Ask Bish – I’m so confused after an abusive relationship

Some advice for someone who is feeling confused about sex and relationships after an abusive relationship. Warning contains reference to abuse.

I was in an abusive relationship for three years, in which I was physically and verbally abused, as well as sexually. I hated sex, it was something I had to do to keep him happy. This relationship is well and truly over now, I managed to get out, taking my newborn with me. Now I am so confused with sex and relationships and I just want someone to tell me the norm I suppose. I’ve had so much counselling and medical help, but I’m really confused.

For the past year, since the relationship ended, I haven’t wanted a relationship, or sex, with anyone. I did get close to one guy, but I made it extremely clear that I had absolutely no intentions of carrying out a sexual relationship and he would have to either wait until I was ready or leave. He was extremely patient and understanding, and waited. Which made me feel unwanted and ugly, so I left him. Which I know is ridiculous because he told me all the time how beautiful I was, and how important, and that I was worth so much, etc. I just don’t understand my thoughts and feelings, I feel like I want someone to fix my head.

The main confusion, is that now I seem to be really into the whole dominating thing. I keep having fantasies of my crush pinning me against a wall and taking me. And it’s making me feel so dirty, because I know how disgusting it is to have that happen to you when you don’t want it. I’m just so confused, and I haven’t been able to say this to anyone for fear of judgement.

It’s somehow easier when I can hide behind a computer screen. Do you have any reply at all? Anything that will make me feel less fucked up really! Anything would be hugely appreciated. Thank you for reading, please don’t judge me too harshly, I’m doing that enough! x

Hey

Thanks for this. It’s really tough to talk about this kind of stuff so well done for putting into words what it is you’re feeling right now. I hope I can give you some helpful advice but also I hope that just by writing to me you’ve been able to help yourself a little bit.

Well done on getting out of an abusive relationship. It can take a long time to realise that a relationship is doing you harm and abusive relationships can really lower your sense of confidence and also what you want and need. It must have taken a lot of courage, resilience and strength to get out of this and that’s really admirable.

You’ve gone into some detail about the nature of the abuse in your messsage (which I’ve edited down a little). How we all do sex and relationships and how we feel about them is massively shaped by our experiences and this is not simple for most people. You’ve been through some really tough experiences so it’s totally understandable that you are going to be confused by your thoughts and behaviours now. Try to gently remind yourself this and try to avoid being hard on yourself for not having figured everything out and that it’s okay to find this tough to deal with.

About this guy you’re close to. You seem to be very very hard on yourself about this. Actually I think you’re being very good to yourself by recognising that you aren’t ready for sex or a romantic relationship yet. Taking some time out to heal and to build on your confidence and you is a really good move I reckon. I asked my therapist friend Meg John Barker for their advice about this and they said:

“The abusive experience gave her a strong message that it was only when somebody forced themselves on her that she was loved/desired. So now part of her wants to be treated with patience and kindness, and part of her experiences that as rejecting or a sign of not being loved/desired. This is totally understandable.”

If you could be really gentle with yourself and allow yourself to notice your feelings you may start to feel less ‘fucked up’ and more like the normal human trying to come to terms with some really tough things that have happened. It’s normal to have conflicting feelings about something.

So onto the stuff about sex. Lots and lots of people have fantasies about being dominated and that’s okay. People might have theories about why they have them, but most people that have them just accept it and go with it. So, if you want to, you can allow yourself to fantasise about being dominated and you may actually find it helpful.

If you do choose to go with them what do you notice about them? How much control do you have? Be curious about what happens and whether you can change the story. What do you notice about you choosing to have the fantasy? Try not to think about your fantasies as being right or wrong, but try to gently notice what they do for you and what you do in them. Fantasies don’t have to mean anything in terms of what you may actually want to do sexually. Many many people’s fantasies remain a fantasy and something they may never act on.

Consensual domination and submission is very very common in relationships which are caring and respectful. However it might be a while before you can explore having some of this kind of stuff with someone else. You’ll need to feel a deeper sense of where you’re at and what you actually want from sex or from a relationship. Working out what sex you may want to have can be tough for lots of people for many different reasons. Take your time and do what feels right or okay for you right now.

I think the main thing I want to say is to try to be super kind to yourself. If it doesn’t feel right to get involved with someone that’s okay. If you’re feeling confused and frustrated, that’s okay. At times you might feel like you’re never going to really deal with stuff, but remember where you’ve come from and how well you’re doing to be where you are. This stuff is complicated, normal and totally understandable.

I’m afraid there aren’t any quick fixes or magic wands that will immediately make everything feel more sorted. But you could start with being super kind to yourself – try to avoid giving yourself a really hard time about how you feel and think. Be like your own best friend. What can you do for yourself to take really good care of yourself when you’re having a tough time. Can you reflect on all the ways you’ve taken care of yourself and remember how that feels.

You’ve mentioned counselling. It doesn’t help everyone, but perhaps you’ve not had the kind of counselling or counsellor that will work for you. It might be worth going to your GP to see if you could be referred to a different type of counsellor. You could also try Rape Crisis counselling services. Also are there friends you can talk to? You don’t have to feel like you can tell them everything, but just having people around who can be there for you, to help you to take care, someone to hang out with, can be really really valuable.

Here’s a really great piece from Meg John about self care.

Hope this helps

Justin

(Thanks so much to Meg John Barker for their help with this one)


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