Episode 21: Trauma-Informed Polyamory with Clementine Morrigan

clementine morrigan wearing a hat with pigtail braids and a black shirt

hot pink square with a quote from Clementine Morrigan in white text that reads "polyamory involves situations & dynamics that can be particularly triggering for people with attachment trauma"

Clementine Morrigan is back on the podcast to chat about Trauma-Informed Polyamory! On their Instagram, they say, “Most resources on polyamory don’t discuss the ways that histories of trauma can impact our current experiences of polyamory. Most resources on trauma recovery, attachment theory, and relationship conflict assume monogamous partnerships as the norm. Polyamorous people with histories of trauma need to do translation work: how to combine trauma resources with polyamory.”

clementine morrigan wearing a hat with pigtail braids and a black shirt

Links

Show Notes

Clementine Morrigan is back on the pod to discuss…

  • general specifics about polyamory and why most polyamory resources are inadequate or incomplete because they lack focus on mental health and most mental health resources assume monogamous relationships
  • how the nervous system responds in relationships and how polyamory can magnify trauma responses
  • attachment theory and attachment styles
  • why Clementine has had to create resources that integrate nervous system literacy with attachment and polyvagal theories with info about polyamory
  • the deep healing that can occur w hen someone works through attachment trauma through polyamory
  • her 2 biggest pieces of advice for people in polyamory or those who are learning more about polyamory (hint: you’ll eventually end up at trauma-informed polyamory anyway, so you might as well start here!)

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Transcript

[INTRO MUSIC]

LINDSEY: Hey friends. Welcome back. I’m super excited to have Clementine Morgan back on the podcast today and today we’re talking about trauma informed polyamory. Clementine is a writer and ecosocialist and anarchist. She is the author of Fucking Magic, Love Without Emergency, You Can’t Own the Fucking Stars, and The Size of a Bird. She is also the creator of the Trauma Informed Polyamory Workshop and a cohost of the podcast Fucking Canceled with her partner Jay.

In this episode, Clementine and I are going to discuss the general specifics about polyamory. And why almost all polyamory resources are inadequate because they include almost no info on mental health. We’re going to discuss how the nervous system responds in polyamorous relationships. Even when the mind wants the polyamorous relationship, the nervous system is often like I am going to die and spoiler alert that happens in monogamous relationships as well. We’re going to discuss attachment styles and attachment trauma at length. We’re also going to discuss why Clementine has had to create resources that integrate nervous system literacy with attachment and polyvagal theories and information about polyamory because mental health resources assume monogamous relationships whenever they’re talking about relationships and trauma.

We’re also going to discuss the scary lack of legal recognition and protection of polyamorous folks and families. And we’re going to share how polyamory brings attachment trauma out in a big major way. Sometimes even like more sharply than monogamous relationships. We’re going to talk about the deep healing that can occur when someone works through attachment trauma through polyamory, and finally Clementine is giving her two biggest pieces of advice for people who are in polyamorous relationships or wanting to learn more about polyamorous relationships. So without further ado, enjoy her second appearance on the holistic trauma healing podcast. Here’s Clementine, Morrigan. Hey, Clementine. Welcome back to the podcast.

CLEMENTINE: Thank you for having me.

LINDSEY:So we are going to talk about trauma informed polyamory today. Amazing.
That’s like your specialty, right?

CLEMENTINE: It’s definitely some of the work that I’m most known for. Yeah.

LINDSEY: Okay. How about we just start with Pretend, nobody knows. Pretend I don’t even know what polyamory is. So before we can talk about trauma informed polyamory, what is polyamory?

CLEMENTINE: Okay, great. Starting with the basics. I love it. Okay. So basically, polyamory is like an umbrella word. In the sense that it can mean a lot of different things. But basically it means I guess non-monogamy is more of the umbrella word and polyamory is like more, a specific thing under non-monogamy. But I feel like my workshop and the work that I do is relevant for people who practice non-monogamy generally and maybe more relevant to people who practice polyamory specifically. So non-monogamy generally means. A relationship style that is not monogamous. In which people choose to have sexual and, or romantic relationships with more than one person at a time. And so in non-monogamy that might mean that like you maybe only have a romantic relationship with one person, but you’re having sexual relationships with other people.

But with polyamory because. I think not everyone uses this distinction, but I think originally the distinction between non-monogamy and polyamory is that like polyamory is a word that was created to me, like many loves or more than one love. So it’s like a type of non-monogamy that is open to developing multiple relationships, partnerships, or the dynamics that are like actually romantic or ha or even have the potential of including love. But yeah, there’s many ways that people practice different types of polyamory and non-monogamy, there’s not like one particular way to do it. There’s lots of books that are about this. Like the ethical slut is like the classic. It’s pretty old, I think it’s from the nineties.

But it’s kinda like the classic polyamory book. There’s many And basically if people are interested in knowing the specifics about the different ways that people do this that would be a place to look. Generally in my work, I don’t tend to go into a lot of detail about that stuff. I’m assuming that once people reach my work, that they already have a sense of what they’re trying to do with polyamory is just that they’re having a hard time doing it. And yeah, like I think the people who attend my workshop range, like from people who are practicing like full types of polyamory, including like non-hierarchical polyamory, which is when you don’t even have the setup of one primary partner. And then everybody else is like people that you’re dating maybe in a less committed way. So there’s many types. I don’t know if that was like too broad now.

LINDSEY: No, that was great. Okay. So then, like you said, if somebody gets to the point where they’re like discovering your work, then they’ve probably already done at least some in information gathering about polyamory. Maybe they’ve tried. Being in polyamorous relationships and they probably find you because they’re coming up against some roadblocks and hurdles and they’re polyamorous relationships. So that’s where trauma informed polyamory comes in. Is that right?

CLEMENTINE: Most of the time, by the time people have found my work, they’re like Loki having a mental breakdown. Yeah. And so like basically I think this is starting to change a little bit. But for a very long time, all resources on polyamory did not include anything about mental health. So there’s all of the tools that people gave assumed a certain level of like nervous system regulation that people with trauma don’t necessarily have. So obviously jealousy is like one of these things that comes up a lot in discussions in polyamory, like how do you deal with the jealousy? And I actually think that the word jealousy is like a really huge over-simplification of what people are actually experiencing, especially if they have any kind of trauma.

