DEAR AMY: I am a 26-year-old woman. Despite having a deeply traumatic childhood, I have a successful and fulfilling life. I am estranged from my parents due to the severe abuse they inflicted during childhood. The abuse was physical, mental and sexual. My siblings and I were placed into foster care. We were again abused by a foster father. He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for his actions. The state then deemed our mother capable of providing a stable home, and we were returned to her care. Our mother had remarried, and her new husband was not much better than our father. I moved out as soon as I could and have not spoken to either parent in many years. I have supported myself and the youngest of my siblings financially for my entire adult life. I helped my sister to get a good start, put myself through college, bought a home, and am now enrolled in graduate school. I have a healthy, supportive relationship with a good man that I deeply love. He has helped me to heal from the abuse I endured, and his wonderful family has embraced me. However, I find that the sexual abuse I suffered has influenced my sexual desires. My partner has gently expressed to me that some of the things I ask him to do make him uncomfortable. I hate the idea that these events helped to formulate my sexual identity and desires; worse yet, that they could have an impact on my relationship. How do I separate my current healthy sex life from my traumatic past?
DEAR UNHINGED: Your success is a testament to your (quite impressive) core strength and resilience. It is so inspiring.
Human beings react to, and sometimes re-enact, versions of their formative experiences in childhood. Survival and success reside on one side of your personal equation — healing is on the other.
In researching your question, I read an academic paper called: "The Sexuality of Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors" published by the National Institutes of Health (nih.gov) featuring surveys and interviews with survivors of childhood sexual abuse (known as CSA).
Many participants indicated that the CSA influenced how they came to view themselves as sexual beings. They talked about experiencing shame, confusion, and low self-esteem with regards to their sexuality.
In the study, survivors of CSA report grappling with three essential questions related to their abuse: "What was it?" "Why did it happen?" "What did it do to my sexuality?"
Your tenacity and courage have likely helped you to answer the first two questions. Your strong and loving emotional connection with your partner is prompting you to grapple with the third.
A therapist with experience dealing with CSA could help you to put the pieces together. Fortunately, you are at a university where there are likely experienced practitioners available to help you, for low or no-cost. Please accept professional help, as you continue to build on your impressive success.
DEAR AMY: I live in a retirement community that provides dinner. On one evening recently, there were six of us at the table. One woman in the group has a habit of picking her teeth after eating. Last night after picking her teeth, she laid the appliance she uses on the table. It was extremely off-putting. Would putting an anonymous note in her house inbox be rude? She does eat with other people, so she would not know who sent it.
Queasy in Florida
DEAR QUEASY: Which would you rather receive — an anonymous note that could have been sent by anyone (or everyone), or a discreet message delivered by a specific person? I believe the stress of receiving this correction would be much less if it came from one person.
The next time this happens, after dinner you should approach her and say, "I'm wondering if you could do me a favor. I enjoy eating dinner with you, but I get queasy seeing you clean your teeth at the table. Could you wait until later to do that?"
DEAR AMY: Like "Wanting More," I always wanted to have more children, but my husband wanted to stop at two. I found ways to be with lots of children: Babysitting for respite care and in the church nursery, volunteering for the Pregnancy Center, babysitting for friends and family, etc. Finding ways to be around other children may help her fill that void.
Content and Fulfilled
DEAR CONTENT: This is a healthy way to meet your own needs through service to others.