I hate the idea of help - what now?
June 3, 2009 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Sexual abuse and a hatred of therapy – what now?

I suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather, which culminated in full penetrative sex when I was twelve. Even writing this, the shame and disgust crawls on my skin, but for the most part, the part of me that doesn’t think about it at all, I am a happy, content and successful person.

In fact, the only part of me it affects is my sex life. The first problem is that I can only pleasure myself thinking about terrible things – things where I am a man and I’m doing the things that were done to me on an eager girl. These fantasies horrify me and I try not to go there at all any more.

With other people, though, I enjoy sex well enough until I get close to them. At that point, I can’t bear for them to touch me in any way that resembles foreplay – I just want it over with. This is problem number two: I am starting to hate sex with my fiancé – one of the kindest, most understanding and wonderful people on the planet. I think am with the best person alive, and it breaks my heart that I’m starting to dread being with him in that way. He would be shocked to know I’m feeling like this – and I don’t have the heart to tell him every time he moves in a certain way or touches me in a certain way, I can only see my step dad. For now, sex involves no foreplay as it’s the only way I can do it.

But I can do it that way – and the way I see it, it’s only one small unhappiness in an overall happy life. On the other hand, my fiancé works hard to be the best person he can be for himself, for me and for the relationship. I think I owe it to the relationship to make sure I do the same.

I know the first answer will be to suggest counselling, but I don’t trust therapy at all. In fact, I'm openly hostile to the idea of it. I know my stubborn self well enough to know that I have one shot – if the first therapist doesn’t work, I know that will be it forever. Just talking anonymously makes me anxious. It would break my heart to have to divulge all of this and not have it work – or worse, have to spend years and years of time and money without seeing any tangible results. Indeed – I don’t even know what the end goal would look like to know when I got there.

Is it possible to work this out on my own? Where do I start? Is it possible to just accept this for what it is and be wonderfully happy except this one small sad area? If not, how on earth do I learn to accept the idea of therapy and find someone good – as I’m sure my attitude towards it would counter any efficacy of treatment?

Please forgive the length of this question. I really don’t know who else to ask. If it matters, I’m 29 and in London.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Fellow therapy-distruster/skeptic here. Short story, for me, was that even though I didn't like or trust my therapist and only went to a few sessions, those few sessions helped me leagues beyond what I would have been able to do by myself. More would probably been better, but the fact that even the bad therapy accomplished something makes me more open to going back in the future.

Feel free to MeFiMail me for the long story/ less vague advice.
posted by coppermoss at 8:29 AM on June 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

For what it is worth, hatred of therapy can be a self defense mechanism. One covers up these kinds of things for so long, that one is afraid of people that they know will bring them to light. Additionally, the one shot to get it right manifesto is probably the same thing. It is well understood that it usually takes trying several therapists to find a compatible one. Allowing yourself to bow out after the first one is probably another protection mechanism.

Usually traumatic things are best explored with help and understanding. You might be able to work through it alone, but the process will likely be much quicker and less unpleasant with a guide of some sort. Therapists are by law (at leat in the US) required to keep your secrets, making them safer for this kind of thing.

I can't help much beyond that, good luck!
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 8:30 AM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and you can try out therapists without disclosing your true problem. Talk to a few just discussing general emotional stuff, you can get to the real issue after you have picked the best one and feel you know them well enough to trust them. There is no requirement to get to your deepest secrets on the first go-round.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 8:36 AM on June 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Um, for what it's worth, I've been through therapy (though not for sexual abuse), and I had a few bum therapists before I found a good one.
posted by kldickson at 8:36 AM on June 3, 2009

The book Toxic Parents has a chapter on sexual abuse that you may find helpful.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:42 AM on June 3, 2009

I'm truly sorry for all you've been through. It sounds like you are conscious of the potential problems this horrible trauma can cause and are willing to work through it, so good on you! Also recognizing that you are looking out for both yourself and your fiance is your ability to love, care, and be in a whole, healthy relationship. So yes, more good coping mechanisms working for you.

