I'm not traumatized... Am I? (Sexual assault recovery)
June 1, 2013 7:40 PM   Subscribe

I was sexually assaulted a few times and stalked/harrassed by an abusive, predatory and highly manipulative man who was in a position of trust to me. (We weren't in a relationship; he is nearly three times my age.) I am confused about where I should "be" or where I amin terms of getting over the events. Counselors and websites are quick to point out things like PTSD and rape trauma syndrome; they are suggesting things like EMDR and strongly hinting that I'm traumatized. I'm not convinced. Is it possible to actually be traumatized and not realize/recognize it? Is a "trauma response"... with panic attacks, flashbacks, and such... the only possible response to rape and harassment? Secondly: Is therapy always necessary to deal with this sort of thing? Or is it possible that I have/will get over it by myself? I don't want to pathologize myself. I don't want to create new problems for myself by going to therapy that I might not actually need. I wanted to ask metafilter because the counselors I speak to are obviously going to be somewhat biased in telling me that I am "traumatized".

This was a reasonably recent incident. I dismissed/buried it for a month, and then I briefly had a very physiological anxiety response. Now I no longer have panic attacks and eating/sleep disturbances-- rather, I am having a harder time cognitively / emotionally making sense of the fact that there are people who would take such bad advantage of me. This is not so much an anxiety/panic response as much as it is a sort of preoccupation, which makes me wonder if I'm even traumatized (what does trauma even mean?). I keep thinking about whether the man understood that what he was doing to me was wrong, whether he has done this to other women (he has basically told me that he has), what characteristics about me made him want to target me, how I wish I could tell him to his face how badly he has hurt me and to demand an apology (completely unrealistic, I know). These thoughts are fairly repetitive and I feel the need to get reassurance from older adults, social science research literature, etc... that it wasn't my fault. Is this also part of a normal "trauma" response or is it something else? I know that I don't have to label everything I feel, but I am at a point where I want reassurance that my emotions are valid and sometimes that can come in the form of a label.

The other so-called symptoms I currently have are nightmares that are symbolic of the incidents, a general lack of interest in sex (although I was not very interested even before the incidents), some crying spells, and a general sense of isolation, disillusionment, and unhappiness. But I'm high-functioning overall-- my grades remained good and people can't tell that anything about me has really changed. Would I benefit from therapy, and if so, what kind?

Feel free to message me as well.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Don't get hung up on what "traumatized" means, like you're trying to find a yardstick for how much you have to be suffering for it to count as "trauma."

You're experiencing psychological fallout from this event that is interfering with your enjoyment of your life. AND, there is an entire field of therapists who specialize in helping people experiencing psychological fallout from exactly this kind of event.

Get to a therapist and don't worry about how they label your reactions, if at all.

And FWIW, "valid" and "normal" aren't really metrics that apply very well to emotional responses. But, from an undergrad psych perspective, a lot of what you're experiencing sounds very textbook, if (fortunately!) relatively mild.
posted by 256 at 7:46 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also: it wasn't your fault.
posted by 256 at 7:47 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Different people react differently to these things. I mean, as 256 pointed out, there is a spectrum of what's typical, but of course there are going to be people who are completely shattered, and then there is the other end of the spectrum, and everything in between.

I think if you find the aftermath of the event interfering with your life, and it sounds like it is to some extent (although not so traumatically as might have been the case), then it's reasonable to seek help. Not to label yourself. Not to reinforce your victimhood. But just to process what happened and get to a place you want to be.

This is a thing that has happened to you that is outside "normal" human relationships. A good therapist could probably help you deal with that.
posted by CheekyEv at 7:55 PM on June 1, 2013

Response by poster: That's exactly how I view it as ("how much suffering?"). The events were not very physically violent and some part of me wants to go out if my way to see him again so that he can hurt me again, just so that I have the "right" to feel emotions and be upset. Of course I would never do that, but I am quite preoccupied with it.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:56 PM on June 1, 2013

Your reaction is your reaction. It's normal for you. That sounds like an upsetting thing to have happen to you, and if your thoughts and feelings about it are getting in the way of moving forward and enjoying yourself, that may be a sign that it's worth finding therapy or support of some sort to help manage those thoughts. If you think therapy would help, give it a try. If you don't want to try it now, but do later, that's okay, too.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2013

The response you're describing indicates that some assistance in sorting through this would probably be very useful to you. Therapy isn't "necessary", but an informed, competent individual could prove beneficial and may speed the process for you.

