05 Jul How Can the Woman Who Sugars Spot What’s Really Happening? (Part 1 of 3)
What can the reader learn from the experience of women who sugar, when (that is, if) they tell their families that they want to sugar? The focus here is on the psychological significance of what happens when she does tell her family. What can we all learn from that?
Not all parents become upset when their daughter tells them she does sex work or wants to sugar. Yet some do; they go into family crisis mode. If the family does, this is sometimes the point at which a woman who sugars comes to my office. Typically she tells me one of two things, either:
- she feels guilty and badly, believing she’s upset her parents. Now they’re not eating, they’re not sleeping well, they’re all worried, and telling her she’s broken their hearts. And she thinks she’s done a bad thing by telling them in the first place OR
- she feels frustrated, disappointed, or disgusted with them. And in whichever mood can’t stop asking herself, “Why do they always have to be like that? Why can’t they just be happy for me?”
That’s when I encourage her to mentally take a step back, so we can think about what really caused what, and what’s really happening in her and her family.
Prior to the woman’s disclosure, there was already a pattern going on, a family dynamic—and once one can see this pattern, then the whole matter takes on a different meaning. (And the good thing about that is not just that seeing things differently helps one to feel better, but the shift which enables one to see things from the new vantage is itself psychological growth, and that’s why I encourage it. I’m not just in the business of helping people feel better. As you know, people will tell themselves all sorts of things when the goal is merely to feel better.)
This family pattern can’t be seen in the first position (before the psychological growth) and can be seen from the second position. Two beliefs are typical of the first position and a different two beliefs are typical of the second position. The first belief is about causation, what caused her parents to go into emotional crisis mode. The second belief is about how emotional connection, and therefore conflict, works.
A woman in the first position sees emotional causation the same way she was taught causation in high school physics: if billiard ball #1 rolls into billiard ball #2, which was stationary but now is moving after billiard ball #1 hit it, then billiard ball #1 caused billiard ball #2 to react. Likewise, if her parents weren’t upset and then she hits them with the news she wants to sugar and they react, then her hitting them with the news must be what caused them to go into emotional crisis mode. In this view, there was no pre-existing pattern of how her parents related to her.
A woman in the second position sees it differently. For one thing she can see that there has been a long-standing family pattern, and it wasn’t just a pattern, it was a pre-existing vulnerability. It’s like a key and a keyhole: Either by itself, just a key or just a keyhole, won’t slide the bolt. Only the combination of the right shaped key and the right shaped keyhole will slide the bolt. This is called the diathesis-stressor model of causation.
The diathesis-stressor model of causation is true with posttraumatic stress disorder in soldiers exposed to combat. Combat alone was not enough to cause PTSD to American soldiers in Iraq (footnote #1). More than 80% of American soldiers exposed to combat in Iraq did not develop PTSD, whereas if combat was enough by itself, then all soldiers exposed to combat should have developed PTSD. So which soldiers did develop PTSD? Only the ones who had a pre-existing vulnerability. Not a vulnerability to everything, but a specific vulnerability (the keyhole) to a stressor of just the right shape (in the key shape of combat exposure).
Once the woman who wants to sugar can spot the key and the keyhole in her family, she has moved to the second position. She sees now both the pre-existing vulnerability and how it has been a long standing pattern in her family. What is that pre-existing vulnerability? That her family’s strategy for emotional connection is “fusion.”
Fusion (sometimes called “ego-fusion”) is an emotional connection strategy that works like this:
I only feel emotionally connected with you if
- you feel or believe the same way, about the same things, for the same reasons, with the same intensity as I do.
So you have to hate the same music, or like the same friends, or agree with me (that I’m right, that I’m in charge, or with however I see myself), or else I feel like we aren’t emotionally connected. Furthermore, whenever you don’t agree, I’ll perceive you as threatening our emotional connection, or as not valuing it, or as abandoning/rejecting me. Then I’ll go into an emotional crisis reaction (which is an emotional protest against feeling emotionally unconnected, btw).
So now you can well imagine the perfect storm for this woman’s family: The parents have a pre-existing vulnerability — they subscribe to a fusion strategy for emotional attachment with their daughter. Then their daughter tells them she wants to sugar. The parents’ psychological reaction looks like this: We don’t like your sugaring. You — our daughter — have to see things the same way we do, have to feel about this the same way we do, for the same reason we do, with the same intensity as we do…or else you are threatening our feeling emotionally attached with you. It’s you rejecting this attachment, abandoning/rejecting our family…. And that’s why they have a crisis reaction.
Of course, the day the woman who wants to sugar disclosed this to her family isn’t the day her family became fusionists. If the woman thinks about it, she will remember other incidents from her family life that reflect a long-standing family practice of fusion. And indeed that she was raised—formed really—to be a fusionist too. Hence she’s upset that they’re upset. (More on that later.)
And when the woman thinks about this family history, realizing fusion has been a long-standing pattern of her family, that is the beginning of her psychological growth, of her moving from the first position to the second. Of course this psychological growth isn’t something that can only happen to woman who sugar. That’s why I write about this, because in the psychological experiences of women who sugar—and of their families—there are valuable lessons about what it means to be human. And it is a poor psychologist who can’t see that.
#1 When measured in 2004, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa040603
Next, Part 2 of 3: What is the alternative to fusion? What kind of family doesn’t go into emotional crisis mode when their daughter tells them she wants to sugar? And what psychological insights can we learn from women who sugar? Read the next article…