My first boyfriend raped me when I was fourteen, and then broke up with me three days later because he couldn't handle the guilt. None of my friends seemed to believe me, and at least some of the ones who acted like they did laughed at me behind my back. This was my first sexual experience.
I wasn't ready for it to go as far as it did, and I worry that I may have been molested by my uncle as a small child. He has been diagnosed as a sociopath, and was sent to a boys' home as a teenager because he attacked my grandmother. My father told his mother-in-law (my maternal grandmother) that no one was ever to leave me alone with my uncle, or they would never see me again. When I was in counseling as a teenager (around the same time as the rape), my mother sent me out of the room to answer a question the counselor asked. She had asked, "Did your brother ever do anything like that to your daughter?" My mom doesn't remember this incident at the counselor's office. I instantly think of bathrooms when someone mentions molestation, and I used to have frequent nightmares that I was hiding in my grandparents' bathroom and my uncle was coming to find me. I was always either naked or in just a bathrobe in these nightmares.
My second counselor didn't seem to believe me when I told her, just as my friends had disbelieved me. I told her about it, and she changed the subject and never brought it up again. I have not had very many good counseling experiences.
I did not have sex again for five years. Often during sex I will start to shake and cry. It took me a long time after having sex again to actually enjoy it - before that I was just glad to be like normal girls. Now I am in a long-term relationship, and we have sex about once a week. I know my boyfriend would like it to be more frequent, and he has asked me before to seek counseling to deal with this rape. I don't feel as though I would get anything out of counseling that I haven't already done to heal myself, and it would be a financial burden on us. But I know I have a libido - I often have sexual dreams about doing things with him that I have never considered in daylight. And even when I get aroused, I blush and feel ashamed thinking of how much I let go when we have sex - all the silly things I say and do that are embarrassing to think about when one is in one's "right mind". Obviously, I believe this embarrassment probably goes hand in hand with my past sexual experiences. What can I do to connect my inner mindset with my outer self?
Signed, Still Traumatized
I had some questions for Still Traumatized, which she answered as follows:
- Do you berate yourself for "letting" the rape happen?
Not really. I was visiting my dad the summer before, and "cheated" on my boyfriend with another guy. We were "going out", but since we were thirteen nothing much was going on. My best friend told my boyfriend, and from then until the rape I was constantly letting him walk all over me because of the guilt. So then I would take his verbal abuse because I figured I "deserved" it for dating another guy at the same time. We had also been messing around (the rapist boyfriend and I) and things were progressing further and further. But I didn't feel like I let the rape happen - it was a situation where I didn't have any control over the actual rape, and it also happened so quickly.
- At any point since then (including now) have you ever found yourself pulling back when you get close to someone, either emotionally or intimately?
I have never pulled back emotionally, but I have a loooooooonnnngg history of pulling back during intimacy - I will get so far with someone and then start to cry or shake or get scared. It doesn't happen as much with my current boyfriend, but from the time of the rape until I was nineteen (five years), I didn't actually have any type of penetration with anyone.
- Have you ever been afraid to show people the real you, for fear they will discover you are not good enough? Have you compensated for this feeling by over-achieving at school or work?
Oh yeah. Ever since I was a child! I have always felt like if I can be good enough and smart enough and pretty enough and nice enough, I can make everyone happy all the time.
- If you could write a letter to your rapist, what would you want to say to him?
I don't really want to tell him anything. Since we went to school together for the next three-plus years, and since we had all the same friends, I saw plenty of him. When we were seniors, he said that he was sorry for what happened, but that it was a bad relationship "all the way around". He asked if we could be friends. I felt like I had been slapped - I told him I didn't think that would work for me. I don't want to say anything to him. I just want him to die and go to hell. Or live the rest of his life thinking every minute of every day about what he did.
- And if you could wish for an ideal letter back from him, what would he say?
That he was going to commit hara kiri over his guilt. No amount of I'm sorry can give back what he took from me.
Dear Still Traumatized,
I want to be clear that I could never pretend to know completely what your experience is like, dealing with the aftermath of being a rape victim -- I haven't lived through it like you have. I have worked closely with other people who have been in just about your exact situation, though, (teen rape with longstanding consequences during adulthood, eventually gaining peace after many years) so I believe I have some degree of insight.
"None of my friends seemed to believe me..."
That is a defense mechanism on their part, and an unfortunate consequence for you. You needed support that they were not equipped to provide. If they had responded with, "Oh you poor thing, that's terrible," then that is followed obviously with, "What can I do to help?" Then (from their still-not-quite-mature point of view) they are dragged into the middle of a situation that is too horrible for them to contemplate. It's much more comfortable for them to ward off the situation and ignore it. In other words, they were reacting with their own interests in mind, not yours. That's pretty typical for adolescent teens, who tend to me-oriented. Like I said, though, this was unfortunate for you and undoubtedly added to your pain.
"My second counselor didn't seem to believe me when I told her... I told her about it, and she changed the subject and never brought it up again."
That is unconscionable. I view someone in the helping professions as the last line of defense for issues like this. If she didn't help you, where could you go from there? Exactly where you did -- home to struggle with it on your own. That is completely unacceptable. If she thought this was a legitimate issue then she should have helped, or at least referred you to someone who had the expertise to deal with this type of issue. If she thought you were telling a false story, then that should have also sent alarm bells ringing in her head. Nobody would tell a story like that unless they were hurting in some way, and a caring counselor should want to uncover that pain and help.
