How can a therapist help me?
I am a 30-year-old female who suffered sexual abuse as a very young child. My memories of that time are very limited and I'm not sure how many times the abuse happened. My male teenage babysitter molested me when I was between the ages of 4 and 8 or 9 (I think). I didn't tell my parents until I was in my 20's. I am very reticent about forming relationships of any kind. I love my family very much but feel they don't "know" me and find it difficult to "open up" to them. I have many acquaintances but I would only call 2 of them friends. I think of myself (the "real" me) as being all closed up inside of a castle, inside of a huge stone wall just inside of a moat filled with alligators surrounded by a desert in an island in the middle of the ocean. I'm afraid I really do make it that difficult for people to get close to me. I simply don't trust anyone not to hurt me. I have learned that even with my friends, I push them away if I feel they are getting too close. Often making them angry on purpose to try to get them to leave me. The only reason I have the 2 friends I have is because they refused to leave no matter how badly I treated them or how angry I became. Eventually it became easier for them to slowly get to know me than to continue fighting to keep them "at bay".
My question, in light of my history is this: I have an appointment with a therapist coming up soon, but I have serious doubts that he will be able to help me. If it has taken 10 years for me to form friendships with 2 people and sort of trust them, how can a therapist I just met help me? How can I even tell him the things he would need to know in order to help me if I'm all locked up in the castle and he's on a boat in the ocean? Should I even bother to go? I hope my question will be answered. I would really like to know if there's hope for me to get help.
I am sorry to hear about the sexual abuse you suffered. Even after 26 years in this business it amazes me that this abuse is so common. Whenever something this tragic and unexpected happens it shatters our trust in others and even more importantly significantly decreases our trust in ourselves. It forever changes our life view. We can never be as innocent or naïve as to believe that all people are good and that the world is a perfectly safe place. It is certainly more realistic to see people as a mix of good and bad. It is more accurate to realize that there is a great element of risk and chance in the world. In the long run, viewing the world more as it really is gives us better control and makes us safer. However, it is not a happy realization and adjusting to it takes time and work. Realizing these things too early can be overwhelming and can make life appear more brutal than it is most of the time.
An early traumatic experience or too many such experiences can make us over generalize and assume that the worst of the world is actually the norm. In an attempt to be truly safe it is easy and understandable to push all people away, even those that are not abusive. The tragic part of this is not only how inaccurate it is, but it means that the original abuser has affected our whole life. It is almost as if we are still being abused in the present. I loathe the idea of giving an abuser that much power.
It is clear by your letter that you still do not trust yourself or others and test them to a degree that almost anyone would leave. Only the ones who accept your mistreatment will be looked at as safe. I know that this is done out of fear and not rancor, but it leaves you with people who are willing to be abused themselves. I don't know how safe or healthy that is. Often, people who have been mistreated will see kindred people easily and therefore put up with more, but it is not helpful for either party.
Psychotherapy is all about trust. Usually, the people who come have been deeply hurt and have lost trust in themselves and others. They are committing a tremendous act of faith by telling a complete stranger how they feel and who they are. It is extremely difficult to do this. Traditionally, what has helped is the realization that the therapist is objective and that they are temporary. They are not one of our loved ones. This often gives clients a feeling of safety. At first they often view the therapist as not quite real and this allows them to talk a little more freely.
Online therapy has heightened this feeling for clients and often makes it easier to take risks that otherwise would not be taken, although I do believe that whenever significant abuse is involved face-to-face therapy is required at some point to really be effective. It is a terrific place to start and the fact that you are taking that step shows that you have motivation to change and that not all hope or trust is extinguished.
The chances are that you will test the therapist to an extensive degree and they will have to prove both their sensitiveness and their strength if the counseling is to be successful. I would caution you however that too much game playing destroys any relationship. All people are humans and this includes therapists.
I am often struck with how strong and powerful abused clients really are. They often do not realize this themselves. To have gone through what you have and not be obliterated in spirit is amazing. True trust comes from a combination of self-love, strength, and self-acceptance of common human limitations. Work towards these goals and try and let your therapist in.
This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.For more information visit: http://www.asktheinternettherapist.com/