Posted by: Marie | April 20, 2010

(295) An exercise in touch

Post #295
[Email sent to my therapist on Friday, January 1, 2010]

Hi, Mark –

Happy New Year’s!

In preparation for our session next week, I have put together some thoughts . . .

Whenever I experience touch-related triggering situations, I become numb, paralyzed and unable to speak in a way that expresses what I really want/need. I feel myself pulling out of my body. My body goes into “autopilot” where I can behave and speak in a way that implies I am consenting to what is happening – if the other person asks “is it okay for me to do this?”, I say “yes” even if I don’t want him to do it. I feel obligated to appear enthusiastic about what is happening.

In those times, my reactions (emotions, body sensations, fears, etc.) come so quickly that I don’t have time to sort them out and find the root causes. Instead, my focus is on getting through the moment intact, with minimal psychological damage – I just “numb out” and become compliant until it is over.

In our session, I would like to put myself in triggering situations, but then give myself a “pause button” so I can look at my responses to the situation, frame by frame.

Some triggering situations are (listed in order of least to most triggering):

1) When someone initiates touch and I have no control over what happens and I don’t know what is coming next

2) When I initiate touch

3) When someone initiates touch after I ask for it and when I give directions on how I want to be touched

I trust both of us to keep any contact non-sexual. I am okay with the contact we have had to-date (hugs, sitting next to each other with arms/legs touching, hand on the other’s knee, etc.) Well, let me be clear . . . I am okay with that level of contact — as in, it has never felt sexual to me and I don’t think we have crossed any “inappropriate” lines. However, some of that contact has been triggering for me — so, it has felt appropriate but not comfortable. That is why I believe we can create triggering situations without crossing any inappropriate lines. This is a delicate dance that I feel safe dancing with you.

Going Green by Martin Chen

Here is my biggest concern . . . I have done the “appearing to consent” thing with you, so I know there is a danger that I will do it again. The obvious solution would be for me to just say, “I don’t want to do that” when we get into something that is not okay. But, I’m not sure I can trust myself to do that – those are the moments I feel paralyzed and unable to say anything that would make me appear non-compliant.

In those moments, I think I can keep myself from saying “compliant” stuff – but I may not be able to actually say something like “stop” or “I don’t want to do that” or to hold my hand up, push you away or get up and move away. However, being silent feels possible – allowing my body to freeze up (including my voice) feels possible.

I will try my best to say “stop” or “don’t”. But, if I stop talking, if I stop responding to your questions, please take that as my way of saying “stop” or “I’m not okay with that” – it is safe for you to assume I’m too frozen to say anything to stop it. Does that make sense?

As I am looking at what is going on inside of me, I will be asking myself the following questions. If I get stuck, I may need for you to help me along by asking the questions. It would be helpful if you would write down some of the key phrases I use in my answers so I can look over them later.

What comes up for me?

1) At the start of the contact (right before and at first touch)

2) After a few moments have passed and it becomes “sustained contact”

How am I experiencing it?

1) Thoughts – fears (what do I think is going to happen next?) – tapes that run in my head

2) Shapes and colors (can I draw them?)

3) Body sensations

4) Emotions

5) Memories – flashbacks (how old am I?)

Towards the end of the session, if we have time, I’d like to look back at the information we collected and use it to answer these questions:

How can I move through the trigger and allow touch to be a positive experience?

What boundaries do I need to put in place?

How can I put those boundaries in place? How can I enforce them?

So . . . after reading all of this, do you still feel comfortable moving forward? Do you have concerns we need to address?

Otherwise . . . I’ll see you Thursday!

– Marie


  1. Big stuff. I hope you let us know how the session went – I’m definitely interested in finding out.

    • Hey, Evan –

      Yup . . . I’ll let you know . . . it got interesting!

      Thank you for your continued interest!

      – Marie

  2. I can relate. I freeze up when uncomfortable or someone crosses my boundaries. It makes it that much harder to say no, to be able to take good care of myself and is directly related to being abused as a child. So I have a no touch rule. After learning so much about therapist abuse of clients i am even more cautious.

    You are, as always, doing such good healing work. Good and healing thoughts to you.


    • Hey, Kate –

      Thank you for all your kind and encouraging words!

      I do understand how rare it is to have a therapist who is willing to use touch and who can be trusted to use it appropriately. It is a big deal for me!

      – Marie

      • Hi Marie,

        You show a lot of courage. I’m sorry I have been so bogged down with computer issues since moving that I am always behind of my blog commenting, I am behind for months with several of my friends. You are in my thoughts and I wanted to let you know that next month I will make every effort to catch up with your journal, as I will hopefully have better access. Good and healing thoughts to you.


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