I’m listening to a podcast an ex introduced me to, because my relationship with my ex is weird[mfn]everyone’s relationships with their exes is weird, I’m not special[/mfn]. It’s an insight into the practices of a therapist called Esther Perel, and something she said really stuck out for me.
She used a common metaphor for psychic trauma, equating it with physical trauma, but something about the way she expressed it suddenly hit home for me.
Psychic injuries are like physical injuries, because they require care by professionals. They also, which I hadn’t considered before, require aftercare. They require physio.
Physio is a tough and lengthy process, and it requires a dedicated professional to help you repair what was broken. It’s quite difficult work. People train very hard to become physios, and they exchange their labour for money with consent.
I’m going to put aside a discussion about consent under a capitalist system, and instead focus on the fact that consent is a necessary element of this exchange.
It is not fair to expect a physio to help with your healing if they do not consent to it, because it is not fair to expect anyone to work without consent. For the purposes of this metaphor, ‘work’ includes emotional labour.
Even if you’re really hurting, you don’t get to co-opt someone else to help you heal. You’ve got to ask. They’ve got to say yes.
With a physical injury it’s fairly easy to tell if someone’s trying to get you to do the work to help them get better. It’s fairly easy to decide whether you agree to do it, putting aside existing dynamics in the relationship.
I think it’s harder to tell when someone’s using you to help with the repair of a psychic injury. To be frank I think it’s hard to know that you’re leaning on someone to help repair it until one day you wake up and realise that you don’t need that person’s support any more.
You’ve used that person to help heal that injury[mfn]or, at least, you think it’s healed – there’s a separate question of whether taking this approach results in a clean mend or a brittle one[/mfn] and you’ve done it without their consent, because they didn’t realise that was all you were doing. Maybe you knew and maybe you didn’t, but now you’re facing the truth that you used someone to meet your needs and now you have no idea what to do.
I think it’s perfectly valid behaviour, following a break-up, to go through emotional physio. To try going on dates with different people; to find your confidence and your sexuality again. To have multiple sexual partners. But I think it’s also important to recognise that this is a kind of catharsis, a kind of physio, and that the consent of the people involved is important.
Consent is sexy, and there’s plenty of folks out there who’ll gladly help you flex that flirty muscle. But be honest and open, so that they know what they’re getting into and can give their informed consent.
November is National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo. I’ll be endeavouring to write one blog post per day in the month of November 2019 – some short and sweet, others long and boring.