What does consensual non-monogamy have to do with systems change? Jenny and Jessica discuss how personal and relational growth in the context of consensual non-monogamy yields important lessons for social justice, culture, and consciousness.
In this episode Jenny and Jessica discuss:
JF: “Whenever we step outside of any norm, but in this case, the monogamous norm, we are stepping out of the socialized mind and into more of a self-authoring, where we say, “I can decide what my values are, what my principles are”, the locus of control, or authority turns inward. There's now an inner compass that's making decisions and that I can offer my own life and my own relationships.”
[0:00:31] JS: That's Jessica Fern, therapist, coach, and author of Polysecure and Polywise. This is a Denizen Podcast, I'm your host and curator, Jenny Stefanotti, and today's episode, we're picking up the conversation about consensual non-monogamy referred for short as CNM that Jessica and I started a couple of weeks ago. We’ve got amazing reception from that episode. I'm so thrilled that everyone is interested in this conversation this topic. As I've stated, it's something I thought deeply about, and I think it's really fascinating.
So, in the first episode, we discussed the ways in which marriage and the predominant cultural narratives about love create forces counter to healthy and during romantic relationships. We also discussed the basics of CNM. The vast landscape of possible agreements between couples and best practices for people engaging in CNM. In this follow-on conversation, Jessica and I get into the ways in which CNM fosters personal and relational growth that's valuable for the systemic change that we talk about on this podcast.
In particular, we talk about what CNM has to teach us about justice, trauma, paradigm shifts, and changes in our consciousness. Yes, I integrate Adrienne Maree Brown and Donella Meadows in a conversation about consensual non-monogamy. As always, you can find our show notes on our website, www.becomingdenizen.com. There, you can also sign up for our newsletter, why bring our latest content to your inbox, alongside announcements from our partner organizations. We are doing virtual conversations to discuss the episode. So, stay tuned on the newsletter for information about that.
Before we get into part two, there is something really important to know about consensual non-monogamy that we didn't get to in part one, and I want to talk about it first, because I think you can't engage in this space well without understanding that. And it's something that I mentioned in the episode without explaining when I said NRE. So, NRE stands for new relationship energy, and this refers to what happens at the onset of a relationship with someone, and I know everyone's familiar with it. Or you get really excited about that person, and you can't stop thinking about that person, and you can't stop talking about that person. In consensual non-monogamy, it's important to be aware of that and really put energy into and reassure your other partners, because it's a moment where you can kind of get carried away.
But what's so important to know is actually that there is a neurochemical response that happens. There's an amazing paper from Harvard, I'll put it in the show notes that talks about the neurochemistry of love, and it talks about different parts of love. The first is lust, where the neurochemical response is testosterone. That's what's behind your sex drive. Then, there's this phase called attraction. And the neurochemistry of attraction is dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. And norepinephrine in particular is noradrenaline. It makes you kind of manic. You're literally on very natural drugs, when you're in this state of NRE, and it's just important to know that you don't actually think and see straight in that state. So, when you aren't practicing consensual non-monogamy and it's obviously relevant for dating as well, it's just really valuable to understand that there is this neurochemical response that's making you a little bit crazy. Literally, I'm crazy for you. I'm crazy in love. You are actually a little bit crazy. So, entering in this space, I think, it's really essential to know that.
And then the third one is love, which is oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone. It's what mothers create when they're breastfeeding their children. So, this relates back to something that we talked about in episode one, from Bell Hooks’ All About Love, about love being the same, whether it's for friends, family, romantic partners. Oxytocin is that bonding hormone that is universal across different types of relationships.
Another thing that we just talked about to understand not just about what's happening in your body neurochemically in this arc of love and relationships, but also understanding things like confirmation bias, and the fact that we talk about these biases a lot in the podcast, just the fact that you perceive reality through the stories that you hold. It's really important to understand that because there's a lot of friction and tension in the relational space with consensual non-monogamy. So really, understanding that you have a reality distortion because of these biases is pretty important too.
Okay. I know that everyone has been very excited for part two, and I'm very grateful to Jessica for giving so much time to us to understand this important topic. All right, without further ado, here's part two.
[0:05:00] JS: So, this conversation about systemic change and consensual non-monogamy. What are the things that the pressure cooker of CNM does that really enable us to have an accelerated and sometimes move into territories that we might not get to otherwise, personal development that is relevant for systemic change?
