Dear Dr. Patti,
I am finally reaching out for help. I want to save my marriage and feel better about my sexual abuse. My name is Brooke, and I was raped by my older cousin when I was 7 and he was 12. Even though I don't think he understood the severity of what he did to me, I am feeling it still. I'm 20 years old now and have a beautiful son and one on the way. My marriage though has hit a stopping point. My husband says that I am not the same person he fell in love with. I fly off the handle with my anger. What happened to me at age 7 turned me into a rage-full person, without me even realizing it! Over the years it has just gotten worse and worse, simply because I would not deal with it.
Now I am scared that my husband thinks it is too late to save our marriage. He wants me to get help and yet he is not ever sure that with help, he can love me. Even if I do get the help I need he is worried that I will not be the loving warm person he fell in love with. He is the only man I have ever trusted and now I am probably going to lose him. I don't know how to get back to what I was.
I have always remembered this rape and I always put this whole situation off as something that happened in my life and that it was in the past! Well, apparently it is not all that simple. It took me 14 years, and my husband slipping away from me to realize that. I've quit everything in my life that I had loved, because I was so afraid to fail! I remember not being afraid of anything before, and I want to get back to that strong person I was, not just strong but happy! I want to be able to feel another emotion besides negative anger. When ever I get hurt, I don't know how adjust! I have to turn that hurt into anger and rage. I lash out at everyone who loves me. Can you help me? How can I change?
...................Hoping it is not too late, Brooke.
Dr. Patti responds:
There is a book I would like you to get which is entitled "Allies in Healing" by Laura Davis. This book is written especially for the partners of sexual abuse survivors and it discusses the many different emotional and physical complications that survivors will experience after their abuse, including the delayed emotions which you describe in your letter to me! You could get this book for your husband. Perhaps if he reads the stories of girls who struggled with the pain of sexual abuse he will come to understand that your anger comes from a deep hurt and that it is not directed toward him.
It is great you are dealing with this childhood trauma now, it is those first steps that are the most difficult. Please think about calling RAINN for information about a support group in your area that you could join. Also you could go to a local mental health center and try to get some therapy. You can also read about therapy here in the pages of the GirlThrive site.
Sadly, it is not unusual for a very young girl to become frozen in fear after the trauma of rape or abuse. Like you she will repress her anger, push it down until many years later it bursts out at the worst time and against all the wrong people. Your husband may feel like you are testing him and even pushing him to leave you and it is important that he become clear about the complexity of the anger which is haunting you.
I can tell from your words that you have a lot of intelligence and love. Read the book "Allies in Healing" with your husband, call RAINN, find a counselor, and keep reaching out. You are young and you can heal from this abuse. Don't give up!
................................xo, Dr. Patti.