Not every counselor or therapist is going to be a star, or even minimally competent, so I guess it's "buyer beware" as in most other areas of life. Unfortunately people seeking therapy are, by definition, not always on top of their game at the time and may see their options as limited. Several parts of your story make me sad and this is one of them. You needed a results-oriented professional who would make it their business to guide you toward a healing path and not settle for any less.
"I worry that I may have been molested by my uncle as a small child..."
Small children (or anyone for that matter) sometimes block out difficult memories as a defense mechanism against being overwhelmed by the pain. It is also possible to dream repeatedly about something we fear (even if it never happened), and then wonder if there is any substance to it. I have no way of knowing how real this vague memory is for you. Clearly, though, the anguish you feel over it now is yet another indication you are a wounded spirit and sexual abuse (the rape, and potentially your uncle) is a huge part of the cause.
"What can I do to connect my inner mindset with my outer self?"
I'll tell you where I believe you need to get to, and offer a few suggestions as to how you might accomplish that.
Your feelings of self-worth are close to rock bottom. One of the terrible consequences of rape and other forms of sexual abuse is that they objectify the victim. "I must not be worth much," your inner mind comes to believe, "since all I was to him was something he could use to satisfy his urges. My feelings, my needs, my worth -- all of this meant less than his fleeting sexual want, which means I am way down there on the worthless scale." You fear it could happen again, that plenty of other men have the predilection and power to do this to you. You feel powerless to protect yourself. Powerless translates to weak, and weakness to low self-worth.
So you try to compensate in other ways in an effort to feel better about yourself. You work hard in school, you get a good job and become an over-achiever. Inside, though, the same feelings persist.
Now along comes a romantic interest. Things progress and you start to open up to each other. "DANGER!" your inner mind yells. "I can't let him see the real me, because I know it won't be good enough for him. I'm not worthy, not really. If I let myself go during sex, if I throw caution to the wind and lower my inhibitions, then I will be out of control, and I never ever let myself get out of control. That would mean opening myself to the potential for more hurt, and I just can't take any more of that." So the result is: "I will get so far with someone and then start to cry or shake or get scared."
You need to regain your sense of self. You need to re-discover what you knew intuitively as a small girl -- that you are already worthy of love and closeness and respect, just the way you are. Before life's big and little knocks took their toll on you, back when you were a complete innocent, you floated happily through your days with faith that life was a good place to be and that you deserved your place in it as much as anyone on the planet.
The rape stole a huge chunk of that away from you. Other events and life circumstances took even more, such as your uncle or your friends' reaction when you reached out for help.
Some way, somehow, you need to regain that faith.
Secondly, you have to take the power over yourself back from your rapist. Here is a huge clue:
"No amount of I'm sorry can give back what he took from me."
You're absolutely right. He can't give you back anything. You have to claim it for yourself.
I suspect right now you believe you have no choice. "The rape happened and as a consequence I feel terrible. I can't change the past, so I can't change the consequences."
That belief is completely understandable ... and completely wrong.
At some point you need to make a decision for yourself. You need to decide that you are sick and tired of continuing to give that guy power over your life. Since you were fourteen you have defined yourself as a victim. You need to say, "I don't want to be a victim anymore. I choose to begin the process of changing that."
This is not about getting anything from him, because he hasn't got anything you want. Like you said, his apologies are not enough. What you need must come from yourself. You need to give yourself permission.
Permission to stop defining yourself by how much you hate him, by how much you want him to hurt, by your wish that you could hurt him as much as he hurt you ...
Permission to stop defining yourself based on him.
He needs to be gone from your life and he won't be until you let go of him. He's like a bloodsucker who has been attached to your side since you were fourteen. You need to grab hold of him, yank him off and throw him away.
You need to start defining yourself based on YOU, not on him.
But you can't because you're still angry at him, you still hate him, you still resent like hell what he did to you, so he still has this power over you, he defines who you have become, because...
...because you have never forgiven him.
Are you still there? I know that's a tough one to hear, but stick with me now, we're almost there.
I have seen it happen and I have seen it work. I have seen rape victims regain there happiness and libido by doing exactly that. You don't forgive someone else as a gift to them; you do it as a gift to yourself. It is the only way you will ever be able to let go of all that hurt and rage, the only way you will be able to look at yourself and say, "You know what? I'm a good person."
Those are two tough goals for someone in your position: (1) work to regain your self-worth and (2) cast off your victim role by forgiving your rapist.
I wouldn't be surprised if your immediate reaction to these suggestions is negative. Forgiving him is probably the last thing you feel like doing and I don't blame you. But that would be about, "Why should I do that for him?" Hopefully at some point you will be ready to ask the more pertinent question: "Why should I do that for myself?"
Identifying an effective path to accomplishing these goals is also tough. Despite your past experiences with ineffective counseling, I believe most people in your position would benefit from the help of a results-oriented professional. The chances of you being able to work through this alone are much less than they would be with help. While it may be a financial burden, ask yourself: What if it worked? What would that be worth?
You might try the letter writing exercise I mentioned in my earlier questions to you. Write a letter to your rapist, which you need never show to anyone -- this is an exercise for yourself. Tell him about your pain, what he has done to you. Get it all off your chest. Put it away for a few days, then get it out and write another letter. Write the response you would most like to hear from him, keeping in mind my suggestion of forgiveness as the only way you will ever regain your power and peace. Put that away for a couple of days, then write a final letter to him, closing the conversation with him forever. This can be an effective way to gain closure with someone you don't want to contact.
You can also contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE. They may be able to direct you to free, confidential counseling with someone who is trained in helping with exactly the issues facing you.
You are worthy of being loved, just the way you are. Have patience with yourself and hopefully you can find a path to regaining some of that lost faith.
All the best,