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February 26, 2011 8:28 AM   Subscribe

What kind of therapy or self-help can I do to stop picturing all sex taking place in a room where I was abused?

I'm a woman. Years ago, I was in a relationship with a man who emotionally and spiritually abused me and sexually assaulted me. I've only come to know this recently, because his behavior read as "romantic," and I was so in love that even when the whole thing was over for years, I figured that it was all my fault for letting it happen.

My first intense sexual experiences were with him, and I have to admit that they were very good. Now, no matter what kind of sex I picture -- even between fictional characters -- I accidentally see it in his bedroom. I see the bed from angles I couldn't have seen it at the time, because weirdly, some of my memories aren't actually from my perspective, but of a third person, like a camera. And whoever is in the sex, it's in his bed, and the window is right there, and all the furniture just so.

I hate it. I assumed it would stop once I had happy sex with someone in a happy, non-dramatic relationship, but time came and went, and that didn't happen.

I am in therapy, but my therapist and I have plenty to talk about for an hour each week without me bringing up anything related to my sexuality, and it's not something that impacts my daily functioning, so I rarely remember that I wanted to ask him about it.

Where is the key to the room that appears around you?

(If you want to answer privately:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You may want to reconsider who you have as a therapist. Not all therapists are comfortable talking about sex. And sometimes you don't know that you have a crappy therapist until you find a good one.

I'd continue therapy with this one, but I'd ask my gyn for a referral to a therapist. Let your gyn know you need someone that can address this area of your life.

Many times when people are abused they "leave" their body while it happens. I'm guessing that's why you are seeing this in 3rd person.

Please don't give up, hang in there.
posted by 6:1 at 8:50 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know the magic formula, but what screams out from your question is that you are minimizing the impact of this abuse ("it's not something that impacts my daily functioning"). It sure doesn't sound like no big deal to me, I can tell you that.

I don't know if your therapist is enabling you in avoiding this, or if you've just been successful in avoiding it all on your own, but the fact that you're asking about it here makes me think you're ready to start looking at it.

Please consult a physician or therapist with significant experience in dealing with trauma and abuse. There are many out there. "Trauma" and "sexual abuse" and "survivor" may be keywords that will help get you to one.

First, of course, you've gotta mention this to the therapist you're seeing now.
posted by facetious at 9:19 AM on February 26, 2011

You say you don't bring it up in therapy because it doesn't impact your daily life or because you rarely remember, but I suspect you're uncomfortable about bringing it up. If this is so, why? What do you expect might happen if you did?
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:27 AM on February 26, 2011

It may not be affecting your daily life, but I get the sense that's your rationalization speaking, because I'm a rationalizing person too — "sex only lasts 15-30 minutes and rarely happens more than once a day" (YMMV of course, heh). But it's an intimate, important experience.

I think your current therapist may well be fine. Try bringing it up; maybe broach it from an informative angle at first, by asking if they have experience treating people who've gone through sexual abuse (I believe that most do, because it's pretty darn hard to avoid).

I've been abused that way too (don't want to go into details online), and it took me months before I could talk about it with my therapist. We'd been working on depression, job and childhood issues. Her reaction was immensely supportive and helpful; further, it helped her understand why I'd been showing certain signs of trauma that she couldn't quite put her finger on until knowing the details of what I went through. It was a sort of breakthrough in many ways. I learned that I could trust her on a deeper level; she was able to give direct, actionable advice that touched on the web of issues in my personal situation; therapy really moved forward more quickly, deeply and meaningfully from that point on. Was I scared and ashamed and anxious before talking about it? You better bet I was. But braving those fears was absolutely worth it.

Take it at your pace; ask your therapist any nagging questions you have, that's what they're there for. Try reaching out, it really sounds like you need it. They know your unique background and will be able to give you insights you can't get from anonymous strangers — that's part of the beauty of a good therapeutic relationship. (I won't deny there are therapists who don't fit with certain people, but you gotta give it a fair shot in order to find out.)
posted by fraula at 10:50 AM on February 26, 2011

Cognitive behavior therapy could be helpful in focusing on breaking that mental link; my guess is that there are similar strategies for this kind of issue as there are for phobia desensitization (I have done the latter with great success). It's a shorter-term, more focused process than other approaches, so it could complement your current talk therapy rather than replacing it.

I am wondering whether your therapist being a man has anything to do with your reluctance to discuss your experience of having been sexually and emotionally abused by a man? I think that cross-gendered therapy relationships can be marvelous, but I wonder if it's the best choice in this particular case (or in dealing with this particular issue). Maybe I'm a million miles off-base with this, so just ignore this if it's irrelevant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:17 PM on February 26, 2011

This sounds like the classic PTSD pattern. You hate your reaction to a stimulus so you club it back down into the subconscious. Except instead of taking power away from it, this gives it more power to disrupt.

I would definitely bring this up with your therapist- give them the opportunity to help. If they won't or can't, move on.
posted by gjc at 7:29 PM on February 26, 2011

Something to think about is that perhaps the things you have been learning in therapy are only now allowing you to deal with this - whereas before therapy, it may have been literally unthinkable.

Mention this to your therapist specifically. He or she should recognize if it's serious enough to merit a specialist. I did group therapy, and our therapist would recommend specialists to certain group members occasionally.

It may be right up your therapist's alley, too. Only one sure way to find out, and that's to bring it up.
posted by Xoebe at 11:32 PM on February 26, 2011

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