You have a whole chapter in Polywise about conflict resolution. I really love the insight from the book that Dave had about the pervasive systems and institutions of justice, and how we import that into our relationships in a way that does a disservice. Can you speak to that, these punitive stories of justice? The stories of blame. Somebody is the victim and someone's a pervert. Or somebody's right, somebody's wrong, which is just like a power struggle between two people who ostensibly love it. So, let's talk a little bit about and just to tie this to why this is so important to the systems conversation. I mean, we can see this very clearly in Racial Justice in the US.
[0:06:06] JF: Exactly. We see these –
[0:06:09] JS: Yes, go ahead.
[0:06:10] JF: – international relations.
[0:06:11] JS: But what's happening right now? What’s happening right now in the Middle East? Which is like Hamas attacked Israel, what’s the response?
[0:06:21] JF: Attack back.
[0:06:22] JS: I'm going to punish them back. Right? It's actually really fascinating. I just wrote a blog post about this. The models of justice are perpetuating injustice, and someone in the community sent this video of Obama. And the first thing that Obama said, was, “I want people from Israel to put themselves in the shoes of people from Palestine and see their humanity.” But then he goes on to say, “It's not just when violence against Palestinians goes unpunished.” Which to say, in views this like, the right response is to hurt back.
[0:06:54] JF: Yes. And I think the prison system in the United States is a good example of it, just doesn't work. Punish people and we imprison them and recidivism rate is high, way higher than, I think, maybe there's one other country but in the world, right? Whereas programs that actually focus on rehabilitating people that have committed crimes, and supporting them with education, with sobriety programs with mental health support, they don't commit those crimes again, typically. They don't go back to prison.
[0:07:25] JS: That’s so fascinating. I mentioned this personal experience from actually going to visit maximum security prison with the Anti Recidivism Coalition, and I met, literally, the story was the same every time. It was like broken homes and abuse as children, finding belongings in gangs, harming someone, [inaudible 0:07:47] often murder. As a teenager, before their neocortex is developed, given life in prison, tried as an adult, and here they are 20, 30 years later. So, the presumption, how is that possibly just, right? But the presumption is that if you raise the cost of doing something, it will change the rational calculus of doing it and you won't do it.
[0:08:08] JF: Yes. It just doesn't work.
[0:08:11] JS: Well, it doesn't work, and it's also perpetuating harm. An eye for an eye makes the world blind. There's that very famous, of course, quote.
Well, let's talk about then what does it look like to do this differently? Because anyone that's touched CNM, and certainly, anyone that's in an intimate relationship knows how common it is that there's just tension and conflict and something that's upsetting. Again, this is what brings marriages down. So, what does it look like if you do it well? And this is what you speak to in your book?
[0:08:43] JF: Yes, exactly. We should have Dave talk about this chapter.
[0:08:49] JS: Well, you can talk about it as Dave.
[0:08:51] JF: Right. I can embody Dave. A lot of it's slowing down. A lot of it's turning to the body first realizing, “Oh, I'm in sympathetic activation and I actually need to calm my body down so that I can access this prefrontal cortex, where I have compassion and love and reason”, which is going to be the sweet spot, right, where I can hold your perspective in mind at the same time and relate to both of us with care, or at least respect. So, there's a lot about just managing our triggers, noticing like, it's a process of learning yourself, learning when you're even off your axis and activate it, and then how to intervene. How to self-regulate, and then ideally, in partnerships were co-regulating as well.
[0:09:37] JS: This is so much of what we talked about in last week's episode. Just having that somatic awareness of I'm triggered, I'm not in a productive capacity in my body. I need to first and foremost get back into what Robert calls the optimal zone.
[0:09:54] JF: Yes, exactly. But then, go ahead.
[0:10:00] JS: But then there's a very important part about how we engage once we're back in our optimal zone.
[0:10:03] JF: Right. Dave lays out a process of really like doing speaker and listener. Coming with this posture of understanding curiosity, like I'm here with the intention to really understand you, and speak my truth and share myself, but without the things like we need, criticism, defensiveness, all of that. So, he really lays out a process of like speaker and listener, and how to go through a conversation in a more staggered way that slows it down. But when we do it this way, the outcomes are actually much better. And even though it's initially slow, slow is fast, because you get to connection so much faster, and you don't waste all this time being in these reactivity loops that we can easily get into. With my partner, one of our commitments is when in conflict, lean in.
[0:11:05] JS: Actually, I made that commitment to someone quite recently, actually. Because my tendency is to just like withdraw.
[0:11:13] JF: Me too. I'm going to pull back and I'm going to like sort through it myself and come back when I'm regulated. Which there's something good in that, but committing the leaning in, it's actually rocking my world. It’s like, “Okay, because I'm not leaning in, doesn't mean defensiveness and attacking.” It means okay, I'm leaning in with my vulnerability, with my honesty, and to feel my partner lean back in, in those moments, it just softens both of us. We have certain conflicts that might forever be incompatibilities, but because of this, let's lean in, and let's manage our nervous system when we get dysregulated. We're navigating it.