Yes, your emotions are valid.

In terms of what kind of therapy, I would suggest that you make a contact with a woman's resource center and ask them for a recommendation for someone that specializes in treating people who have been abused in this manner, I suspect a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) approach might be effective for you.

And... this was not your fault...
posted by HuronBob at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am so sorry this happened.

That's exactly how I view it as ("how much suffering?"). The events were not very physically violent and some part of me wants to go out if my way to see him again so that he can hurt me again, just so that I have the "right" to feel emotions and be upset. Of course I would never do that, but I am quite preoccupied with it.

That is all you need, right there. You are experiencing trauma. Where it falls on what scale is irrelevant.

And even if you weren't, therapy wouldn't "make" you have it.

Wanting to "redo" and fix bad things is something that happens after you have trauma. Accepting that you can't is one of the hardest things about dealing with it. It's really good to have help with that.
posted by emjaybee at 8:00 PM on June 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

One of the things that my readings on trauma survivors of all kinds has lead me to understand is that the expectation that there is a "normal" way to react, and that if you don't fit that pattern you are somehow either more traumatized or not traumatized at all, can be very damaging for survivors, because anyone who doesn't fit those narratives suddenly isn't sure where they fit at all. I know this is probably not what you want to hear, because it's not very concrete, but when you come down to it: you are where you're at, and that's totally fine.

So yeah, if you need a label, you are a Survivor. You went through a shitty thing and came out the other side. Now it's up to you to decide what's best for you. If you continue to be troubled by these events and think that talking to a neutral party would help, therapy can be really great. But you don't have to get it to get your Survivor medal (if you choose to accept that term.) You get that because of what happened, not because you've reacted in the right way or are thinking about it in certain terms.

The events were not very physically violent and some part of me wants to go out if my way to see him again so that he can hurt me again, just so that I have the "right" to feel emotions and be upset.

You have every right. You have every right to be angry about what happened. You have every right to contemplate how awesome it would be if someone nuked his house from orbit. I am lead to understand that part of what's hard about dealing with all this is getting your own boundaries back and claiming ownership of your right to be angry, or sad, or whatever it is else you feel. Someone trained to deal with these things-- a therapist, a counselor, even a trusted friend if you want to start there-- may be able to help you sort all this out. If you decide otherwise, that's okay too. Do what's best for your own health and sanity, and that's all that matters.

PS. It wasn't your fault.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:01 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

TV shows and movies make trauma BIG. Weeping, shuttering, garment rending. Because that sells and is showy.

And it can be those things. But it can also be cold, calm, persistent, nagging and undermining.

You don't have to be in hysteria to be traumatized. Trauma is damage, it's being hurt emotionally or physically. You were hurt and it's not your fault. You have every right to feel about it however you need to.

Also it's not your fault.
posted by French Fry at 8:03 PM on June 1, 2013


These folks can help. I used to be a volunteer there.

NOT your fault. (((Hugs)))
posted by michellenoel at 8:08 PM on June 1, 2013

Best answer: I'll also say this: I think that it is extremely common, both among the general public and (especially unfortunately) among the professonal psychological community, to believe that people whose day-to-day functioning is less impaired by their suffering are actually suffering less than those who become unable to function. That is, people think that if you're able to get stuff done, things must not really be so bad. And while it is true that a total inability to function can be a symptom of depression and anxiety and other problems, it's also true that people can be depressed and anxious and have problems and still go to work and shower regularly and buy groceries, and the fact that they're able to do those things doesn't prove that they're suffering less.

You deserve help if you want it or need it. And that's true no matter what your response to what you've been through is. It would be true that you deserve help if you want or need it even if you hadn't been assaulted or stalked or traumatized. Everyone who wants or needs it deserves help. And anyone who tells you that you shouldn't get help because your problems or your symptoms don't fit some arbitrary checklist of what counts as really traumatic or how real victims respond - whether those people are your friends or therapists or yourself - is not acting in your best interests. If you are upset and want someone to talk to, if you are thinking about doing something destructive (like seeking out an abusive person, for example), if you are suffering, please seek help. And don't give up until you get the help you want and need, because you deserve it. Because anyone who wants or needs help deserves help.
posted by decathecting at 8:22 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

First of all, congratulations. It sounds like you have not just survived this, but are a well-adjusted and driven/motivated person. However, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that you give yourself a bit more space to process around this and recognize that your feelings and reactions will occur on a continuum and may indeed evolve over time.

