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Rape Victim Who Cuts And Engages In BDSM To Self-punish Asks, 'Why Am I Like This?'

Question:

I was "r", the r word when I was a teenager. I was about 18 and wasn’t a virgin but had only been with one guy who broke my virginity and we were still together at the time. The "r" word happened to me when I was working for a manager who was the friend of the family and who got me hired there.

I grew up with very strict parents. When I told my mom I had sex for the first time, she told my dad and he started quoting bible versus to me. My mom knew I had sex from the way I was acting because the guy said he was going to break up with me. Anyway, I didn’t have a lot of friends, was shy and reserved, and very green to the real world. My mother kept us inside a lot

After what happened with the "r", I started cutting myself. It’s weird because I didn’t have anyone saying cut yourself you’ll feel better but when I did I felt a whole lot better, I just didn’t want to be in that kind of pain anymore. As the years went by I found myself being really promiscuous. I didn’t care who I had sex with or why. Sex was something I needed to be punished for because I needed to feel that pain. It was getting out of control.

Then came Hurricane Katrina. I lost everything but my life and my son’s life and had to relocate to a place I didn’t like. We stayed with an uncle for a little while but moved into another place. This uncle was there to help us and show us the ropes on what needed to be done but when I needed rides he asked for sexual favors. I told him I felt uncomfortable. He finally helped me with getting a job at the company where his wife worked. He was my family’s only means of transportation so he volunteered to take me to work. On the way to work he would stop at his house and come on to me and touch me. I told him he was an uncle and I didn’t & couldn’t look at him like that. He "r" me anyway. After that "r", I started cutting myself like crazy.

Then I was introduced into the world of BDSM. This way I can have pain, be punished for what I deserved and didn’t have to do it myself. I meet people randomly from the internet who are also into this lifestyle. I’m am always the submissive. I want to beat up and humiliated since this is all i know with men. I cry about it afterwards but I deserve to be punished for being so stupid. Sex is not love. Sex is a means of hurting a person. Why am I like this? Should I go back to cutting myself so I won’t eventually meet up with the person who will go too far and kill me. Could you please give some kind of answer? Do I have some kind of personality disorder? I get scared when I’m around a lot of people or people in general because I know they are going to know something is wrong with me. I’ve been diagnosed with major depression, generalized anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. At one time I was diagnosed with some kind of personality disorder but I don’t know which one. All of the records at my psychiatrist were destroyed because of the storm and I can’t even find her anyway. Could you please give some kind answer as to what is wrong with me? I don’t even like sex anymore yet I use it as a tool to get beat up and humiliated.

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Answer:

It took me a moment to realize that "r" is your way of indicating "rape" without saying it. It is clear as day from the context of what you’ve written, and an easy enough word to write down in full (being one of the uglier four letter words we have), and yet though you are willing to lead with it and know it is an important part of your story, you compress it so that it is obscured. I can only think that you have abbreviated the term here due to a wish to avoid thinking about it even when you know you have to in order to convey what you want to say. I hope you’ll excuse my choice to write the word out so as to make clear to all readers what you’re talking about.

You ask, "why am I like this?", meaning "why am I sexually submissive, promiscuous, self-mutilating and self-hating in the ways that I have described?" Please understand that there is no single right answer to this question. I can try to provide an explanation which is likely to contain some of the truth, but it certainly is not the last word or even the most correct word. I come at this sort of problem from what is called a humanistic point of view. Other people would think about it differently.

In my view, multiple factors have likely worked on you to make you this particular unhappy person. You’ve been repeatedly raped in your life for one thing, and, I would guess, traumatized as a result of that repeated rape. For another thing, you come from what you describe as a strict background that appears to have communicated to you that sex was inherently sinful. Many people who come from such backgrounds end up wholeheartedly accepting the severe and judgmental attitudes that they grew up with. In your case, since you were sheltered from contact with outsiders, your family’s world view would have been more or less all you ever were exposed to, and it would be all but miraculous if you were to have not internalized that world view under the circumstance.