[0:11:59] JS: Yes. This is so important. And I guess, again, it's like the crucible of consensual non-monogamy and we'll get into next, why it is so hard, and what it brings up, in us, and in our relationships, and in society. But it's a critical note that we practice justice, we practice hard conversations, we practice somatic awareness, and sophistication, and just have these massive upgrades to our relational competence in this space, because it requires it.
[0:12:33] JF: It really does.
[0:12:34] JS: I want to bring in Adrienne Maree Brown. Are you familiar with her work?
[0:12:39] JF: I don't think so.
[0:12:39] JS: Oh, my God, she's amazing. So, this – I’m showing. I'm showing Jessica in our Zoom, we will not cancel us. Little pamphlet, started as a blog post talking about cancel culture and why it's often used in punitive needs. I am punishing you, and often, used liberally. She talks about like when it's kind of a last resort and when it's appropriate to use that tactic, which is the kind of public shaming for behavior as a last resort. But it gets used as a first tactic, because people who are wounded see the opportunity to hurt, right?
But she distinguishes between punitive justice, restorative justice, and transformational justice. She says restorative justice often means restoring conditions that were fundamentally harmful, unequal, and unjust, and get us back to where we started. So, I forgive you for the harm. But it doesn't necessarily address where it came from to begin with. So, transformational justice, the work of addressing harm at the root, outside mechanisms of the state, so that we can grow into right relationship with each other. Justice practices that go all the way to the root of the problem, generate solutions and healing there, such that the conditions that create injustice are transformed.
She goes on to say, transformational justice is some of the hardest work. It's not about pack hunting and external enemy. It's about deep shifts in our own ways of being. If we want to create a world in which conflict and trauma aren't at the center of our collective existence, we have to practice something new, ask different questions, access, again, our curiosity about each other as a species. I thought that was so potent and powerful.
[0:14:26] JF: Yes. It is.
[0:14:27] JS: And she talks about how, as leaders that we need to embody of it. Now, I actually had an experience of transformational justice in my own experience, in the container with my husband. Fairly early on, I did something that caused harm and I learned how to forgive in how he responded to that, because I don't think I would have been able to forgive in the way that he did.
So, when a similar situation came up later where I was hurt, I was able to forgive him in a way that I wouldn't have, had he not modeled that for me, and very interesting at one point. It’s like, okay, what if – we kind of say, “If we break the rules, then we can't be with that person. Because again, that's a punitive of like up the cost of breaking the rules that you'll be less likely to do it.” That's not the way that I want to be. That's not the way that I want to operate. I don't want to like take away rights and punish. So, it's just super interesting to look at how these paradigms of punitive versus restorative versus transformational can really show up in this space where you're constantly being asked to practice it, because it's constantly causing an intense emotional response.
[0:15:34] JF: Exactly. I mean, if we want our relationships to be healthy, it's difficult because we have to then go, “Wow, it's a lot of work to keep the maintenance of the realities of how much it takes to transform our complex”, like you're saying.
[0:15:49] JS: Yes, totally. Okay. I want to talk about just the personal growth. You have a whole chapter dedicated to how our personal trauma shows up in this space. In particular, you talked a lot about, in general, our close intimate relationships do this. But with respect to internal family systems, and how, I'd love to just speak more about like our personal trauma, because this is again, something that shows up in all of our interactions in the world, and how this container can allow us to really address this in a robust way, because it surfaces it even more than the diet does.
[0:16:26] JF: Yes. It really does seem to trigger a lot more, things around insecurity, things around competition, jealousy. I've talked about this in other places, like in a dyad relationship, my trauma around my parents would come up. But it wasn't until my non-monogamous relationships that my [inaudible 0:16:45] would activate my step-parent trauma. So, all of these relational complexities, yes, they come up, and the ways we've internalized the culture, the monogamous culture.
[0:16:59] JS: That's coming next.
[0:17:00] JF: Okay. We’ll get there.
[0:17:02] JS: This is really – but I want to just talk about, because I know your book has it in that order. But I just want to talk about the personal kind of trauma work. Then, we touched on it earlier. Do you want to say a little bit anything more about like internal family systems and how it is supportive in addressing this?
[0:17:18] JF: Yes. I find this supportive. It just seems like such a nice fit. Because in non-monogamy, we are embracing multiple loves, and that there's a multiplicity of relationship. And so, IFS is embracing there's a multiplicity of self. We're not one actual singular self. We're made up of many facets of self. And that's great. The problem comes when we have parts of us, facets of us, that are holding traumas, that are overly defensive and protective, that are over functioning in certain ways.
