Me, harm, and accountability

Updated as of Dec 28th 2019

CN: sexual harm, sexual trauma

The purpose of this statement is to clarify how I, as an educator and therapist that is visible in community, hold myself responsible for harm and protect myself from abusing power. This is especially relevant given my future likely includes contributions to trauma-based models for restorative justice, especially addressing complex cases of relational harm, including sexual violence.

For starters, I want to be upfront that I have done harm in intimacy.

I’m sharing this because what I have learned from working through my patterns is incredibly important to how I now try to show up to all of my relationships.

To give you a bit of background, the harm that I have done has mostly been in tumultuous and complex long-term relationships where uncontained emotional energies bled into sexual situations. I have also done harm, a few times, in fleeting connections where lack of familiarity and skills for facilitating enthusiastic consent led to hurting my partners without meaning to.

I also want to say, not to take anything away from my own responsibilities or center myself, in every case of me doing harm, it has never been clear cut, going in one direction – I often felt violated and hurt myself. This underscores that the harms happened in relationship dynamics that all parties contributed to through our mutual lack of self-knowledge and consent skills. My aim with this statement, and accountability work in general, is about owning my part in these dynamics but I think it is also deeply useful to provide a bit of counter-balance so I am handling the issues in a right-sized way.

Coming back to the main subject of harm I have done, hurting my partners itself has been traumatic to me. I know in my bones that all harm is also self-harm. I have fundamentally cared about every person that I’ve been with, whether they were regular or one-time partners. It still deeply hurts to know I’ve done them wrong.

Over the last few years, I have been particularly focused on taking responsibility for healing my harmful patterns. Luckily, I have had the incredible support of skilled professionals, including consent coaches and somatic sex educators, and caring friends who were also survivors.

Through this healing process, I’ve learned something really important about my patterns of harm. In every situation I have caused harm, I have at some point overridden or ignored my inner voice telling me that I did not feel safe enough to proceed.

In reviewing my past, I now know that feelings of un-safety in sexual situations can particularly arise for me when:

  • I have been in a conflict dynamic with my partner and it hasn’t settled enough for me.
  • I haven’t had enough time to feel familiar with my partner and the intimacy is escalating too fast for me.

In these above situations, I can easily become dissociated and/or activated. This can sometimes lead me to not check-in appropriately, with myself or others, before engaging in specific sexual activities or testing boundaries.

This pattern of dissociation/activation, I learned, has a lot to do with my childhood experiences with physical, emotional, and potential sexual abuse (that I am still trying to understand), as well as male programming that tells me to always say yes to sex. Through childhood pain and cultural trauma, I have lost connection to my embodied sense of ‘NO’. And because of this, I have realized that the best way I can protect others and myself from harm is by paying attention to my own inner sense of safety, as consistently as I can.

Following, my way of accountability has been to work on keeping track of two questions:

  1. Is consent and care being modelled back to me? Part of my issue has been co-dependently trying to take all the responsibility for holding safer containers when I don’t have the capacity.
  2. Do I feel safe enough in my body to take risks? Many things can make me lose sight of my sense of safety. The rush of a new connection. The relief of resolving a conflict. The sense of obligation. My male programming can lead to prioritizing all of the above over safety.

I now try to apply these two questions to every relationship I am in, from budding friendships, intimate partnerships to business-to-business relationships.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I still don’t make foibles. Part of the learning I have had in looking at my patterns is that I can never be perfect (who knew). What I can do is keep trying to co-create containers where I and others can be imperfect together. My hope is that, with persistence, my mistakes become smaller, my learnings come quicker, and repair leads to even more safety and deepening of relationship.

I hope that knowing this serves your sense of safety in getting to know me and my work better.