Concerning Women

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


When I was 14 I went with a guy who didn't stop when I said "No." Part of the problem was I had been with him before, so I guess he didn't believe me. I feel disgusted at myself for ever being with him. That was years ago and I think I should have gotten over it by now, but I haven't. I don't have a boyfriend and don't want one, and I usually feel violated when a man, and even some women, touch me in any way. Is this a normal reaction from my experience? What can I do to feel comfortable with people again?


Your reaction is absolutely normal for your experience! Those who experience sexual abuse as children, or sexual assault at any age, commonly have difficulty with being touched, even when they know, intellectually, that the person means it affectionately.

One of the first things you can do is get help to stop feeling disgusted with yourself. It's important to learn to have compassion for yourself, and what you now see as poor judgment on your part for ever having been with this guy in the first place. That's simply a matter of live and learn. And regardless of what may have happened with consent between two people before, if a woman says "No" the next time, and the man forces her, it's rape. He is responsible--not you! You would likely find it helpful to talk with someone at your nearest Rape Crisis Center, either in person or by phone. It doesn't matter that this happened long ago. They will still be happy to talk with you.

As for becoming comfortable with touch again, one possibility is finding someone who does EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a technique used to help break up, in a sense, the traumatic memory, such that situations which remind you of the traumatic event will not lead to your feeling like it's starting to happen all over again. EMDR is not a cure-all for trauma, but can be very helpful in reducing the post-traumatic response. There is an EMDR site on the web, at

Another thing you can do is take active control over when and by whom you are touched. If a friend touches you and you don't feel comfortable with it, try telling that person that it's nothing personal, but sometimes you just don't like to be touched, and would he/she mind asking you first if it's okay. Most friends will gladly oblige, and feel relieved that your discomfort doesn't have anything to do with them personally.

Finally, many women victims of incest, sexual assault, and rape are able to regain a sense of control over their bodies through taking a self-defense course. You might find such a course offered through a Y or women's organization. If a self-defense course isn't offered near you, ask appropriate organizations and agencies to offer one! It's important to find ways to reduce your feelings of vulnerability to attack.

Congratulations on having taken a very important, courageous step in asking how you can overcome the effects of rape. I wish the best to you as you follow through.


Deborah G. Alicen, Ph.D., is a private practice psychologist who lives in Plainfield, Vermont--a transplanted Southerner who still can't say "cows" the way real Vermonters do. She has spent the last twelve years working mostly with children, adolescents, and adults recovering from sexual abuse and domestic violence.



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