim and proper woman into passionate woman consumed with desire.

Getting Help in Therapy
Struggling with unresolved problems on your own can be frustrating.  It can also keep you feeling stuck.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

Overcoming unresolved problems will allow you to live a more fulfilling life.

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

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

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.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Guilt as an Emotional Aphrodisiac

My last several articles have focused on concepts about human sexuality from The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, a book written by Dr. Jack Morin, sex therapist and researcher (see my prior articles listed below). In the current article, I'm focusing on another one of the paradoxical emotions, guilt, as an emotional aphrodisiac.

Guilt as an Emotional Aphrodisiac

My Prior Articles About Eroticism and Emotional Aphrodisiacs

Guilt as a Paradoxical Emotion
To recap from a previous article: Paradoxical means seemingly contradictory. 

The word "seemingly" is important in the context of this discussion because these emotions often have the opposite effect to what is normally expected.

Erotically speaking, guilt, as well as anger and anxiety, are considered paradoxical emotions because these emotions can have an unexpected aphrodisiac effect.

Most people are familiar with the concept of "guilty pleasures," which means enjoying something that is generally not held in high regard (e.g., sleeping late, eating a container of ice cream, binge watching a TV program, etc).  How guilty pleasures are defined is very subjective.  One person's guilty pleasure is another person's idea of an ideal pastime.

If you grew up in a relatively healthy home, you learned to develop a healthy sense of guilt that allowed you to have a conscience.  With healthy guilt, if you're about to do something that goes against your personal values, a sense of healthy guilt can stop you. 

In addition, healthy guilt helps you to live as part of a community in good standing.  With no sense of healthy guilt, people would live like sociopaths who have no empathy for others and lack remorse for their behavior.

On the other hand, unhealthy guilt is neurotic guilt with a punitive conscience.  The most extreme form of neurotic guilt leads to shame where people feel they are fundamentally flawed.  

Whereas guilt comes from a sense of doing, thinking or feeling "bad things," shame is feeling like a "bad person" (see my article: Understanding the Difference Between Guilt and Shame).

With regard to sexual experiences, guilt is usually associated with sexual dysfunction.  According to Dr. Morin, guilt is second only to anxiety as an anti-aphrodisiac.  It's often a factor in erectile unpredictability and inhibition of sexual desire and pleasure.

Although guilt can be a sexual inhibitor, it can also be sexual enhancer--like the obstacle that heightens sexual attraction, which is part of the Erotic Equation.  

And therein lies the paradoxical nature of guilt: Guilt can be both a disrupter and an enhancer of sexual excitement (also known as an emotional aphrodisiac).

Guilt as an Emotional Aphrodisiac
According to Dr. Morin, guilt as an emotional aphrodisiac is usually associated with one of the Cornerstones of Eroticism, Violating Prohibitions By Breaking the Rules.

In Dr. Morin's research, over a third of his respondents reported their peak erotic experiences were intensified by the thrill of the forbidden.  

This might involve having sexual fantasies or actual sexual experiences with partners who are considered "inappropriate" or a risk of being discovered as in the two vignettes I discussed in my prior article about anxiety as an emotional aphrodisiac.

Clinical Vignettes: Guilt as an Emotional Aphrodisiac
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how guilt can be an emotional aphrodisiac when sexual prohibitions are violated:

At the end of a stressful business trip, Jane had drinks with her colleague, Bill, at their hotel bar to celebrate their new client.  It was their last day away from home before heading back to New York City, and they were both feeling good about the commission they would earn from this major sale.

As she was sipping her drink, Jane was aware that this was the first time in weeks she felt both relaxed that their work trip was almost over and exhilarated by their success.  

She was also aware of the growing sexual attraction between her and Bill while they were working on this project together.

While they were working on the project, Jane pushed these thoughts about her attraction to Bill to the back of her mind.  Before that night, when she had sexual fantasies about Bill, she suppressed these thoughts because she knew it would get in the way of their working together on the project.  

But now that the project was successfully completed, she was finding it difficult to suppress these same thoughts.  She also knew he was attracted to her too by the way he was looking at her and how he touched arm and ran his hand down her back while they were talking.

