Existential Kink & Why It Hurts So Good

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Suffering ends where meaning begins

I penned that phrase a few years ago. Then a few months ago, as my life-as-I-knew-it exploded, it stopped feeling entirely true. I was suffering even though I already understood the meaning. I was still fighting with reality, wanting it to be different, filled with resentment and self-pity-living for the ever-receding when this happens, then I’ll finally feel ok oasis on the horizon. I felt like I’d reckoned with many of my tendencies, habits, and patterns of reactivity. I had owned them and yet the “lessons” kept rolling in. It seemed “getting it” wasn’t enough to end the cycle…

Admittedly, awareness is a powerful first step.

Our lives unfold to serve our growth and development. Seeing this does bring an existential groundedness to an otherwise disorienting and harrowing human experience. If we look back on an amazing life win, we can marvel at the ways in which things—including things we definitely did not like—had to unfold exactly as they did in order for that wonderful thing to occur. When we are courageous enough to walk away from that which we think we might die without, all sorts of magic rushes in to lift us up out of the seeming abyss. We endure the bad to earn the coming good…

In a Law of Attraction universe of resonance and mirrors, a subtle but palpable masochistic dynamic can take hold. The sadist in this dance is the universe herself—a hard-knocks teacher offering all these lessons “for your own good.” That’s how I’ve sometimes related to the unexpected experiences of adversity or betrayal that come my way. I would submit to my “deserved” experience of pain, grief, shame, and fear and quickly try to extract the meaning. What’s in this for me? Why is this happening? How is this actually serving me? What in my upset am I being invited to love and attend to within? How is that which I’m judging on the outside showing me disavowed parts of myself? And this can become a powerful practice—to experience upset about what is happening, accept that it is, explore the feeling alchemy, and make empowered choices in the direction of the desires beneath the upset.

However, I started to feel myself bracing against the tough ways I might make the acquaintance of my fears and shadow parts. Like, ok universe, bring it on, I promise I’ll own it and take full responsibility! But also, please be nice to me!

That’s why, when I learned that the play of kink power dynamics could all be occurring within me—that I myself could be both the sadist and the masochist, something in me laughed with the delight of recognizing an obvious truth. We pretend that this is all happening to us so that we can have the experience of playing hide and seek with our own consciousness. As Alan Watts describes, we think we want what we want, but what we really want is exactly what’s happening.

As a feminine being, I am pulsing with longing and desire and yearning—emanations of limitless creation.

And so, what if, as Carolyn Elliott says in her book Existential Kink, having is evidence of wanting? What then?

What if everything is already ok…more than ok. What if everything is already exactly how we actually want it to be?

From this place, the journey feels a lot less like a spiritual bootcamp and a whole lot more like play.

The power of desire

Desire is a powerful force and one that is guided by another superpower, which is choice. But what about unconscious desires? Desires that are being fulfilled as we speak, in the aspects of our lives that we “don’t like.” Ones we might feel ashamed to acknowledge?

In my clinical practice, as we would near the end of our work together, I would open the doorway to pharma-and-doctor-free living for my patients. And I often noted their fear and resistance at this precipice. You would think that all people would want to be diagnosis free, no?? Turns out, when we identify with chronic illness, we get something very big out of it. We get to feel comfortably constrained by the limitations of a sick person. We get boundaries. And we don’t have to learn to say “no,” because if we are sick, we just can’t. We get ongoing or immediate care and attention. We get pity and compassion. Most of all, we get to feel right about how messed up and broken we always suspected we were.

And all of that can be shameful to recognize and acknowledge.

To frame this as enjoyable and a source of pleasure may feel like a stretch, but if we focus on the feelings, the sensations in the body that come with the chosen experience, we get somewhere interesting…

The delicious feeling of victimhood

When I feel victimized by someone else, and I get, let’s say, an accusatory email from that person, I feel a rush of energy up my core and my stomach simultaneously feels like it’s dropping out of my body. This is the same feeling that comes with rollercoasters and horror movies (which I tell myself I enjoy!). So what really is the difference between the sensations of pleasure and pain, of fear and excitement? It seems to have something to do with agency, consent, and choice. Which is why being flogged against my will is quite a different thing than being flogged by an adoring lover. So what if the experience of the victim dynamic with this “accusatory” person is also something I actually want? Why would I want that?!

Well, for starters, when I get to feel victimized in a dynamic, I enjoy feeling the deliciousness of righteous anger (one of my personal favorite feelings). I get the compassion of my friends and the exhilarating energy field of groupthink finger pointing. I get attention. And I get to feel innocent, vulnerable, and feminine. And then, if I choose to retaliate (even if just in my mind), I get to flip from that masochistic enjoyment to the sadistic enjoyment of feeling my power over another. I get to meet the wicked part of me that delights in her evil Queen-ship of punishing energy. All without even saying a word… The victim field can be blissful. To fail to recognize that is to hide from our already fulfilled desires.