So, what I find specifically, when I write about in that chapter is when I have the archetype of a couple that comes and one really wants to do non-monogamy and the other one is not sure, the reluctant partner. And one of the ways I found to support them is to go, “Okay, what parts of you don't want to do this? And what parts of you do?” Because that can be surprising even to them. Oh, there's a lot of parts of them that are actually on board or curious. But many parts might be struggling.
So, when we do that inner work, and they're often related to certain wounds, certain traumas that have happened, it doesn't ensure that someone then wants to be non-monogamous. But what I'm wanting for them is to have the clarity from their more adult self that can say this is or isn't for me and why.
[0:18:45] JS: Yes. I definitely had that experience of like, what is going on with my reaction here? Because it's like, I know, this is good. I know that I'm safe. I know that I want this. This isn't different. Yet, I'm still having a somatic response and it may not be a part and this bridges, I think, this is what I think one of the most interesting things about stepping into this crucible, which is the paradigm shift component of it, that we have so internalize this, like, I want you to say. Explain it.
[0:19:19] JF: Paradigms are not just our world, like they are our worldview. They are our philosophy, but they really can become even what we perceive. So, I give that example in the book, that is one of my favorites, if not all cultures think the female breast is actually attractive. But we live in one that does, and that's not just like, “Oh, that's attractive.” There's a whole physiological response that people have to breasts. That's incredible. That's incredible that a paradigm can create a whole entire physiological response to us, that we are not in control of. That control was gone long time ago, if we ever and had it. So, the way that paradigm shaped our worldview, and our actual perception. Shifting into another paradigm is not something small. It's a huge venture to take on.
[0:20:14] JS: Well, it's so fascinating, right? Because what are the dominant paradigms of monogamy? It's like, love is scarce. If you love them, you must love me less. Right?
[0:20:25] JF: Yes. Well, if my partner wants someone else is because there's a deficiency in me or the relationship. It's a deficiency model.
[0:20:36] JS: Yes. I mean, you've got a whole, you've got a great table on Polywise where you delineate the stories and the narratives of monogamy, and the stories and narratives of consensual non-monogamy. And it's like, I feel like, you have to step into this crucible, and have this somatic response from the old paradigm, and then sit in it and reprogram, like, “Oh, no, this is okay. I can see and be happy for my partner”, and then they come back to me, and through that exposure therapy.
[0:21:09] JF: I was just going to say exposure therapy. That is a lot of what it is, for some people. Some people are fine with it.
[0:21:15] JS: Yes. But it's so interesting, because it is this, again, and the system changes the work. I talk about how nowhere do I see this paradigm shift from scarcity to abundance clearer than love? Been in this space. And it's just really interesting. When you step into the work of rewriting the stories in yourself.
My husband used to say, you change how you feel, rewrite the stories. I’m like, “What are you talking about? I just feel how I feel. I didn't really fully get that.” And actually, I'm going to bring in here, another one of my favorite thinkers on the system, side, Donella Meadows, and she has this amazing book called Thinking in Systems, which I talk about all the time, and is the first book I would recommend to anyone.
[0:21:57] JF: And I listened to, because if you.
[0:21:59] JS: You did?
[0:22:00] JF: I did, yes.
[0:22:02] JS: Tell me.
[0:22:02] JF: It’s great. Thumbs up, for sure. My partner was even listening to it, so we've had some fun conversations out of it.
[0:22:11] JS: Oh, my God, that makes me so happy. Wow, amazing. Okay, well, this is what she had. So, she has this amazing chapter where she delineates the in order of leverage. Leverage points for intervening in a system. And paradigms is the second to the highest. She says, here's some quotes, “Paradigms are the sources assistance. For men, shared social agreements about the nature of reality, comm system goals, and information flows, feedback, stocks, and flows, and everything else about systems. You could say paradigms are harder to change than anything else about a system. And therefore, this item should be lowest on the list, not second to highest. But there's nothing physical or expensive or even slow in the process of paradigm change. A single individual can change, it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click of the mind of falling of skills from as a new way of seeing, whole societies are another matter. They resist challenges their paradigms harder than they resist anything.”
Then, she says, “So, how do you change paradigms?” And she says, in a nutshell, you keep pointing at the anatomies of failures of the old paradigm and you keep coming to yourself, and loudly with assurance from the new one, you insert people with a new paradigm in places in public visibility, and power, waste time with reactionaries, rather you work with active change agents, and with the vast middle ground of people who are open minded.