And so in my work, I make the distinction and I use the language of distress instead of the language of jealousy. Because in a lot of these sort of mainstream polyamory resources, they’ll basically tell you to investigate your jealousy, look at it, see what information you can gather from it. Maybe your needs, aren’t totally being met. Maybe there’s specific things you need to ask for. Maybe there’s some insecurities in yourself that are coming up that you need to work on, et cetera. And it’s basically look at those things, gain what you can from it.

And then the discomfort, you just have to write it out. You have to just like. Be with your feelings and let them pass and they will pass this generally the advice. But the problem is that for people who have a very dysregulated, nervous system when they’re super triggered I have a Xen on the topic and it’s called love with an emergency and the subtitle is I want this, but I feel like I’m going to die. And I think that people really feel like they’re going to die when they are in such an extreme nervous system, distress place. And so a lot of things play into this, obviously like your nervous system, but also it’s a lot about attachment and attachment trauma. And when people feel that there is a threat to their most important relationships, like they can very easily interpret that as a threat to their life. Like their nervous system can interpret it that way. Even if they’re like non triggered mind knows that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter because we’re social animals. We require our relationships to live. So things that we perceive as threats to our relationship can be very triggering to the nervous system.

And if you’re someone with a dysregulated nervous system, if you’re someone who already has a lot of attachment trauma it’s going to be hard for you to show your nervous system that you actually aren’t in danger. And that you’re safe. It’s like it’s tricky. And so it’s not enough to just tell traumatized people. Just sit with your feelings and let them pass. In fact for a lot of time. And those people doing that will only just make the feelings become more and more intense. And then usually what ends up happening is they can’t stand it any longer and they act out in some kind of regrettable way. And it’s like a cycle of relationship drama starts to happen where there’s a lot of conflict and the partners are not understanding each other. The partner who isn’t triggered, like really doesn’t understand the level and the intensity of the distress and why the triggered partner is acting the way that they are. And so basically my work is just trying to help people to combine the nervous system literacy attachment theory.

And polyamory because the thing is that while I said, like all of these all of these resources on polyamory, they don’t say anything about attachment theory. Usually they don’t say anything about the nervous system usually. But on the other hand, when you read books about attachment theory and you read books about the nervous system, if they talk about relationships, they’re assuming a monogamous relationship. And also those resources can be tricky to navigate if you’re a polyamorous person, because they don’t always super map on to what your relationship style is. And so basically I’m trying to help people to create a synthesis of those ideas and help people to apply nervous system education and attachment theory too.

LINDSEY: The practice of polyamory does not sound easy.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah. It can be tricky. But honestly the, like you just saying like the biggest, most important thing, and it’s just simple is validation. People need to know that they’re not like that there’s nothing wrong with them. And they’re not a failure that they’re having these kinds of reactions and that they’re not unusual also because, if you read the polyamory literature, you’re going to think you’re crazy. I think it’s starting to change, but a lot of the older literature on this, like it did not talk about people being this Dysregulated. So people just, they shame themselves. They’re like, why am I like this? Am I not really polyamorous? Like, why can’t I just sit with my feelings?

And then they have a lot of shame. And then unfortunately shame is like very disregulating. And so it like increases their distress instead of helping to Sue that. A lot of it is like normalizing for people. And just like helping people get into a space where they can recognize, like they have a bigger hurdle than some other people because they have trauma, but that’s not insurmountable. It just means that there’s going to be a bit more work, but there are tools, for sure.

LINDSEY: So I don’t know, to me, it sounds if people are finding you by the time they’re at the point of a nervous breakdown, that wouldn’t it be so much better for people who are exploring polyamory. To have found you first, rather than going through other books, like the ethical slut and more than two and all of those types of things. And then they’re like, but this isn’t working, but this isn’t working, but I still feel this way. I’m still in distress. I still feel like I’m dying and they’ve gone through a lot of suffering by the time they found your work. So it makes sense to me that we’re going about it backwards. Like we really should be starting with work like yours.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah. And I think this is part of a larger shift that is happening with our culture overall, not just even in the context of polyamory, like I’m sure this as somebody who does this kind of work, like nervous system literacy, attachment theory, stuff like this stuff used to be pretty fringe. Like people did not know about it. And now we’re starting to see a wave of that becoming like a lot more mainstream and like more and more people are trying to know about it, but it’s yeah, it’s not just polyamorous people who would do so much better if we knew about this shit, like immediately, it’s like I was, I was asked to speak at a class for social work students. They were like in their fourth year of studying social work. And they were doing like some kind of sexual diversity course. So I was asked to come and speak to the class about like my work on polyamory and trauma informed polyamory. So I was like trying to get a sense of what I should focus on.

And I asked the class so what is your basic understanding of the nervous system? Cause I don’t want to spend a lot of time sort of repeating things that you already know. And nobody knew about the nervous system. Wow. And they were fourth year social work students and they did not have any understanding of the nervous system. They’d never even heard about this. And so basically it just threw my entire talk out the window and I was like, okay, nevermind about polyamory today, teaching you about the nervous system. Because this is just so fundamental and people really don’t understand like so many conflicts that people have, whether it’s in your intimate relationships, whether it’s online, whether it’s in workspaces or political spaces or whatever it is it’s really difficult. If people are super activated and in their fight flight or freeze nervous system responses, like they literally, the frontal lobe of the brain is going offline. So you’re not actually able to show up and be present for A real conversation. And if people don’t realize that, and they’re both just reacting out of their nervous systems, then there’s no progress. You can’t get anywhere. And yeah, I really think it’s like really important that people start to learn about this. I think there’s like a huge shift that is happening now where this information is becoming way more available. People like you were doing podcasts like this and just like putting this education out there. It’s like super important. So I think that will shift. And then who knows, maybe we are going to start seeing more like mainstream sources, like just incorporate this information right away, which I think would be great. Yeah.

