Q: Recently, I have been feeling less inter-ested in having sex with my partner. He hasn’t changed in any way, but I am actually scared when he gets physically close to me. When I was a young girl my uncle fondled me and was sexual with me. I did not have anyone to talk to and was ashamed of it. I started getting sick a lot. For some reason I am thinking a lot about what happened and really don’t know how to deal with it.
A: Sexual abuse is a very difficult issue to deal with at any stage in your life. Sounds like the time has come for you to begin the process of healing from this trauma. While you are recollecting your past incidents, it is natural for you to feel anxious and turned off sexually. Feeling ashamed to talk about it is common, especially in South Asian families. Nevertheless, you cannot work on this alone. Begin by confiding in someone you trust. You will have many feelings of shame, guilt, fear, deceit, sadness, anger, vulnerability, and hurt. Let them all surface, as they are part of the recovery process. When appropriate, let your partner know about the abuse you have suffered. This will help him understand your sexual reactions towards him. Most people need and benefit greatly from psychological counseling for these issues. If at some point you feel comfortable, you can join a group for women recovering from sexual abuse.
Q: As a child in Malaysia, I was consistently beaten by my Dad. Anytime I would talk loudly or misbehave, he would hit me. Sometimes my mother would stop him; at other times she saw it as just discipline and punishment. For years I thought I must have deserved this punishment. Now, I am learning that my parents simply didn’t know how to deal with my high-energy personality. How do I forgive and forget?
A: Being beaten is never a justified form of punishment. It shows a lack of awareness and parenting skills. Additionally, it’s a reflection of their anger being misdirected towards you. This is unfair and extremely hurtful. A physically abused child feels that he or she must be a very bad kid to deserve such beatings. Low self-esteem, self-hatred, fear, anxiety, and difficulty in finding a non-abusive partner often results from such a childhood.
Your understanding your parents’ side and intent to forgive is good. If you are South Asian, the stable extended family may have helped you not feel too alienated. Nevertheless, moving right into forgiving and forgetting bypasses the real issues you are dealing with. First, you must truly work through much of your own pain, anger, and sadness. After you process some of your own feelings, you may want to sit down and talk to your parents about how their hitting you has affected you. This is a delicate interaction and many parents feel too guilty to be open and non-defensive. Their deeply hearing your pain and talking about their issues will facilitate healing the family.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto. He specializes in integrating Eastern and Western perspectives. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.