The "Thigh" Story
by John Firman (2007)
My wife was driving the car in her white cotton shorts, and I, in the passenger seat, found myself very attracted to her. I reached over and gently squeezed her thigh. But she reacted in a bothered, irritated way, brushing my hand away with a disgusted, “Don’t do that!”
I became quiet and withdrawn. Years ago I wouldn’t have been aware of this as withdrawal, but would have simply fallen silent for a long time. My partner would finally say that I’d been awfully quiet and was there anything wrong? I would say no, nothing, what do you mean? And believe it. This type of interaction—and the feelings with it—were hidden in my earlier relationships.
Knowing better now, this time I let myself know how hurt and angered I felt at her rebuff. This acknowledgement was hard for my pride—what kind of a person feels so strongly about such a small thing? How petty! How immature! Unmanly, even. This is why in years past I was not even aware of this type of reaction. But again, knowing better, I let myself feel the younger part of myself who felt so deeply rageful at the rejection that he wanted to close off to this “enemy” forever. This rage was my reaction to my father’s demeaning criticism of me—I would close off, withdraw, disappear.
Underneath the rage of this young boy in me, though, was a more difficult level of feeling. Here I felt rejected and worthless. In the depths of this despair, I truly did not want to be alive. All this from a mild rebuff from my loving wife of many years? Yes. Though as you see, it took some unpacking to discover this!
As my wife and I talked about all of this, we realized that she too had felt a violation and a rage when I’d squeezed her thigh. She didn’t understand that, but we agreed that it was important for us to protect this vulnerability in her so that the wounding might have space to emerge in its own time. Simply: I would not squeeze her thigh like that. We knew there was a wound there, but didn’t know what it was or who in her held it.
It wasn’t until a year or more later, talking to her aunt, that we heard the story of my wife’s grandfather sexually fondling my wife’s legs when she sat in his lap as a little girl. We both had a huge “Aha!” hearing this story, and my wife could feel the little girl in her, in her short dress, being molested by her grandfather.
This is an example of intimacy. Spiritual empathy within this couple allowed an empathic resonance to build between them, and eventually primal wounds emerged that were then inadvertently impinged upon. His father wound was touched, as was her grandfather wound, each triggering their own reaction. This is completely normal.
Any authentic, intimate relationship establishes a deep empathic resonance that will inevitably surface primal wounding within the relationship. These wounds are highly vulnerable, like painfully sensitive abscesses surfacing, and so may be impinged upon by the slightest word or deed. The resultant extreme and seemingly disproportionate reactions to such an impingement can be hard to understand and manage.
It can be quite confusing, of course, because these wounds may have lain dormant for years and only are appearing now. One can be left with the impression that it is the particular partner that is to blame for this, since, “This hasn’t been an issue with other people I’ve been with.” While this can be the result of a particularly insensitive partner, more often the emergence of such wounding indicates a strength in the relationship rather than a weakness—it is the power of the empathic resonance that is allowing these deeper wounds to emerge. In a way, the wounds are responding to the authentic unifying center established by the couple, as if the wounded ones in us recognize it is safe enough to surface.
Crucial here, then, is to know that this is happening and that it is a normal and expected part of human intimacy. Otherwise, the man would be left with his long silences, cut off from himself and his partner. Or perhaps the woman, feeling the rage towards her grandfather, would continually demean the man’s advances. And either one might criticize the other as too sensitive or too high maintenance, telling the other to “get over it.” “grow up,” or perhaps, ‘quit projecting.’
If attitudes like the latter become chronic, the couple will establish a relationship based on a repression of the vulnerable layers of each. The relationship will become a survival unifying center dictating what parts of each person are acceptable and what are not—the precise opposite of the freedom, spontaneity, and creativity of authenticity. Such a survival relationship can last indefinitely unless some inner or outer crisis causes the pattern to falter, allowing the outcast aspects of the individuals to emerge.
Copyright © 2007 by John Firman and Ann Gila. All rights reserved. Psychosynthesis Palo Alto • 461 Hawthorne Avenue • Palo Alto, CA• 94301