LINDSEY: Yeah. I think that’s another great thing that you’re pointing out is Talking about the nervous system is fringe talking about attachment theory is friinge, which I do want to revisit in a second. Cause it’s the first time it’s come up on the podcast and I feel like it’s really important that people understand what that is. And I know you talk about it a lot on your Instagram, so it is super helpful, but I would like to revisit that, but polyamory itself, To me anyway seems kind of fringe, just like the, because I don’t really know. I think I know other than you, I think I know like maybe another one or two other polyamorous people, or at least people who are like openly polyamorous. I think that it’s still a Our culture has such a hard time accepting. Non-monogamy like our culture is just now getting to the point where it’s gay marriage is cool. So now it’s but at least gay marriage is monogamous, and yeah. It’s like polyamory seems a little bit fringe. Like you probably your whole community is probably a bunch of polyamorous people, but are you, do you find it like it’s an uncomfortable for people to even talk about?

CLEMENTINE: So I want to say two things about this one. I’m like, yes, we live in a culture that frames, monogamy as normal, healthy, desirable, acceptable. And it’s still the norm against which other types of relationships are judged. We still live. And I think this is like really important. Like we still live I’m in Canada, but it’s the same in the States. It’s like we live in underneath governments that actually don’t recognize polyamorous relationships. And that’s like really scary because it’s I don’t have kids, but like in a situation where I did what do you do in those kinds of situations where you have like multiple parents trying to figure out how to raise kids together and still have like legal rights or even You know if I it’s like my worst nightmare, but it’s if my if my partner was like unconscious in the hospital and then they’re like, okay, only family can come in and both me and our other partner were there.

They’d be like, okay, who are you? And we’re like we are both this person’s partner. It’s like in situations like that, there is no legal protection to make sure that you can be with your family, and so I think that this is really serious and really important. And I think that people can dismiss polyamory stuff as I don’t know, like silly in a way where like they don’t take it as seriously as queer stuff or like same-sex relationships where they’re like, okay I guess maybe it’s because people think queer people are like born that way and it’s not their fault. So therefore we should just accept them, but we haven’t gone to that place of acceptance. People are like, you don’t need to be polyamorous. So like, why are you being so like weird and complicated But this is the way that many people live and personally with queer people or with polyamorous people I don’t really care if they’re born that way or not.

It’s irrelevant. What matters is these are people who, these are their relationships and they deserve to have rights and they deserve to have their family structures like protected. And so that’s. Yeah, it’s definitely true that it’s still not, even though we’ve come a long way and it’s becoming more and more common. It’s still not like mainstream in the sense that it’s not protected in the same kind of way that monogamy is. And I think that’s really important that we work towards that because it’s like distressing being in my thirties and like being like, okay, like I want to be, moving towards like more stability in my life and like figuring out things about whatever a family and maybe I want to buy a house one day. Like how does that all work when you are in the kinds of relationship structures that I’m in. And then on the other side of that coin I think it’s worth mentioning too, that in some scenes and in some subcultures, polyamory is like, Extremely common and normal.

And so to the point where it becomes like a new norm. And so like when you’re like, yeah, I’m sure everyone, is polyamorous. It’s like absolutely true. Everyone I know is polyamorous. And I’m in as I’m in Montreal and like I’m in the queer scene in Montreal and it’s urban and queer. And like everybody is polyamorous to the point where there are people who feel pressure to be polyamorous, even if that’s not what they want. And I think like a weird thing happens where because monogamy has been held up as the norm for so long. And because we do experience this like discrimination and like weirdness from the general culture as often happens. Like we try to reverse the hierarchy. And so in our own scenes, we start saying things like like polyamory is like inherently anticapitalist and like somehow monogamy is like possessive and therefore like kind of capitalist and I really against that. I think it’s like shaming, it’s unnecessary.

It doesn’t matter. Like people can have relationships, how they want to have relationships. And then if you don’t need to be like hating on monogamy now it’s like totally unnecessary. And it’s, we don’t need to like validate polyamory by yeah. By trying to dismiss other types of relationship styles. It’s just not okay. And I think sometimes people put a lot of pressure on themselves. Like maybe there’s people who are traumatized, who are like, maybe I wanted to be polyamorous and they do a bunch of work on it. And then they’re like, actually I don’t like, actually I’ve decided that monogamy is like, what is right for me? That’s a hard decision to make. But that’s totally fine if that’s what the person decides. It’s not like a failure. It’s totally fine. They actually just discovered something about themselves and that’s legit, and I think especially actually with like young queer people or like millennial queer people. Cool. And maybe the zoomers too, I think it’s like we can have new norms where yeah. Polyamory is so expected that people have a hard time dating. I’m sure it’s not the same everywhere, but like definitely in som studies it’s like that.

LINDSEY: Yeah. So what you’re saying is we shouldn’t cancel the monogamous.

CLEMENTINE: There’s not canceled the monogamous. Like they’re fine. Everyone do what they want to do.

LINDSEY: Sorry. I had to like, for those it’s just now joining us. Clementine has a podcast called fucking canceled culture. And so I had to throw a plug in there by the way is fucking amazing. So loved. I loved it. Okay. So when you were talking about someone who they’re thinking, they want to be polyamorous and they try it, they do a bunch of work around it, and then they’re like, actually that’s not for me. I think what strikes me the most about polyamory and trauma is if you are a traumatized person and you’re like willing to take on this really scary thing called polyamory, that immediately it’s going to hold up a mirror and you’re going to see every insecurity, every abandonment issue, every attachment issue held up to you plain as day with a spotlight shining on it, but it’s also like a phenomenal opportunity for personal healing and personal growth. Can you talk about that?
CLEMENTINE: Yeah, so basically, The thing is that basically what w how I describe it is just that, like, all relationships, whether it’s monogamous or polyamorous, like really would benefit from intentionality from working on good communication from doing nervous system literacy stuff, doing attachment stuff. Like all relationships are probably going to benefit from that. But the thing is that with polyamory, if you don’t do that work, the chances of everything blowing up is like way higher. So it’s like the stakes are a lot higher in the sense that cause I think that people with attachment trauma still feel their attachment trauma in monogamous relationships.

Like people who have like really intense, like anxious, preoccupied, attachment are still feeling that even in monogamous relationships, it’s just their buns. Aren’t being pushed quite as hard. And so they may be able to coast along with that distress for longer, without totally blowing up their relationship because they’re just worried about maybe who their monogamous partner is like liking on Instagram. That’s, what’s pushing their jealousy buttons instead of who their partner’s having sex with. And it’s like definitely you call it in a monogamous relationship, go for like years and be like really intense in your attachment stuff and not totally feeling okay. And you might be having fights in your relationship, but you might be able to brag that out for longer without dealing with what’s actually going on for you. Whereas in polyamory, the chances of you having a mental breakdown and not being able to regulate at all is just way higher because there’s just a lot more stressors.

