Appeasing as a trauma response and how to break the spell

by | Aug 4, 2021

Newly single, a growing desire to express and embody my sexuality, and the need to experience emotional and physical intimacy; I’ve recently started dating after 6 years of heteronormative monogamy in my marriage. 

It’s been interesting to notice a common thread with most of the men (I’m still shy around women 😋) I’ve been on dates with, whether or not emotional and physical intimacy was shared:

Appeasement, or in trauma-lingo, hyper-socialization.

This is a strategy our nervous system uses in order to create a felt-sense of safety and belonging. 

It tends to show up as the overriding of our authentic needs and limits, and creates a false sense of safety and satisfaction from giving into what the real or perceived needs of the other person might be. 

We might give or ask for sexual exchanges when we don’t really want it.
We say yes to anything they suggest when we actually want something different.
We aren’t clear about our desires and boundaries around what we’re available for relationally because we want to please them.
We don’t say no because we’re afraid of disappointing them.
We settle for “good enough” because we’ve internalized that we’re not good enough.
We like them only because they like us.

This tends to happen unconsciously, like a learned behavior or personality trait, unless we begin to turn towards it and grow our capacity to be with the discomfort of nervous system activation. 

Here’s how appeasement tends to show up in my embodied experience: 

  • I physically and energetically lean forward into their energetic space, trying to sense what they might want from me and how I can provide that.
  • I’m not relating from my rootspace, the somatic and energetic center of my soul’s essence and inherent self-worth. 
  • I feel anxious, anticipating the discomfort of providing something I don’t really want to or having to say no / set a boundary. 
  • I don’t feel truly seen and my needs don’t feel met.
  • My awareness is pulled towards what I’m perceiving to be THEIR experience, and not my own. 

This trauma response comes up because I’m not actually feeling safe to truly express my sexuality, my needs, my desires and my limits- no matter if the other person tells me that I am. 

I don’t feel safe because of my socialization and wiring as a woman towards satisfying and receiving the male gaze. That I am only worthy of love and care if I can do so. 

I also have a history of sexual trauma inside the reality of rape culture where we haven’t truly learned how to embody consensual culture. 

Interestingly, this shows up with the men I’ve gone on dates with too!

Three out of the four also experience appeasing, sexually and beyond. They often give into what their partners want, even though that’s not what they really want themselves. 

This in turn, creates a dynamic where no one is really getting what they need, nor feeling satisfied, and further inhibits the depth of connection and emotional intimacy that we truly crave. 

Intimacy itself can be scary, and so it makes sense that our nervous systems would go about trying to create safety through appeasement. 

In my experience, I’ve found that the medicine to breaking the trauma spell of appeasement includes:

  • Knowing how to create safety and intimacy within myself so that I have the capacity to create that with others.
  • The awareness of how appeasing shows up within our bodies and behaviors. It’s often a pattern that leaves us feeling unfulfilled and constantly searching. Let’s make different choices. 
  • The practice of interdependence: me being able to know what I truly need and want, you being able to know what you truly need and want, and meeting each other there. 
  • Knowing what our limits are in what we’re able to offer emotionally, physically, energetically, mentally and honoring the sh*t outta that. Both ways. 
  • Having and showing compassion and care towards one another, no matter how hard the truth around our experience might be. 
  • Taking radical responsibility for our part in the dynamic: it takes two to tango.
  • The co-created conditions of safety where we can put these skills into practice. 

This is the embodiment of the five core values of consensual culture: integrity, interdependence, inter-sovereignty, co-creation and compassion. 

The practice of these skills has created the chance for corrective experiences (on both ends), meaning we experience a different result where we were once stuck in a pattern. 

For example, saying “No, I don’t really want that right now,” and having it not only be honored but celebrated with “Thank you for taking care of yourself.” – rather than made wrong or overriden.

Another example: Not feeling like “too much” when a need arises because we both feel safe enough to name what we both need with the possibility and reality of it actually being met. That it’s actually okay, and in fact, a part of our humanity to be needy. 

It truly does require that we BOTH play our part in sensing for what we need and want- have I mentioned that already?

Additionally, the practice of these values and skills meant that I’ve gotten to experience deeper emotional intimacy… which has only led to more pleasurable physical intimacy. Safety is sexy.

My body opens up more to what wants to penetrate me because I know that it’s what I truly want, that my limits will be honored when I sense and name them, and that my partner is doing the same for themselves.

There’s more space within my somatic experience to feel pleasure because I’m not wound up from the activation of appeasement and not actually feeling safe. 

Better orgasms, anyone?

Some questions you might ask yourself to support you in breaking the trauma spell of appeasement:

  • How does it feel in my body when I am noticing that I am appeasing? How can I work with it, rather than against it?
  • What activated the need to appease?
  • What do I need to feel safe, seen, and loved in this moment?
  • What limits do I have that I need to honor and name?

I’ll be breaking down these practices, offering somatic capacity growth, alongside a space to practice intimacy and vulnerability in Essence of Embodiment: a 3.5 month somatic trauma resolution immersion for women and femmes of color. Learn more here.

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