A shameful story

shame consent somatic learning

I’ve got long hair. I go to a hairdresser. He is a good one and always overbooked. He squeezes me into his schedule. Sometimes when he is occupied with other people, his partner, a chatty blond lady, takes his work to wash my hair. I don’t like her touch. Her hands are stiff and she has long nails.

Just last week, it happened again. She invited me to come to that chair with a sink. I knew already I don’t like that. But refusing her would be quite confrontational. I would have to explain myself. I already prepared what I could say in German. But I don’t say a thing. Like a zombie, I get up and go to the sink. 

I sit down. I feel her hands on my head. I’m bearing. I feel my whole body getting tense. I am holding my breath. I am filling up myself with a mental chatter: It is not that a big deal, right? She is just doing her job. They are trying to squeeze me in, I have to be flexible. She is nice, I wouldn’t like to offend her. And looking for a new hairdresser will be such a hassle. 

Thick layer of shame surfacing like the silt in the lake and makes my stomach flip. I am ashamed of myself. I should know better. I worked so much on myself to know my boundaries and be able to protect them. I teach others to do that. There is no excuse. I go passive-aggressive and make a grimace to let her know that she is pinching my hair. Soon it’s over. I can pay and go home… 

Why do I tell you that? It seems to me that this kind of experience many of us will recognize. We are trained to put up with stuff we don’t like, ever since we were children: 

  • Eat this, it’s healthy. 
  • Sit still, I need to get this work done. 
  • Here is your dear aunty visiting, give her a kiss. 

Growing up, we learn how to suppress and ignore our body’s signals, and the more we do that, the better we become: 

  • Tired? Drink coffee and keep going! 
  • Stressed? Take a pill and keep going! 
  • Your colleague is overly touchy? Don’t make a fuss, they are just friendly… 

The same is true for sex. The same is true for rope bondage. The mere intellectual understanding of things like “It is ok to say No” is not enough… until we embody it, until it becomes the living reality of our body and comes out as naturally and powerfully as say an expression of surprise or joy. The key to true intimacy is confidence in how much you have a choice in what is done to you. Ultimately, the key to true intimacy is your own ability to say No.

For some of us it takes months and years of practice, for some – the whole life. There is no shame in that. Transformation is a journey.