How can I process these feelings?

Questions and discussions about relationships: girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, partners, friends, family or other intimate relationships in your lives.
humanbeing
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How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Wed Aug 22, 2018 4:44 pm

Hello,
My boyfriend and I have been going out for close to a year. We are very close and have a great, very safe sex life. However.

Our relationship started off a little rocky. I had just moved from another state, and was going through my Junior year in a new school with no friends or family around. In addition, my immediate family was going through a rough time, involving mental health problems and my parents divorcing. Needless to say, the past year was honestly the hardest of my short life so far. Which is probably a little pathetic, but hey, everyone has their own experiences.
I had no real support network, and circumstances conspired so I no longer felt comfortable talking with my mother about sex the way I had previously. I have also suffered from pretty severe anxiety since I was a young child, and my self esteem was pretty low. On top of that, I have always had problems with physical intimacy, to the point where I refused to touch people for a couple years during my adolescence.

It was my boyfriend and myself's first relationship, and I had never even kissed someone before I met him. Needless to say, he was very eager to get things moving physically, and I was not. But, I liked him so much, and I was so afraid of doing something wrong, that I complied even if I didn't want to. Thus, I kissed him because I felt like it was the right time to, I took off my shirt because he asked me to, etc. etc. It got to the point where I lost my virginity when I wasn't ready to, which was humiliating and painful, both physically and emotionally. This continued, with me having sometimes good sexual experiences with him, and other times feeling pressured and coming away upset. The unwanted contact came to a head a couple months ago, when I stayed at his house for most of a week school break. His mother was gone for the week, so we were in the house alone, which naturally led to a lot of bad stuff. I lost sleep feeling scared, and almost left in the middle of the night without telling him.

Where was my boyfriend in all of this? Well, he was kind of just a clueless teenage boy. It was his first sexual experience too, and though I was never particularly enthusiastic about our activities (I remember long, torturous sexual encounters where I just went stiff, whimpered occasionally, and stared at the ceiling praying for it all to end.) I never said no either. I have since gained a little self confidence, and spoke up to him. (Actually, I broke down crying after I came to his house after school one day tired and with a headache, told him I wanted to take a nap, and he took it as an invitation to initiate a sexual encounter.)

We have since talked it out. He never does anything anymore unless I enthusiastically consent, and most of the time now I initiate anyway. We communicate about what we both want during sex, and I feel more comfortable saying no. We even have a phrase in the bedroom. Whenever I say "do whatever you want" he says, "No, you're the boss." However, my boyfriend admitted that during these bad incidents, that sometimes he felt like something was wrong and kept going anyway... This really upsets me.

I am the kind of person who works through their feelings very verbally. I feel this burning desire to talk this out with my boyfriend, over and over again, until I can understand why I still get scared of him sometimes, or scared of going to his house sometimes, or why I'm inexplicably reminded of the pain of losing my virginity in the middle of work. Or even why he didn't stop when he could tell something was wrong. But I can't. Because he is prone to self-hatred and well... pity parties, I can't use him as a sounding board without him getting really upset because he hurt me. I don't have anyone else to tell about this. How can I move on from the past, and focus on the great relationship I have with him now? How can I stop being nervous about going to his house (where the worst of these incidents occurred) alone? How can I process these feelings without making my boyfriend feel more guilty?

al
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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby al » Wed Aug 22, 2018 10:24 pm

Hi humanbeing, and welcome to Scarleteen.

First of all - I'm so sorry to hear that this happened to you. It's completely understandable that you're feeling upset and want to talk about it, because what you wanted and your boundaries were ignored, repeatedly. You have every right to have those boundaries respected, and when your boyfriend sensed that you weren't enthusiastic and willing to be doing what he was trying to do, he should have stopped. He should have asked you about how you were feeling. He should have asked you if you were even ready to have sex and listened to the answer you gave. Even if you never said the word "no", he should have asked you and waited until he heard a "yes". (Which, it sounds like, you weren't ready for, and you wouldn't have said yes to.) You should never, ever, ever have to stare at the ceiling and wait for sex to be over with. Your body doesn't belong to anybody but you, and you're the only one who gets to determine whether or not you'd like to share it with someone.

I can definitely understand why it was hard to speak up or say no when you weren't feeling comfortable - it sounds like you didn't have a whole lot of resources at that time, and you really didn't want to disappoint your boyfriend. When we're put on the spot, it can be hard to say what we're actually feeling rather than what we think our partners want to hear. But at the same time, it seems like he was pressuring you repeatedly. Someone who really cares about you should only want to move forward sexually once they know that you're 100% on board and enthusiastically want to do whatever you're about to do. Anything otherwise is sexual assault, and isn't something that people who love and care for each other want to do.
(Another way that I like to think about it is imagining myself as the other partner: would I rather a) propose something sexual to my partner and have them turn it down, and feel slightly disappointed, or would I rather b) move forward not knowing whether or not they're comfortable with it, and possibly hurt them, make them feel unsafe, and potentially cause long-lasting emotional damage? There's a clear answer there: I'd rather experience temporary disappointment any day.)