The shadow realm of wanting

The shame-wall that obscures these desires is the threshold of the shadow, hiding all of the polarities we house. If I think of myself as kind, my cruel punisher is in there. If I’m a loser, my all-powerful girlboss is in there. If I’m consciously identified with my love, light and glitter feminine, my dark feminine destructress is lurking in the dungeon. Basically, when you’re really attached to something, latent in your shadow is the desire to experience the opposite, or even the pain of loss of that which you think you love and need (which you end up actually feeling in real time as the fear that your partner, kids, or cats will die or your house will burn down even as that is not happening). If you really consciously hate something that is happening, it is worth considering that in your shadow is the desire for it to be exactly this way, and a fear of experiencing the opposite of what you hate. Elliott writes:

“In fact, the conscious mind worries about all this ‘bad stuff’ and thinks about how to avoid it, but that worry is secretly (shadowily) a kind of erotic caress, an obsessive dwelling with rapt fascination on the face of the very beloved failure and humiliation.” Worry as an erotic caress…of course it is! Worry is an intimate, doting, devotional visitation with what is not wanted. Worry brings into the here and now, that which feels ultimately fulfilled when the object of worry comes to be. You see! I had reason to worry! Look what happened. Now I’m so upset (or secretly happy about it)!

One of the more uncomfortable realizations I’ve had in this domain pertains to activism and its deep and long shadow. Most, if not all, activists are running from very huge fears.

Deep in exile are the parts of us that hold immense pain. These reservoirs blend with the parts that are also here to make sure that pain isn’t felt. We are typically fighting the childhood battle against that bad mommy or daddy…a battle that can never be won in the present.

Activists say they want a better world.

What I started to recognize is the pleasure we take in the world being as messed up as we said it is. The huge I told you so enjoyment that comes with being right about how wronged we are by the powers that be. In this plandemic window, I’ve noted how many activists visibly enjoy their own fear states and relish their own victim stories about how we are being oppressed and suppressed. They enjoy their power to induce the same sensation in others.

Do they really want a better world or do that actually get off on things exactly as they are? Well, when I looked into that myself, I found all sorts of pleasurable highs in my important role as a whistleblower. I was sounding the alarm and helping people wake up! If there was no alarm to sound and no one asleep (what I was claiming to want), then how would I feel fulfilled and important? Who would I even be? Activists hide this secret fetish for the world to be as messed up as it is; they project that sadist outward and the mirroring takes hold wherein they, as Nietsche said, often become the monsters they fight. Like District 13 in the Hunger Games...

Do we really get off on our pain?

Robert Masters taught me about eroticised wounds and the ways in which our cardinal traumas and hurts and associated beliefs take on the qualities of erotic attraction as we continue to encounter the same patterned dynamics of rejection, betrayal, and abandonment as adults. If you were sexually abused, dehumanized, or objectified in childhood, you might be confused and disturbed to realize that you are actually turned on by experiences that bring the same feelings up in you. It’s more than just attracting what’s familiar. It’s wanting to experience it and deriving enjoyment and pleasure from fulfilling this desire (learn more here). And the more this reality can be consciously acknowledged and approved of, the more liberated shame energy is available! Shame is a hungry ghost that demands love and attention. Once it is offered approval, the alchemy into joy and liberation is, well, ecstatic.

So, here’s an example…

I find insects disgusting. My cats sometimes have fleas. I hate that this is happening. But, of course I know that nothing is random, that this can’t be explained through a mechanical universe because my girlfriends’ cats also go outside and they do not have fleas.

I have played with the idea that I am energetically making them vulnerable to parasitism because I’m not protecting their energy fields, metabolizing my negative energies sufficiently, or otherwise burdening them. Even though that’s interesting and plausible in my spiritual universe, it feels condemning and in some ways leaves me helpless. So what if the truth is that I actually enjoy that they have fleas? Several times a day, I brush my cats and flush the gross writhing vampires down the toilet. My cats love the caresses and attention. They purr and I feel like a heroine taking care of them, vanquishing the invaders. As sick and gross as it is to consider that I am fulfilled by this reality, if I move through the shame-wall and connect to the feeling of “winning against the fleas” in honor of my beloved animals, I could liberate this sadistic part of me into my consciousness. I could then find other ways to connect to and protect my animals that don’t require blood-sucking insect dynamics!

