Sexual Abuse and Trauma Haunt Me. How Can I Move Forward?

I have been through a lot. I was molested by a family member, my best friend's dad exposed himself, and my boyfriend keeps naked pictures of his baby's mother stashed on his phone. Those are the ones I have had a hard time dealing with. Now, if I see a movie featuring anyone in the nude, I feel awkward, disrespected, and at times angry, as it appears to me they have no respect for themselves. How can I find peace within myself? I seem to relate my past experience with current events. Please let me know. Thank you. —Traumatized
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Dear Traumatized,

You have been through a great deal, and you seem so alone in your letter. I hope that by asking these questions you’re preparing for the beginning of the end to this pain—may you never have to go through anything like this again.

You have experienced repeated betrayals by many of the important male figures in your life, and that makes it hard to know whom to trust, and if it is even wise to trust men at all. Molested by a family member and by your best friend’s dad—you were attacked from all sides. Where was your father? You don’t mention your mother in your letter, either, and I wonder if your father or your mother were able to protect you at all, and I wonder how old you were when this was happening, and if these things happened more than once. Sometimes when people have painful histories they may blame themselves; it’s a common reaction, and if that’s true for you I say loud and clear that none of this is your fault, and that you needed to be protected. I hope someone helped you feel secure, and made sure you had a safe space where you could let your guard down and relax a little.

Most people relate their past experiences to current events—it’s a basic part of the learning process—and memories of dangerous events are especially tightly tied up to our emotional lives, part of normal psychic processes that help us stay alive by providing warning signals designed to keep us safe.

An example of this kind of warning signal is the discomfort you feel when you watch movies with shots of nude people, which remind you of either the molestation or the exhibitionism you experienced, and so you feel angry, awkward, and disrespected because you felt like that when you were molested. You probably had other feelings as well.

Your boyfriend’s picture collection upsets you; most women would find it very upsetting. Does your boyfriend know how you feel? If so, can he give up his collection? I hope you have close women friends in whom you can confide, and who can provide you with much-needed support.

You ask how you can find peace within yourself. I know from experience that people who have been abused tend to be always on guard against the world around them, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Writing your letter is a good first step toward finding and making a better, more empathic world for yourself and others.

Clearly you are ready to for change. Your best bet is to seek a therapist who will help you digest your painful history; finding a support group would be good, too. You might read The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, written by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, and Defining Moments for Therapists, especially the chapters written by Cheryl Dollinger Brown and Linda Marks.

Sincerely,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Blue Canopy

    Blue Canopy

    May 25th, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    Hello,I’m sorry about everything you’ve been through…And such a thing would,as I imagine,make you feel like no place or person is safe…So what happens is that you are constantly looking out for danger,which in turn saps your energy,not just physical but mental as well.Such quick expenditure of energy is not a good thing.It can get to you over time…Please try to find ways that help your relax…As long as you cannot relax and think right you cannot heal completely.This could be exercise,reading books,or anything else you can think of…I wish you all the best.

  • Laurel

    Laurel

    May 25th, 2013 at 4:47 AM

    My first thought is to get rid of that sad sack of a boyfriend! Why keep him around when he is dwelling on the past by keeping pics like that?!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 25th, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Thanks, Blue Canopy and Laurel, for your heartfelt advice to “Traumatized.” She knows people are behind her.

  • farrah

    farrah

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    the best first step is to reach out for help

    that is often the most difficult step to take

    i know that there is the instinct to keep it all inside

    but what good does that do?

    how does that solve any problems?

    no matter how strong we may be we all need help at different stages in our lives

    you can do this, one step at a time

  • bev N

    bev N

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    “and my boyfriend keeps naked pictures of his baby’s mother stashed on his phone.”

    Girl, ain’t nobody got time for that. Get yourself a new boyfriend. You deserve better than that! And I don’t even have to know you from Adam’s housecat to know that. Run, girl, RUN!!

