Ask a counsellor: 'Will I ever get over being raped as a teenager?'

19th Feb 19 | Lifestyle

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine says it's not unusual for the effects of trauma to linger - but support is out there.

Worried and alone girl next to the window light

The problem…

“I was raped when I was 18. At the time it was terrifying and, although I wasn’t beaten or anything, it took me a long time to feel comfortable around men again. 
In a way I was lucky, because the man was caught and went to jail, so at least I had some closure. However, although things have improved, I’m far from OK.

“I’m now 26 and in the past eight years, I’ve only had two short relationships; neither was sexual and both ended because I couldn’t cope when things started to get physical. I’m now seeing another guy and really want this to work. He knows that I have been raped and hasn’t put any pressure on me, however I want this to be a proper relationship.

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“Last week, I really thought I was ready, but when we finally made it to the bed, I got hysterical and burst into tears. He said he understood but I am frightened that this is going to push him away.

“Surely after eight years I should be over this? Why should I still feel guilty and dirty?”

Fiona says…

“Deep down, I’m sure your logical self knows that you are neither guilty or dirty, but your emotional self isn’t allowing you to believe that. There’s no time limit on recovering from trauma, which means there’s no ‘should’ about whether you have recovered from this or not.

“If this is the first time, since the rape, that you’ve tried to be intimate with someone then your reaction is not at all surprising. People respond to traumatic events in different ways. For some, the effects of sexual assault or rape might be short-term. Many others, as you’ve found, experience extremely painful emotions and memory flashbacks long after the initial trauma. These in turn can lead to a host of other issues, including depression, panic attacks and fear.

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“How are you feeling? I hate that question. I dread that question. I avoid that question. Maybe I need that question? . . “So, I walk into the kitchen and you ask cheerfully “how are you feeling”. Right now, I actually feel anxious and scared. I don’t want to tell you that though, because I don’t want to be that person. Also, I don’t want to bring your mood down. I can detect the hope in your voice and I don’t want to disappoint you. I don’t want to pretend today either. Some days I can pretend but I don’t feel up to it today. Anyway, you know when I’m lying and I know you know. The lie hangs between us like a door that neither of us wants to push on. . . “So, I avoid the question instead and have a go at you, for not putting your breakfast bowl in the dishwasher. Poor you. . . “Some days when you ask me that question, I do actually feel ok – good even – but I don’t want to tell you that either. I don’t know how long this will last and I don’t want to get your hopes up. I especially don’t want to hear you say “oh great, maybe you’re getting better now”. I’ve told you before that it doesn’t work like that but you don’t get it. I hate it when you watch me. Analysing my mood. I feel exposed and under pressure to be ok. I want to be ok. I’m trying to be ok. Just give me some space and time. . . “So, I don’t want you to ask me how I’m feeling anymore, right? Not right. If you stopped asking. I would worry that you didn’t care anymore, that you’ve had enough of this stupid illness, that you’re going to leave me. That would be worse. . . “You often comment that you don’t know what is the right thing to say. Well I don’t know what to tell you because I don’t know either. Just be there and keep trying and I’ll keep trying and I think we’ll be ok. . . Read Suzanne’s story at mentalhealth.org.uk/stories

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“It’s not clear from your letter whether you had any form of counselling at the time but, even if you did, your reaction now suggests to me that you need more support. Rape Crisis (rapecrisis.org.uk) is a charity which provides emotional support and information to anyone affected by rape. There’s a telephone helpline and a network of centres around the country. In Scotland, you can also contact Rape Crisis Scotland (rapecrisisscotland.org.uk) and in Northern Ireland, you can contact the Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland (womensaidni.org).

“One of the things that, perhaps, you haven’t done since you were raped is learned how to reconnect with your body. As you were violated, you may have very negative feelings about it – as if it’s contaminated in some way – so learning to love your body again is important.

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Activities like yoga can be a good way to reconnect with your body (Thinkstock/PA)

“As a first step, think about taking up yoga or tai-chi perhaps – something that makes you very aware of your body and how it works but in a relaxed and gentle way. Moving on from there depends on you and your readiness but doing things that put you and your partner in gentle contact with one another might help – go dancing together, give each other a massage. Even just stroking one another can really help.

“It may seem out of reach right now, but with professional help and the support of a caring partner, there’s every hope that you will one day have a happy, loving and sexual relationship.”

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

© Press Association 2019

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