Normal Marriage After Child Abuse
I was sexually abused as a child. To this day I hate to let anyone get too close. This is causing real problems with my husband and me. I don't dress like normal women; I wear baggy clothes. My moods change very drastically -- I actually scare myself. I have tried medicines. Nothing seems to help. I just want to be able to have a real husband-and-wife relationship. How can this happen before it's too late?
Answered by Peggy Elam, PhD:
The behaviors you describe -- including the mood swings -- are often found in people who were sexually abused as children. And it IS possible to get relief. You mention that you've taken medicines, but they don't seem to help. That may be because therapy is the best treatment for emotional and behavioral problems related to child abuse or other trauma. Medication can sometimes be a helpful adjunct to therapy, but it won't address the underlying issues related to trauma-based mood changes, fears and intimacy difficulties.
You might benefit from seeing a psychologist or other therapist who is experienced in working with individuals who have been sexually abused. Your therapist might also be able to meet with you and your husband together to help the two of you address problems, and perhaps assist your husband (and you) in understanding what you've been going through and what might help.
Working through the fears and issues related to your abuse, and becoming more aware of the differences between your husband and your abuser, might help you feel safer. Feeling safer, in turn, might enable you to relax and allow more emotional and physical intimacy to enter your marriage. Of course, it's a different story if your husband actually ISN'T very different from your abuser. If he's physically or emotionally abusive, your relationship may not be safe -- or healthy -- regardless of how much work you do on yourself.
In short, it IS possible for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to have close, supportive marriages, if both spouses respect each other and work on any necessary changes. I hope you'll try seeing a therapist -- or more than one, if the first doesn't seem a good match for you. Good luck.
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Peggy Elam provides psychotherapy, psychological consultation and personal coaching to help people overcome personal difficulties and achieve emotional well-being. She has a private practice in Nashville, TN and is licensed as a psychologist/health service provider in Tennessee. Dr. Elam helps people resolve a range of problems, including eating disorders, traumatic stress, dissociative disorders, depression, stress, relationship problems and life transitions.