[0:23:38] JF: Yes. I love it. So, with that, if people are wanting to change their paradigm, yes, one way you can do is kind of just look at what in monogamy doesn't really work, and all of the anomalies there. But I think it's actually more than just stepping into polyamory, as what do these beliefs feel like in my body, and to start really letting them sink in.
[0:24:01] JS: That also speaks to really important systems work around just getting in our bodies. Just like really becoming more embodied, getting in touch with our feelings, particularly then. Understanding their boundaries, communicating your loved ones needs. All of this is just like this deep somatic work that CNM demands to do well.
[0:24:29] JF: Yes. If you want to do it, well, yes, it does, it really forces our hands.
[0:24:33] JS: But I just so deeply appreciate it. Because again, we talk about paradigm shifts all the time. We talked about scarcity to abundance, but there's from independence to interdependence, right? There's zero-sum to win-win, right? Actually, zero-sum to win-win is a good subject, sort of to backtrack a little bit. But with conflict resolution, and with interweaving, non-violent communication with conflict resolution. We talked about paradigms. But we're talking about paradigm shifts, that’s relevant to bring back.
There's the zero sum to the win-win. And one of the things that we learn in nonviolent communication is to distinguish between the solution to your need and your needs.
[0:25:14] JF: Right. The strategy.
[0:25:14] JS: Yes. The fundamental human need is like, I need to be loved, not, I need you to give me a hug. Because giving the hug. What NVC says is when you can distinguish between the solutions to the needs and the needs, and back up into the needs, there's a much broader solution space where you can find win-win solutions to needs that are ostensibly intention when you conflate solutions or strategies with needs.
[0:25:44] JF: Yes, we're much more likely when we enter that space. Absolutely.
[0:25:48] JS: Yes. When I used to teach design thinking at the D school, we would show a photo of a girl and she's standing on a chair reaching up a bookshelf. I say, “What does she need?” And everybody’s like, “She needs a ladder.” “Well, what does she get when she gets the ladder?” “Well, she gets a book.” “What does she get when she gets the book?” “Oh, she gets information with each.” “What does she get?” You open up a larger solution space to meet the need, and eventually we say, “Okay, needs are not nouns, they are verbs.”
Again, this moving from zero-sum to win-win, when we can glean the sophistication of understanding needs from strategies, and we can move into practicing win-win spaces, it's also another put in place to do that work, that paradigm-shifting system change work in the container.
[0:26:34] JF: Yes. I want to be honest that, in my experience, true win-wins take time. When I was in conflict resolution school, they would give that example of win-win where you're like, “I want oranges, you want oranges.” And then we started to dialogue and we realized I just want the juice and you want the peel. That's an example of a win-win. It's like, “Yes. But when we're talking about human relations, and relationships, and the complexity of relationships, we can get to win-win, but it often takes time to really even figure out what that win-win is. And which parts of me are looking for what. Am I making strategies from –
[0:27:21] JS: Yes. Well, this is where I think it gets interesting, because I've been in this situation with my husband, where we're trying to operate in the win-win finding solutions that meet both of our needs. Then, suddenly, some ostensible solution butts up against some other need. Then, there's this like resistance to that, that it's just not so – it's not so simple as like, dual needs space. There's a very complex needs space amongst two people.
[0:27:51] JF: Exactly. And multiple parts of us that have different needs.
[0:27:55] JS: Totally. So, it's like, we're trying to solve for this. And then suddenly, you have a need for freedom, that's getting impinged upon, and then we're kind of having a different conversation.
[0:28:04] JF: Yes. But what I've learned is when something keeps recurring, it's like, “Oh, we haven't just gotten to the bottom of it yet.” So, to keep returning to the bottom, what could be the bottom of it? What else is there?
[0:28:18] JS: I want to talk about, because there are six pillars that I love. It's so amazing how these ties to this deep systems conversation. There are six pillars of the Denizen in great. It’s technology, economics, politics, culture, justice, that we talked about this relevance for justice. Of course, this whole thing is cultural, like the cultural of the paradigm shifts, they're talking about is cultural. The last one is consciousness. I want to talk about that next. Close the conversation with that, because you –
[0:28:51] JF: How do you define consciousness?
[0:28:54] JS: Well, it's kind of a bucket term that includes spirituality and religion and those kinds of practices. But specifically, if you're familiar with Charles Eisenstein, you read Charles Eisenstein, his sense is, and again, this is culture and consciousness intertwined. But the story of the self, as the individual is so much of what all of the other institutional, socioeconomic ailments stem from that, right? And if we can kind of change consciousness. And a lot of the theories of change around the potential impact of plant medicine and psychedelics, like obviously, there's the trauma work that's so front and center in the clinical work, and gaining widespread acceptance. But there is a hope around this bigger consciousness shift from plant medicine. But I loved what you – you have a whole chapter towards the end of self-transformation.
