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Past Following Me For The Worse

Question:

Hi Doctor,

I feel as if my negative past experiences have dictated how I live me life and somehow, as hard as I try, with previous and extensive counseling, I can’t shake it off.

I should start by saying my problem is my incredibly low self-esteem and self-doubt. I doubt my level of attractiveness and ability to succeed constantly. I have felt this way for about 6 years. When I was a college freshman 6 years ago, I lost my virginity to rape. I was very inexperienced before this happened. I never had a boyfriend. My self-esteem just sunk to a low and I wasn’t the same. i felt like I was treated like a piece of garbage, just tossed out and forgotten after I had lost my virginity.

After this happened I became very promiscuous and had casual and random sex to fill the void I had inside me. I would go from man to man, trying to feel some sort of closenss to someone, that someone cared about me and made me feel attractive after the rape. Every time, I would feel crushed when nothing came out of it. But I continued on this path because I wanted to feel wanted. From this feeling followed substance abuse with alcohol and marijuana, but I cut substances significantly after graduating college and going through counseling to explore my issues.

Now, I am two years out of college. Even though I let go of my subsatnce abuse problems, I am still left with the same emotional problems. I vowed to live a life of responsibility and consideration for myself. I got a job, worked out, and took care of myself. But I still felt ugly and unloved. I had gotten plastic surgery, lost weight, bought expensive clothes, skin treatments, etc. I told myself, “now someone will love you because you are trying to be more beautiful.” But my self-esteem is still so low that I can’t even fathom anyone loving me. I costantly think I am not attractive to anyone, no good for a relationship, only good for sex.

I am so afraid for men to get close to me emotionally and intimately that I find myself only comfortable being in sexual relationships where they leave me after they are done like in college. I detach myself when men want to get to know me more. I get scared, back off, or don’t even approach men the majority of the time as I worry they will be so offput and wondering, “why is this ugly girl talking to me?”

I just want a man to get intimate so I will feel attractive and wanted, and not leave. I long for love. I am so jaded, bitter, and sad for a 23 year old girl. I wish I didn’t feel this way so I can experience what love has to offer. But I cannot love myself first, which is the first step.

Should I see someone for how I am feeling? I approached counseling once and I reverted back to my old ways even more so. I can’t shake this off and am pleading for some advice.

Thank you very much for your time

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Answer:

Rape is a terrible crime. It violates a human being’s personal and bodily boundaries. That takes a terrible toll on self-esteem, emotions and ability to have intimate relationships. In my opinion, this is what you are going through. Everything you are describing fits the emotional and psychological profile of a person who has been raped.

Rape victims often feel ugly, unloveable and unwanted. Along with this all feelings of trust in other people are destroyed. Of course you cannot feel trust in men after what has happened to you.

What you need to understand is that all of these awful feelings and thoughts about yourself are not true. Rather, they result from the rape. Whenever these thoughts and feelings enter into awareness, remind yourself that your mind is playing tricks on you because you are suffering from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Coming to understand that these feelings are false and result from PTSD will help you enormously. By the way, allow yourself to feel angry at the person who committed the rape.

I have worked with many women who came to me for psychotherapy because they had been raped. Most of them could not tell me about what happened until we worked together for a perion of time and they came to trust me. For so many of them, they were struggling with feelings of having been violated. They felt dirtied and undesirable as a result. Surprisingly, many of them felt guilty, blamind themselves for the rape. It makes on logical sense but this is what many of them felt. I can report that, after working hard in therapy, most of them were able to settle into healthy relationships, including getting married and having children. In other words, there is plenty of reason for you to feel optimistic about the future.

My suggestions for you are: 1) Enter psychotherapy to help you deal with the rape and the resulting PTSD.  2) There are support self-help groups for women who have survived rape. They are helpful because you come to realize that you are not alone and that your feelings are commonly held by the others in the group. That can be very relieving.

Please don’t wait. You have suffered enough.  

Best of Luck

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