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
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 http://www.EMDR.com.
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.