And so even though that sounds stressful and scary, it can actually be really positive because of the fact that it just means that you have to do this work. And there’s also like a call in polyamory where people know that you have to talk about relationships. So like in monogamous culture, monogamy doesn’t have to be this way. And I would argue that it shouldn’t be this way, but there’s just like a lot of assumptions that are made like about what even a relationship is it’s you’re consenting to a bunch of stuff that was never actually clearly defined about, what is considered cheating and what is not considered cheating. Like what do we mean when we say we’re committing to each other? Whatever, there’s just a lot that isn’t actually discussed. Whereas in polyamory, you like have to have these discussions and be like really specific about what you mean. So there’s more of a culture of you’ve got, you have to talk about relationships. And that can be good because it means that if done well, and if people are open to it, that you can start to bring in this stuff about attachment theory and about nervous system stuff and trauma stuff, and actually build it into the preexisting structure of having conversations about the relationship and the various relationships involved. And I don’t know I think. It is scary. But it’s it’s a great opportunity for like learning and growth and like actively working on your trauma stuff.

LINDSEY: No for sure. You’ve mentioned it several times. I think we should bring it up right now. Attachment trauma and attachment theory might be new words in people’s vocabularies that’s been a fringe thing up until pretty recently. So without regurgitating the entire book on attachment theory, do you mind just giving us a brief sort of definition of what that is?

CLEMENTINE: So basically attachment theory is a system of knowledge that is based on studies that were done on infants. And now there’s lots of books on it. Attached is like a really popular one that comes to mind. But basically it’s a system of knowledge that there’s been like tons of research on it. It’s like pretty it’s pretty confirmed in terms of the amount of studies that have been done on it. And basically. It shows that like the sort of the way that infants learn to. Attached to their caregivers, how secure they feel in their relationship with their caregivers, how certain they feel that their needs are going to be met. It results in like a certain style of behavior and that behavior, that kind of that kind of coping style that the infant develops like carries on throughout adult life and It’s actually obviously anything else it’s complex.

And I think that we can have different attachment styles in different types of relationships. And it isn’t always like that you have one attachment style, but at the same time, when people hear the description of attachment styles for the first time, a lot of people are like, What the fuck, like I just got totally red, and they’re so surprised to see something describing their emotional experience, like so clearly. And so basically there’s four attachment styles. Three are more well known and talked about and one is less well-known one but is also important. So the first is secure and this is like what. What we’re working towards. And I guess an important thing to mention is that although our attachment styles are formed very early in life, we can change our attachment styles through like conscious work.

So that’s the goal is that if you don’t have secure attachment and you didn’t have the sort of early experiences that form secure attachment, you can earn secure attachment through doing attachment work. But basically secure attachment is like when the young infant learns that like their needs are pretty consistently met that like when the caregiver goes away, they come back that like when they’re hungry, when they’re sad that like they can reach out and they will be comforted and have their needs met. And so this moves towards like more security in terms of moving out into the world and being away from the caregiver. Because that caregiver is still there and you’ll be able to return. And so in adult relationships, Are like pretty chill about their connections. They trust pretty easily.

Like they also know when they don’t trust and why. They’re able to like both tolerate being close and also being away from their loved one. Without that setting off any kind of distress, which is wild. I’m like, wow guys, that sounds amazing. But yeah, so there are like lots of people who have secure attachment. And then there’s like a number of insecure attachment styles. The first is anxious, preoccupied and so anxious, preoccupied, infants, basically their needs were not met consistently, but they were met some of the time. And so they learned that if they cried and cried and reached and reached for the caregiver, that they might be able to get those needs met some of the time. And so one day grow up this turns into an attachment style where they really preoccupied with the person that they love. They are constantly worried that they might lose that love. They’re pretty almost obsessed and it’s right in the name preoccupied. They’re like, Oh my God.

Oh my God. And they can’t hold that sort of that sense of like permanence it’s like when their partner is in front of them saying, I love you. They’re like, okay. But my partner loves me, but when their partner is not currently in front of them saying, I love you. They’re like, yeah is that even true, even though it like happened yesterday, like they can’t emotionally hold on to that. And so anxious preoccupied are the type to like text over and over again to do these sort of behaviors that are seen as clingy or needy. And often, unfortunately, because of the ways that they act out of their their fear and their nervous system distress. They often end up accidentally pushing away people and creating the very thing that they’re afraid of because people don’t understand why they’re being so intense.

One, like there isn’t actually any track going on. And then another insecure attachment style is called avoidant. Sometimes it’s called dismissive avoidant and basically do use where the little infants who basically learned that even if they cried, even if they tried the anxious thing where they kept reaching out for the caregiver, that like more or less, they could not assume or expect that their needs were going to be met in a consistent way. And so they basically learned to shut those needs down. And avoidance are like really cut off from their attachment needs and being connected to those attachment needs can be distressing for them. So they’re the type to pull away when things start to become too close or things start to get serious in relationships.

They’re more likely to withdraw. And so they might get into relationships and then things, once things start to become more secure, they’re like, Oh, my body can’t handle it and they start pulling away. Yeah. And you can tell from my descriptions that I’m anxious, preoccupied, because I have more to say about that, but I’ve come to learn a lot about avoidance. And like avoidance got a bad rap. People are really like, mean to them in the attachment literature, because they’re like avoidance Basically the, they act as if avoidance can’t change, which I don’t agree with at all. I think avoidants can change. And I think avoidants are also having a really hard time and they’re also having fear about I know avoidant doesn’t believe that they’re the person that they love can really know them. And accept them for who they are. Like, they’re always afraid that is like a conditional kind of love.

And so they don’t want to fully give themselves to it because it’s like too scary, and so they tend to avoid and withdraw and pull back. But it’s also coming from a place of wanting that connection. And unfortunately for everybody involved avoidants and anxious preoccupied it’s very often and usually date each other. Like for whatever reason, they just psychically find each other and date each other. And they play out this dynamic of pursue, withdraw, pursue, withdraw . So there’s a lot of people who are caught up in that, including obviously monogamous people as well as polyamorous people. And it’s like quite stressful for everyone involved until people start to understand that’s what the dynamic is that’s happening.