What you're describing in terms of feeling scared sometimes, and having the memories of the pain come back in the middle of the day are normal for someone who has experienced sexual violence. It sounds like your body and your heart are doing their best to process what happened to you, and are still dealing with feelings of fear, and shock, and numbness. These feelings probably come up especially frequently when you're with him, or you're reminded of one of the many times that something happened to your body without your consent. If you were to read through Dealing with Rape, you might recognize some of the feelings of fear and detachment that you're experiencing. It also has some suggestions for how you might take care of yourself, which might be helpful. I also tend to use Self-Care A La Carte when I'm feeling upset and am not sure how to give my heart and body the love and attention that I need.

As for your current relationship with your boyfriend.. I'm really glad to hear that you were able to express to him how he hurt you, and that you feel that he's being more respectful. However, the fact that he's not actively hurting you right now doesn't undo what's been done - you mentioned that you still feel the urge to talk about it with him, and that may be your heart and your body wanting more resolution. It can be really, really difficult to trust or feel comfortable with someone that's hurt you or violated you in that way. I can imagine this is especially hard because it seems like every time you try to process your feelings with him, he makes the conversation about himself with his "pity parties". You are the one who feels violated and is dealing with the emotional aftermath, but instead of him trying to comfort or support you, you end up taking care of his emotions about hurting you. You shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you're going to make him feel guilty, because you have healing of your own to do. He hurt you, and while it's understandable that he feels bad about it, he has a responsibility to deal with those feelings on his own (or with a trusted adult or therapist), rather than unloading them onto you. You already have enough going on. This kind of dynamic is one that comes up a lot in relationships where a violation of boundaries has happened, and it's usually a sign that you might need to do some thinking on your own about how your relationship is making you feel. Does Your Relationship Need A Checkup? and Blinders Off: Getting a Good Look at Abuse and Assault are really good resources for doing just that.

This is a lot to think about, especially for someone so young. You said that you don't have anyone else to tell - not your mom, or another adult you trust? Would you be open to looking into other local resources, like a crisis center or a counselor at school? If you wanted to text our text line or chat with us about your specific location, we could also help research some resources in our area that might be useful. I know you're going through a lot, and I want you to be able to have someone nearby to go to if and when you're feeling upset or scared.

Thank you for coming into the boards and sharing what you have, humanbeing. We all at Scarleteen have a lot of love for you, and we're sending good thoughts your way.
Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it. -Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully

humanbeing
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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Thu Aug 23, 2018 3:55 am

You know what's actually sad? I have an internship at a rape crisis center, and while all of this was going on, I was part of a youth group at the same place that gave workshops about consent and boundaries. I've never felt comfortable going to this RCC though, because I didn't feel like my situation was enough like sexual violence to go. I feel bad, because I feel like other people have a more pressing need for their resources, and a more valid reason to call. I've thought about calling the hotline, just to talk to someone, but I'm afraid they'll tell me to get over it, or worse, one of my coworkers will be covering a shift and recognize my voice. I'm guilty. I didn't stop him when I should have, and I didn't communicate well enough. Hearing you call this situation sexual violence is confusing to me, because it was only ever in a passing thought that I felt like it was. But, having you validate my experience makes me feel a little less bad, and I might feel able to call sometime in the next few weeks.

You mentioned reconsidering my relationship. I have, extensively. But my family loves him, and he gets along really well with my younger siblings. His family likes me, and most of the time, we actually have a lot of fun together. To the outside world, our relationship looks perfect. I don't want to lose the fun times I have with him, and I don't want to have to explain to my family why we broke up.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Heather » Thu Aug 23, 2018 8:33 am

Hey there, humanbeing. I don't want to interrupt the conversation you and Al are saying, but I wanted to address your last post some so you could get some response sooner rather than later.

One thing I want you to know is that you are hardly the first person I've heard from here over the years working in DV or rape crisis who has not used services from where they're working for themselves when they need them. As you probably already know from your internship -- and your life -- telling the truth to yourself, let alone anyone else, about interpersonal violence/abuse, especially when it's sexual, is really hard. I agree that it's sad you haven't felt able to use resources you need yet, but not in the way it sounds like you might be taking it on, where that somehow makes you pathetic or anything. It's sad that abuse "works" the way it does and that it creates so much shame that it's so hard for any of us to tell the truth about it and ask for help. Know what I mean? I do hope that maybe soon you will be able to reach out and start to use those resources.

Edited to add: I also hope you will at least find a way to tell your immediate supervisor about this in the most basic way, so they can make sure you doing this internship while you are still in a relationship that's been (and I feel clearly still is, in a few different ways) abusive is truly okay for you and whoever you may be working with: it might not be.