What concerns me about your post is that you may not be able to compartmentalize the trauma to just the arena of your sex life forever. And you may not at first recognize the expression of related behaviors and emotions creeping into other areas.

Seeking professional help sooner will get this healing process started that much quicker. I agree with those above who say that your aversion to therapy may be a defense mechanism. This is natural. It's a big scary monster that you've only looked at peripherally in the past. But therapy can give you the tools to meet this head on, at a pace you can handle, and in a way that will make you stronger and happier.

I understand your feelings. I used to get super, super bored and sleepy before, during, and after therapy. My mind would glaze. But I got through that part, and therapy became a place I actually looked forward to. That doesn't mean the medicine tasted like apple pie, but the benefits of feeling better outweighed the process. I encourage you to go and do it!
posted by iamkimiam at 8:43 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are a number of self-help books on the issue that you can order from Amazon or find in any bookstore. One that helped me specifically on how to get over being ashamed from sex is The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Wendy Maltz. While the idea of reading self-helps books is hokey, sometimes they really contain some good information, and they're probably your best bet if you don't want to go to a shrink.
posted by canadia at 8:43 AM on June 3, 2009

I, too, have a feeling that your fear of therapy is really a fear of revealing all -- of getting this out into the "open" and exposing old wounds. It sounds like you've gone as far as you can go in your intimate relationship with your fiance and that therapy is really what you need.

As far as an end goal. I think maybe if you can realize that your abuser robbed you of the security that comes with an intimate relationship that you can start to see what your goal might be. Your abuser robbed you of the ability to trust. Your fiance deserves to have your trust and over time will be quite conscious that he doesn't have it. You don't mention whether or not he knows about your abused past? You can tell him what you're comfortable with but I think that it is in both your best interests to work on this. Don't let your abuser take control of your future. The end goal is living a full and healthy life with a partner who you can trust and who trusts you.

I agree with the other poster, you need a guide for this because it has really affected you. Obviously, you've tried to mentally "get over it" and it hasn't worked. You're about to get married so make a commitment to the life that you want to have with this person. Start now so that you can have the happy life that you deserve. It will be fine. Therapists have heard everything. You can always switch therapists if one isn't working. You owe it to your fiance, your future and yourself to make peace with all of this so that you can move on.
posted by amanda at 8:46 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, reading self-help books can give you context and knowledge with which to judge any potential therapists if and when you decide to seek help. This way, you may be able to decide, before spending a lot of time and money, whether or not a particular therapist will be useful for your problems.

Best of luck.
posted by elder18 at 8:48 AM on June 3, 2009

I was talking to clinical psychologist about general issues in therapy for sexual trauma a while back and her well informed opinion as someone who teaches gender and sexuality psychology at the university level was that you should be very cautious about who you engage in this type of therapy with. A therapist who is not specifically trained to work with this population can do more damage than good, and a lot of therapists think they are way more qualified than they actually are (again, her opinion, not mine). Before engaging with a therapist you need to find a trusted referral source, someone with expertise in the field who knows who's doing it right in your city and who's not. Perhaps a sexual abuse survivor program in the UK could point you in the right direction, unfortunately I don't know much about the UK at all.
posted by The Straightener at 8:54 AM on June 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Is it possible to work this out on my own?

Based strictly on what I've seen and known of sexually abused friends, No. You do not have the tools or mental skill set to deal with this by yourself, especially when you're in a relationship (because relationships entail of concentrating, at least sometimes, on another person). Because you've been abused, the regular, unabused mind that would normally develop has been fractured and bent in a different way and you think that's normal.

The good news is that this can be repaired, but like any injured person, you need help and guidance on repairing things. This doesn't make you a bad person at all, it just means you don't know how to do it on your own. It's like trying to walk on a broken leg without crutches. If you work at it, you could probably do it, but your leg would probably heal wrong and you'd have to deal with that damage on top of everything else.

