The Journey That Took a Lifetime

This story mentions sexual behaviors that could be a trigger for some. It combines both the perspective of the person, Stu, and his psychologist that helped him reconcile his trauma from childhood. Stu’s identity has been replaced with a pseudonym for his privacy.

Early Childhood Trauma

Stu can recount the roots of his psychological dysfunction all the way back to his birth, when his mother suffered perinatal distress after an older sibling was critically injured in an accident while she was pregnant with Stu. This, along with a subsequent stillbirth of another child, sent her into a deep depression that resulted with her becoming emotionally detached. With a violent father and emotionally distant mother, this led to early trauma and hindered emotional development in Stu’s most formative years. Additionally, Stu’s mother would periodically “check for worms” around his groin area- an act that, at the time, was seen as her way of caring for him. However, this may have unconsciously substituted as an emotional connection to his mother and been one of the main catalysts that drove his emotional dysregulation condition.

By the time he was 15, Stu’s impaired emotional development and increased behavioral risk resulted in him developing a complex ritual of dysfunctional emotional regulation to cope with his distress. There are many reasons why otherwise 'normal' people practice rectal polyembolokoilamania (rectal insertion of foreign bodies) – however, dysfunctional emotional regulation, like Stu’s, is probably the most overlooked.

As a heterosexual male in his mid-60s and happily married for over 40 years now, this behavior took a toll on Stu and his family.

Emotional Regulation & Coping

Rather than serving a purely sexual function, the primary motivation for this behavior may be to serve an emotional regulatory function due to childhood trauma. These emotional factors are often unconscious and appear deeply rooted in attachment issues stemming from upbringing very early in life. Consequently, the person feels powerless to stop or otherwise control the behavior, and its relieving effect becomes reinforcing, causing feelings of intense anxiety and shame throughout adult life. Therefore, it is important in therapy that these emotional factors are explored and understood.

For the next 45 years, Stu would struggle with this behavior to cope with these emotions. Finally, he sought the help he needed just five years ago.

“I had traveled someway in my journey of recovery but became stuck in an endless cycle of recovery, followed by self-recrimination before relapsing into past behavior - it was then that my psychologist and I drafted my story - it was then that I finally turned the corner to my recovery…this is how we sought to summarize and explain my story, and it was written to help me understand and move on, for me to discontinue reliving my story each and every day.” -Stu

Road to Recovery
Ongoing therapy using a combination of Schema therapy, CBT and mindfulness, Stu has been able to explore his 'inner child' and has gained a deep insight into himself and his upbringing. The ‘sexual gratification’ aspect of his behavior never resonated with Stu, and together with his therapist, he was finally able to reconcile his upbringing and reach a place of healing.

He now has a renewed understanding and is more ambivalent about his childhood and parents, to a point where he is now able to let go of this self-destructive behavior and protect and nurture himself in healthier ways.

He can identify his triggers and regulate his emotions providing a greater sense of order, calmness and stability within himself, possibly for the first time in his life. This has not only helped him regain a sense of peace and stability, but it has also improved his relationships, and that is something worth celebrating.

Mental Health & Well-Being at Mayo

To care for yourself and bring your best self to work each day, it is important that you nurture your mental health. It's OK not to be OK. Mayo Clinic aims to foster a culture that encourages transparency, collegiality and support. It's not possible to consistently put the needs of the patient first if you do not address your own needs and support our colleagues to do the same.