Shadow hunting and loving the game of it all

When we acquaint ourselves with our disavowed desires and consciously feel the previously unconscious pleasure and fulfillment in being controlled, in scarcity, wronged, humiliated, rejected, offended…, life becomes a play, a game, and we reclaim vast energetic resources. Elliott says that we “become lucid in the dream of waking life, capable of executing marvels. We become undeniably, tangibly aware of the divine presence, the spark of Godself within us.” So here are some ways to start that I’ve explored with the support of my coach and that we practice in Vital Life Project community:

Parts work

As you can witness in this candid Internal Family Systems-informed session with Dr. Tom Holmes, getting to know the different parts within us is vulnerable and beautiful. We do, indeed, contain multitudes and the parts holding strong emotional pain, fear, grief, shame, and rage interact with other parts that protect them, judge them, negate them, or advocate for them. Because we blend with many of these protector parts, we see life through the lens of someone who must not feel old feelings. We project ever present abusers outside of ourselves and play out dynamics of childhood on the stage of our adult lives. Getting to know these parts is like introducing the members of a cast to one another in broad daylight after they’ve been performing in the dark. But now these parts get to choose their assigned tasks, develop intentional relationships, and get to play instead of carrying huge emotional burdens. But first, we have to get to know them and why what they feel makes sense.

Divided will

Once I recognize that there may be a part of me that wants a beautiful home, a hot, awakened, hilarious partner, or a 7 figure paycheck, I may very well consider that there might be a part of me that does not. Whenever we feel stuck in loops of suffering, there’s an inner agent funding both sides of the outside war. Any time I note that I want something, I do the Deepest Fear Inventory, described here, so that I can become aware of all of the reasons my will is divided and that I don’t actually want what I say I want and what I am getting out of not having it. And it will finally make so much sense that you will be led down the road of compassionate embrace for the wildly complex entities we are. If you feel trapped by your own inner polarities, then enjoy that feeling of being trapped!

Feel the feels

When you are upset, enter through it. Find a good somatic experiencing coach to learn how to track sensation without a story and watch how it alchemizes before your awareness. Allow and approve of what’s happening within your body. Become your own masculine container that loves everything you’re feeling. As David Deida says, “love your constricted throat” and stay open rather than collapsing because a given feeling threatens to kill you. It won’t if you show it your loving presence. When I feel what I would otherwise label as anxiety in my chest and stomach, I’ll sit with it until it morphs up and down and then ultimately out. It often “gets worse” before it changes. And if I’m feeling kinky, I will apply some breathy moans to this “bad feeling” or melodious humming to welcome in the mixed state of good/bad sensations.

Own your sadist

Once I was willing to acknowledge that I get bodily pleasure and enjoyment from the intensity of reactive rejection that I claim to hate—that I enjoy being a bad girl who is too much, too intense, too loud, too opinionated, too out of line, and who deserves to be constrained and punished—then I get to see things like reactive, rejecting dynamics in my personal life (all the way to blacklisting and censorship!) as things that I actually enjoy, as strange as that sounds! And I get to consciously find other ways to embody my wicked dark feminine bad girl that don’t require that she hide in the closet so that I can experience myself consciously as innocent. This wicked bad girl part is not a compassionate, level-headed, nurturing caretaker. She’s not kind and understanding. When I get to know this forked-tongue, man-beheading witch, I no longer resist this dimension of myself, project it on others, and then feel hurt when that rejection is reflected back to me…I instead become integrated and more whole.

Grow your capacity

I’ve believed in Maslow’s hierarchy of operations for some time. First, we must send a signal of safety to the nervous system so that there is a prayer of being able to explore hidden feelings, unlock caverns of parts, and begin to engage identity plasticity and shifts that would otherwise threaten to annihilate. Emotions are energy in the body. And, in order to stay centered while that energy is moving, we have to grow our capacity to feel. We have to learn how to feel feelings and practice staying open and approving of them. This is why I remain a strong advocate for Vital Mind Reset—the most powerful door to your unlived life and reclamation process-because it disburdens your system psychologically and physically in 44 days.

When I’ve done a Deepest Fear Inventory on something I want, often I will encounter through the ink on my page, my fear of my own power to hold, maintain, and deserve that which I consciously desire. I recognize that I am actually afraid of what life will look like, feel like, be like, if I am powerful enough to have and hold** what my heart longs for. And so, I enjoy this phase of my process where I acknowledge that I am readying to fully align with my conscious desires while my unconscious desires are already in full manifest glory. Because I am that powerful…and so are you.

From Crazy To Creatrix: A Dark Feminine Alchemy Masterclass

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More