At a certain point, you have to come to terms with your past and take steps to prevent it from destroying your present and future. Not trying to be harsh on you and you have major sympathies for all the trauma you've suffered, but point blank, you're being unrealistic. You need help and need to come clean those around you who love you so they can be there for you.

It's a tough road to confront this stuff, no question and at times it may seem like you're getting nowhere, but that's totally normal and can be dealt with.

You are no longer powerless and you don't have to suffer anymore. Get some help.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:57 AM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Firstly, I think that seeing a professional therapist (not just a counsellor) will really be of great help in addressing these issues -- in fact, not seeing one might cause you real problems later on, as your relationship with your partner develops and as the issues entrench themselves. I certainly understand your resistance to seeing one; when facing deep-seated issues it can feel dangerous and like a loss of control to open up like that. But that's a sign of how deeply and viscerally they're affecting you -- it makes it all the more important to resolve them as thoroughly and effectively as you can, which quite likely requires professional help.

There are therapists who specialise in this area and who will understand your reluctance to open up about it, and your hostility to the idea of doing so, or towards them. A good therapist will work with you as slowly as is needed, exploring the simpler, and/or more immediate issues first and giving you the tools to engage with and explore the feelings you've buried, at a pace that is comfortable and safe for you. By the end of the process, it's likely that your attitudes to facing these issues will be very different -- and you will be able to start making real progress in confronting them, exorcising them and healing yourself.

This page looks like a good place to start, in terms of finding a good therapist. Anyone in the profession will understand your desire to find the right therapist for you, rather than a more general, generic shrink, so feel free to bring that up, and to keep discussing your needs until you're confident in your choice. That way, at the least, you'll find someone who will be able to give you a good referral if initial work doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.

As a secondary point, I think it's important that you tell your fiancé as much of what you've written in your question as possible - both regarding the circumstances of your past and their effect on you, and the way it affects your sexual needs. If nothing else, if he is kept in the dark then he may well start to feel that he is doing something wrong, either not meeting your needs or hurting you in some way, and it sounds like he really loves you and would not want to feel that. I'm certain that he will take it in stride and will work with you to work around, or through these issues in a way that makes your sexual relationship as healthy as possible. Even though the feelings and memories hurt you, he won't think less of you for having them or for revealing them.. whereas if you let them stew, they may end up doing both of you a lot of damage.

So, I think it will be best for both of you to at least discuss this between you. You may find it helps to disoldge any feelings of guilt, or self-hate, that you may be feeling towards yourself as a result of the things your step-father did and the way he abused your trust. And if you feel that you really can't face therapy, at least it will mean that you have something to work from, and someone to rely on in helping you deal with these issues on your own - as well as ensuring that your relationship stays open and honest.

I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this. No-one should have to go through what you did, and you deserve to be able to move on from the events that were inflicted on you with a clear heart and with the love and support of your partner.
posted by teresci at 8:58 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

3rding the idea of seeing a few therapist until you find somebody you click with.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:59 AM on June 3, 2009

I don't believe you can work this out on your own. Or rather, I don't think you will ever get beyond a certain point on your own.

I'm openly hostile to the idea of it. I know my stubborn self well enough to know that I have one shot – if the first therapist doesn’t work, I know that will be it forever.

Is it really fair to hold anything in the world to that standard? If this thread didn't go well, would you never post to AskMe again? Since your first sexual experience was a nightmare, does that justify never having sex again?

Either growth and healing is possible or it is not possible. It sounds to me like you are so used to being this way that you don't think it is truly possible, though you wish it was. Surely you can understand that, due to the deleterious effects of your abuse, you are not the best person to assess your own progress or determine your treatment. You need other eyes to look at you, other ears to hear you, in order to be able to see a realistic reflection of what you've become. Without this, how can you ever trust the progress you make?