And then the forest, which is not talked about a lot is called disorganized attachment. And disorganized attachment is also sometimes called fearful avoidant. But I actually prefer the term disorganized because I think it’s more accurate and basically it disorganized people simultaneously feel both a desire to come close and pull away. And they have both. They’re like both of those systems are being activated at once. And so the situation that causes that is when the infant is actually afraid of the caregiver. Parents were either abusive or even just very dysregulated themselves and are giving off stressful signals. The child is both I need to come close because that’s my, my survival need, but also I’m afraid. And so it creates disorganized attachment. And I realized weirdly enough in my life that I’m disorganized in 99% of my relationships in my friendships in actually most of my dating relationships.

And I just choose one person to become anxious, preoccupied about and then I’m like super anxious preoccupied in that relationship. And then I’m just totally disorganized in all of my other relationships. And it took me a lot longer to realize that because once I started learning about attachment theory and I learned about anxious preoccupied, I was like, Holy shit. That is so exactly me. But. I w I was so captivated by that and how much that explained the drama in my relationships that I didn’t look any further, but especially with polyamory, when I’m trying to date multiple people, I was like, okay, I’m not acting this way in all of my relationships, what is going on in these other relationships? And also in my friendships, like why do I keep pulling away? That’s like way more avoidant of me what’s happening. And then I learned about disorganized attachment. And I was shocked and actually really surprised that I had not realized this earlier because it defines so much of my life. So I think it’s important that people know that even if we have an attachment style really strongly, it’s possible that we can have different attachment styles in different areas of our lives, just because people are complex. And we adapt to situations and we use what works. Yeah.
Probably if I psychoanalyze myself, I’m like, actually I probably had one caregiver that created the disorganized experience of like I was afraid. And I had one caregiver who was like sometimes available and sometimes not which Korea, the anxious preoccupied. And it makes sense because people tend to have more than one caregiver. So they have very different styles of relating to the infant. Then it makes sense that you might get two distinct attachment styles.

LINDSEY: Yeah, actually, I was not familiar with disorganized attachment. And as you were describing what that dynamic looks like in a relationship where it’s you want to come close and you have that need for connection and closeness, but then you pull away because it’s like, Oh, I don’t know if this is safe or not. I was like, Oh my gosh, I think I’m disorganized. And just as you were describing having two different caregivers where one is like you were disorganized with and the other, you were anxious, preoccupied. Like I totally think that describes. Like the caregivers that I had, like my stepfather was, my stepdad was very narcissistic. He was physically and verbally abusive. Like the world revolved around him and it was all about what he wanted and he was in power and authoritative and like that. But I want him to love me, I really wanted him to love me and I wanted to be like his daughter, even though he was my stepfather. But he wasn’t ever safe. And so it was like, I would come close and he would be safe some of the time. And then a lot of the other time, like he was just a bull in a China closet, and and then with my mom, like my mom was like a disempowered co-dependent with my stepdad. And so now that I look back, I can see where my mom, like she wanted to be there for her children, but she also was like trying to people, please, this narcissist that she was married to. And so that’s where the anxious preoccupied comes from.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah.

LINDSEY: They’re like your mind now because I’m like, Whoa.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah. Yeah. I think that a lot of people have that experience when they learn about attachment theory. And I think it’s true. People can have multiple different styles. And I think learning about them is like really important. Disorganized attachment it’s like hard to find out about. There’s just less resources about it because it’s like less people are disorganized. Apparently but I actually think way more people are disorganized, then the literature sort of acknowledges and I think it would be great if there was more resources that were specifically because usually in attachment theory, books and stuff. Like they’ll talk a lot about anxious, preoccupied, a lot about avoidant, and they’ll talk a lot about the sort of cycle of those two and how they relate to each other. And then they’ll have just like a paragraph on disorganized attachment. And I had to go deep into Google and like research to try to like piece together and understanding of disorganized attachment. But it has been really useful for me to understand how that plays out.

LINDSEY: Yeah. Just as you’re describing all this, I’m thinking about the fourth of the four F responses. Not fight flight freeze, but the fawn response and I’m going like, wow, I can totally see how, if you have a disorganized attachment, then you’re like a fawn type because. Or for me anyway, like I’m seeing the connection there, cause it’s you’ll change and modify yourself to people, please, that person. But then your nervous system knows like that doesn’t feel safe. That’s icky. And so it creates like all of this confusion of like, where do I end? And this other person begins and what are my boundaries? And I’m just going to like fawn and roll over and do whatever other people want me to do, because I just want to avoid the conflict. Is what I’m describing, making sense.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah. It’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought so specifically about the ways that they map on Yeah, I th I’m not sure if that would necessarily play out for every single disorganized person. I definitely have fawn characteristics as well, so I’m like, I think it does play out for me. But for me, like part of what happens with my disorganized attachment is that like I do experience that people-pleasing like wanting people to like me wanting to get their approval. But I also experienced this like really intense shutdown where I’m like, Get away from me. And it’s so avoided. And I did not realize that I have this in me, even though I obviously do, and I do it and yeah, like so many of my relationships but it can actually feel like extremely like irritating and almost like a repressed fight response where you’re just like, I do not. I do not want this to be happening. I do not want this person around me and it can be stressful and really confusing for the other person when you’re disorganized, because you will simultaneously be sending out these signals. I’m like, I like you. I want you to come close and then periodically just shut down completely and pull away.

And yeah it’s tricky, but I do think that there’s something to what you’re saying, where I think a big part of it for me is that I don’t believe that people will respect my boundaries. I really don’t believe like in my, not in my sort of adults, Clementine, prefrontal cortex, self, but in my traumatized nervous system self, like I don’t believe that they will. And I feel like people are constantly impinging upon my boundaries. And so and also because for so many years, I never even knew how to communicate my boundaries. So of course people were, and so that sort of thing of Oh, can I, and it’s yeah, it makes sense with the fond response. Cause it’s like this idea that like intimacy requires a surrendering of your boundaries. Which is so extremely disturbing, but if you visit a trained that is the case, then of course, you’re going to act like you’re not allowed to have boundaries. And then you might become extremely resentful and angry that you don’t have any boundaries. But it’s it’s hard because the person that taught you that lesson that you’re not allowed to have boundaries is not the person that you’re in a relationship with right now, unless they also did. But like the thing about trauma is that you’re having this reaction based on something that happened in the past. And it’s totally unconscious that’s, that there’s even a connection there. Most people are not aware. Yeah.

