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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Bodies » Help Being Supportive

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Author Topic: Help Being Supportive
Perspective
Neophyte
Member # 96703

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Hi, my girlfriend has some problematic shame and confidence issues concerning her body and being sexual. Often she will initiate conversation about being sexual only to shut down because she has feelings of embarrassment or insecurity. I try to reassure her that she's beautiful and that desire is nothing to be ashamed about, but she can't bring herself to believe it. I think the situation is really sad, and although I think being generally supportive and non-judgmental will help, I really want to know if there is anything else I can do for her.
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Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
Member # 90293

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HI Perspective and welcome to Scarleteen!

It sounds like you care about your girlfriend a lot! It's fantastic that you want to support and help her. [Smile]

Are you and she sexually involved in any way? Has she had any sexual experience with previous partners?

From what you've said, it sounds like she feels uncomfortable with her body, and is also embarrassed by sexual feelings. Do I have that right?

It sounds like you're already on the right track, being patient, supportive, and reassuring. When she initiates conversation, is there anything particular that you've noticed that makes her shut down, any pattern that you can detect?

What kind of support does she have in general from her friends; that is, do you think she has anyone she can talk about any of this with who isn't her partner? Sometimes with really deeply held feelings of of shame, working with a therapist can help.

I know I've asked you more questions than given you answers, but it will help us figure out how you can support her if we know more. [Smile]

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Robin

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Perspective
Neophyte
Member # 96703

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We are sexual in ways that she can feel fine about and talk freely about, which is making out and cuddling. She has been good about only doing things she wants to do, and the "farthest" she has gone with anybody is cuddling without clothes with her last partner. She feels physically inferior to others and has trouble expressing sexual feelings without having a good deal of anxiety or feeling dirty. Sometimes she shuts down because she is very worried about negative judgements coming from me, such as me thinking that she's too fat or that she is too inexperienced. Other times she just says that she's too embarrassed to continue a line of thought, and I just say that that's okay. Support is very lacking for her, and although she has friends that I know she can talk to about this sort of thing, her communication with them is limited in the same ways. Her family is very unsupportive. They tend to use shaming as a tool to coerce her into not being sexual, and not having sex in particular. She is seeing a therapist for general anxiety, but is worried that the therapist isn't honoring her confidentiality, and might share information with her family.
Thanks, I'll be back tomorrow.

[ 08-25-2012, 08:14 PM: Message edited by: Perspective ]

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Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
Member # 90293

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Hi Perspective,

It sounds like your girlfriend has a lot stacked against her in terms of getting support. It sounds like you're a major source of that support for her, which is great, but you can't be the only source of support, both for her sake and yours.

What makes your girlfriend think that her therapist is not honouring confidentiality? I'm not sure how old your girlfriend is, or what the therapy situation is (that is, is it through school, an agency, private practice?) but she does have options. If your girlfriend isn't feeling comfortable with the therapist, chances are that she's not getting much help from the therapeutic process.

One thing your girlfriend can do, to start off with, is to ask her therapist about confidentiality. Oftentimes, patients/clients don't think they're allowed to ask questions, but they very much are. It's possible that going over what the therapist will an will not disclose to others will put your girlfriend at ease, though certainly if she does think that what she says in session isn't being kept private, there are other courses of action she can take.

I want to check in with how you're doing with all of this. You sound very patient and loving with your girlfriend, but I also know that for some people having boundaries and limits set by a partner's issues can be stressful and frustrating at times, even as we're understanding of those limits and issues. So, how are you doing with that?

While it does sound like your girlfriend needs professional help with her body image concerns and level of shame, I'm wondering if doing some reading about positive body image, and the real range of human bodies, might be helpful. Perhaps you two could do some reading together? One place to start is at our main site
http://www.scarleteen.com
Through the search function you can find a lot of information about body image, and self-esteem, including answers to questions from a lot of people who have concerns similar to your girlfriend's concerns.

...and, we're happy to be here to support you through the process of supporting her.

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Robin

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Perspective
Neophyte
Member # 96703

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I'll talk to her about her therapist. Do you think the the venue of the therapy makes a big difference? Do you think there are situations where a therapist might lie about what information is being shared? Certainly I can encourage her to have a conversation about confidentiality, and I can also ask her why she has doubts about it.

Now, about me. I don't have any problem with her limits, because, in short, if she doesn't want to do something I don't want to either. However it is stressful being her main source of support, because being patient and understanding only goes so far. It's also confusing watching her go back and forth from wanting to talk things through, and wanting to ignore things, but it's unrealistic to think that we can just talk through everything and be fine.

Anyway, I think reading together is a good idea for when she feels up to it, I know she reads these sorts of things on sites like tumblr, which is problematic for some reasons, but a good step.

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Onionpie
Scarleteen Volunteer
Member # 41699

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Hi Perspective. Patient confidentiality is a law among therapists no matter what venue they're in; so any who break that would be putting themselves at big legal risks for lawsuits and losing their license. So in the end it really shouldn't matter where she's getting her therapy, patient confidentiality should be ensured.

So if she has reason to believe her therapist isn't respecting that, it's definitely a good idea and her RIGHT to change to a therapist who adheres to the laws of their practice [Smile] And even if she just isn't feeling comfortable with that therapist -- which is totally usual and fine, it's just like any other relationship, there are just some people who don't jive well with you -- she can look into other options if she'd like. If she is interested in looking for a different therapist, we would be able help you/her out with that.

It also sounds like you really love and respect your girlfriend, it's really great to hear how much you treat her boundaries with respect. I definitely understand that it must be so hard to be someone's only support; that's why we think it's really crucial she get some more/better (if her current therapist isn't working for her) in-person counselling or other kinds of in-person support as well, so that you don't have to carry that weight all by yourself [Smile]

I'm glad to hear you think reading through some things on our site will help her out with this.

Is there anything else we can help you with around this right now?

[ 08-26-2012, 05:24 PM: Message edited by: Onionpie ]

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Perspective
Neophyte
Member # 96703

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I won't get a chance to talk to her in person until Wednesday at least, but when I do, I (and possibly her) will probably have questions.
Anyway, I'm already feeling better about things, just by having a place to start.

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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If I can also pipe in with another suggestion, how's her sexual literacy?

In other words, has she read some good books about sexuality that might not only give her information she may not have gotten, but also help her -- in her own time, and without the pressure of anyone else around (not saying you're pressuring, just that an external person adds a pressure) -- just develop some comfort with the concepts and the language?

If not, some that might be good places to start are the current edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves (I worked on this one, too, and it is as amazing as ever), my book, Jaclyn Friedman's new workbook What You Really, Really Want or Betty Dodson's Sex for One.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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