[0:29:42] JF: Yes.
[0:29:44] JS: Let's talk about that.
[0:29:45] JF: Yes. So, it came from – well, I felt it myself, but it came from really listening to my clients describe their experience of opening up, shifting into a different paradigm of relationship and what they were describing as this awakening of the self. It wasn’t contained to just their relationships and awakening. It would be this whole up-leveling into an actual different developmental stage of consciousness that they were experiencing, which is incredible.
[0:30:14] JS: I really appreciated the stages of adult development, the theory of adult development that you presented in chapter seven of Polywise.
[0:30:26] JF: Yes, I used Robert Kegan’s – there's many different developmentalists and some of them are three stages, some of them go all the way up to 12 stages. So, I chose Robert Kegan for a few reasons. But one of them was, yes, five stages is more digestible.
[0:30:41] JS: Yes, sure.
[0:30:42] JF: Than oversimplifying or overcomplicating. So, what we see is that after this adolescent phase of development, most people go into what is called the socialized mind, which is a lot about living with the group, being a part of the group. The beauty is that there's a sense of community and belonging, but it's about being good and right, and doing what others say. So, their authority is not internal. They're still an external authority. I do this because the doctor said so, my mom says so, the government says so, or God says so.
[0:31:22] JS: This is, in your book, in the table on page 266, 58% of the adult population is here.
[0:31:29] JF: Yes, exactly. The majority of us are in this conformist play by the rules, type of mental cognition and developmental stage. There's more.
[0:31:43] JS: And stepping into is consensual non-monogamy is like, by definition, pushing back against the default and the norm about love.
[0:31:53] JF: Yes, whenever we step outside of any norm, but in this case, the monogamous norm, we are stepping out of the socialized mind and into more of a self-authoring, where we say I can decide what my values are, what my principles are, the locus of control or authority turns inward. There's now an inner compass that's making decisions and that I can author my own life and my own relationships.
[0:32:18] JS: Well, it's so fascinating, right? I think we spoke about this in the last episode. We did, the regrets of the dying. The number one regret of the dying is I wish I would have lived a life true to myself and not what others expected of me.
[0:32:30] JF: Exactly. Yes. So, the socialized mind is a lot about performing for others, and to being when I'm supposed to be. And the self-authoring is I'm going to be who I think I feel I am.
[0:32:42] JS: A lot of this is also true, to go back to what we talked to earlier around the getting out of our heads and in tune with our bodies. This is also something Donella Meadows talks about in that book. Of just like, it's not just our reason, but it's these other ways of knowing. We talked about the four points of information. What does my gut say? So, I think it's really interesting that this movement into this self-authoring stage of consciousness of self, is a reconnection to embodiment, which the dominant society very much kind of pushes us up against.
[0:33:19] JF: Yes. Right. I mean, in some ways, we could say it's a political move, to be in our own bodies, to be in our own pleasure.
[0:33:28] JS: Which is another thing that you said for some people that it's a political choice, it's a values choice. It's an act of feminism to reject. Exactly. A patriarchal notion of women is property in the dyad and the marriage, and all of it.
[0:33:44] JF: Exactly.
[0:33:45] JS: I think it’s 1% of people make it to stage five.
[0:33:49] JF: Yes, self-transforming mind.
[0:33:51] JS: Let's talk about that.
[0:33:54] JF: Yes. So, this is where, well what happens in self-authoring. So, it's this huge developmental leap of awakening to myself, my own needs, my own preferences, my own desires, my values, living life more on my terms, and when I'm supposed to be. So, in self-authoring, we move more into authenticity. But we can get stuck there in this – we can get stuck in like, but this is me, and really getting too attached to certain identities. So, there's something that happens in the shift to self-transforming mind. It's like, “Yes, I might have these identities, but I'm not restricted by them, either. I'm not over-identifying really with anything, even though I might move in and out of it.” So, self-transforming might go, I might be monogamous or non-monogamous. It's both, it's neither.
[0:34:41] JS: Yes. It's a holding of nuance.
[0:34:46] JF: A holding of complexity, and paradox, and nuance, of self and other.
[0:34:51] JS: Which is, again, something that's come up so much in this conversation about the Middle East right now. Because there's so much lacking, and also, when we're elevated and upset, and less able to hold that. We had in conversation a few episodes ago, that integration, and we integrate these multiple points of view instead of hold them is so polarizing.