The label doesn't matter.

I identify with the feeling like you need to re-engage in order to "deserve" the right to be upset or connect more with your feelings on this. Also: Whether or not you feel connected to it, it sounds like you were disrespected, used, abused, hurt, and indeed traumatized. You are allowed to experience and internalize this/not internalize it however you need to, but your experience was valid and is REAL.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:35 PM on June 1, 2013

Is a "trauma response"... with panic attacks, flashbacks, and such... the only possible response to rape and harassment?

My experience was different from yours, but no. When I was 16, my family was robbed. They held us captive for a night and one of the robbers sexually molested me. After the event, I had no panic attacks or flashbacks, could speak normally about the event and kept good grades at school. However, I also started withdrawing from friends and family, had nightmares and felt depressed. Years after, I realized it was probably a reaction to the assault, combined with normal teenage angst.

Secondly: Is therapy always necessary to deal with this sort of thing? Or is it possible that I have/will get over it by myself?

I didn't get therapy, and eventually got over it by myself. However, if I had to do it over again, I'd try therapy. I didn't feel "traumatized", but I wish that period of my life had been easier.

The events were not very physically violent and some part of me wants to go out if my way to see him again so that he can hurt me again, just so that I have the "right" to feel emotions and be upset.

You have all the right to feel upset. Even not knowing the particulars of your experience, there's NO way it was your fault.
posted by clearlydemon at 8:54 PM on June 1, 2013

I lived for 29 years thinking that the extreme reaction I had to break-ups and my approach to relationships were just my own crazy. Some of the things that started coming back to my memory in counselling were major, and some weren't, but they all affected me and built that crazy FAR beyond my own natural levels of crazy.

And had you known me casually (or even as close friends), you wouldn't have guessed that I was as traumatised as I actually was. The exteriour of a person rarely shows you the interiour.

Thus: Your reaction can't be wrong. Feelings are feelings - you can't just decide not to feel them. You'll have times where it will be Just Too Much and you'll feel all the shame, and guilt and panic and anxiety and and and...and other times, when you will be fine. This kind of thing cuts deep on so many different levels and it will keep reappearing.

But through counselling with my pastors at my church (who are the first men I've ever trusted, and been worthy of my trust) and the help of the best friend I've ever had, who loved me through my crazy and somehow still loves me, I've dealt with it all, and feel pretty free of it most of the time. I know that church-based counselling isn't for everyone, and I wouldn't recommend it unless you have a trusting relationship with a church. But that's what worked for me where everything else failed. I now have healthy relationships and my life is balanced and makes sense. It's so so freeing to have gone through the pain and suffering and trauma to be in this place right now.

This is NOT your fault, and it IS okay to be upset about it or not upset about it or anything else you feel. Please message me if you want more details than I gave here. You're really brave to start dealing with this. Best wishes, OP.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:04 PM on June 1, 2013

[I started out just writing a few specific answers to your questions and accidentally wrote you a novel. Oops!]

Is it possible to actually be traumatized and not realize/recognize it?

Yes, in the sense we're probably all familiar with: it's certainly possible to get so caught up in an intense emotional experience that it's hard to see clearly what's going on. And then one day, you get a little perspective on yourself and think, "Oh, I've been so [traumatized][stressed][scared][lonely] lately and that's why things have been so tough for so long." And a lot of times that moment of clarity is the first step in feeling better.

But also no, in the sense that if, fundamentally, you feel like you are moving forward in processing what happened, and if you believe in your heart that you are basically okay, or at least will be eventually... then no one can stand outside you and point a finger and say: "Because this thing happened, you are traumatized, you just don't recognize it yet." If you really feel like you are not traumatized, then you aren't, end of story. No counselor can or should tell you otherwise. If you end up talking to someone who insists on labeling you that way even if it's not a word that feels right to you, you might think about finding a new therapist.

(what does trauma even mean?)

One definition of a "trauma" which I find useful is that it' s an event that overwhelms our normal coping mechanisms. When you look at it that way, you can see how subjective the concept is. No matter the severity of what happened to you, if your normal coping mechanisms are working for you, then you are not traumatized. That doesn't meant that you aren't scared or sad or angry sometimes, it's just that you can deal with those feelings when they come up. If, on the other hand, you find yourself in a place where your feelings are overwhelming you and you need help coming up with new strategies for handling your emotional responses, then "trauma" might be a useful label.

