Disclosure #1: Healing From Rape

Question:

I was raped and beaten by an ex-boyfriend. He has nothing to do with my life anymore, but my past interferes with my life so much still. I have nightmares, fear intimacy and don’t tell anyone about my past because I don’t want to burden them. I don’t know how to heal from my past. It’s beginning to effect my relationship with my boyfriend who I really love, I have told him some things but I don’t want to burden him.

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Answer:

A number of women (and men) who are raped end up having the event stay with them in the form of nightmares, intrusive thoughts and fear, anxiety and shame. When these reactions are severe, they can take the form of what is called PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), which is a recognized mental illness that sometimes follows in the wake of traumatic events. Traumatic events are events that radically strip away your feelings of safety in the world, frequently because they involve death, threats of death, or violence. Being raped counts as a traumatic event, as does being tortured, being in combat, or being in a severe car accident. I don’t know if you are dealing with full-blown PTSD, but I do know that therapists have spent the last 20 or so years studying how to help people recover from their post-traumatic stress reactions, whatever their size. My recommendation to you is that you seek out professional therapeutic help from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker who specializes in working with rape or trauma victims (the local police may have some recommendations). Traumatic memories keep a stronger grip on you when you aren’t able to talk about them. One helpful way to heal is to find a safe place with trusted non-judgmental listeners where you can talk about your experience. Individual and/or group therapy, support groups for rape survivors (or victims of violent crime), and the like may be the most direct sources of this sort of help you can access. Regarding how much of this to share with your boyfriend – the answer isn’t clear, and will depend very much on how much of a stable intimate committed relationship you have formed with him. He doesn’t sound like he is enough a permanent part of your life that he should be made into your primary support for discussing how the rape has affected you. However, if he loves you and is committed to you and you to him, there is no reason to keep him completely in the dark. He is likely to take your feelings of lack-of-safety and pulling-back personally if he is in the dark about what you’ve experienced and that would be a shame. At whatever level you decide to talk about your rape experience (and whether to a therapist, a support group, or your boyfriend) it is important that you feel mostly safe and trusting in the audience when you decide to talk about it – and that you maintain a feeling of being in control over the information you provide. You do not have to disclose any information about your experience or your feelings about that experience that you are not comfortable with. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make attempts to talk about your experience – holding it too tightly won’t be helpful to you – but you don’t have to disclose when you absolutely feel threatened by that prospect. Good luck to you.

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