Essays

Attachment trauma and sexual desire

Early childhood traumas automatically lead to altered perceptions of sexuality and often reflect patterns from childhood.

By Anne Lomberg on August 8, 2023 -
Updated on October 21, 2023

Also available in German
Bindungstrauma und sexuelles Begehren

“The wound is the place where light enters you” is a line from a Rumi quote that I particularly like considering this new essay. Rumi’s point is that suffering and pain are part of spiritual growth and enlightenment to understand ourselves and the world around us better. Emotional wounds such as traumas become groundbreaking and resurface from time to time through various triggers to face the pain, acknowledge it, reflect on it and make peace, as with my recent encounter. I met a man I had been in contact with for a long time before we even met in real life. All the neglected feelings were suddenly brought to my attention during this encounter. By that, I mean neglected feelings of closeness, appreciation, acceptance, and security from the past. And although this man is a blank slate, he triggered something inside me just by his presence, so I immediately fell into a motionless, almost petrified state. After years of self-exploration and the healing process of my own attachment trauma, this encounter brought me back to a place I thought I had left behind long ago. But no, the process goes on and on, and I’m the one who finds certain men attractive and others not. It wasn’t always that way, but the dilemma of early childhood experiences combined with false attachment ideas is always omnipresent.

What’s also interesting, though, is my personal conflict regarding sexuality. Although this man caused a kind of withdrawal in me, internally and emotionally, I was strongly attracted to him sexually. My submissive side had been awakened and already said goodbye to the actual event, the drink and conversation. An ambivalent attitude that is not easy to tame. While my mind tells me to get lost as fast as possible, my body wants something completely different. But what causes these reactions? Why do some people trigger these deeply hidden emotions, and how do you finally deal with them?

Relationship patterns from childhood

For those who find themselves in unhealthy relationships, whether intentional or not, will have had examples of unhealthy relationships. These can cause different traumas and have a corresponding effect on one’s own relationship (in)ability. For example, not having experienced enough closeness and touch from parents as a child could lead to feeling uncomfortable in friendships where hugs and cuddles play a big role. Psychologists explain that attachment is formed even before birth; this means that future emotions are created in the womb that affect relationships.

I saw an interesting video by psychologist and author Dami Charf on the `impact of trauma on sexuality and desire’ that made my ears prick up. She said, and I quote:

“If we were not wanted as infants, ended up in the incubator right away, and had massive scary experiences because we were alone so much, then our life energy is drawn all the way back to the bones. And the crazy and very sad thing is that we then associate desire and expansion with destruction.”

Which basically means that if we had to deal too early with detachment – I call it the negative consequences of openness and vulnerability – we would define it in close connection with extinction. Being adopted and having done a lot of research on this topic as well as therapy myself, I recognize the common thread that runs involuntarily through the years of life. Or it could be visually presented as a violent cutting of the umbilical cord. The inner child is ever present, trying to maintain these wounds, to internalize that this is what true love means with the compulsive need for unsatisfying, loveless relationships.

Attachment theory and sexuality

Early childhood traumas automatically lead to altered perceptions of sexuality and often reflect patterns from childhood. They are coupled with the feeling of what our father or mother could or could not give. As a result, we are sexually attracted to people who reflect these feelings. A kind of love-hate relationship develops that is strongly linked to the lack of parental approval and in which the mind actually knows that this relationship will not work but still craves attention.

Sex is the key to redressing emotional and psychological deficits regarding security, trust, attachment, and love. If these needs were not sufficiently satisfied in childhood, sexuality will confuse some, causing them to avoid sexual acts or even act promiscuously. I remember a conversation with my friend in which we could clearly explain our different relationship patterns. While she grew up sheltered and in a safety-oriented environment, I could do whatever I wanted. I had my apartment in the house, invited people over to my place, and was constantly at some party or another until dawn. I didn’t know words like house arrest or bedtimes. As a result, now in adulthood, I can sleep with strangers without making any subsequent connection while she looks more closely before being intimate with anyone.

Making conscious choices for your own well-being

The topic on attachment trauma is highly complex. It contains many components I have not yet addressed, such as Freud’s Oedipus complex or Jung’s female counterpart with the Electra complex. The four different attachment types are not irrelevant either. Perhaps I’ll go into that in another essay.

With this short excerpt, I mainly wanted to reflect on my latest experience, which truly shocked me. My inner child was closer than ever; I tried to soothe and get rid of it, as I have done for many years. I thought I had arrived, that I was on top of things and only getting involved in healthy relationships, whatever that means. Because I know that my sexual expression, the submissive component, is possible in a relationship at eye level. I see it as a portal to connect my wounded parts with the revealed, healed parts. I also see it as a challenge to face these encounters. And this is not just about the person, but rather about confronting those inner demons; consciously saying yes or no, getting to know the person from a different perspective, piece by piece, without shared intimacy, without assumptions, solely to make peace with the father and the inner child with the neglected feelings. But only to a certain extent, because priority is the own healing, where one can calmly admit that certain people will simply never fit.

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