For 25N: (not) establishing boundaries and complex trauma

In my beloved queer group Disidencias del Sur we started to work on patriarchal violence within and towards the LGBTIQA+ collective for 25 November. It is an important and necessary work, as it is usually only made visible within a cisheteronormative framework: cis hetero man towards cis hetero woman. We think that patriarchal violence affects us all. There is only one problem - this work also potentially connects you to your own trauma, and this is what happened to me. A trauma I wasn't even aware of. In the last few years I have already worked a lot on my complex trauma in its various aspects, but now I was starting to become aware of a trauma I had no idea existed.

Slowly memories came to me of my last affective sexual relationship - which ended 13 years ago. Then I still defined myself as a queer man, and the relationship was with a person who then also defined themselves as a man. We had an eight-year relationship, and lived together for six years. A relationship in which sex was very important, and, perhaps, the main way to be intimate. I am aware that at that time at least I was still so disconnected from my emotions that it is almost a surprise that I was able to feel love.

Until recently my interpretation has been that at one point in the relationship I was beginning to connect with my complex trauma, and from then on everything became difficult. Although complex trauma plays an important role in this story, I am now realising the trauma of this relationship itself.

The first memory (or, rather, fragment of memory) that came to me is that once (once?) when my partner was penetrating me, all I could think about was "when is it going to be over?" I know, many of us have been through this, but it was something I had completely forgotten about. Why did this memory come to me these days?

A few days later, I was beginning to remember that certain sexual practices that I had always enjoyed started to disgust me at one point. I don't know from when on. But I kept doing them, disguising my disgust. Until - until I couldn't take it anymore. Until my pain was so great, that I began to refuse to have sex, but was unable to explain it.

Something had happened that had to do with my boundaries, or, rather, with my inability to at first identify my boundaries. So, my partner was overstepping my boundaries on many occasions, without me realising it. Just not noticing doesn't mean there is no pain. You just don't realise it in the moment, and the pain is stored in your body.

So, I ask myself: is it patriarchal violence when a person oversteps another person's boundaries, and this person doesn't even realise it, and doesn't mark their boundaries? There is pain and hurt, in a way there is violence, but who is perpetrating this violence?

I am aware that my inability to identify my boundaries has a lot to do with my complex trauma. Pete Walker, in the book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma, names emotional neglect as a central wound in complex PTSD. I wrote over a year ago:

"Emotional neglect was a reality of my life, of the first 20 years of my life. There was also some arbitrary violence, especially from my mother, and invasions into my intimate space (my mother opening the shower curtain and looking at me, but also both my mother and father entering my room without any warning). I don't know if there was sexual abuse beyond that, and I don't care anymore. I will never know, and really this emotional neglect is more than enough. It was highly traumatic."

I recently read about anxious attachment on the website of the CPTSD Foundation (Complex PTSD Foundation), and one part stuck in my memory: “a mother who was raised by an anxious and ambivalent mother will often try to live their lives vicariously through their children. They become insensitive and intrusive confusing their emotional hunger for what it means to show genuine love for their kids.

I have few memories of specific situations with my mother from these 22 years of my life - maybe four - and all of them traumatic. Apart from the aforementioned memory of the shower, I remember her intrusions: caressing and touching me against my will, with a clearly expressed refusal. I have no memory of the first 10 years of my life, and since then I have only memories of intrusions, and each intrusion became another brick in my complex trauma.

What is the point of being aware of your boundaries when no one cares about your boundaries? What is the point of being aware of your boundaries when everyone will ignore them, and do with you what they want, to satisfy their needs? Better not to notice, to dissociate completely - it hurts less. It hurts less in the moment, but the pain stays in your body, and you lose your ability to identify your boundaries.


Then, going back to my relationship with my partner, I didn't realise my boundaries, as a consequence of my complex trauma. And when I realised them, it was too late, and I didn't feel able to express what was happening to me either. The image of me in the shower and my mother came to me - another connection to my complex trauma. I didn't understand what it meant, but I sensed that it had to do with my refusal to continue sexual relations.

The truth is that in this relationship we talked very little about each other, about our feelings, about what was happening to us. I think I was talking about my hatred for my parents, and that I had no memories of my childhood (at the time I was thinking of the first six years of my life, but really it's more like ten). Beyond that, nothing. And when the image of the shower and my mother came to mind, I think I became afraid. Fear of what I now call the pandora's box of my trauma. Perhaps more than a lack of trust (my ability to trust was quite limited at the time) I was afraid to open this pandora's box, to put this image into words and say them out loud. I was afraid of not being able to confront this pandora's box. I was afraid that once the pandora's box was opened, there would be no turning back. And I didn't say anything. I wasn't able to explain myself, and I wasn't able to end the relationship. We went on for a year without sex, and I could see the suffering I was causing to my partner, but I was unable to say anything, to explain myself.

In the end he was the one who ended the relationship. For me there followed six or seven years during which I really fell into a very dark world, apparently functioning for the outside world. I don't think anyone realised how dark it was inside me during those years. Until summer 2016, when I started to break down and collapse completely.

Since then, little by little, I've been recovering. And sometimes, like now, I unintentionally open the pandora's box of my trauma again, and I am surprised that it still contains things I didn't know about. How many more?