These things are done in tiny steps. You don't have to lay yourself bare to the first therapist you meet. Group therapy might actually be better for you -- less pressure on you to divulge, more chances for you to see yourself in other people's stories. There are so many ways to do this. Please don't choose to go it alone, there is great power in articulating things aloud to another living person.
posted by hermitosis at 9:02 AM on June 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

Is it possible to just accept this for what it is and be wonderfully happy except this one small sad area?

Probably, but you don't have to.

The suggestion I gave to someone with a similar distrust of therapy was to break it down in to smaller, less scary parts and not to stress about having to divulge everything and get fixed right away. Doesn't work like that anyhow.

Think of it like a job candidate interviews. Start small: Get a list of candidates that fits your needs - only women, takes your insurance, specialize in PTSD or abuse, whatever.

Then go down the list and make your calls. Talk to a few before deciding. Ask them scheduling, schooling, qualifications, methods, views on stuff. Some places anyone with a mail order certificate can call themselves a councilor. Do whatever it takes to help you decide if they're compatible with you. Many won't be. This happens commonly, and they should be perfectly accepting if you decide to go to other providers. Huge red flag if they aren't.

Once you have a rapport established, then you can work on the issues you have and open up about your past.

Good luck.
posted by anti social order at 9:06 AM on June 3, 2009

Here's a book with some simple, extremely fast and powerful tools for changing your feelings and gut-level responses:

Using Your Brain-- for a Change , by Richard Bandler

With the techniques in this book, you can change even very intense feelings in a few minutes. And sadly, these techniques are much faster and more powerful than those most therapists use.

These sorts of techniques aren't about processing your feelings and reactions to what happened to you; they're about rewiring your thought-patterns, so the unpleasant feelings aren't triggered in the first place.

For the record, you can get the book at Amazon.com...
posted by darth_tedious at 9:09 AM on June 3, 2009

I've seen quite a few people free themselves from a traumatic past through deep spiritual work. I'm not necessarily talking about something as common as forgiveness, but about an intense questioning of the consensus reality, which, according to the wisest among us, is the basis for all suffering, including recurring pain from the past. In the deepest spiritual work, you get guidance from a teacher, but are in full control of your own investigation, so you're not depending on his or her ability or trustworthiness, but your own. (This can be a problem, of course.) In all spiritual matters, my go-to guy is a "zen-flavored" American teacher, Adyashanti. I've seen a number of people detach from horrendous memories through a brief conversation with him. My work with him (more than a brief conversation) contributed to my full recovery from lifelong clinical depression.

Best of luck to you. You've already taken the first step to your recovery, by imagining that it's possible. You can do it.
posted by markcmyers at 9:10 AM on June 3, 2009

Also, I do endorse finding a therapist; and I recommend the book and the method it offers so that you can prove to yourself that your feelings, beliefs, and responses are things that you can guide and choose.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:14 AM on June 3, 2009

First, no, you can't solve this by yourself. Your issue is an interpersonal one, so you need to work in relation to someone else to solve it. I'm skeptical of classical therapy myself, but I urge you to go anyway and tell the woman or man how much you hate therapy. Here's why--I'm betting that hating therapy, mistrusting your therapist, and tearing down therapy in general is part of the process you need to go through. I think that people who have been betrayed by their parents are bound to have trouble with the idea of the entrusting their emotional well-being to an authority figure. Get in there and tell the therapist you don't trust him/her; be hostile; tell her what a quack she is. That alone may be therapeutic, and if you have found a good therapist you may be surprised by the process.
posted by tula at 9:16 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The big trouble with incest is that it produces a profound state of secrecy and shame (for the victim). By the way...it is incest even though he wasn't your biological father. He was in the father position in your house and in a position of trust. He violated the basic trust of what it is to be a parent.

It is LOGICAL that exposing what happened to you to the harsh light of day is the way to get to the other side of it. I understand, however, your reluctance to do so--because people find incest a remarkably difficult topic to discuss. Your average joe might not be a very good person to confide in and even a counselor needs to be equipped with the "specific" expertise to discuss it. It would be very nice if you could avoid counseling...but the truth is you have been dealt an unusual hand...you must now play the cards you were dealt.

