Taboo subjects? What’s not talked about in Therapy

I love the therapeutic space I have with my psychotherapist, knowing that I have a whole hour of confidential time to talk about anything I want: my hopes, dreams. My fears. knowing that my therapist will be present and holding, and that nothing I may bring is banned, out of bounds or not allowed. Or is it? I wonder to myself, perhaps some areas are actually taboo. Maybe there are some subjects that my psychotherapist doesn’t want to actually listen to. What if there are specific areas of my life which are not for ‘public consumption’.

If you are like me, growing up in the last century, I am from a time when children were still ‘seen but not heard’. The legacy of Victorian Britain still influencing my cultural heritage. I was encouraged to suppress my natural instincts as a child to be free, exploring and curious of my universe, to be the ‘good boy’, and thus reassuring my parents I could be taken anywhere and I wouldn’t embarrass them. I learned that some things should not be talked about. However, this curiosity still lived within me and the exploration moved to a different place, of teenagers giggling behind bike sheds and nervous fumblings in the night.

I’m talking about sex.

I believe that a health connection to and understanding of our sexual self is fundamental to our existence as a human being. However, this is more than the physical expression of sex and sexuality, but an understanding of how to form healthy relationships, of intimacy and identity, of self-worth, self-expression and understanding. It’s about how I see my body and how I imagine other people see me.

The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT), UK’s leading organisation for therapists specialising in sexual and relationship issues, state that people often feel upset and ashamed if they don’t think they fit into the ‘normal’, whilst the truth is that there is no ‘normal’. Everyone is different, individual and unique. Our society is littered with myths about sex and sexuality, about what is normal, safe and acceptable. Yet the ability to talk openly about sex and sexuality is often stunted by historical moral perspectives of what is right and proper, along which comes a thick slice of shame and guilt. For many of us, our education about healthy sexual relationships has come from peers, the media or the internet.

In reality, nothing is taboo to a well-trained therapist. As is the case with my therapy space, I believe that nothing is out-of-bounds. It is a place to explore the connection we have with the different parts of ourselves, with the sense of the sexual self and with sexuality. It is an opportunity to explore whether this relationship is open and flowing, or has been distorted by the inappropriate, immoral or illegal actions of others. It is a safe, confidential space to unpick the shame and guilt which might be being carried for our actions or the actions of others. Whilst talking about sex and sexuality is not an easy subject for most people, the rewards from doing so could be life changing.

The fantasy of mind reading in relationships

How many times have your heard your partner say to you, “You should know what I’m feeling, you’re married to me?”  or “Why didn’t you do, this/that/the other, you know me?” This is the art of “mind reading” and its what most people expect of their partner when they have been together for a while.

There are two types of mind reading. They are guessing what another person is feeling or thinking, and attributing intentions or purposes to another person’s actions or behaviours. As babies, we needed our parents to be able to do this in order for us to communicate our needs, before we learn to be able to communicate for ourselves. When we were hungry, we wanted our partners to read our body language so they feed us, or when we were feeling sad, so they would comfort us.

However, we cannot read anyone’s mind, know what they want or what they are thinking. No one can actually read your mind. As adults, we have the language to communicate our needs, and it is important we start to do so. As we all know, the English language is notoriously bad at being specific, with words having different meanings to different people, depending on the meaning we give to that word.

There are so many ways to interpret clues and hints, that even someone who knows you well can misread the intent. Whilst direct communication of your wants, needs, and desires may ruin your fantasy, instead of the satisfying feeling of your partner just figuring it out, asking for a hug will help ensure you are both on the same page. For those few times when your other half guesses right, many disappointments, arguments, frustrations, hurt feelings, and even breakups could have been avoided. There are other ways to fulfill fantasies than silently waiting and building frustration.

When I work with couples therapeutically, communication is fundamental to the success of the work. To overcome the need for each other to mind read, we need to agree to stop trying to read the mind of others. To learn what it is the other person is trying to communicate, ask them questions until you are certain you understand what the other person is feeling or thinking, or what they are trying to communicate through their actions or behaviour.

We can stop people trying to read our minds by precisely describing what is going on inside of us, avoiding vague words, and by being as specific as possible about time frames, actions and expectations.  We can use common or shared experiences as examples of ways of making our mind clear to another person, but it is important to avoid blaming, labelling and digging up past, unresolved hurts.

In the end, if you want your other half to figure it out on their own, be prepared for disappointment, as it will rarely go your way. If you want something, or don’t want something, just say it.