In the meantime, at least you can know that you really understand, with anyone you're working with now or in the future, how very hard it is to ask for help and tell the truth about being in or surviving abuse. <3

What I think is much more telling -- and far more disconcerting -- is that your *boyfriend* -- the person who has knowingly done harm by choice -- has not sought out any kind of help. He has made clear he will do sexual things you (and perhaps others) do not want even when he can tell something is amiss. That alone, not to mention his other responses, makes pretty clear he is STILL not safe for you or others. In order to have any chance of changing that, he has to seek out counseling and qualified help with this and do the work: we know from studies that even when people who abuse do get counseling, it often doesn't stick. But those who don't get help? They do it again, keep doing it, or find other ways to do it. It's practically guaranteed. :(

You mentioned reconsidering my relationship. I have, extensively. But my family loves him, and he gets along really well with my younger siblings. His family likes me, and most of the time, we actually have a lot of fun together. To the outside world, our relationship looks perfect. I don't want to lose the fun times I have with him, and I don't want to have to explain to my family why we broke up.


I totally understand some of these feelings and conflicts. I'm sorry you're in them.

But personally, as a survivor of several kinds of abuse myself, I don't think I could come up with a good reason to stay with someone who showed me clearly, again and again, that they were unsafe for me if I had any kind of choice. I know too much about how people who abuse once (and certainly those who have far more than once), may have periods where they don't again for a while, but they almost always will pick it up again sometime or just find different ways to be abusive. As an example here, not letting you talk about the pain and harm and trauma he caused you without making it about him is something I'd consider an emotional abuse. (And if it's not that, his doing that at the very least shows you he lacks the capacity to take real responsibility for doing you harm, which isn't much better, especially since it demonstrates that you still aren't safe with this person.) I also know too much about how cycles of abuse work, and how because there doesn't seem to be any active abuse for days, weeks or months doesn't mean there won't be again: sometimes abuse cycles are long. I -- again, speaking for myself -- just know how much work I have done to heal from the abuse I have suffered, and how much work it takes to do that: I wouldn't want to undo all of that or have to start over. I also wouldn't want to keep myself anywhere with someone who chose to do me harm, who I know will likely find other ways to do it again to me or others, particularly if they show, like this guy has, they aren't even willing to do any of their own work with what they did. I wouldn't want to take the risk of any more abuse if I could help it.

I also just don't want to ever be with an abuser, period -- of myself, of anyone else -- if I have any kind of choice. I know I deserve to be 100% safe from start to finish in a relationship. I think you do, too.

All those things up there? You can get them with other people, other people with whom you do NOT have any history of them sexually abusing you. You can also get a whole bunch of things you can probably never get from someone with whom you have this history, like a real feeling of safety, never having to worry about being done harm again, being able to talk honestly about your past trauma -- which also means real intimacy -- are more.

I wonder how much that last part -- feeling that if you split, you have to tell your family he abused you -- is playing a part here. Can you speak to that some? I ask because I'm curious (and because while I think I understand, it sounds to me like a terrible reason to stay with someone who has done you so much harm and so who might again, something I can't imagine any family who loves you would want you to do for their sake), but also because you don't have to tell them why. You could tell them it was for another reason, you could tell them you're not ready to talk about it yet. But you could also tell them the truth. However not knowing anything about your family, there may be reasons we don't know -- like maybe them enabling abuse, or being crummy about sexual abuse or assault survivors -- that make this part so scary for you.
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

Heather
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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Heather » Thu Aug 23, 2018 8:49 am

I forgot to mention that I do think you should be very careful choosing to initiate or continue a sexual relationship with someone who has sexually abused you, extra-especially in this case because your whole sexual life effectively sounds like it started not only with a lot of sexual abuse, but from sexual abuse from this person. That can have some very serious, confusing and lasting detrimental effects on your sexuality and your ability to construct healthy, safe frameworks for it, on top of obviously leaving you open to more harm.

I'd posit that even if he is not coercing you in any way right now that a) he did so much before we can't be all that sure what you earnestly want here, especially since you haven't had any kind of counseling around any of this or time and space away from this person, and your sexual life effectively was constructed here by abuse from the front, and not by you, b) it does sound to me like you feel a little trapped into staying in this and trying to normalize it and c) you initiating sex with him may well be a survival tactic above all else, even if it doesn't feel that way or you aren't recognizing that yet.
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

humanbeing
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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Thu Aug 23, 2018 10:56 am

In response to your concerns about my internship, I work exclusively in the data management department. In other words, nerdy coding stuff, and I have no interaction with clients. Thus, I don't think that your concerns really apply. The youth group I'm in at the same organization welcomes survivors, so that shouldn't be an issue either.

In response to your comments about my family, they have never been negative about survivors of sexual assault, and are generally very accepting people who love me very much. However, I question whether they would consider this assault or abuse at all, because your definition seems to be a bit looser than theirs. Also, I have a very big family, and he has gone to several family events, where he has been well liked. I'm afraid of our breakup becoming the latest family gossip, even if I don't disclose the reasons behind it, and subsequently being interrogated over and over by various relatives.

