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Is It My Fault That I Was Sexually Abused? Did It Make Me Gay?

Question:

i was molested about 3 times in my life and the last time it was my father i m 18 years old guy and i always feel guilty toward my self i tried to kill my self lot of times . my first question why i feel guilty ? second am i gay? third how can a father do that to his son?

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Answer:

These are complicated questions without clear, cut and dried answers, but I can hopefully address your concerns nevertheless.

Let’s start by framing what has happened. You were sexually abused three times. The last episode of abuse was perpetrated by your father, which makes it incest. Possibly there was other abuse that occurred as well, but if that is the case, you have not mentioned it. I raise that possibility because in my experience, it is less common for serious abuse such as you describe to occur in a vacuum.

Children are incredibly dependent on their parents and other caregiving adults for the physical and emotional necessities of life. In addition to needing adequate food, clothing and shelter, children also need loving care and nurture. If children are taken care of physically, but not emotionally, they do not tend to thrive and will often show evidence of developmental delay. Children really need to be cared for and loved; it is not optional for them. They are born motivated to trust in the adults who care for them and to maintain that trust even when adults fail them in significant ways.

Children who are sexually abused are seriously harmed by the adults who they need to care for them. This creates a real cognitive dissonance (a real mental and emotional tension) for abused children who need to preserve their ability to trust in parental care in the face of evidence that suggests that they are not cared for. Children resolve this tension in different ways. A few children manage to compartmentalize the abuse or even to dissociate while it occurs, so that they preserve the illusion that the abuse has happened to someone else. More commonly, children decide that there is a reason why they are being abused. The abuse has occurred because they have been bad and deserved to be punished. By replacing the interpretation of the abuse as meaning that their parents or caregivers are bad and untrustworthy with the idea that the abuse has occurred because the child is bad and deserves punishment, children manage to preserve a positive image of their parent or caregiver. This reframe makes the act of abuse seem more like a caring act to the child, and enables the child to continue trusting in the benevolence of the parent or caregiver.

It may be that in trying to make sense out of why your father (and others) raped you, you decided that these horrible acts must have occurred because you were bad and deserved them to occur. Believing that you are bad could go a long way towards helping explain why you feel so guilty (e.g., you feel guilty because you believe that you are/were bad/damaged, and brought on the abuse yourself.

If you decided that you deserved the abuse, you did that for self-protective reasons at a time when you were too small and dependent to stand on your own and see the abuse for what it really was. Though you are now on the verge of being able to take care of yourself, this sort of belief that you are bad will likely continue to haunt you and drag you down until you examine it carefully in therapy and see that though it feels true that you are a bad person, it really isn’t true. This doesn’t tend to be the sort of thing that resolves on its own. So I suggest that if you do feel guilty and bad, as though you deserved to have been abused, that you do what you can to find a therapist with whom you can talk about this issue and break down the now-toxic belief in your badness, so that you can place the blame where it belongs (with the perpetrators), and get on with your life. If you cannot afford therapy, then at least please explore the various community and internet support groups and resources where you can talk with other abuse survivors about how they have broken out of feeling so bad about themselves. That sort of thing can help a lot.

You ask about whether you are gay. At age 18, many people aren’t quite sure what their sexual orientation is, so you aren’t alone.

Perhaps you think that having been sexually abused by men as a child has pushed you towards being gay. That may be so. People can become homosexual or heterosexual for a number of different reasons. Currently, the evidence points to the existence of strong, inborn biological factors that influence people to become gay or straight. Experience can modify these predispositions to one degree or another, however. Ultimately, however you fall out, it isn’t a big deal. Both orientations (gay and straight) as well as everything in-between are considered normal variations of human sexuality, and there should be no shame attached to however your sexual orientation turns out to be. Whatever consenting adults want to do in private is their own business.

Your final question has to do with how it is that parents can come to abuse their children. This sort of thing can happen when very immature and selfish people become parents. In order to be a good parent, a person has to be mature enough to appreciate that children are independent beings with their own rights. People are not born with such a mature appreciation of others, however. Instead, people are more or less born selfish, lacking appreciation of other people’s unique and independent existence. While most people grow out of that initial selfishness, some people get stuck in it well into adulthood. When such people come to the attention of mental health professionals, they are often identified as having a personality disorder, such as a narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder. This is not to say that all narcissists or sociopaths are also child sexual abusers. However, it takes a narcissistic or antisocial sort of mentality (e.g., an unexpectedly selfish mentality) to be capable of committing that sort of act.

Knowing that your father may have had a personality disorder doesn’t explain how he got to be that way. Personality disorders like narcissism develop for complex reasons, and like most clinical conditions are best thought of as caused by an interaction between inborn traits and experience. However, early traumas including child abuse are capable of tripping up people’s ability to mature. The few adults I’ve worked with who have incested their children all qualified for a diagnosis of NPD, and all were in one form or another abused as children (not always sexually).

You don’t say if your father was a drug or alcohol user. If he was, that could go towards helping to explain how the abuse might have occurred. Some drugs, including alcohol, have disinhibiting effects, causing people to act in ways that they understand to be inappropriate. Apart from the ways that intoxication may have contributed to your abuse, there are also the ways that drug addiction alters people’s personalities to content with as well. People who are deeply substance-dependent often become enthralled by their substance of choice and will organize their entire lives around obtaining and using their drug of choice. Selfish drug seeking compulsions can easily lead parents to neglect their children’s welfare, or bring children into contact with untrustworthy, selfish people who may be an abuse risk. Again, only a fraction of drug and alcohol users are also actively abusive people, but when addiction is present, it doesn’t help things.

Beyond attempting to answer your questions, I want to take the last paragraph of my response to address your own mental health. You state that you’ve tried to kill yourself multiple times and that you feel guilty. Multiple attempted suicides are a pretty clear sign that you have your own mental health issues to content with. Depression is a likely possibility, but there isn’t any real way to know without having you be diagnosed by a mental health professional. Has this happened before? It’s hard to believe that you’ve attempted suicide multiple times without having been taken to a hospital where that would have happened. Whatever the case, it would really be a good thing if you were to get yourself into a therapy situation where your suicidal tendencies can be monitored, any depressive symptoms treated, and where you have the opportunity to talk about your having been abused, and your concerns about your sexual orientation. These are difficult but solvable problems you are dealing with. It is a great thing that you are wanting to talk about them. It would be a great thing if you found a way to get some therapy to talk about them further.

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