Be smart and don't shove all this under a rug. None of it was your fault--(even if you enjoyed any aspect of the abuse. We are all sexual beings...even youngsters are sexual beings.) You need to move from victim role to empowerment--it is going to take some work.

I remember reading an article written about a victim of a terrible violent rape. She went to a counselor over it only a few times. At the end of a session she told the counselor that she knew she could go forward now because she had gotten her story outside of herself and it was that simple. I agree with you that there seems very little reason to make some sort of career out of what happened in your past. I think 12 step groups are misguided for this very reason--the "healing" is endless! Ideally therapy is supposed to come to a positive conclusion and it is your job to get the story outside of you, not wallow in the details, square your shoulders and meet this demon straight on. Find an older motherly counselor and tell her. There will be no harm done by doing this...it will help.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:29 AM on June 3, 2009

The fact that you are bringing this out into the open says (to me) that you are willing to face it and move through it. Doesn't mean it will be easy, of course, but that your conscious mind is in a place now to hear and integrate what will come.

I'd suggest finding a therapist who specializes in these issues rather than one who hears more general concerns. They have the training and experience to get to the heart of the matter and assist you quickly.

I honor you for your willingingness to look at this horrific experience and learn whatever lessons are there to learn from it. Often, that's the very best we can get from something like this.

Peace to you.
posted by Mysticalchick at 9:40 AM on June 3, 2009

I don't know if it's possible to work it all out on your own, but I do know that I think it's so good that you have thought it through, decided that you need some help, and took a first step.

I think starting with some self-help (for lack of a better term) books sounds like another good step, if you want to try some self-directed efforts first.

If I were looking for a therapist, I think I would start by contacting support groups or a hospital in my area and asking for recommendations for therapist that specialized in sexual abuse.

I'm not sure how to get to the point of accepting the idea of therapy. I think of therapy as a process where an expert helps me learn to help myself. Most things that are tough to learn take someone to guide us through. The first one you try might not be a great fit, but that doesn't mean there is not a good fit for you out there - it just means that you didn't connect with the right one at the right time.

http://www.siawso.org/Default.aspx?pageId=7166 - a link to a Survivors of Incest Anonymous meeting in London. If you wanted to be even more anonymous but still wanted to peek in and see what a meeting was like, you could try going a little ways away from town. I don't have any experience with that organization, so I can't tell if it would be a good fit for you or not.

http://www.mind.org.uk/Information/Factsheets/Sexual+abuse/ - a link to a fact sheet that might help.
posted by KAS at 9:54 AM on June 3, 2009

Have you considered seeing a sex therapist?
posted by Carol Anne at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2009

You have posted here, and that took an immense amount of courage. For that, you have my utmost respect.

Take care. Open up about these feelings where you can, when you can, anonymously just like this if it makes you more comfortable.

Good luck.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:58 AM on June 3, 2009

Sadly, there are way too many therapists who are just barely adequate. Finding a competent therapist is non-trivial. Call psychiatrist's offices and ask for referrals to the best sexual abuse treatment professional they know. You may be able to find a survivor's group who can make recommendations. Interview any candidate. You need someone who really knows current, researched treatments. So, my advice is to get a therapist, but to put alot of effort into the selection.
posted by theora55 at 10:05 AM on June 3, 2009

I agree with the other posters who say that you do not have the tools to work through this on your own. However, I would strongly recommend something more suited to addressing trauma than traditional talk therapy, specifically EMDR. You may find that a different therapeutic approach makes therapy more palatable and more effective. I'm not an expert so I won't try to describe EMDR but there is a lot of good information on that website as well as a way to search for certified therapists.
posted by horses, of courses at 10:20 AM on June 3, 2009

I don’t trust therapy at all. In fact, I'm openly hostile to the idea of it. I know my stubborn self well enough to know that I have one shot – if the first therapist doesn’t work, I know that will be it forever.

