Please welcome Mary's very first guest post here at Healing From BPD:
I've been asked to write on a very personal topic, and I find myself in a very vulnerable place in sharing my experience will you all. Many might find this post triggering, upsetting, or unsettling as it encompasses subjects such as childhood sexual abuse, age regression, and how these experiences may manifest in people’s adult sex lives and intimate interactions with those they love. The post will also touch on aspects of consensual power exchange dynamics, BDSM (or kink), and “age play.”
If you are feeling in an emotionally vulnerable place, or are offended by such alternative sexualities, I suggest heeding this “Trigger Warning” for the entirety of the post.
Emotional Trauma in Early Childhood and BPD
Many people with borderline personality disorder have also experienced a traumatic childhood. This could have consisted of some form of childhood abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual), abandonment, neglect, or a generally invalidating environment. Sadly, many of us with BPD have experienced some combination of these damaging traumas, and for every survivor who has lived through such a tragedy, also lives an adult harboring a wounded inner child.
Debbie, the author and host of this blog, has written quite a bit on how she attends to the very real needs of her inner child. She has written posts detailing how she cares for, validates, and allows this child to experience joy as well as an opportunity to freely mourn what has been lost or never had in the first place. Caring for our inner children is not something we are often taught or instructed to do by society. We must learn this.
Here’s a confession… my inner child tends to be more outie than innie. In many of my past relationships, I have acted quite a bit younger than I actually was after gaining a certain amount of trust and comfort. For many years, this was almost a completely subconscious experience. I would only realize that I had literally been acting like a child with my partner (becoming clingy, dependent, speaking in a “little” voice, and attempting to get my way with adorable cuteness) after realizing that I was suddenly transforming into a competent, serious adult at school. I felt like I was living a double life at times.
My Sexuality As an Adult
Following the disintegration of my first marriage with my ex-wife, I came to demonize my inner child who sometimes came out to play in the forefront of my personality around intimate partners.
Life moved on, and I developed new relationships and fell in love with the wonderful, supportive husband I have the privilege of sharing life with now. Together, we have presented as alternative sexuality educators, been certified as Tantra practitioners, and seen each other through our respective gender transitions (we are a transgender “cross-couple” meaning that I am a male-to-female trans woman while he is a female-to-male trans man). As we grew and changed as individuals, so did our relationship dynamics begin to morph.
Now, before I can delve into the heart of this post, I have to point out that my husband and I are involved in the kink/BDSM community. In that sense, our sexuality and relationship dynamics are alternative. Now, I don’t want this writing to become a kink or transgender 101 post, but I do feel I must give some frame of reference for those who are either under or misinformed about these terms. We incorporate things such as bondage, sadomasochism, eroticized role-playing, as well as negotiated and consensual power exchange dynamics into our sexual and romantic lives. We do what it is that we do with a “risk-aware and consensual kink” framework. In our relationship with each other, I could be seen as more submissive and he as more dominant. We structure this in a very conscious and mindful way that we both negotiate from a place of egalitarian love and with our personal needs and health in mind.
Before my husband began his gender transition and was still presenting and identifying as a woman, we were very much in a “Daddy/girl” (non-incest fantasy and non-age related) power exchange dynamic in a sort of butch/femme lesbian sense. We found this fulfilling both in an affirmation of our gender authenticity and in our seeking a sense of service on my end and dominance and protection on his. It was during this time in our relationship that I began to simultaneously dig deeper in therapy in regards to my past, coping with growing up in an invalidating environment, and approaching my personal story of “wrongness and worthlessness” I’ve harbored for most of my life. I was also working with these negative stories in my Tantra work, and part of that process involved conscious age regression in order to identify aspects of ourselves that could benefit from healing. Much of this was also in healing our sexual selves. However, I quickly encountered a block.
The Emergence of My Inner Child
Bit by bit, my inner child came to the surface once more, probably in an effort to protect her from more pain as well as attempt to heal the wounds that were present. I began to act like a little child again, and now that I was in my authentic gender, that child really didn’t want to let go. She wanted the childhood she never got the chance to have, living as a little girl and receiving the validation and acceptance she yearned for. As this happened, every time the word, “Daddy,” escaped my mouth it no longer was spoken in the tone of a service-oriented 24 year old woman, but in the voice of a little girl full of admiration and dependence. I also began to feel “little” when it came to being intimate and engaging in sexual activities. This had never happened in any of my past relationships, and caught us both off-guard.