So again, this just points to how relevant and rich the space is for these very – I mean, we've talked about so many different things. It’s like, it teaches us to understand our minds and our bodies and take that awareness into our interactions, specifically around conflict resolution. Also, I think, sorry to talk about that. I'm going to bring it back. It's not a perfectly ordered conversation. Forgive me, everyone. But there was a really important piece in that conflict resolution conversation around atonement.
[0:35:46] JF: Attunement?
[0:35:46] JS: Atonement.
[0:35:46] JF: Atonement. Yes.
[0:35:48] JS: How do we make amends? How do we forgive? How do we move past the trauma and the harms that we've inflicted upon each other? What is the wise Jessica Fern, have to say about that piece and what we learned there?
[0:36:07] JF: Right. I don't remember what Dave wrote in this moment.
[0:36:11] JS: But it’s learning how to forgive.
[0:36:13] JF: Yes. Learning how to forgive. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because I don't like these narratives that you're supposed to forgive, that you have to forgive. Why don't you just forgive me? Why haven't you forgiven yet? The person who maybe has been harmed is now responsible for the forgiveness piece. I don't like it. I'm seeing it not work all the time. And, go ahead.
[0:36:40] JS: I think a lot of it is the harm needs to be seen.
[0:36:43] JF: Yes. Exactly.
[0:36:45] JS: The harm needs to be seen and acknowledged. Because that’s what –
[0:36:53] JF: I think as the person who's been harmed, they really need to feel that their harm has been seen and understood, and that the other one cares about what happened. In some ways, like, “Oh, if I could do this differently, I would.” Real regret that it happens.
[0:37:13] JS: Yes. I think it's that, and if you look at this, it's sort of where we see this outside of relationships, is like a truth and reconciliation. The truth proceeds. It has to be like known what happened. I think it's often when I watched this in a dynamic for some dear friends who practice this, where there was a significant harm, and then there was a harm done in response. So, there was a trauma that met the trauma. Every time the initial trauma would come up, the person who inflicted it would be like, “But you did this to me.” So, it just kept coming up, because there was never other, let's just pause and look at this instance, in and of itself, and not have to see it tied to something else. And I think we often, when we feel bad about what someone's done to us, we deflect that feeling, that uncomfortable feeling by saying, “Oh, but you did it to me, too.” And one-up each other, and now we're back in the – it's not the victim version of it. But it’s like the one-upping. Can we can we just sit in this moment of what I experienced visa vie you, and then we can deal with the next piece of that puzzle. But let’s stop at that.
[0:38:19] JF: Exactly. Right. That's the slowing it down. But what you're making me think, too, is how much conflict resolution and repair work is really shame work. Because if we're stuck in shame about what we've done, we actually can't take ownership of it. Or making it about myself, “Oh, I'm just wrong. I'm bad. I'm broken.” Instead of that accountability piece of I’m not –
[0:38:44] JS: And this is – yes, go ahead.
[0:38:47] JF: I'm not fundamentally broken. But yes, my behaviors hurt you.
[0:38:51] JS: And this gets back to the trauma work of just like why are we – why do we identify with our actions so fully? If we go back to the Gottman distinction between a complaint which is healthy in criticism, which is not. A complaint is about a behavior and a criticism is about you, as a person. So, the person who did the harm, feel shame, because they consider the action to be a reflection of their character.
[0:39:17] JF: Exactly. They fundamentally are. So, they don't want to admit the wrong or take the blame. They’re then believing that it means fundamentally, it's a comment about who they are.
[0:39:28] JS: This is just fascinating. Because again, now let’s look at racial justice in the US. Let’s look at Israel and Palestine. Let's look at like, this is everywhere in the world. If we don't figure this out, this conflict to Adrienne Maree Brown’s point, if we want to create a world in which conflict and trauma aren't at the center, we have to practice something new.
[0:39:50] JF: Yes. I think that's sort of the second part. After we do this piece where the person harmed feels really understood and cared for, and their hurt. Then there is like, “Okay, how does this not happen again How are we going to amend this and do this differently? Or how do we make maybe certain agreements that keep this from just being on repeat?”
[0:40:12] JS: Totally. It's like, you don't want to be in a loop of the same trauma happening over and over again, if it's not moving. You're not growing, if you're not learning from it, then.
[0:40:21] JF: Right. What are the takeaways? What are the lessons learned? So, there still might be another harm in the future, but it's not exactly the same thing.