Let me gently suggest that you lack any and all evidence for this claim, seeing as you haven't entered therapy yet. I'd also like to gently suggest that your resistance may be due to the fact that you have set up some coping mechanisms that you fear disturbing but that make some parts of your life very difficult.

I say give it a shot--and tell your fiance. He is there to support you and loves you and understands these things from the sound of it.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:34 AM on June 3, 2009

I used to be dismissive and hostile to the idea of therapy, too.

I thought the chances of me being truly open and honest with a therapist were slim, and the chances of them proving helpful even slimmer. I thought I was probably smarter and more capable of 'dealing' with my situation than a therapist could ever be. I thought I'd have to find a 'perfect' therapist before I could trust and accept help from them. None of that turned out to be true.

Based on the recommendation of a close friend, I started visiting a therapist she knew and could vouch for. And, now, a couple years later, I am so, so happy I decided to do it.

Along the way, I realized that I hadn't previously trusted the idea of therapy, because I didn't really understand it. I didn't understand what form the therapy would take or how it might help.

Help from a therapist is based on their experience & perspective, trust, and non-judgmental listening. The right therapist will have worked with many other people with issues similar to your own, who knows what's worked and what hasn't, who understands what healing is going to look and feel like and who can help get you to that place. The right therapist will (in time) put you at ease and help set your skepticism aside.

Having only visited one, I've never had a bad therapist, but I agree with everyone who says it's important to find a good one.

Good luck.
posted by OilPull at 10:50 AM on June 3, 2009

If you do decide to go down the self help book route 'The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse' by Wendy Maltz mentioned above, or 'Healing sex' by Staci Haines are probably good ones to go for. The Sexual Heaing Journey has exercises you can try with your partner to relearn about positive touching which might be helpful.

It might be worth looking into different types of therapy too. Something like
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tends to be focused around your current thought patterns and so would be more focused on your specific current triggers rather than everything in your past. It also tends to last a shorter amount of time so there would be less danger of sinking years of time and money into it with no result.
posted by Laura_J at 10:50 AM on June 3, 2009

An alternative, might I suggest starting a regular practice of meditation? Meditation will give you the concentration and discipline to control your mind, instead of being controlled by it.
posted by satori_movement at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2009

If you decide to try therapy, I agree with the many others here that you should find someone who both specializes in sexual trauma and who comes highly recommended. They should be willing to have an initial consultation with you. During that, interview them as if they've applied for a job (which they have). Ask them about their experience working with adults who were sexually abused, the approach they usually take, why they chose to specialize in this topic, etc. You don't need to give any details about your experience unless you decide to work with the person.
posted by PatoPata at 11:24 AM on June 3, 2009

I was in a very similar boat and also distrusted therapy very much. I have to say, having found a therapist that I trusted for a while (not seeing her anymore) was very helpful. Haven't found another good one yet but I'm looking.

What brought me to the "dark side?" Well, she was a sounding board. At the time, I couldn't bear to burden friends or my husband. Too much shame. I basically paid a person to listen to me because I couldn't keep it in any longer. It didn't hurt that she had some good ideas that I didn't manage to come up with on my own.

I also recommend Stolen Tomorrows by Steven Levenkron very highly.

Also, your headline title is most telling to me - "I hate the idea of help."

I'm not sure if this is how you meant it, but I thought I should be able to do this on my own. I'm really smart. I can build or do anything I set my mind to -- why not this. Well - I couldn't and frankly I'd probably still be engaged in some incredibly self destructive behaviors had I not had that sounding board.

Lastly, you can always quit if you hate it that much but giving it a try is worth the reward you may reap.