I keep thinking about...what characteristics about me made him want to target me, how I wish I could tell him to his face how badly he has hurt me and to demand an apology (completely unrealistic, I know) events were not very physically violent and some part of me wants to go out if my way to see him again so that he can hurt me again, just so that I have the "right" to feel emotions and be upset.

100% normal. Lots of people have said it already and I'll say it again - the assault was absolutely not your fault. But that doesn't mean it isn't natural for your brain to think through the assault and to try to make sense of it personally, cognitively, ethically and emotionally. Some of those answers will probably never become available to you (you may never know 'why' it happened, in any real sense) but that doesn't mean they're not worth thinking about, or that wondering about them means you won't heal - on the contrary, this a natural part of the healing process.

Also 100% normal is to rehearse the bad event in your head, but to change it in a way that gives you more control over what happened. So, imagining him hurting you might seem scary or unhealthy but it actually makes complete sense: if that had happened, you have felt angry, which in a way, is better than being confused (you'd have control over your emotions); you would have yelled at him (you would have had control over your actions) and he probably would have gotten in trouble (control over the outcome). You don't actually want him to hurt you (I don't think) you just wish he had to face the consequences of what he's done. Yup. Me too.

whether he has done this to other women (he has basically told me that he has),

Just wanted to say that this must be really tough. You aren't only worrying about yourself, you're worrying about the other people this guy has hurt, too. This means that you (unlike your attacker) are a thoughtful and empathetic person, but it doesn't mean that it's any less of a scary and lonely burden to be carrying around.

Would I benefit from therapy, and if so, what kind?

Why not? Lots of people benefit from therapy, regardless of whether or not they've experienced traumatic events. Even if you're coping now, if you're likely 99% of us, you could always be coping better. I'd look for a therapist that you connect with, who doesn't rush to label you or tell you what's wrong with you, and who recognizes and admires all the ways that you are already doing well in a really difficult situation. A good therapist won't insist that you sit on the couch and sob: she'll work with you to make you even more tougher, stronger, and emotionally resilient than you already are.

Good luck!!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:11 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I experienced many horrific things as a child, things that would normally be considered traumatizing. I will spare the details here, but pleases MeMail if you want them. I don't mind sharing them.

I was not traumatized by these events, and in fact ended up quite well adjusted. To the extent I had trouble, it was from the self-doubt engendered by a world telling me that I must have been traumatized.

I spent some time trying to dig that up and work it out but pretty quickly realized it wasn't necessary. There was nothing to work out.

YMMV, and undoubtedly will vary. The point is that you should look to your own experience and the truth of yourself. Don't label yourself because the media narrative says you should. Get help for things that bother you, but don't feel like you have to slow down living the life you love and loving the life you live.
posted by alms at 9:14 PM on June 1, 2013

the counselors I speak to are obviously going to be somewhat biased in telling me that I am "traumatized".

A decent counselor is not going to tell you you are traumatized. They aren't going to try to fit you in a box or push you into therapy you don't want. You might have to interview a few people, but you can find someone that fills the role you need. (You are paying them after all.)

I have a therapist. They are a person I know I can be completely honest about my life with, that they support me no matter what. They don't judge me, and more importantly they don't tell me what to do.

Honestly I don't know anyone who wouldn't benefit from sitting for an hour a week with another human who has been trained in helping with mental matters who is entirely focused on helping you.

As to what type of therapy works best for you, that's very personal. I have done best with a CBT/mindfulness approach. You can interview therapists and ask them what they recommend, at the end of my first therapy session my therapist asked me if I wanted to continue and said they could give me referrals if I'd like to interview others.

And it was not your fault.
posted by Dynex at 11:08 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you read ask metafilter for any length of time, you'll see lots of personal stories about how people are dealing with or not dealing with this sort of thing. Not everyone processes something like this in the same way.

A bad thing happened to you, you are having a hard time handling it. That is 100% normal. That is actually your mind working the way it's supposed to, trying to figure out why it happened and make sense of it. You are going through a healing process. You're neither sick, nor mentally ill, but that doesn't mean that therapy can't help you. Think of it like a broken ankle, and a therapist as helping you make sure it sets right so you don't end up walking with a limp.
posted by empath at 3:45 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sometimes you react to things by going the other way, i.e. feeling numb or neutral about what by rights you should be infuriated about.

I dealt with my own sexual assault by denying that that was even what it was. Took me around thirty years to realize how that event really did shape the rest of my life.