LINDSEY: Wow. Wow. Okay. I wanna jump back over now. We talked about attachment styles and that’s great. And hopefully after we chat, I’ll get some resources that people can all list them in the show notes and people can check those out if they want to learn more. And maybe we’ll, I’ll do an episode about it at some point, but let’s see, like if somebody okay. Pardon me for being ignorant. This is ignorance.

CLEMENTINE: That’s okay.

LINDSEY: Okay. So if someone is like, How do I know if I’m polyamorous? Is it, does it just mean like I’m attracted to somebody else who’s not my monogamous partner? Does it mean like whenever you first were introduced to the idea of polyamory, like how did you know this is something that you wanted to pursue or what’d you even say it was a choice? Would you say it’s like being queer and you were born that way?

CLEMENTINE: To be honest, I’m so agnostic about these questions. Like I don’t necessarily know, and I don’t think it’s necessarily the same for everybody. Like I think people have really different sets of relationships to it for me. Like I first tried polyamory when I was a teenager and the reason was because I was in love with two people. I had fallen in love with this guy. And then that has ended. And then I had started another relationship and I had fallen in love with that guy. And then the other guy came back into my life later. I could not deny that I was in love with him, like absolutely was. And just that experience of being like I’m currently experiencing that.

Like I’m experiencing being in love with two people, meant to me that I am capable of experiencing that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would want to pursue polyamory. Like I think there could be people who can experience that who would still choose to be monogamous for whatever reason. And for me I don’t know, like I do think that there is something to be said for the fact that even though polyamory has been exceptionally hard for me during times in my life that I have still pursued it and that I have pursued it on my own. Like even when I wasn’t in a relationship at all, And I knew it was going to be hard for me. I chose to date in a polyamorous way and like I chose to pursue polyamorous relationships. So for some reason, and I really don’t know why for some reason, I just that’s what I’ve chosen to do. And I think, I don’t know I think for some people it’s maybe they feel that way that like they were born that way.

I don’t really know. But I think that the sort of like the path towards polyamory, I think there’s many paths. I think that there’s some people who are in monogamous relationships and their partner is I want to be polyamorous. And so that leads them down a path of exploring that. And then for some of them they’re like, okay, I’m going to do this. And I think it’s true that like people can choose to do things because of a certain circumstance in their life that they may not have chosen. If that circumstance hadn’t happened, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not a real choice for them. If that makes sense a person who might’ve just only pursued monogamy, had they not fallen for a polyamorous person might actually choose polyamory because they fell for a polyamorous person and then find that out surely it is super for that I’m after all. So yeah, the other thing could be true. Like maybe they try it and they’re like, actually it’s super not for me. So yeah, I don’t think that there’s like necessarily an easy answer with these things, even though it would be convenient, a nice.

LINDSEY: Yeah. There’s never any of that. That’s what pisses people off, right? There’s no like black and white answer. It’s all gray and it’s messy. Yeah. So have you ever gone through periods where you were monogamous and then gone back and forth between polyamory and monogamy?

CLEMENTINE: Oh, no, I totally have. I have basically because, okay, so I’m an alcoholic. I’m I always bring this up, but like physically, my early twenties were like a shit show and everything was completely insane. So I wouldn’t say I was polyamorous or monogamous during those times. I was like, I was actually treating on my monogamous partners. I was like just like having random drunk sex with like lots of people. I was not like I was in a very unhealthy place. And so I wasn’t really practicing any kind of like responsible relationship style. And then when I got sober, I. I did. I was like going back and forth. Cause I knew I had been polyamorous like as a teenager.

So like I knew I had this sort of desire for it and I was like, maybe that’s what I want. And basically like I had a couple of relationships back to back where I started out polyamorous because I wanted to, and then I had a mental breakdown. And in particular, like one of these relationships was short and then the other one was like one of my longer relationships where like we had started. And we both wanted to be polyamorous. We intentionally were. And just like I had a mental breakdown, my distress was like, so out of control that I can handle it. And so we closed the relationship and became monogamous and it was supposed to be temporary, but it ended up being for the rest of that relationship.

And that’s what led me down this path of learning about trauma in relationship to polyamory, because I was like, why was that so hard for me? Like, why was it so dysregulating? But then what ended up happening is that after I left that relationship, I chose to end that relationship. As soon as I started dating again. Is there a dating polyamorous, like I was like, okay, that was horrible for me. It was really hard. I was not able to do it, but now I want to try it again, and I did try again and now it’s been probably like almost four years since then. And I’ve been polyamorous the whole time and like my current partner and I have been together for three and a half years. And we’re polyamorous. Like it ended up working and it’s not that it’s never hard for me, but it’s that I was able to develop these skills and learn a lot about attachment theory, learn about a lot about like nervous system stuff and figure out how that was all playing out. And also I had just come a lot further on my journey of like recovery from complex PTSD, which is obviously like ongoing, but.

LINDSEY: For sure. I think the moral of the story here as is what everything is like before you just get into something it’s so good to inform yourself and go check out resources like yours, or, even if you’re thinking about doing something else, even though I have nothing to do with your relationships if you’re wanting to eat vegan or something like that, don’t just jump into being vegan.If you’ve been like, omnivorous your whole life, because you’re going to want to. Maybe blow your brains out, cause like it’s such a foreign thing to you. So it maybe it’s like you ease your way into it. You inform yourself first, you like gather your resources, you become literate in your nervous system. And like really if people were teaching nervous system literacy in schools, I think the, our whole planet would be like a completely different place.

CLEMENTINE: Yes. Strongly agree.

