All relephant questions will be answered with loving kindness in this weekly column. (Yes. Every one.)
Authors remain anonymous. No judgments, just soulful answers.
Q. I’m basically a 42-year-old virgin.
At the age of eight I was raped and shut down. That’s just how I coped. Through the years, I coped by being single and living in self-preservation mode. It’s very scary, intimidating and my mind wants to sabotage any chance of me being in a relationship, let alone dating.
I tried a few dating sites. It keeps me safe because I don’t necessarily have to meet these people, I can just continue to talk on the phone or text. I’m think I’m just scared of my own sexuality and intimacy.
What do I do? I’m scared to death.
A. Are you in therapy? If not, I strongly recommend it. No, not strongly, beseechingly.
Therapy helps us to move through our pain, yes, but a good therapist will present more effective coping mechanisms than isolation. Ones that will allow you to reenter the world at your pace, with a newfound comprehension that what you desire in your life is valid and right for you. Understanding that this article is not a therapy session, I’ll share a few thoughts that may help you in your journey toward wellness.
As human beings, when we are violated in any way, our defenses rush to our aid to protect us from future pain and harm. This is a perfectly natural response. If we once slipped off a cliff and into a ravine, we’re not likely going to go hiking on a mountainside any time soon. It makes perfect sense that after a rape, the person who has been violated pulls back to regroup and make sense of what has happened as best as possible. What happens is that sometimes we get stuck in regroup mode. It becomes a shelter. When I’m inside, no one outside can harm me. This is common in many cases of abuse.
After a while, however, this isolation causes the soul to eat away at itself in a manner of speaking. As souls, we need to interact. It’s been scientifically proven that human beings need love—in many forms—to survive. When we keep our heart-doors shut, we do not allow any of that nurturing love in, the love we desperately need in order to live. Like a starving body feeding on its own adipose tissue and muscle, our souls begin to wither as they drain love from themselves for sustenance.
The first step is self-love.
Developing a sense of worthiness may seem like a huge task, but you can begin slowly. When I was recovering from an abusive relationship, I began as simply as giving myself the permission to accept myself exactly where I was, pain and all. Be kind to yourself in the simplest ways. Take a bath in your favorite essential oils. Buy some flowers for yourself. Go on a hike and hang out with trees for an hour. Trees are the wisest sages I know. They manage to live majestically exactly as they are—with blight, termites, dead limbs…
But! Speaking of the outdoors, what of the potential harm lurking in the outside world?
In your question, you spoke about self-sabotage concerning being in a relationship and the safety of online dating since you don’t have to see the men you “meet.” Besides the fear of getting out there again, perhaps you feel too drained to even try. Moreover, how would any potential partner accept your pain?
Here’s something that is true: There are resources for men who love women who have been raped. Websites, articles, pamphlets, support groups—all these exist for the sole purpose of creating and sustaining healthy relationships when a member of the couple has been abused.
Why all the assistance? Because a real man knows that a woman who has been raped is never (I mean, never) at fault. He understands that rape is an act of rage, not sexuality or intimacy. In fact, the two concepts are as far apart as one could imagine. A real man wants to know the best way to talk to a woman, touch her, be there for her, love her. It is you—all of you—that he will want to love, in the right way, in the right time.
But you need to be out there (and full of love for yourself) for you both to find each other.
That’s a lot of work for anyone, which is why I urge you once again to consider therapy as a way to integrate these ideas or others that you and your therapist decide are best for you. If you don’t know where to start looking for a therapist, a great resource is the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. On the site, you’ll find links to databases of therapists like GoodTherapy.org.
Good luck and happy loving!
Author: Rachel Astarte
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Andrea Rose/Flickr