I don't know if you really "need" therapy or not. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. But from my perspective I think it would be helpful for you to have a trusted counselor to talk to who can at the very least give you things to be aware of as you process what happened to you. Sometimes things can be a delayed reaction and sometimes we don't realize just how we are reacting. Think of it as an investment in a healthy future. It doesn't mean you are damaged goods or defective or that you aren't strong. Think of it as preventing problems in the future.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:16 AM on June 2, 2013

My read on your story is that you lived through a series of all-too-common traumatic events and are doing mostly well.

The "other so-called symptoms" paragraph is a group of indicators that, individually, indicate problems that need to be worked through. Taken collectively, they suggest a couple of one hour appointments with a trusted professional (e.g. psychologist, social worker) should help you improve mental and emotional health more quickly and effectively than handling it on your own.
posted by thatdawnperson at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2013

There's this kind of persistent message that "this is how we suffer" and "this is what trauma looks like". I know you're hearing it from a lot of people already, but I'll reiterate: there's no 'wrong' or 'right' way to feel about what's happened to you. The way you're handling this reminds me very much of how I dealt with things after I was raped - I didn't have therapy for years after that, and when I did, I insisted that we focus on my depression and not circle back to the rape as The Big Thing. Because for me, it wasn't. It was A Thing, but assigning it a definite article and giving it that much weight in my own personal narrative felt wrong to me. And that was fine. Now, did I *need* therapy right afterward? Eh, hard to say. I probably would have benefitted from it, and if I'd been presented with the option back then I might have gone to talk to someone. Your preoccupation with it seems perfectly natural to me, and also seems like a sign that talking to someone might be a nice thing to do for yourself. If only so that you can say "ok, I did that."

You don't have to identify as a 'survivor', you don't have to have panic attacks. And you don't need to feel or be 'traumatized' by whatever standard or definition to benefit from some therapy. Having an objective person listen and help by giving you the tools to do some mental tune-ups on yourself is a pretty neat thing. I learned a lot about myself and my own cognition in therapy, including how I'm likely to respond to crappy things, and how I can (by my own metrics and standards) do better at that when crappy things happen to me in the future (as they inevitably will).
posted by lriG rorriM at 10:05 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Number one: This was not your fault.

I don't know what kinds of counselors and websites you've spoken to or visited, but I've worked at a rape crisis center and our counselor training emphasized not defining what had happened for the survivor, but allowing them to define it. The people in your life who tell you what did or did not happen to you are often doing it to make themselves feel better in either a "oh, this can't be what happened because if it happened to you it could happen to me" or "of course this is what happened to you because I know to help with this".

Journaling may help, if you aren't doing it already, to work out what you feel like you need. I would also recommend calling a sexual assault hotline, and if you get someone who tries to define your experience it is perfectly acceptable to ask them not to or try a different one. Also, there's no time limit on this - if you decide that you don't want or need therapy now and then change your mind in six months or a year or ten years, you can seek help then.

All of that said, I have PTSD as a result of childhood abuse, and nightmares, anger (in a wanting to confront the abuser kind of way), low-level depression, and dissociation were the primary ways it manifested before I entered therapy. Nobody knew until I told them. So to answer your question, no, it doesn't always look like flashbacks and panic attacks and loss of control, and a person can be "high-functioning" and have PTSD.

Whatever you decide to do, please be kind to yourself, and feel free to MeMail me if you want info or have questions.
posted by camyram at 11:34 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANY PTSD therapist, but I do work with people with PTSD full time. Its hard to know from your description if you'd meet full criteria for PTSD, but that doesn't mean that you couldn't benefit from talking to somebody who specializes in these things. EMDR wouldn't be a bad option, or Cognitive Processing Therapy, both of which would allow you to talk out some of your thoughts with a neutral party who understands how people recover from trauma.

It's important to know that you can be "high functioning" and still benefit from treatment. And getting treatment now, is the best thing you can do for yourself. If you later develop a more severe case of PTSD, it will take longer to treat, since it will have "set in" a bit more. Even checking in with a therapist would be worth it. If they think that you don't need treatment, they'll tell you.

EMDR and CPT have been shown in research to be amazingly effective, and work fast (2-4 months of weekly treatment). I'd be happy to talk to you more about it via meMail if you'd like.
posted by gilsonal at 6:48 PM on June 2, 2013

I want to reiterate and emphasize a couple of things in this thread for you.

