Dear Dr. Love,I am a 38 year old, single male. I was violently raped by two men when I was 14 years old. It was such a traumatic event that I have never been able to make love to a woman for fear of inflicting the same pain and torment. I have given up on having a relationship in my lifetime. I hope you have may still have hope for me. Can you please advise me?Thank you,A sad man
You are not only sad you are traumatized. What you went through was such a horrific nightmare, I can’t begin to imagine.You asked me if there is any hope for you? You say you have given up hope of ever forming a relationship, but I don’t believe you have entirely given up hope. You wouldn’t have written to me if you had. The hope that you have is the shining light that will spurn you on and illuminate your path to healing.So, let’s begin by saying that the human spirit is very resilient. People have survived all kinds of traumas (think of the concentration camp survivors) all still managed to form fulfilling relationships and lead satisfying lives. So, remember that you are made of the same human spirit and you can heal too. But, in order for this to happen you work must work through the feelings that still linger from the incident.I have the impression that you survived the incident but haven’t actually healed. The result is that the feelings you carry from the incident are still very raw and fresh. So, in essence time has passed but, the wounds are still seeping. A wound such as this won’t heal over time. You need to engage in a structured healing effort. Without this, you will remain stuck, unable to move forward, as if trapped in limbo. And, this is where I think you find yourself now.What you need to move forward is to talk in a therapeutic setting. This will allow your feelings to finally scar over and become less painful.To return to the comment you made about your not wanting to have sex for fear that you would hurt your partner. I imagine you know that sex doesn’t hurt when a woman is a willing partner. You were not a willing partner, hence the intense pain you suffered.The fact that your fear of hurting the woman isn’t rational–your mind surely knows that you wouldn’t inflict pain through willing intercourse–we have a clue that the block inside you is coming from deeper, unconscious sources.If you would like, I will help you understand where this block might be coming from.First of all, you need to know that when someone is victimized, it is normal to develop intense feelings of murderous rage. Sadistic fantasies (images of hurting the attackers) are also normal.Keep in mind that rage, even murderous, sadistic impulses exist in every human being (the dark side). And, if you have been harmed, the feelings that I describe will be even stronger. That is, we all have wishes to punch, kick, maim and kill, at times.When we are comfortable with these impulses, because we know that we will never act them out, life moves along smoothly. But, when we are unwilling to accept such impulses in ourselves, they become repressed and bothersome emotional problems develop.When aggressive feelings are buried, the unconscious has it own way of dealing–and the symptoms that result are usually painful. Buried rage can make you depressed, anxious or guilty (anger turned against the self in the form of a harsh conscience). Another way that the unconscious mind deals with buried anger is to create defenses against the feelings–excessive fear is one such defense.In the language of the unconscious, fear is nothing but a buried wish. When we have a crippling fear, it usually conceals an actual wish. For example, a person that spends her time watching every word for fear of hurting her husband, is actually fighting against the wish to give it to him. The fear covers the buried rage, the unacceptable wish.Now, back to you, I think that you are carrying a lot of rage (the normal rage we all have plus the additional burden due to your incident). I don’t think that you are aware of the rage or comfortable with the part of you that wants to hurt your attackers.So, your buried rage (the wish to harm your attackers) has turned to this crippling fear–that I will hurt someone in intercourse.Actually, I am sure that if you allow yourself to feel all your feelings, you would find that you would like to fantasize raping those men who attacked you sexually. In other words, the normal wish here is to hurt them the way they hurt you. But, since I think this wish has been unacceptable to you, to this point, you developed the fear to hurt someone in intercourse.My point being here that when you own your rageful thoughts, feelings and fantasies, you won’t need the defense–the pathological fear of intercourse any longer. When this fear lifts, nothing will stand between you and a relationship.So, I want you to make peace with your dark side and do individual and/or group therapy with a modern analyst. And, I know you will be fine. Promise to invite me to the wedding! And, keep me posted on your healing in the meantime.