They both had significant others waiting for them back home, which made Jill feel guilty for having fantasies about Bill.  But the thought of Bill as "forbidden fruit" also intensified Jane's sexual feelings for him to the point where she agreed to go back to his room with him.

The next day, as they were preparing to fly back to New York, they talked about how guilty they felt that they slept together.  They also agreed this could never happen again.  But deep down Jill knew this would be the first of many sexual encounters with Bill and the inappropriateness of these encounters would make them hard to resist.

In this fictional scenario, we have at least three of the Four Cornerstones of Eroticism
  • Violating Prohibitions 
  • Longing and Anticipation
  • Overcoming Ambivalence 
Since Jane and Bill weren't sociopaths, after their first sexual encounter, they both felt guilty that they cheated on their partners and about the inappropriateness of getting sexually involved with a colleague. So, after they had sex on their business trip, instead of sexual desire being at the forefront, guilt as a sexual inhibitor, an anti-aphrodisiac, was now at the forefront for both of them.  

Aside from guilt as a sexual inhibitor, there was also another paradoxical emotion, anxiety, which was linked to their fear their partners might find out about their affair.  

You might also rightfully anticipate that, at some point, if Jane and Bill continued to have an affair, there might also be another paradoxical emotion, anger.  

For instance, if Jane and Bill's guilt caused them to blame one another for the affair, their anger could, at first, cause them to stop seeing each other for a while.  But, over time, the anger could heat things up between them and become sexually arousing, which could lead to them resuming the affair.

You can see from this example how people, who are cheating could get caught in an on again, off again cycle:
  • Sexual Attraction
  • Guilt
  • Excitement
  • Remorse
  • Anger
  • Back to Sexual Attraction
How Does Guilt Transform From Being a Sexual Inhibitor to Being a Sexual Enhancer?
As previously mentioned, guilt is primarily associated with being a sexual inhibitor.  So, if that's the case, how does it transform from being an inhibitor to being a sexual enhancer?

The fictional vignette above provides some clues: When Jane first notices the sexual attraction between her and Bill (when they're actively working on the project), she suppresses her feelings by keeping the project they're working on in the forefront of her mind.  She is aware there's a lot riding on the success of the project so, at that point, she's able to suppress sexual desire to focus on the project.

But on their last day of their business trip, the success of the project is no longer an inhibitor.  Add to this their celebratory mood and alcohol and you can see how guilt recedes into the background and sexual excitement emerges in the foreground. 

In addition, many people are also good at compartmentalizing their guilt so they consciously (or unconsciously) push it to the back of their mind.  

An Exit Strategy Out of an Unhappy Relationship
Despite their guilt, many people use infidelity as an exit strategy from their current relationship.

Some of those people actually hope (on an unconscious level) to be caught by their significant others.  This could involve being "careless" and leaving texts, email or other telltale signs of an affair to be discovered by their partner in order to end a relationship.

Other people, who are in dull or sexless relationship, might unconsciously use the sexual excitement from an affair to make them realize they are still desirable to others and they could be happier with someone else (not necessarily the person from the affair).

Using Guilt to Spice Up Sex
Similar to the vignettes in my article about Violating Prohibitions, some couples use guilt as a way to spice up their sex life.

For instance, a couple, who is at a party, might sneak away to an empty upstairs bedroom to have sex.  Although they feel guilty and anxious about getting caught, if they push their guilt and anxiety into the background and allow sexual excitement to be in the foreground, this forbidden pleasure will be exciting.

This is similar to other violations of prohibitions, like parking on a dark street to have sex in a car.

In most cases when couples do this, they know there's a risk of getting caught, but they mostly believe they won't be caught so this allows them to push guilt and anxiety into the background.

Even if the couple who violates prohibitions never does it again, the memory of that experience can be a potent sexual enhancer for a long time as they recall the experience together and relive the memory of it (see my article: Exploring Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame).

My next article will focus on the topic of Erotic Themes from Dr. Morin's work.