My husband, bless his heart, took this in stride and with much cautious concern. However, I, as my adult self, was overcome with shame and self-demonization. I don’t experience my little girl (who is 5 by the way J) as an “alter” such as some people do who may be diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID). I am still very present when my little is in the driver’s seat, and I remember every word and action. That little girl is my inner child, not someone else with a different name and history. Still, it concerned us that this little girl also wanted to be sexual. When I’m little, I experience sex as pure pleasure and love, not as something dirty or to be ashamed of but something that is the ultimate expression of acceptance, love, and validation. When my little girl discovered how wonderful that felt, after experiencing so much pain and sadness, I, nor her, really wanted to give that up. I felt like there was real healing that could take place in those moments. I thought that my husband and I could use this as an opportunity to give my little girl something she deserved all along, a chance to be listened to and validated in a radically accepting and inclusive environment.
I am not recommending that people who experienced childhood trauma use “age play” as a form of therapy. We went in knowing that the territory we were treading through was potentially rife with landmines, triggers, and emotional meltdowns waiting to be found. Nevertheless, we both consented, as adults, to explore this. I’m simply discussing this because I have found that my experience is not quite as much of an anomaly as one might assume. I’ve been coming across groups dedicated to people who live in the BDSM lifestyle while also living with BPD. On more than one occasion, I have seen the questions posed, “Does anyone else here have a “little” persona, and do you think this has anything to do with BPD or experience of childhood trauma? Does this make my little ‘bad?’ Does anybody else use their age play relationship to help you incorporate dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills?” Then the responses come flooding in with people sharing their similar experiences and questions. It’s been fascinating to witness.
Repressed Memories Came to The Surface for Healing
Before this time, I had almost no clear memory of my childhood before age 11. Things started coming back though. Many of the memories that came back were happy. I even remembered my favorite stuffed hippo I had when I was three. I asked my mom if I really did have that hippo to confirm my memory, and she still had it! She sent me that hippo as a present for my 25th birthday! Not every memory was happy though. I began to remember frightening fights between my other family members that happened at home and were sometimes accompanied by physical altercations and threats. I remembered hiding, pretending I didn’t hear anything. I remembered how terrified I was of expressing my emotions and how I learned at a very young age ways to avoid the fights and my father’s anger and verbal onslaught, that my siblings experienced, by staying quiet, out of the way, and passive. There were still so many gaps though, years lost, things that I had partial memory of but knowing something darker lay hidden there. We did find landmines and triggers, many were sexual - some were not. Eventually much later, after months of therapy, I did have emotional meltdowns when I finally began to have flashbacks and re-experience my childhood sexual abuse. Everything felt overwhelming, too much and like it was unraveling all too fast. Soon, I wished I had remembered nothing. This was the risk I took though.
For us, this exploration of my inner child began in the bedroom, an admittedly awkward place for her to show up. I like to think that she simply felt safe to come out there and wanted to experience the love that was shared in those moments of intimacy between me and my husband. Slowly, over time, I began to accept my little girl more and more instead of demonizing her, and brought her into my everyday life. This is where she mostly resides now.
Accommodating My Inner Child and The Adult Me
My husband can’t be a “Daddy” 24/7, that’s not what either of us signed up for in this relationship. I've had to learn how to better control myself in terms of “becoming little” a little too often. We've had to find balance, allowing myself to not depart from the responsibilities and pleasures of adult life, while also creating a space for validating my inner child who wishes to come out and play at times. If I set aside some time to be “little Aeshe” coloring in a coloring book, watching Tinker Bell movies, or having Daddy tuck me in and read me a bedtime story at the end of the night, I can live my day-to-day adult life largely without unhealthy interference.
Sometimes she still shows up at unexpected times though, especially when I find myself dealing with distressing emotions. I have experienced such fear of abandonment that “little Aeshe” would often cry out in protest if Daddy was leaving, or she’d mope around with a pouty lip if she had to go out and do something alone. As we learned more about BPD, and concepts such as object constancy, we came up with things such as the “Daddy bracelet.” It’s a bracelet I wear, that Daddy used to wear, that reminds me that he is always with me and loves me. It really helps. Sometimes I wear it even when we’re physically together, because I still can experience that overwhelming sense of emptiness (a common BPD trait) and interpret it as being alone even when I’m not.
DBT as Part of My Healing Process
Many DBT skills and especially self-soothing activities are also things that can help our inner children be put at ease. Gradually, as I've been working on my issues around being overly dependent and confused about boundaries, I've begun to re-parent my inner child. I know that I can be her “Mommy.” She needs her Mommy too, and I am coming to terms with the fact that I can’t always expect my husband to fulfill that parent role when I want or need it. I will often realize that my distressing emotions are more the distress of my inner child, and then I can use compassionate and validating self-talk to reassure the little girl that she is safe, that feelings pass, and that Mommy will do everything she can to protect her from future harm.
I look forward to witnessing my inner child heal and grow. I know this is a necessary aspect of my recovery from BPD, and I will stay by her side and validate her. However, I know that I am now an adult who must take full responsibility for her actions and life. No one can save me but me. I don’t want that little girl to think she has to be a victim forever. I choose to embody the essence of a survivor who has learned to live with and cope healthily despite her challenges. This is my intention and commitment to my little girl.