I'm at work right now, I'll write a more in depth reply at home. Also, I would prefer to speak to Al about this because he refrained from insulting the character of my boyfriend and making assumptions about the severity of the situation. I don't think my boyfriend is a serial abuser.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Heather » Thu Aug 23, 2018 11:08 am

My apologies, humanbeing. I didn't intend to insult anyone's character, and I was basing what I said off of what I took away from reading your posts and my knowledge about abuse. I tried not to make assumptions.

However, of course I will step out as asked. My very best to you. I'm sure Al will respond as soon as they're back around.
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

al
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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby al » Thu Aug 23, 2018 3:31 pm

Hi humanbeing,

It seems like you feel pretty safe and secure in your internship position, and that you don't think that your experiences affect the way that you provide support to the organization. I'm really glad to hear that. I was interested to read what you wrote about your family's definitions of sexual assault or violence being more "strict" compared to our "loose" ones - what are those definitions? What are the definitions that you use or hear at work? What would your definition of sexual violence or assault look like?

In terms of what you said about being afraid to call, or not wanting to take up time because there are people who "need it more" - that's a pretty common feeling. Lots of us who do work in social services or helping professions feel like we hear "worst-case scenario" stories every day, and it can sometimes feel like it invalidates the pain or trauma of what we're going through. But if the folks at your organization are good at what they do (and from what you've said, it seems like they are), they want to support and provide resources for anyone who has experienced sexual violence or is seeking to process or learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationship patterns. No one who is trained in picking up those phone calls should ever tell someone to "get over it", because each person's emotions and way of dealing with pain and trauma is different. How I might respond to being hurt or mistreated is totally different than someone sitting next to me, because we're human beings and our brains and hearts are different.

I understand that you might not want to seek support from anyone that you know, even if it's just a phone call - would calling a national hotline be preferable? That way, you'd be able to talk through some of your experiences with someone who is non-judgemental, would never recognize you, and is purely there to listen and provide support. Even the folks at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are really great about this - I sometimes call them when I'm feeling upset and need someone to talk to, even if I'm not actively feeling like I want to hurt myself.

I'm guilty. I didn't stop him when I should have, and I didn't communicate well enough.
I want to take a second to acknowledge what you said about your responsibility in this situation - I know that you feel like you could have been more communicative, and while that might be true, it doesn't change the fact that he kept going even when he thought something was wrong. Even if you stood completely stone-still like a statue (which it sounds like you've come pretty close to doing), he still had a responsibility to check in with you about how you were feeling, just like I know you would do if you were trying to initiate something sexual with him. You're not guilty of anything other than being a human being who was nervous and unsure how to communicate that they weren't ready to do those sexual activities. You didn't do anything to deserve that pain, embarrassment, or shame. He had a choice in the matter, though, and he chose to keep going.

In terms of your current relationship - only you know how it makes you feel about yourself. I hear you say that you have some really good times, and I don't doubt that's true. What I'm worried about (and what Heather was also expressing) is that even if there are good times, there are also some bad ones that are having a negative effect on your mental health. Every time that you're with him, you're spending time with someone who has hurt you repeatedly. Being with him brings up memories and reminders of pain and discomfort. Those times when your body gets tense or floaty, or you feel afraid and panicked for what seems like no reason - those are your body and heart's way of saying that they're being reminded of a time that they were hurt, and that they want you to protect yourself.

I can definitely appreciate how much your family likes him, and how you two have fun together. When we (or Heather, or I) talk about abusive or unhealthy behaviors in relationships, we're not trying to say that the good times or the healthy aspects don't exist or aren't nice. But rather, we believe that everyone deserves to be in a relationship where they feel all the good things (emotional intimacy, companionship, something to do, someone to share with your family, etc) without any of the bad things, because the bad things like abuse and assault are preventable.

(For a super super simplified example, imagine I had a conversation with you about how I love my partner a whole lot, but they're a really bad driver and have run over my foot with the car a couple of times. If I said that I really love them and that I enjoy a lot of my relationship with them, you might acknowledge that and agree, but also you might be concerned that I might get hurt again. You'd also wonder what exactly my partner has done or could be doing so that they don't run over my foot again, and might be worried for my safety if you found out they hadn't taken any steps to try and address it. You might be especially concerned if I was injured or in lasting pain because of what happened.)

I hope it doesn't feel like anyone is trying to challenge you or tell you that we know more about how you feel than you do. Ultimately, you're the only one who knows yourself, and the only one who can decide what's going to make you feel happy, healthy, and safe. All I ever want to do as a volunteer and responder is reflect back to you the things that you've expressed, help you explore options for working through them, and try to support you in being and feeling the best that you can. I believe that you deserve to feel happy, healthy, and safe all the time, and I genuinely believe that there's a way that you can build a life like that for yourself.

