Need help with relationships after traumatic life

Need help with relationships after traumatic life


your avatar   Lisha (36 year-old woman) from Tempe, Arizona

My story is one of confusion. I am the product of a rape. My father was a family member with a long history of child-molestation. I was alienated and abused, physically and mentally. I was always an outsider who tried to fit in. I have no real relationships with any of my family members. I love people, laughter and motivating people. I don't run from problems... I face them.

I did have an issue with a low self-esteem. I was deliberately kidnapped and assaulted by friends of an in-law who thought I was a goody-two-shoes. I've cut all ties with my family - meaning I do not see them. I had a misconception about what love was. I wanted marriage and children, but used to have these seriously bad dreams of a child of mine being harmed or hurt by family members. I was burned with irons and teased with rats, chased through the house with a huge bloody fish head. I am working to get control of my life. I've met someone who has had a similar life experience.

I am a Christian who believes in and follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. My life is not together. Yet, I've given my heart to a man who is serving time in a prison. He wasn't there when we met, but shared his past with me. I forgave his mistakes but he's doing time so he'll not have to face or endure any more parole officers. I have never had a home, or a much of anything. I want and deserve one. I want to share my life with D.G., but I have herpes from being raped (once at 13 and once at 17 years of age). Many people have listened to my story but how do I put things into perspective? It hurts to always reach out to my family but they never call or write me. I've always tried. I pray for them, and I care for them. I don't want to turn my back on D.G, but I recently wrote a letter telling him the truth about my sickness. I was also using his last name on the letters I wrote him. I recently acknowledged that I was living a lie. It wasn't honest and came to the conclusion that if we start our relationship out on a lie how many would follow later?

I'm just starting to learn that it's important to pay my bills and be responsible for what I say or do. It's hard because I've survived so much. I beat Polio, cancer and diabetes, and I used to have blackouts (without any medical findings to explain why). I also had a mild stroke and now have to relearn a lot of the basic things I should already know. I have good days and bad days where I doubt that I have a right to a good life. I am active in my church, still experience feelings of not belonging or fitting in. D.G is a few years younger than I am. He comes from a family of people who never accepted him. So he's been relatively alone too. He has long standing friends. I, on the other hand, keep people at a distance because I see through their phony acts.

I am proud of what I've overcome and the direction my life is taking. Can you give me any advice of how to deal with my family, my possible marriage and just how do I get rid of the past when it never seems to go away. I've got many talents and abilities. I want the best and is that being selfish? Friends try to advise me on how their relationship's failed due to some man's past catching up with him and later touching her life. I want to center on myself and not make any hasty decisions about a ring or vows. I want to have something to bring to the table like my own home, my own money and a career. So, look at this and send me any feedback. I'm taking good care of myself. I didn't care before and now that's changed. Win or lose I don't plan to give up on life or on myself. I look up and not down.


    Jef Gazley, M.S., LMFT, LPC, LISAC, DCC

Dear Lisha,

I didn't realize when I picked your question but I practice in the same town as you. We made it through another summer. As I read your letter I was amazed at the amount of abuse you have experienced in your life and I tend to specialize in abuse. It is incredible how strong the human spirit is and your letter demonstrated that. You have done extremely well given what you have been through.

Almost all therapists agree that it is incredibly important to maintain good close relationships with our family of origin. We are troop animals and therefore we do best when we are able to stay with our troop or family. However, where therapists do disagree is when it is appropriate to break those ties. In my opinion, I like to see a client stay in contact with their family whenever feasible while they work out their family issues in therapy. It is helpful to grieve out the old pain and break away emotionally from the family to the point that the person can feel like a detached adult and see their family as an adult would before they spend a lot of time with them or confront them on the past hurts.

However, when there is present day abuse of a significant or dangerous nature it is often appropriate to cut all ties regardless of the cost of emotional connectedness. This should not be done lightly and setting firm boundaries on abuse without breaking contact should certainly be tried first, but if it is not effective and the abuse continues the client has as their first duty to take care of their own emotional and physical well being. This is an agonizing decision to make and if a client has to make it they often feel adrift for a long time. To keep contact however, with abusive people in our lives is to abandon ourselves and put us in a dangerous and often critical situation.

Wanting the best for you is not in the least selfish and very often families who abuse use that term to control others and it is they who are acting in a selfish way. In a severely abusive family the children are taught so many dysfunctional beliefs that they often do not know what NORMAL is and therefore do not trust themselves. This is one of the issues that needs to be addressed in therapy. I especially liked the way you realize that it is important to spend time with yourself and go slow until you work through your past problems. Most people who have been abused are so starved for love that they jump into it before they are able to love and rely on themselves. It is understandable that with your history it is hard to trust and get close to others.

I would suggest because of the amount of the abuse to seek out face-to-face counseling and learn to feel comfortable with you and grieve some of the past pain out. When that happens you will be much more equipped to get close to others without feeling a lot of fear. Search for a therapist with training in Applied Kinesiology and EMDR. These are shortened techniques to resolve traumatic experiences.

Good luck,

Jef Gazley

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:

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