Getting Help in Therapy
Unhealthy guilt and shame can be difficult to overcome on your own.

If you have unresolved problems holding you back, seek help from a skilled licensed mental health professional.

Overcoming your problems can help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

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

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Anxiety as an Emotional Aphrodisiac

In the last several articles my focus has been on the themes in the book, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment by sex therapist and researcher, Dr. Jack Morin.  

Anxiety as an Emotional Aphrodisiac

My focus in the current article will be one of the paradoxical emotional aphrodisiacs, anxiety.  

In the context of emotional aphrodisiacs, according to Dr. Morin, anxiety includes: fear, vulnerability, worry and nervousness (see my article: What is the Difference Between Fear and Anxiety?)

Also, see my previous articles:

Anxiety as a Paradoxical Emotion
To recap from a previous article: Paradoxical means seemingly contradictory. 

The word "seemingly" is important in the context of this discussion because these emotions often have the opposite effect to what is normally expected.

Erotically speaking, anxiety, as well as anger and guilt, are considered paradoxical emotions because these emotions can have an unexpected aphrodisiac effect.

Anxiety is usually thought of in terms of getting in the way of sexual arousal and pleasure.  

For instance, if a man is anxious about being able to maintain an erection, his anxiety can bring about the problem he fears, especially if he has a history of erectile unpredictability.  In that context anxiety is an anti-aphrodisiac.   

Another example is if a woman feels pressured by her partner to have an orgasm, her anxiety can get in the way of her enjoying sex and having an orgasm (see my articles: Closing the Orgasm Gap Between Women and Men - Part 1 and Part 2).

Anxiety as an Emotional Aphrodisiac: Risk and Violating Sexual Prohibitions
Anxiety can enhance sexual desire and pleasure in certain situations where risk is involved.

For instance, many people get turned on when they feel they're about to violate a sexual prohibition that they consider "breaking the rules," including:
  • Having sex in a car parked on the street, in a park or in a public place where there is a risk of getting caught
  • A sexual attraction to someone who is from another race or ethnic background when your family, religion or culture prohibits it or where the behavior would include "forbidden fruit"
  • Pushing sexual boundaries 
  • Having a secret sexual affair 
For many people, the fear of getting caught in a risky situation gets them excited,  (assuming that the anxiety doesn't overwhelm the excitement).

Sexual prohibitions, whether it involves behavior in real life or sexual fantasies, can be enough to get some people turned on.

Clinical Vignettes: Anxiety as an Emotional Aphrodisiac: Violating Prohibitions By Breaking the Rules
The following fictional vignettes illustrates how violating a sexual prohibition can be a real turn on:

Jean and Tom
While they were on a much-needed vacation, Jean and Tom settled into their hotel room after a busy day of sightseeing in Cancun, Mexico.

After 20 years of marriage and raising two teenage children, when they were at home, they were often too tired to have sex.  So, aside from getting away from their usual responsibilities at home and work, they also took this vacation to rekindle their sex life.  

Settling in for the night, they were both feeling a little tipsy and relaxed from the Margaritas they had at dinner.  There was something about being alone in a beachfront hotel room far away from home that got them both turned on.

Tom leaned over to kiss Jean when he noticed the opened curtains facing the beach.  But when he got up to close the curtains, Jean said playfully, "Maybe you don't have to close them all the way..."

Standing in front of the curtains, Tom was momentarily confused, but when he saw the mischievous look in Jean's eyes, he smiled and, as he closed the curtains only part of the way, he said in a teasing voice, "But there are still a few people on the beach.  They might see us having sex..."

This fantasy of people on the beach possibly watching them making love was a psychological stimulation.  It was enough to get them both sexually excited that night in a way they had not felt in a long time (see my article: Enhancing Sexual Motivation With Psychological Stimulation).

In reality, the risk of someone on the beach seeing them having sex was probably minimal. But for this couple just imagining it was enough to rekindle their passion that night.  

Even after their vacation, when they were back at home, just talking about that night and the possibility that someone might have seen them was enough to add spice to their sex life for a long time.  