All my best.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:33 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing the recommendation to seek a competent therapist with whom you can build a rapport. I have no experience with this specific problem. However, I was raised by a truly nasty emotional batterer. I thought I'd dealt with it, stuffed the rage down a dark hole to be forgotten and was leading a very calm and normal life. Surprised me when it all came flooding back after I had my first child. I don't know if it was the hormonal change of pregnancy that made me more vulnerable to emotion or seeing myself interact with the child in a totally different way, but I had a new baby and a truck load of leftovers to deal with at the same time. Bottom line: it doesn't truly go away until you've thrashed it out and otherwise might come back to bite you when you're not expecting it. I hope you can find the help and peace you deserve.
posted by x46 at 11:51 AM on June 3, 2009

I've been both you (in that I hate the idea of therapy) and your fiance (in that I used to date a girl whose unresolved abuse issues ruined our sex life and eventually ended the relationship).

Nothing -- particularly childhood sexual issues -- exist in a vacuum; other aspects of your life are affected by your abuse whether you recognize it or not. Having recently visited a therapist (against my will) for the first time and finding it phenomenally helpful, I recommend that you go anyway. Find someone who specializes in sex issues.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:06 PM on June 3, 2009

Since you mention in your question that you have sexual fantasies where you are the abuser and that these fantasies disturb you so much you don't even want to masturbate any more, I think that part of your reluctance to seek counseling is that you are worried about being judged for having those kinds of thoughts.

The thing is, it's completely understandable and even common for you to have those kinds of thoughts. As horrified as you are by them, I assure you that rape and abuse victims find themselves feeling this way often. One, there is a need to take control of what happened to you by imagining yourself in charge of the situation, even if that means you are the abuser. It isn't about wanting to hurt anyone else, though you may process it that way subconsciously. It's about re-creating the abuse in such a way that you are controlling it, rather than being controlled by it.

Secondly, and this is tough to hear, but abusers take advantage of their victims by deliberately fostering sexual responses in the victims, for purely selfish reasons. This just adds to all the misplaced shame you are feeling and, incidentally, has a lot to do with why you are not enjoying foreplay with your boyfriend even now as an adult free of your abuser.

A counselor can help you make sense of issues like this, help you stop blaming yourself for things that are not, and never were your fault, get you feeling good about yourself again and in the process discover what a healthy sex life is like--which will be very freeing for you. You're putting all this pressure on yourself to have a "normal" sexual relationship when you've had no way of learning what that should be.

So, yes, I think you need a counselor.

And I think you need to go easy on yourself, and not take that stubborn, "If it doesn't work the first time, forget it" stance. I'd bet that you are much easier on other people than you are on yourself. That's not a character trait, that's another side-effect of your history of abuse. You can choose to rise above it.
posted by misha at 1:17 PM on June 3, 2009

OP, I hope I catch you before this thread disappears today. Reading this made me feel horrified for you, and I'm so sorry you went through this. I can identify in some ways, which I won't elaborate on here. Like you, I am still working through some of the fallout.

If you mefi message me I'll send you my email address, if you want to talk about it. perhaps we can talk each other into facing up to some kind of therapy!

If not, good luck and be strong.
posted by greenish at 1:54 PM on June 3, 2009

No. You cannot do this alone. Period. Sorry.

Thing is, you're engaged. This problem is not just yours any more. It's his, too. It WILL harm and damage your marriage, perhaps to the point of divorce, if you do not work on this. If you want to keep him, you have to. You don't want your fiance to be writing in to Savage Love in a few years, saying that you're no longer having sex and he doesn't know why and Dan will be all, "DTMFA if she's not willing to work on it."

That said:
(a) You are going to have to suck it up and interview potential therapists. You don't have to go into great detail right off, just see if you are comfortable with this one or that one. Yes, you do have to give them a chance if the first one isn't perfect. Sorry, that's non-negotiable. But you will have to shop around to see if you can find someone that you feel okay/good about seeing.
(b) A sex therapist may be a good idea.
(c) Also, one who can talk with your fiance as well. This is his sex life that's being affected too.

I think you're going to have to tell him what's going on with you (therapy will help with that), even the awful stuff. He needs to know that you don't want to have foreplay because it makes you think of what happened, because it's better than him not knowing why you're avoidant and thinking, "Maybe she just doesn't love me."
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:54 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am sorry for what you have been through and wish it did not happen.

