Sexual trauma and self blame


Sexual trauma and self blame


your avatar   Persephone, 18-year-old woman


I suppose my question is, should I be allowed to forgive myself? And how do I forgive myself? This is going to be very long so I apologize.

When I was five to six years old, I was raped by my biological mother's boyfriend. I tried to tell her, but she didn't seem to believe me, and she told me not to tell my dad and that I was just confused. Some months later, my teacher told my step-mom that I was acting weird and she sat down and talked with me. I told her what was happening, and I told her not to tell my dad because I didn't want my mom's boyfriend to go to prison. My parents took me to the sheriff's office and told him all the stuff that had happened. They were going to put my mom's boyfriend in prison, but when I was 7 he killed himself before he was put in prison. I was absolutely heartbroken, because I felt he was dead because of me.

But something else was going on. I became very sexual with other children. I never forced anything, but it's still really messed up. The most messed up thing is that I was sexual with my younger sister, my mom's boyfriend's daughter. I know it probably sounds like I somehow was trying to get revenge for what happened to me, but I loved her and would never want to hurt my little sister. I feel like the worst person in the world.

It probably started when I was around 9, but I don't remember much (she's 4 years younger than me). I didn't touch her, but she would touch me (which makes me think maybe she was sexually abused earlier on too) and I would let her. I started touching her back was I was 14, barely, but I still did and this went on until I was 15. I know I should've put a stop to it sooner and I feel like the most disgusting person in the world. I feel like I completely corrupted her childhood.

She knows I was raped when I was little, but she doesn't know it was her dad who did it. She's my best friend and I love her so much. I feel like I belong in prison; I feel just like my rapist and I don't know what to do. I feel like dying.

I talked with her about it and I told her how sorry I was, but she doesn't even blame me for what happened between us, which makes me feel even worse. Do I even deserve to be forgiven? I don't know what to do.


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

My dear, there are two related but separate issues here. Let's deal with them separately.

Sexualized behavior by pre-teen children is almost always a result of past sexual abuse. You did these things because of what happened in your early childhood. It is not a sign of you being wicked or faulty, but a form of dealing with the hurt. And I am convinced you did not act sexually with your little sister as a form of revenge, but because that's what many children with your history do. By the time you were 15, you were mature enough to realize that these actions were wrong, and stopped them.

There is no such thing as a mistake. There are only learning experiences. You have learnt this lesson. Congratulations. Case closed.

Second, your teacher was a smart person and very perceptive, and did the right thing. Your stepfather had done something terrible. Chances are, if he sexually abused you, he did so to other children. If he had not been stopped, he might still be hurting little kids. You know the terrible effects. By getting you to talk about your abuse, this teacher and your stepmom saved all those children from harm, and also protected you.

My guess is, your stepfather was not an evil person, but a weak one who gave in to impulses other men would have dismissed and refused to act on. I have had many clients who felt a desire to sexually abuse children, but controlled themselves and refused to do so. If this is true, he killed himself not because he was going to jail, but because he couldn't live with knowing he had hurt kids, and that everyone in his acquaintance now knew this. So, my guess is, it was shame and guilt that drove him to suicide.

You are not responsible for the fact that he abused you. He was. You are not responsible for the fact that he was discovered. Your teacher and stepmom are, and they are to be congratulated. You are not responsible for the fact that he killed himself. He is. And if I am right, he did so because the discovery of his crime made him grow and mature, and become a better person. Instead of trying to escape or minimize punishment, he took a way out he considered to be honorable.

So, you haven't done anything wrong, have you? You actually don't need forgiveness, from yourself or anyone else. You are now 18, on the cusp of adulthood. I suggest you make sense of this terrible history by choosing a career where you can either protect young children, or learn how to help them to heal.

Have a good life, my dear,


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


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