How do you think that we (or I) could be helpful to you moving forward?
Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it. -Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully

humanbeing
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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Wed Oct 23, 2019 2:02 pm

Well, it is over.

After nearly two years, it is finished. He dumped me in the summer. Ironically, after I started gaining confidence and independence separate from him.

But now I'm upset. I feel used. I went to all his special events, I always went to his house, I baked for him, I bought him nice birthday presents, I went out of my way to give him date ideas or take him on dates. I'm the only reason he is in college, as I filled out, edited and helped him submit his entire application and all his essays when he left it to last minute.

He was completely unreliable, never made an effort to go out with me, never supported me consistently, always wanted to stay home and do nothing, never made an effort to ever text me consistently, and made me feel stupid whenever I expressed an opinion more complicated than talking about the weather. It was all about him. I was never allowed to take up space in that relationship. He was a complete child, and I enabled it and took care of him.

I poured so much into keeping that relationship alive, and now I feel empty. I am terrified of seeing him around campus (the campus I helped him get into). I have nightmares about the times I lost my virginity, and about him trying to have sex with me again. Meanwhile, I have recently been diagnosed with GAD and CPTSD from my abusive childhood, and my brother is in the psych ward again for threatening to kill my family members.

I'm so angry. Angry at myself for staying in a relationship that was essentially a recreation of my abusive relationship with my mother and father. Angry at him because he just gets to move on from this thinking he did nothing wrong and having no struggles in life because his family is rich and perfect. I hate him so much. And at the same time, he terrifies me.

I came back here because you guys were the only ones who saw how awful the relationship was before I even did. Even now, people who met him while we were dating speak fondly of him and ask after him. It hurts so much. He was so charismatic on the outside. Nobody saw the subtle stuff that went on behind closed doors. What should I do? How can I recover?

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby tomatopotato » Wed Oct 23, 2019 4:12 pm

Dear humanbeing,

first of all, I'm glad you're out of your relationship and hope that you're having loved ones who support you in your situation.
If you're not having a therapist you trust I would definitely get in touch with one, but since you've written about your diagnosis I suggest you're currently in therapy? If not, that would probably a good idea.
You've adressed that you need verbal expression to reflect and understand your thoughts and emotions. Do you have friends you feel save talking to? If yes, they're probably supporting you already. However, journaling might be an extra addition to process your emotions, or if you like spoken words better, you still can record yourself. If you're an artsy person, allowing yourself to express yourself artistically can reduce a lot of stress.
Scarleteen is also a great resource, whether you need the articles or the message boards! Really, I wouldn't be the person I'm now if I hadn't found out about scarleteen. In the "abuse" section are a lot of great articles which might help you - but read whatever you like, since they're all helpful and all have the same empowering base and I don't know in detail what's currently on your mind.
If you're capable of doing so, sports might be something to consider, especially if you're angry and those emotions are taking up too much space in you're body. Another way round, to calm down and reconnect to your body (in case of you having a difficult relationship with your body) certain kinds of sports (maybe not rugby rather yoga, but you do you!) will help. I'm not saying that it's making therapy unnecessary, but it might be supporting if you feel like it.
I don't know about you're living situation, but if you're living with your parents, do you want to continue to do so or do you want to get some distance inbetween? Do you have a place where you can feel safe and welcome?
Do you have to meet your ex boyfriend on a daily basis? Are there any chances you can avoid it? Do you have friends/teachers/other people on campus who support you and know about your relationship with him?
I hope you're getting the chance to process your feelings in an healthy way - al will probably respond to you in an more detailed answer, but I wanted to share what has helped the folks I care about when they were in the same situation.

humanbeing
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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Wed Oct 23, 2019 6:08 pm

Thanks for your reply tomatopotato,

Unfortunately, I am stuck with my parents on breaks, but I feel very safe in my dorm. I have many friends, but finding a trauma-informed therapist is a struggle. I have tried two people, and four or five others are full or unable to meet my needs. Though the college I go to is big, it's in a fairly rural area so there are not many options.

Since my college is large, I do not have to interact with my ex daily, but there is always a fear that I will see him wherever I go. Seeing him brings back memories and makes me afraid. It's pervasive anxiety that is hard to deal with since the one time we did interact, it was in the dining hall and his friends were pointing and laughing at me. I don't know why. Am I funny? Is my pain funny? I don't know.

Recording myself might be a really good option. Thanks for that suggestion.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Amanda F. » Thu Oct 24, 2019 12:08 pm

Hey humanbeing,

I'm sorry to hear about the recent upsets in your life - but so glad you felt comfortable coming back to Scarleteen to talk it through with us.

It seems like you're feeling a lot differently about the relationship and your ex now that you're no longer together. That makes sense - we can really have a shift in perspective when relationships change, especially when someone else makes that change for us. 