  • SHAQUILA

    SHAQUILA

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:22 PM

    I AM TOTALLY WITH YOU ON NOT LIKING MOVIES WITH NUDE PEOPLE IN IT
    I FIND IT SO UNNECESSARY
    WHY DO THEY HAVE TO DO THAT
    AND MAKE EVERYONE UNCOMFORTABLE.
    THAT’S NOT ART THAT’S JUST YUCK
    SOME THINGS NEEDS TO BE KEPT PRIVATE WHICH SOME PEOPLE JUST DON’T SEEM TO GET ANYMORE
    I DONT’ BLAME YOU FOR THAT ONE.

  • lme

    lme

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    Why are men such jerks? Why can’t they just treat people with respect? Especially women? Do parents not teach their sons to respect women anymore? Why do men feel that they need to control women? I just don’t get it.

  • jaden green

    jaden green

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    Parents just don’t realize how important their jobs as protectors are. You can’t just send your kids out without supervision when they are younger. They are so vulnerable and their innocence can be snatched in a heart beat. Another part of being a protector is being someone your kids can talk to. If you are barking at them all the time, they’ll think they are just going to get in trouble if they do come and talk to you.

  • Paschal

    Paschal

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:30 PM

    And I repeat: NONE OF THIS IS YOUR FAULT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • andi

    andi

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:32 PM

    Let me another to say I am sorry for all that has happened to you. It sure sounds like you have been through more than your share of bad things. I really hope you can get some help so that you can be whole again. No one deserves to be unhappy in life. I really hope you can get away from your boyfriend and find someone who values you more than he apparently does. I know it can be scary to think about being alone and not in a relationship, but you really do owe it to yourself to be alone for awhile and really heal yourself. Best of luck to you!

  • marge

    marge

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:36 PM

    i agree that women friends are what you need

    there is nothing better than good girlfriends you an talk to when things get rough

    but be careful who you choose and make sure you can trust them

    if they are just gong to go run and talk to other people even one other person that find someone else

    you need someone who will not throw you under the bus just o have some fun gossiping

    you need somebody you know won’t tell anybody what you told them so you can trust them to tell theme everything

    it really really helps to be able to talk to somebody you can trust.

  • baylor

    baylor

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    To find peace, try meditating. I’m going to be trying the same thing. Just trying to figure out how to get started.

  • Sasha T

    Sasha T

    May 26th, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    Great suggestions for starting the healing process. I really hope you use each and every one of these-you are worthy of a great, happy, and peaceful life!

  • Samantha Y

    Samantha Y

    May 27th, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    I can relate to how you are feeling on so many levels because at one time in my life this was me too. I kept getting into relationships that were no good for me and everything in life seemed to remind me of the bad things that had happened to me when I was younger.

    All I can tell you was that when I was ready to move on it had to come with a lot of acceptance of what had happened and finding a way to break those patterns. I kept finding myself in those same situations over and over again, but I had to reach a point to realize that I was so much better than the way that I was allowing myself to be treated.

    Be strong!!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    WOW- This is a strong and smart women’s chorus. Lots of people behind you,”Traumatized.” And that’s just as it should be.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    Baylor,good idea, meditation is a priceless tool- I meditate first thing every morning- but it helps to have a teacher or join a group, at least at first. Sometimes when you’re very unhappy your problems can take over and you dwell on them, rather than meditating. A teacher can help you tell the difference and lead you to a healthy meditation practice.

  • Zoe

    Zoe

    June 2nd, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    please find a good AAMET recommended EFT (sometimes known as tapping)Practitioner.
    Many psychologists use this tecnique now.It is a seemingly simple tecnique which you can use yourself when you are upset or angry or afraid or memories & events are overwhelming.
    trials show that EFT(or tapping)isas or more effective than cog behavioural therapy for Post Traumatic Stress.
    it has helped me personally & if you are serious about taking control of and responsibility for your own health and well being, the best thing you will ever do.
    wishing you strength & courage

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