LINDSEY: Yeah. It’s just, it’s such a disservice to people. That we’re not teaching kids nervous system literacy, but you know what I’m gaining from all of this is that it’s never about idea to get like a lot of information and to go Inform yourself and especially about trauma, because what you’re teaching with trauma informed polyamory, like it can literally apply to any relationship, any person who’s had PTSD, like it applies to all of it, because it’s all about knowing your nervous system, knowing your trauma responses regulating your nervous system, whether that’s just by yourself or with other people. Or whatever, it’s just more confirmations me that there’s so much power in knowledge.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah. Yeah. The one thing I’ll say about that is I feel like it’s both things at once because I’m like, I do think that it’s true that the more knowledge that you have the better and that’s like really going to help you. But it’s also true that Me having a head full of nervous system education. And attachment theory is not the same as actually practicing those skills in real life and doing relational healing. So I could know all about my attachment injuries, but that’s not actually me healing my attachment injuries. And unfortunately the process of that is always going to be messy. And I think that there’s hope that people have that. If we just prepare really well, we can get to a place where it’s not going to be messy, but like by definition, it is messy and like the process of attachment healing and like attachment, like earning secure attachment and building secure attachment in relationships is like this process of like rupture and repair.

So there’s gonna be some it’s going to be a little drama. There’s just going to be drama, and. I just, I don’t want people to think that they’re a failure if there’s drama, because they’re like, I don’t understand. Like I read all the books. I like watched all the talks. Like I know about this. Like, why am I still like this? And it’s knowing is not the same as doing and doing takes practice. It takes doing it over and over again and messing it up and trying again. And it is through that process. That we heal and that we do that we earned secure attachment that we learn how to actually regulate our nervous systems in reality, not just like cognitively, like what we think that it’s going to be like, and yeah, like I think that’s important to say just because I think so many people feel shame about the fact that there’s drama and they’re like, why is there drama? There shouldn’t be drama and I’m like, there’s drama. Doing this work and like having these workshops and talking to people, I’m like, Oh my God, there’s so much drama. And people’s relationship. There’s just so much drama. And people are like, they’re pretending, there’s not drama because they feel like it’s there is a failure that there’s drama, but then that’s just like people learning how to be together. And we definitely don’t want to be like blowing the drama, like totally out of control. We want to be learning how to like, bring it back, how to regulate, but it’s going to be messy. It’s just basically.

LINDSEY: Yeah, I’m actually so glad you pointed that out. Like really? I am, I don’t know if you can tell or not, but one of my like trauma responses is before I do anything, I’m going to gather all the information that I can about it. So then as I’m going through it, like everything is going to be safe and fine, no, thank you for pointing that out. You’re right. It’s so important. I can have this head full of knowledge, but if I don’t actually like. Put it into practice in my life, then really all I have is a head full of knowledge. So both it’s so important.

CLEMENTINE: And what skill do you ever read a book about and suddenly know how to do right? Like that it doesn’t work that way. It helps that you read the book for sure. But you still actually have to try and try again. And that process is never going to be like perfect on the first try,

LINDSEY: Yeah, totally. Totally. For sure. Okay. So what are other than your love without emergency zineand your trauma informed polyamory workshop, do you have any other polyamory resources for people?

CLEMENTINE: So in terms of my own work, those are the two big polyamory things. I also write a scene called fucking magic, which is like a collection of creative non-fiction. So it’s basically like creative writing and it’s stories about my life. But because of that, there’s a lot of examples of this stuff. Whereas like my other work is like more like educational and actually explaining this stuff like. I think some people like to read fucking magic because it shows it, I write about the drama. I write about the healing. I write about what the process has been like for me. So some people find that useful and helpful in terms of polyamory, like I’m not, I’ve never really found many resources on polyamory to be helpful. But in terms of they’re fine, but it’s just, that’s not what I needed. Was like, I get the polyamory stuff. It’s the other stuff that’s hard. One book that I will recommend is called. I’m blanking on what it’s called. Oh, it’s called hold me tight. Hold me tight. I asked Sue Johnson. It’s like super monogamous. It’s like pretty yeah, it’s from monogamous people and it’s corny, but it’s actually really helpful in terms of Looking at how, especially the anxious avoidant dynamic plays out. And I think there’s ways that polyamorous people can unpack that and apply it to their own relationships. Another resource that I would really recommend is Alan Rowe Barge. He is an attachment trauma therapist and he has a YouTube channel that has like tons and tons of free videos. And his stuff on attachment is like really good, especially for anxious, preoccupied people. His videos are like, They like brutally, read you and tell you how it is. But it’s super well, whenever I have been in like super intense attachment shit, like I find his YouTube channel, like super helpful. So that’s what I can think of off the top of my head, but I can send you more later if I, whatever you think of me.

LINDSEY: No, this was awesome. I really thank you so much for having this conversation. So I don’t know. What is your biggest piece of advice for somebody who’s either in a polyamorous relationship or being like I am polyamorous? What it, where do I go from here? What is your biggest piece of advice for me?

CLEMENTINE: I guess I have two, but one is just. Sprinkle, some compassion all over everything. Like just do not try your hardest, not to respond to yourself with a shaming condemning attitude, because it’s only going to send the distress through the roof. Like really try to approach yourself with as much kindness and compassion as you possibly can. And even to extend that to the other people involved, because everybody is like trying their best and it’s hard. So like compassion not shame. And the other is what I call meta communication. So basically like communicating about communicating and being able to actually bring into your conversations about your relationship, the stuff that you learn about attachment and nervous system stuff. So instead of just talking about the content, like where you’re like, I’m really upset because like you were on this date and like you told me that at the end of the day, you will call me and then three hours went by and I didn’t hear from you. How am I supposed to trust you? Or whatever it is like you could be like, I am having an attachment response. I feel activated in my anxious preoccupied attachment. I’m feeling fear about our relationship and I’m assuming that’s not what you’re intending to create, but my nervous system is feeling really activated. And by doing that, it takes the blaming, attitude away. And it makes it about these are my needs and these are my fears.

And if you’re so much more likely to get what you want, because if say the example happened, you’re like upset. Cause like your partner was like on a date and they were supposed to call you and they didn’t or whatever, if you attack and you’re like, this means you don’t love me. Like I’m really freaked out. Like, why do you always do this? What do you think they’re going to do? They’re going to respond by being defensive. And so they’re going to be like, you’re controlling you. Whatever. I don’t know. These are the common scenarios that I hear about it from people who do my workshop, but it’s they’ll, they might be like, we didn’t say when I was supposed to call you’re the one who made up that and now you’re like attacking, you always do this.
And maybe they storm out and now what. Did you get the reassurance that you needed? No. Now you’re like even more triggered. Everybody’s more triggered. Whereas if you were like, I’m feeling this way, like my attachment system is feeling really activated that the person who’s being offered an opportunity to come close and to be like, wow, I’m sorry that you’re feeling triggered. That was super not my intention. Of course. I love you. Like com like let’s like reestablish our connection and let me like reassure you that me like forgetting to call or not calling me. He thought I was going to is not okay any indication that I don’t love you. Of course. I love you. So that’s just like a random example, but like really being able to notice and be like, Oh, this is what’s happening my nervous system. Oh, this is what’s happening in my attachment. And talking about that instead of just the content is going to make your drama, like so much more successful in terms of what happens in the end.