An important part of the world view your parents communicated to you seems to have been that sex was something essentially sinful in nature. This is a common attitude among many modern faiths, at least among the more orthodox and fundamentalist adherents of those faiths. The Bible offers a vision of two prominent Marys, one the married but virgin mother of Jesus and the other a prostitute . These are two rather extreme visions of womanhood. People with a strict way of thinking can take from these visions the basis for a very black and white understanding of female sexuality. My guess is that your own beliefs about sex have been affected by such a black and white understanding of female sexuality.

Your first sexual experience was negatively received by your family, certainly, and I expect that what happened next is that you started to think of yourself more like the shameful prostitute than the holy virgin. "If sex is bad or shameful, and I have had sex, then I am bad and should be ashamed of myself", or so your train of thought might have gone. The intense feelings of shame may have driven you towards the need to self-punish and hence to the need to cut yourself. Because sex was seen in a black or white way, there was no room for you to be both sexual/bad and still a good person at the same time, and so self punishment would seem a reasonable response. A similar impulse seems to be at work in the ascetic religious practice of wearing the cilice, as recently illustrated in the movie "The Da Vinci Code".

The sad/tragic thing and also the hopeful thing here is that it is not inevitable that because you are sexual that you must think of yourself as bad. There are many, many people in the world who view sexuality in a less strict manner than you seem to, and who do not view themselves as essentially bad because they are sexual. Many of these people who have managed to embrace their sexuality are also religious at the same time and have no internal difficulty seeing themselves as okay and worthy people. What I’m saying here is that if you can manage for a moment to climb out of your own strong world view and look out with tolerant, non-judgmental eyes at how other people have solved the problem of sexuality, you will see that it is not inevitable that sex equals badness or that you yourself should need to feel ashamed simply because you are sexual. Your need to self-punish is perhaps more a matter of the way you have come to view the world than anything intrinsic about sex.

That you’ve been repeatedly raped adds another painful layer to the story. Formative elements of your sexual experience have been violent, forced and painful. This is not the typical experience of most people’s sexuality, which is instead exciting and arousing in a positive way, and for many, a vehicle for sharing loving feelings and sentiments. If your major memory of sexuality is that you were forced and that it hurt you, it is easy to see how you easily equated sexuality with badness and with the need to self-punish. What I guess happened is that you tried to make sense out of why you were raped, and you decided that it happened because of your badness (e.g., you deserved it because you were bad/sexual and thus caused it yourself or somehow acted so as to bring it on and thus bear some substantial responsibility for it happening). That the rape actually happened because someone took criminal advantage of your vulnerability did not register. Under the circumstances, it would have been easy to view the rape as something you deserved rather something that unfortunately just happened to you through no cause of your own.

In my view (in the view of most people, and in the view of the law) you were a victim of rape. It was a crime against you rather than some deserving punishment. It is the perpetrators of your rape who should be punished; not you. But, having been prepared to think of yourself as a shameful whore as you seem to have been, this possibility would not have easily crossed your mind. If it did cross your mind, you would not have been prepared to give it much credit. Once you’ve rationalized and accepted rape as a necessary and deserving punishment for your inherent badness, then self-mutilation and suicide-by-BDSM is just a few steps away.

There are people out there who practice BDSM because they find it exciting and highly arousing. They practice BDSM in order to obtain this thrilling experience, and they practice it in a safe manner (so I am told). You don’t seem to be one of these people. Instead, for you BDSM seems to be more simply about getting yourself hurt on a regular basis. It also seems to be a sort of game of Russian Roulette that you play as well; a suicide game. You don’t know the people you sleep with and there is the possibility (moderately small though it might be at any moment) that you will hook up with someone who will seriously hurt you or kill you, because he is a sociopath and this is how he finds his victims. Even a small chance of such a horrific outcome is magnified when you make the same mistake over and over. There are other less horrible but also self-defeating outcomes that come with promiscuity as well. The chance that you’ll get a sexually transmitted disease is rather high.

Should you go back to cutting yourself so as to avoid the BDSM scene? I hesitate to say yes, because clearly neither of these possibilities are healthy. BDSM wouldn’t be so bad in of itself if you could practice it safely (e.g., with one known partner, with safety agreements that your dominant partner would respect, with birth control in place), but I suppose that would take most of the humiliation out of it and it would cease to be compelling for you. Most people don’t die from cutting themselves, but there is always that chance that you make a mistake and cut too deeply. It happens. I can’t recommend either of these alternatives, really.