Yes, you can be traumatized by things that you describe, it's a very normal response. Note what I just said: it's a normal response. It's common. It's normal. So, that also means, don't sweat the word "traumatize". Why should you care if therapists characterize you as "traumatized" anyway? It is what it is, and it doesn't really matter what anyone calls it. You won't get it stamped on your forehead for everyone to see.

Therapy can help; some therapists are much better than others, though. A decent therapist can help you a lot. Is therapy necessary? Not to put too fine a point on it, yes. But therapy is only as effective as the commitment you make to helping yourself.
posted by Xoebe at 2:16 PM on June 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses, everybody. All good things for me to consider. I guess I'm a bit reluctant to help myself. I'm home after just graduating (grad school starts in a few weeks) and it's hard for me to find an affordable therapist short-term ... My parents don't know what happened (and I'm not prepared to tell them) so I've been adrift and feeling sort of isolated. That's part of it.

I know on a cognitive level how to treat myself well-- I've been journaling, doing art, music, trying to get out of the house and get myself to be social. People really can't tell that anything happened. But I have all these stewing emotions far beneath the surface (some that I'm not sure if I can access myself, to be honest) that I don't know what to do about because I'm confusingly high functioning, don't have easy access to therapy (and not enough time between now and moving to another state to begin grad school to interview therapists), was not completely sure what kind of therapy I would need (thanks for helping with that, mefi!). Actually, I'm pretty anxious about starting school far from home with an increased academic workload / higher pressure and I'm not sure how the incidents/therapy will mix with that.

I feel like if my sense of isolation/latent unhappiness got bad enough, I might, in a moment of weakness, actually contact my abuser-- maybe ask him for an explanation, or maybe try to either have an interaction where I have more control or, as I previously mentioned, have him hurt me again so that I would have the right to feel my emotions. I know that what I feel is what I feel, and there's no "right" or "wrong" way to feel, but as a whole I'm confused about what it is that I even do feel. :(

Thanks for your kind words and comments and help, everyone.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 2:53 PM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: I was raped at 13 by a guy several years older than me, and reported it to my school counselor. Her response was to tell me she knew the guy and knew he wasn't capable of it, so I must have consented. I pretty much dealt with it on my own (my parents still don't know) and covered pretty well. I looked normal and I felt normal about 95% of the time, and I was ok with that ratio for the most part.

I did finally go see a therapist in my 30s, and I found it useful. I saw a CBT therapist. I found it useful, not so much from a trauma standpoint, but from a reframing standpoint. The 13 year old me had internalized the "you must have consented", and I carried that message with me from the standpoint of a 13 year old. However, it was useful to me to revisit this premise as an adult - to look at it and process it as an adult. To be able to call bullshit on it as an adult. If nothing else, my therapist was legitimately upset - not enough to throw me off, but to say, very clearly, that my school counselor had not handled her role well, and to emphasize that even if I HAD said yes (I hadn't), thirteen year olds can't consent.

What I'm trying to get at, is for me it wasn't so much about trauma. It's easy to say, yeah, but I'm doing ok, look at this and this and this - I'm fine! For me, it was more about learning how to integrate this into my life so it wasn't disruptive - "Yes, this happened. It sucked. How do I reconcile what happened with who I am? Who I want to be? How do I figure out what to do with this thing that happened?" Therapy is a shortcut for me - I can probably get to a place of understanding and coping on my own, but it will take a lot longer. For me, when I'm really struggling with something, I choose to take the shortcut and get there faster, and not spin my wheels so much. It's kind of like baking a cake - if you combine sugar, flour, and eggs in varying ratios, and experiment, you'll eventually get a cake. I tend to be a bit impatient, so I'd rather follow a recipe, get it done, and move on. (Not that therapy is a recipe, per se, but I can't come up with a better metaphor right now).

You sound pretty together and driven, so it might be less around trauma or the concept of trauma, and more around "How do I figure out how to integrate this experience into my life?" For what it's worth, my therapist never said I was traumatized, never acted as if I was some damaged delicate flower (if she had, I would have bolted). She just gave me ways of looking at it and thinking about it from a slightly more removed perspective, and gave me the permission to be pissed at hell at not only the guy, but also the adults who failed me at that time.

So no, therapy isn't required and you won't be broken without it, but I found it really helpful.

If you'd like to discuss further, please feel free to memail me.
posted by RogueTech at 8:20 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

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