LINDSEY: Yeah. Oh my gosh. That’s so funny. I think people think, I think if it wasn’t me, maybe people listening are like, She sounds fucking crazy like who has, but here’s the thing this is how we talk in my house. With like when my kids are dysregulated and they’re like, not liking what I’m saying, I’m over here being the parent. And I’m like, where do you feel that in your body? How does it want to move? Don’t think about it. Just do what your body needs. And like you’re in a fear or a flight response right now. So this is how we talk in my house with my family. And it has made all the difference in the world in how we’re communicating. Because when you take out the, like the blaming, like you did this and you did that, and I don’t like this and whatever, and you put it in the language of when this happens, my nervous system feels this way. When this happens. When you say that, when you don’t do what you said you would do, I feel. Like I feel like a fight response is coming on or whatever, but it it really just changes the whole game. And so you’re not crazy. What I’m saying is you’re not creating normalize, like communicating that way because it’s so aware and healthy.

CLEMENTINE: And it makes it you too together against the problem, as opposed to you two against each other. Like it means that you guys are now collaborators being like, okay, there’s some dysregulation going on. There’s some kind of rupture happening in our intimacy in our attachment. How can we together try to figure out how to fix that instead of like this blaming back and forth, because in reality That’s the goal of this, both partners are trying to do, like they’re trying to become close again, unless what they want. So yeah. That’s like my I’m super with you. I wish people. Would like how we’re given the skills, because most of us don’t have access to this knowledge at all, but once you do like really incorporating it into your communication styles can make a huge difference in terms of the success of your conflict in your relation.

LINDSEY: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Do you feel like, I know your answer to this already. Do you feel like being polyamorous has made you a better person or made you into the person you are today? Who is like fucking amazing?

CLEMENTINE: I think that I’m a little bit I’m a little bit of a brave and tenacious person who likes to like dive head first into things that are hard. And so I think it’s very like indicative of Who I am that I would do something like this. To me, I really value it. And I think that it has offered me a lot in my life as well as it being hard. But I really am careful to be like, okay, All relationships styles are valid and whatever you’re doing is great. As long as it’s, as long as it’s you and you’re into it, for sure.

LINDSEY: I feel like I’m very similar. I’ve gotten to the point where my motto is uncomfortable, being uncomfortable at two miles. One is I’m comfortable being uncomfortable. The other one is if it’s not a fuck. Yes, it’s a fuck. No. So in my I’m comfortable being uncomfortable motto. I’ve just gotten to the place where it’s like. Oh, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m going to go chase it. Like I’m going to chase the discomfort and expose myself to it to the point where it doesn’t get to make me uncomfortable anymore, because then like I win and it doesn’t win. And my husband and I had talked about polyamory in the past and it’s not anything we’ve ever done. But yet, like I’m leaving that open-ended, but it has made me really uncomfortable in the past. And I haven’t been in a place in my nervous system where I would have been able to handle that. I really think I would have had a nervous breakdown.

CLEMENTINE: People who don’t have trauma can feel discomfort and still be in their window of tolerance. But people who have trauma can feel discomfort and go flying out of their window of tolerance into like massive distress. So just knowing that it’s okay, it doesn’t mean we have to like white knuckle it through and just like barrel ahead. It means that we have to like resource and we have to use all of this like huge, vast body of knowledge that we have to be able to move through that discomfort in a way that is like actually manageable and is like not going to dysregulate us to such an extent that we’re actually like putting ourselves into some kind of danger Yeah. Which like, you do a, you do at a trauma healing podcast, so you have lots of knowledge about this stuff.

LINDSEY: Wow. And I post like videos of myself dancing in a way that I don’t even know what I’m doing. And I’ve no training in it, but whatever. Yeah. I think you and I both like, we, it’s such a freeing place and you really just get to the point where you just don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks anymore. Yeah. It’s like you don’t, people who are looking at you from the outside, maybe they’re like, Oh my gosh, that’s so dumb. That’s, how could she do that? Or how could Clementine say these things or whatever they don’t have to live with the consequences in their body, the way that I have to live with the consequences in mind, if I don’t process things out, so it really doesn’t matter.I don’t give a shit what they think cause they aren’t living with the consequences of having a dysregulated nervous system. And if they don’t. Yeah I think this is a great place to stop.

CLEMENTINE: Yeah. Amazing. Thanks for having me, obviously, I would love to have you again and again.

LINDSEY: All right. So if I could charge you with three things after this episode with Clementine, the first would be go to ClementineMorrigan.com or patreon.com/clementinemorrigan And start supporting Clementine and her work immediately. Second would be checkout clementines, zine love without emergency on her website. Third would be. We need to becoming more nervous system literate. And our schools are not teaching our children how to be nervous system literate. We don’t get nervous system education anywhere unless we go out and find it for ourselves. Even many therapists are not educating their clients on nervous system literacy. They’re not teaching us how to communicate with attachment theory and relationship styles or the four F responses, all of these things that are so, so important, and that make all the difference in the world, not only in how we’re healing our own trauma, but also how we’re navigating our relationships with literally everyone. Like there has not been a single relationship in my life that has not benefited in some way from me adding nervous system words and phrases to my vocabulary. And even it’s even helped me. Um, decipher between relationships that I want to keep in my life and relationships that I can tell that that person clearly doesn’t respect my boundaries or our energy just doesn’t jive with each other or whatever. Like I’ve been able to use nervous system literacy and communication to even determine what relationships are working for me that are a hell yes for me and what relationships are a hell no for me now.
All of these are things we’re going to be linked in the show notes of the podcast. So, that’s where you need to go next. And you can find show notes at lindseylockett.com/Podcast. This is episode 22 and as always, you can find me on Instagram @iamlindseylockett.

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