I'm hearing a lot of self-judgment from you, though - which I don't think you deserve. You did a lot for your ex while you were together, but at the time, you had reasons for doing those things that made sense: you wanted to preserve the relationship, didn't necessarily want to tell your parents about some of the abuse that had happened in the past, and maybe (?) were hopeful that by doing a lot for this person that the relationship would grow and improve. And in the end, he broke things off with you, which must feel extra-difficult after all the effort you put in. Your hard feelings make total sense, and I hope you can redirect your frustration away from yourself, because you were making the best decisions you could at the time for you. 

GAD can make these tough thoughts even harder to get through. I also have GAD, and one trick I like to use for myself is to say: "If I had a friend who was in my shoes, what would I say to them if they were saying everything I am saying to myself?" In other words, if a friend came to you and said that they were angry with themselves for putting up with their ex for so long and putting in so much effort...what would you say to them? Can you give it a try?

Regardless of whether abuse was involved in some way, breakups are often hard. There's some comfort and support here at Getting Through a Breakup Without Actually Breaking. It's okay to have all your feelings, it's okay to cry (if you want to), and this is a time to be gentle with yourself as you move forward with your own life. You might find the section "It was all for nothing!" in particular, as it really speaks to what you're feeling.

Finding a good therapist can be tricky. I'm glad you've been trying a few out. In the meantime, I wonder if your campus as a sexual assault services organization, like CARE? If so, they often have survivor advocates that you can speak to confidentially and get support. They may also be able to direct you to resources or organizations at the university that can help you find ways to work around your ex being on campus. You DO deserve to be on campus and able to participate in classes and organizations without running into major anxiety from seeing your sex. It doesn't matter whether the abuse was recent or long ago. You can search, or if you can't find anything and would like some assistance (and would feel okay telling me the name of your school), you can DM me and I can search too. Only if you want to, though.

I want to touch on your family stuff, too - how are you dealing with your brother being in the psych ward? What's the relationship with your family like now? Have you talked to them about the breakup?

Sending you support and warmth. Hang in there. <3

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Thu Oct 24, 2019 1:37 pm

My relationship with my family is pretty terrible. I was homeschooled and physically and emotionally abused. I have some scars and there was lots of food deprivation, insults, and isolation. My dad struggles with depression, GAD, and bulimia. He hit us a lot when we were younger, I guess he squeezed me so tight when I was a baby to shut me up that he left hand-shaped bruises on me. My brother has been diagnosed with BPD, ADHD, GAD, Major depressive disorder, and a bunch more. He struggles with substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, and violent outbursts. He just got out of the psych ward for the fourth time in two years. He has threatened to kill me and my sister multiple times and hit me across the face a couple of times. My mother was the crux of it all. She homeschooled us and was very verbally and emotionally abusive. I have scars on my wrist from her fingernails digging into it.

When I met my boyfriend two years ago, it was the first time I had ever been to school and he latched on to me even though I wasn't looking to go out with anyone. I was also pretty affection-starved and wanted positive attention. Even if it meant someone who was inconsistent and pushed my sexual boundaries. My family heavily encouraged the relationship, and often it seemed like they liked him more than me.

He was abusive in subtler ways. He used to tell me that I would always be selfish and that it was my fault if I ever felt uncomfortable during our sexual encounters. He used to feel me up in public spaces even if I pushed him off over and over again. He had a temper, and I was constantly walking on eggshells to avoid it. He would get very very angry if I didn't take his advice about my life and threaten to carry it out himself without my consent. He would also always question whether or not I "trusted him", and ask me to do things to prove my trust.

College was a big wake up call for all of this. It changed my perspective completely and got me away from my ex and my family. Which is when the nightmares, nausea, and anxiety really ramped up, unfortunately. I can't really talk to my family about this, or really cut them off until I am out of college. Admittedly, things with my parents are a lot better now that they are divorced. The physical abuse has completely stopped, though they still say and threaten to do awful things.

There is a sexual assault organization near campus, but I would feel a bit weird calling. Like I still have this feeling like my trauma wasn't "enough".

While I appreciate the link, the article states that a relationship was never pointless if some part of it was enjoyable, and while I did have good times with my ex, I would have preferred to have never been abused.

Thanks for your compassionate reply, birds-chirping.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Siân » Fri Oct 25, 2019 7:24 am

Welcome back humanbeing. I'm glad that college has been a way out and a perspective shift for you. Clearly, the people in your life who should have been caring for you and making you feel safe and loved have done the opposite, and I'm glad that you don't have to spend so much time around them these days. Have you started to make plans for disentangling from them completely somewhere down the line?

While I appreciate the link, the article states that a relationship was never pointless if some part of it was enjoyable, and while I did have good times with my ex, I would have preferred to have never been abused.


I cheered for you a little when I read that sentence. You know why? Because you kindly but firmly set a boundary, as well as calling out your ex for what he was - abusive. That shows a lot of strength and resilience. I'm certain that birds_chirping would agree with me that we'd also far rather you had never been abused, and our intention is always to help you work through things in the way that works best for you - for which we need your feedback, since everyone is different.