What I can recommend is that you find a way to get yourself into psychotherapy. Between the cutting and the black and white world view that you seem to have, the personality disorder diagnosis you once had would probably have been Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). There is a form of therapy that is custom made for people in your situation; it is known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and it’s whole reason for being is to help people like yourself who are constantly struggling with the urge to self-harm. It has been evaluated scientifically, and it is currently the best therapy available for individuals who self-harm. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe powerful medications that can help people to feel better, but no drugs in the world can help you think differently about yourself, at least not on a permanent basis. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy can maybe do that for you, however. It can teach you methods of self-soothing and coping which can replace your need to cut or to engage in dangerous sexual masochism. DBT is worth you seeking out. Please listen to this podcast interview with Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., the inventor of DBT here to get a better sense for what DBT is about, and then get a referral for a DBT therapist in your area via this web directory.

I understand that you have very little money and resources and maybe think you cannot afford therapy. Call a local therapist who specializes in DBT therapy anyway and explain your situation. Many therapists will offer sliding-scale rates to clients who have need but limited means. Local therapists will also know how to refer you to local resources where the therapy can be had at a discount or even free at some times (through a community mental health center, if the one near you is not destroyed). You need the support, if not for yourself, for your ability to be a good parent to your child.

I don’t know what resources in your area survived Katrina or what resources have been rebuilt, if any. However, you might want to check out a local domestic violence women’s shelter to see if they offer low cost or free women’s groups, if you can find one operating near you. Your history of sexual victimization and the whole BDSM-as-suicide-vehicle should qualify you (I hope). Or maybe they will know a rape victims support group you can attend in the area. It would be really good for you to have the opportunity to talk with other rape victims so as to see that you are not alone, and to benefit from the perspective of women who have dealt with their victimization in different ways than you have. Gaining insight into how other people see the world will be important for you, as one of the tasks ahead of you is to come to terms with the assumptions you’ve made about what makes you a bad person deserving of punishment. If it turns out that you’ve been wrong all these years (as I believe you have been wrong) and actually don’t deserve punishment but instead are an undeserving victim, then your whole world view could turn around, with potentially positive results for your happiness.

A couple other thoughts. Some rape victims become traumatized by their experience and develop what is known as PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD means that you weren’t able to emotionally digest what happened to you, and it replays itself in your dreams and in the form of intrusive memories of the rape(s). If this is the case, there are forms of psychotherapy that can help the trauma to resolve. A relatively new therapy called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) has been developed, and practitioners say it is able to take the pain out of trauma memories in just a few sessions. An older therapy known as Exposure Therapy is also available which consists of learning how to gradually talk about and tolerate the memories without running away until they become less painful. These forms of therapy may prove useful to you at some point in time, but perhaps after you’ve had a little DBT under your belt and have developed better (safer) ways of coping with your pain than carving your skin or inviting strange men to rape you again and again.

The humanistic approach to psychotherapy that I admire so much has as a basic element of faith that most people are essentially good inside. Problems happen when people’s natural drive to follow their own intrinsic interests (what Carl Rogers called Organismic Self-Valuing) is blocked by authority figures who demand strict conformity to some arbitrary ideal that cannot tolerate self-expression. People internalize the values espoused by these authority figures and try to live up to them, but in so doing, they cease to be motivated by natural intrinsic joy, and instead become motivated by fear and the drive to be acceptable in other’s eyes. I think this is what may have happened to you in part (and the rapes didn’t help either). Your self-development has maybe been foreclosed (please read my essay here). Your intrinsic self was maybe not allowed to develop naturally. You were maybe colonized by a strictness that was not of your own invention, and now you mistake that strictness’ voice for your own and do its bidding and work towards your own self-destruction. I wonder what your own intrinsic voice sounds like. I think it would be a good idea to try to work on learning to separate out what you want for yourself versus what you need to do in order to live up to the strict standards inside you. I think it would be a good idea to work on strengthening your own organismic intrinsic voice. I think that psychotherapy and support groups would be very good places for you to do this work. Good luck, strength, and perseverance to you. Here is hoping you will a way to accept yourself.

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