We all have narratives (or stories) we have created which have developed from personal experiences, familial modeling or messages we’ve internalized throughout the years. Some of these stories are helpful, i.e. “I should treat the ones I love with kindness and respect, as it will help me build stronger and more meaningful relationships, otherwise they may no longer want to be with me.” But some are damaging. REALLY damaging. Which brings me to the point of this post: coercive narratives (CN). I define a coercive narrative as a story we tell ourselves that coerce us into doing something. For example, a CN might be something like, “If I just have sex with him then he’ll stop bothering me and we can move on with our night.” Or “I’m supposed to have sex with my date because they paid for my dinner. I owe them that.” By the nature of gender stereotypes and sexism, I often hear cisgender women discuss their own CN’s in relation to the sexual abuse spectrum. They usually tell me that they weren’t actually assaulted, but because of their partner/date/friend’s behaviors and their own internalized stories, they felt like they had to do something they didn’t actually want to. I think it goes without saying that coercive narratives are hella destructive and enable rape culture.
How Do We Burn These Coercive Narratives Down?
As you may imagine, patients often come to see me because they want something “fixed.” They are unhappy with an aspect of their life, typically around sex or gender, and want me to give them all the answers (if only!). But when it comes to managing any type of unhelpful or destructive narratives, it’s all about changing the narrative. Although that seems really obvious and you probably wonder why someone would pay me to hear that, changing narratives can be REALLY hard. I mean, when you hear something over and over again, it becomes a part of how you see the world. I am essentially asking my patients to see the world through a different lens. Sure, it may seem a little too simple, but it’s proven to work. This approach is an aspect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and it’s often used (in conjunction with other techniques) to effectively manage depression and anxiety. I suggest to my clients that whenever they notice themselves drifting towards a harmful narrative, challenge it! Throw some facts up in that bitch. If you’re worried that a partner won’t want to be with you because you haven’t had sex with them, remind yourself that anyone worth being with wouldn’t want you to pressure yourself into sex. And if you can’t come up with facts in the moment, develop a few one-liners that you can use to clapback. For example, “I don’t owe anyone anything.” Or “My body is a dictatorship, not a democracy. I say what goes and I do what’s comfortable.” You can even keep a journal to write down how often you are having these thoughts and how you have been able to combat them. It takes practice, so try not to get discouraged. Rome wasn’t built in a day, y’all!
Find that Voice and Use it Bebe!
If you’re finding that your narratives don’t align with your ability to have a healthy sexual experience work on strengthening your own voice. Find like-minded people whose own narratives represent the ones you’d like to have one day. Go to social media or Youtube and follow people who post supportive, empowering and uplifting messages. Those messages will help you to create the stories you want to hear.
Remember, it’s Not Your Fault
The coercive narratives you are experiencing aren’t your fault. You’ve likely internalized decades of shitty messages and are doing your best to sift through them all. BUT YOU CAN MAKE CHANGES. It kind of reminds me of an attic. Every now and then it’s important to go through all our old shit and purge so you can make room for new shit. So out with those old, outdated, patriarchy ridden messages and fill them up with all the new, beautiful stories you have to tell yourself.
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