Back home, when Jean and Tom talked about that experience, they both considered it to be one of their peak erotic experiences (see my article: Discovering Your Peak Erotic Experiences).

At another time and in another context, a similar situation might have made both of them too anxious to enjoy sex.  But in this particular context, they were both feeling mostly relaxed and enjoying their time away.  So, in this case, instead of detracting from their sexual excitement, the anxiety added to it.

Note the elements involved that ignited their excitement, including:
  • Pushing sexual boundaries by being somewhat exhibitionistic that night in their hotel room
  • Taking a risk at getting caught in a public way
  • Creating this secret "naughty" sexual encounter that only the two of them would ever know about 

During her friend Ina's birthday party, Jill began a conversation with Laura, a woman she recognized from another one of her friend's parties.  

After Jill and Laura chatted about how they each knew Ina, Laura suggested they go out on Ina's deck to get some fresh air and get a break from the noise of the party.  

They were both relieved by how quiet and peaceful it was on the deck, especially since they were the only ones there.  Chatting on the deck, they were surprised to discover they had a lot in common, including that they enjoyed playing tennis.

Sipping her wine, Jill suddenly became aware that she was sexually attracted to Laura.  This came as a surprise to her because she considered herself to be heterosexual and she never felt a sexual attraction for a woman before. 

This sudden awareness made Jill feel a little anxious because it was so new, but it also made her feel sexually excited.  So, when Laura moved closer and leaned in for a kiss, she discovered that Jill was receptive.  

Later that night, when they were alone in Laura's apartment, they had a passionate evening together.  It was the first of many, and after each date with Laura, Jill felt a little anxious, but also excited, about whether she could be interested in other women too (see my article: Women and Sexual Fluidity).

Anxiety as an Emotional Aphrodisiac

Raised in a conservative religious home where sex was never discussed, Jill wasn't sure what her encounters with Laura meant to her, but she knew she enjoyed them.  

Since it was all so new to her, she decided not to mention anything to Ina or any of her other friends about her dates with Laura for the time being.  

She wanted to see how things developed.  She also wanted to keep their dates a secret--not because she was ashamed of them--but because she wanted to savor this new sexual experience (see my article: Sexual Wellness: Savoring Pleasure).

Note the elements in this second vignette that enhance pleasure for Jill:  
  • The risk of getting caught kissing Laura on the deck
  • The secret dates with Laura and the pushing of boundaries into new sexual territory for Jill who, until then, thought of herself as being exclusively heterosexual and had never realized she could be sexually attracted to women
  • An element of "forbidden fruit" and even "naughtiness,"especially considering Jill's conservative, religious upbringing
Both of these vignettes also relate to the Erotic Equation, which states: Attraction + Obstacles = Sexual Excitement.

Just the Right Amount of Anxiety and Sexual Excitement
The two vignettes above demonstrate how just the right amount of anxiety and sexual excitement can enhance passion.

Often, it depends on how everything comes together in a particular situation.  

For instance, in the vignette about Jean and Tom, if they had received a call from one of their teenagers just as they were settling into their room, their mood might have been very different when Tom noticed the curtains were open.  Instead of getting excited by keeping them open a little, they both might have felt exposed (literally and psychologically) to the point where they felt too vulnerable and anxious to be playful in this way.

In the vignette with Jill, if her friend, Ina, came out and she felt embarrassed by discovering Jill and Laura kissing, Jill's anxiety would probably have been a lot higher.  This probably would have spoiled the vibe between Jill and Laura.  It might also made Jill think of her parents and her strict religious upbringing in a way where her anxiety would have been overwhelming.

The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism
Aside from Violating Prohibitions By Breaking the Rules, there are many other scenarios relating to Dr. Morin's other The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism where anxiety can act like an emotional aphrodisiac, including:
There is much more that could be said for how anxiety, in the right amount, can add to sexual excitement, but I hope I have given you some basic concepts.

In my next article, I'll focus on how guilt can be an emotional aphrodisiac.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at certain point in their life.

If you're struggling with unresolved problems, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

Overcoming unresolved problems can help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

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

I am a sex positive therapist, who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

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.