[0:40:27] JS: Right. So again, let's just recap the richness of this conversation around understanding your body and your brain, which we can bring to any interactions with other humans in the world, especially this really hard work of justice. We talked about what that looks like, in particular, to be restorative. The ways that punitive justice, and the blame falls into the personal relationships and how it's not productive. We talked about the personal growth and trauma that comes up, using internal family systems is supportive of that. Over identifying with that part of our voice that says something. Paradigm shifts, which is so deep and so rich. Such an important place to practice that. It's such a valuable place to practice that.
Then, this consciousness, and this really, this very hard practice of connecting with ourselves and rejecting the narratives of who we're supposed to be, or how we're supposed to love. Again, system change requires us to do this across so many spaces. But CNM is this real pressure cooker. It’s like you don't have a choice, but to not step up and do the work because –
[0:41:33] JF: Yes. You do have a choice.
[0:41:36] JS: If you do it, yes. I want to close with I love the way that you closed, talking about Mount Everest. Because I've just found this story so fascinating. My story, this conversation is so fascinating. Me and my husband and I have been at this for technically, nine years now. And just the arc from a very ostensively, benign conversation about being able to kiss someone once a day at Burning Man to now being in deep loving relationships with other people who is a multiyear path.
So, let's talk about why Mount Everest as we plan for this conversation, because it's so – I mean, I think it's really – like again, because there are two parts of the Denizen conversation. It's like, what does it look like this society that is fundamentally regenerative, and just, and caring? And how do we get there?
[0:42:35] JF: Exactly.
[0:42:35] JS: So, you just have these really poignant statements at the end about how we get there that I think are really important to talk to you, and we can close the conversation with that. Then, let's look at the relevance for systems change.
[0:42:45] JF: Yes. I looked at the – I use the analogy of Mount Everest, when it would be one of the greatest peaks on the planet. What an accomplishment, how incredible it would be to be on top of Mount Everest. But you can't just rush up Mount Everest. You literally will die. So, to get up there, there's these stages of packing and preparing, and then going up some, actually, getting the experience of hiking up. Getting the experience of being with other people. But then we stop at a camp. We unpack for a while, we acclimate. Does my blood have enough oxygen in it? Oh, there's a storm of there, we might have to go down a little bit. So, it's this way that you can't just again, run up Mount Everest and think it's going to work.
So, we have this respect, we understand with that analogy, that this is something that needs respect and takes time. And yet, it's potentially worth it if that's what we want. So, I see polyamory as the same thing. If it's what you want, it can be this magnificent way to do relationships, and family, and sexuality, and even address cultural and societal changes. But we don't just run up and open up and just start doing it without the sort of stages of preparation, the pausing along the way to acclimate and adjust our nervous systems, really, to this new way of loving and living.
[0:44:14] JS: Yes. I mean, we talked about vessels in the last conversation. But it’s like, now I think it's clear in this part two around how there's the embodied experience that is required to rewrite the stories, to rewrite the paradigms in our bodies, to be able to live that in a way that is healthy, for our nervous systems, or the need to do it slowly. They need to pace oneself and need to shut down if some event happens. They need to let – and just the transformation of the self and feeling safe, and our assessment of ourselves visa vie. This is hard work, especially in the beginning, I think it's a lot of labor. It’s a lot of attention as your mind gets hijacked by new relationship energy. It's been really fascinating. A real crucible for growth. But a lot, a lot of energy and attention.
[0:45:07] JF: Yes. I think like any big massive undertaking, having children, going to school, taking on a new career, a job, it takes up a lot of our internal resources.
[0:45:21] JS: Not for the faint of heart. But I also think, as this becomes more prevalent, when we haven't talked about, but one of the things that I've just faced is just judgment, pervasive judgment from people who have those other stories internalize, most people do. It must be a deficiency of your relationship. It must be –
[0:45:44] JF: It must be in a [inaudible 0:45:44] issue, sex addiction, attachment issues. Those are all them.
[0:45:53] JS: Yes. So, it's also an interesting example and use case around just being at the frontier of cultural change. All the added weight and challenges that those that are – those pioneers in those new spaces face. And the ways that it gets easier as the complex systems change happens.
[0:46:12] JF: Yes. I think it is becoming easier for younger generation. They're not starting off with the same monogamous assumption in default.
[0:46:21] JS: Well, thank you so much for joining me for part two. This has been great. Do you know there's going to be a part three, but not with you? we'll be following this conversation with a broader look at family, beyond just consensual non-monogamy and family structure, and all the policy implications of that and the resources associated with it. So, we're going to get wonky.
[0:47:04] JF: It’s going to be a great talk.
[0:47:06] JS: Yes, Jessica, thanks so much. I'm super grateful.
[0:47:13] JF: Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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