It sounds like you've identified an organisation near you that you can get in touch with, which is great. I know it feels weird calling, but that is literally what they are there for. For you and people like you. It's easy to look for an example of someone who has it "worse" and find yourself undeserving or trivial but I promise you your trauma is worth care too. And you have clearly been through an awful lot. How about giving them a call this week?

Do you have any ideas of what you'd like from us here right now? If it's space to vent and process, to be heard and validated we can 100% do that. In case you need to hear it, your ex was totally out of line and it is not your fault. He is responsible for his own actions. We can also share with you some articles about abuse and trauma, and healing from that or help you find support and resources where you are.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Fri Oct 25, 2019 11:29 am

I do have plans to disentangle from my family eventually. But for now, I am somewhat financially dependent on them. I am in a successful/lucrative STEM major at school though, so hopefully, independence is not far off after graduation. And I only have to go back for breaks.

I'll try to give them a call this week.

Moving forward, I guess some articles about trauma and abuse would be nice. Also, I struggle with identifying what was out of line that my ex did and what wasn't so maybe you could talk a little about what was okay and what wasn't and why?

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Fri Oct 25, 2019 1:08 pm

Oh, something else. I have been looking for therapists in the areas, but it's hard because I have had bad experiences in the past, and most of them don't seem equipped to deal with my issues. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for trusting a therapist and finding one who knows what they are talking about?

(The last one I saw was confused that I sometimes enjoyed sex with my ex)

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Mo » Fri Oct 25, 2019 3:51 pm

It can be hard to know how well you'll get along with a therapist or how equipped they'll be to handle your particular needs, but sometimes therapists will have websites, or be listed in directories, that mention areas of focus; you may be able to search for people who specialize in treating people who've been in abusive relationships. It's something you could ask about in a phone or email consultation, or at a first meeting, also. Therapists are used to people asking things like "do you have a lot of experience with X issue?" or "how would you approach this topic?" or something similar.
Also, since you mention a sexual assault organization in your area: many such organizations can offer suggestions for local therapists who they think are well-suited for discussing sexual assault and relationship abuse, so that may be a good resource to turn to as well.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Amanda F. » Fri Oct 25, 2019 4:50 pm

Hi humanbeing,

Part of why your ex's actions weren't okay was, as you've identified, your lack of clear and enthusiastic consent. As others have mentioned, sexual partners should be much more concerned about your well-being and health than their own sexual gratification, and it sounds like (for at least part of your relationship) your ex was on the wrong side of that fence. Driver's Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent goes over consent and, perhaps more importantly in your case, signs of nonconsent that your ex should have recognized.

We're in the middle of a cultural revolution about consent and there's a lot more discussion and education (though, never enough!) about enthusiastic consent, which you and your ex may not have benefited from even just a few years ago. But I don't think your boyfriend falls into "clueless teenage boy" category. He has no excuse for acting the way he did. You mentioned multiple actions that seem pretty clearly wrong on his part:

-sex during which you just went stiff and weren't reacting in a positive way
-acknowledging that things didn't feel right but that he kept going anyway
-emotionally manipulating situations by making it all about him when you tried to process things
-telling you that you were selfish and you it was your fault if you were uncomfortable
-feeling you up in public spaces even after you pushed him off over and over
-getting angry when you didn't do what he suggested
-making you prove your trust

All of these actions are signs of abuse. Healthy relationships don't involve one partner manipulating the other emotionally, forcing sexual touch on them at any time (much less in public), or not listening to a person who is indicating (even nonverbally) that things are wrong. And again, because this can't be said enough - this was not your fault. His actions were not your fault. You are not responsible for him taking ANY of these actions.

Blinders Off: Getting a Good Look at Abuse and Assault is an overview about abuse of all kinds, including emotional, physical, sexual, and dating abuse. I think we shared this one with you in the past, so this might be a review for you, but I think it might also validate you in the conclusions you've recently came to from your ex. I encourage you to read it and see what actions by your ex and/or your family might fall into some of these categories. And you've already done some of what the article recommends: standing up and advocating for yourself, so you should be really proud of yourself.

There is another great source here, LoveIsRespect.org, that talks about abuse in relationships. The page Types Of Abuse includes a lot of actions by your ex.

In terms of healing...there are many resources available to you. I also encourage you to reach out to your local sexual assault center to ask them for support and resource. It's common to look back and trivialize our experiences. What you have described absolutely sounds like abuse, and I think you deserve to get help and support from a center that specializes in that.

Pandora's Aquarium offers support and community to all survivors if you ever want additional people to talk to. There's a post here (https://pandys.org/articles/2015/finding-a-therapist/) all about finding a therapist that includes some questions to ask potential therapists. Think of yourself as interviewing therapists, and YOU get to decide who gets the job - so they need to impress you by answering some questions. You can ask them whatever you want over the phone before you decide whether you want to go in to meet them and try a session out. Some questions might be:
-have you worked with clients who have experienced sexual trauma in the past?
-Can you give me an example of how you would approach an issue like that?
-WIthout going into much detail, you can briefly describe your situation, and then say: "how would you approach treatment with me?"