I am also a therapy hater and when others here say that it may be a defense response, I can understand that. I tried therapy once after a sexual assault. I ended up lying to my therapist and saying I was happy and ready to move on because I just did not want to be there.

In retrospect, my therapist knew why I was there (because I went through a police sexual assault response team to get hooked up with her), but I never actaully talked about anything with her. It seemed unecessary because I felt she knew what she had to know. I am not a believer in rehashing over and over the details of trauma, I'd rather move on.

That said, therapy may help you if the therapist can just listen to you say basically what you've said here and confirm that you do have a good life now. The second opinion on your established good life might be enough for a therapy hater to move on. It also might not.

Once you are comfortable with yourself you may want to try couples sex therapy so that a mediator can help you and your fiance establish protocalls for what is and is not sexually acceptable to you. These will likely change through the years and it's ok to have things that are absolutely off limits. Even pornstars have stat sheets that specify "no boob slapping" or whatever.
posted by WeekendJen at 3:11 PM on June 3, 2009

i strongly reject the idea that you can't do this on your own. it's not the easier path, i don't think, but it is certainly not impossible.

i was molested by my brother for years. i was raised in a family deeply entrenched in the cycle of abuse (mine wasn't the only abuse in my extended family). my mother went to therapy a lot. i am of the mind that it screwed her up even more. she found bad therapists who encouraged false memories and fractured her personality. i went to a couple therapists and it went poorly. my brain just isn't set up for what they do. they ask a question and i try to figure out where the eventual line of questioning will go, then i try to answer that. this apparently is NOT the way things are done. every therapist i've tried has tried to get me on anti-depressants in the first session while they were still trying to learn my name (if you don't know my name, you certainly don't know enough about me to change my brain chemistry).

i'm 27, i'm in a wonderful and loving relationship where nothing is sexually taboo and nothing between us is rooted in shame. it was a long hard road to get here.

for me, i had to do the work on myself before i got to this relationship. i had a long period of self-destructiveness and failed relationships as i tried to work things out. here is another entry of mine talking specifically about the sexual side of getting over sexual abuse.

the other part that was imperative for me (but might not be for you) was coming to terms with the monster that did all this to me. i wouldn't say i've forgiven him, as he's never sought my forgiveness and he wouldn't deserve it if he did - but i've learned to deal with my own anger in a way that doesn't have me actively hating him every day. here is a comment i left about that process.

doing these things without therapy aren't easy, but for me it was the only way i could do it. it took an ungodly amount of self honesty and there were brutally hard nights (that stretched into days and weeks and months). at many points i never thought i'd complete my journey from victim to survivor to just a person, but somewhere along the line i did. i use to define myself as an abuse survivor, but now it's just a data point in my past and the cause of maybe 6 bad dreams a year.
posted by nadawi at 3:48 PM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

oh - and i can understand not wanting to play in your fantasies where there is role reversal - but like another person in this thread, i'm here to tell you that what you're feeling is not weird or dirty or shameful. i'm a submissive who reads and watches things that would make most people's skin crawl. i've had partners over the years who were squicked out by my sexual appetites because they felt i was too damaged to know what i liked or what i wanted. realizing that anything under the sun that turns you on is ok was one of my biggest revelations on my way to being "healthy".
posted by nadawi at 3:53 PM on June 3, 2009

I really have no suggestions on how to overcome this. However, shouldn't the SO know/be more involved in this? Just a thought.
posted by xm at 7:40 PM on June 3, 2009

I'd suggest talking with the therapist about this, tell them that this issue of not wanting to deal with therapy is the block that needs to be addressed before anything else can be discussed - having 'therapy about therapy'. If you think you could stick with it, a good therapist should be able to help you work through that at a comfortable pace. But this is the sort of thing that would really be best dealt with via therapy.
posted by mattholomew at 1:06 PM on June 4, 2009

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