GirlsThrive has stories from survivors, including their journey through healing.

Following trauma, it can be difficult to navigate your sexuality and sex with yourself or other partners (or it may not! Everyone responds differently). In case you're feeling that way, here are some resources about having sex after trauma: How do I figure out if I want to have sex? (Post-trauma) 

This advice column has advice for overcoming and moving beyond all kinds of abuse. I think a lot of the suggestions in here might be helpful, for both the trauma with your ex and with your family. Navigating sex and sexuality after a long history of abuse and assault 

Regarding calling your family - of course, you don't have to talk to them about this (or anything) if you don't want to. Would it be helpful to share it with them?

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Wed Nov 06, 2019 6:16 am

Thanks for all of the resources. I have an appointment with a counselor at the local RCC and I already did an intake.

But last night, my ex was in my building, even though he knows I live there and he doesn't. He was just goofing off with friends in the lounge. I swiped myself into the building and his friend literally held the door open behind me and let him and several other of his friends into my living space. It was very scary. I don't understand. There are a million other places to hang out/study on campus, including the library which is massive and 24/7. Why did he come to my hall? I'm so terrified. I'm nauseous and upset. How am I supposed to focus on my exams this week? I'm thinking of talking to my counselor about a restraining order, but that process would be very public and involve him being able to cross-examine me in court.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Heather » Wed Nov 06, 2019 9:45 am

I’m afraid that I am on the road right now (and our only available staff), so I can’t get all caught up with this thread and situation to offer you much right now. I should be able to later this afternoon, though.

In the meantime, how about talking with your counselor about all your options? Just doing that doesn’t commit you to any of them.
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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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby humanbeing » Wed Nov 06, 2019 10:06 am

Hi Heather. Sorry I was kind of rude to you a year ago. I was in denial about my relationship, though I know that's not an excuse.

I do plan on speaking to my counselor about all my options, but my appointment is not until next Tuesday and I was rather upset when I posted this morning. Thanks for your quick response.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby SpaceCowboy » Wed Nov 06, 2019 10:17 am

Hi humanbeing,

I am SO sorry to hear that your ex was hanging out in the dorm where you live. I'm sure that felt like a total violation of a place that typically feels safe for you. Definitely do what you need to feel like you can focus on your exams in the short-term. Do you maybe have friends he does not know who you could crash with for a few nights?

I do want to say that you may have options other than involving law enforcement. You can make a report to your college's title IX office and they may be able to help you get a no-contact order, which is like a restraining order but it is enforced by the school instead of involving law enforcement. Usually these no-contact orders are mutual, which means you couldn't go to his dorm, he couldn't come to your dorm, you can't be enrolled in classes together, etc, etc. This would usually also involve your college opening an investigation into the situation, which if they find in your favor could lead to him being required to take time off or potentially being expelled.

Obviously you should only do what you feel comfortable with and it is *completely* understandable and valid if reporting in any official-seeming capacity seems too hard or stressful--a title IX investigation may not be as intense as involving the police, but it can still be quite intense for someone who has experienced abuse--but I did want to tell you that is an option if it feels more doable than interacting with law enforcement.

Just wanted to give an important FYI as you explore your options - many of the staff who work on a college campus are mandated reporters, which means that if you disclose your history of abuse by your ex, they may be legally obligated to report the situation to your college's Title IX office whether you want them to or not. However, pretty much all campuses have resources that you can consult confidentially who are exempt from mandated reporting. These resources can also help you explore the different options that you have available to you.

Sending supportive and safe vibes your way.

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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Heather » Wed Nov 06, 2019 10:35 am

Per our exchange last year, thanks for that, but I also understand. It’s okay. ❤️

Sorry you have to wait so long for that appointment. I will do my best to get caught up later today, and let’s see if I can’t find some ways to help get you through. Thanks for being patient.
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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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Heather » Thu Nov 07, 2019 4:50 am

I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to do more with this last night, humanbeing. I have a break between events later today (I’m at a college this week guest teaching), and will be sure to do so then.
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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Re: How can I process these feelings?

Unread postby Gone.Sorry. » Thu Nov 07, 2019 3:49 pm

Hi, humanbeing. I'm so sorry for what you've been through. It can be such a difficult journey just to be able to say what we've been through. Getting past that even can seem like an insurmountable obstacle. But you've done SO MUCH work just by realizing what's happened and accepting that your feelings are valid. Trust me, that's no easy or small step to make.

If you need to talk to someone before your appointment on Tuesday, you might try RAINN's Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673).

I also second the advice about looking to see if you have a Title IX office you can make a report with. You can ask questions about their policies and procedures without making an official report if you want to see if this is something you would feel safe doing.


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