Hi Dr Robert,
Fantastic site, fascinating reading.
About 5 yrs ago my wife of 15 yrs (now aged 48) disclosed to me the childhood sexual abuse she suffered. I appreciate for a child to begin to heal from this trauma she needs to understand that in no way, shape or form was this her fault. On the surface it seems my wife has banished the demons of her past, although she has never had professional help to do this. (her opinion of mental health professional is quite low)
My question is how common is it for such a victim as an adult to apply the "it was completely their fault" idea to everything in her life? Even to things that are nobody's fault, the wrong-place-at-wrong-time events, like the supermarket is out of stock of your favourite product. Is it common for victims to blame everything that is not perfectly ordered and efficient on someone, but never on themselves? Or am I simply a husband looking for a medical reason for what are just marriage problems?
Thank you for what I know will be your brutally honest comment on this.
Thanks for the kind comment about my website.
Without knowing both you and your wife, it is problematic to guess what exactly is going on in your marriage. However, victims of childhood sexual abuse often will require some kind of therapeutic help in order to recover fully, and to assume a healthy adult personality structure. Because the mind exists on countless other levels besides the rational, logical, language-based, consensual reality we usually call "the world," "myself," or "reality," simply saying, "It was all their fault," usually will not enough to heal the damage.
In other words, it is quite possible for someone to say to herself (and now to you), "The past is over. It cannot come back to hurt me any longer. Everything that happened was beyond my control, and it was not my fault," while meanwhile, on other levels of mind, guilt, shame, and self-blame, untouched by ordinary logic, continue to restrict that person's emotional freedom of movement, and her ability truly to love. In fact, even on the everyday level of ordinary consensual reality, self-forgiveness for ones part as a victim of sexual abuse can be a difficult matter, for often there was an element of physical enjoyment in the sexual abuse which, although perhaps deeply repressed, provides a substrate for self-blame.
You say that your wife's opinion of mental health workers is quite low, but I wonder on what experience she bases her opinion. Has she been put off by a particular therapist she has met socially, or has someone close to her been injured in some way by a psychotherapist, or is her opinion more a defense against getting into therapy because she fears being required to confront matters which she would rather continue to stuff under the rug as she has been doing since childhood? The fact that you two were married for ten years before she even discussed this with you leads me to believe the latter.
I certainly recommend some psychotherapy for your wife—there are many dedicated and competent workers in this field (along with the ocassional bad apple)--and, if your marriage is troubled, I would recommend some therapy for both of you conjointly as well. Clearly, judging from the tone of your letter, the present situation is not satisfactory.
Thank you for your very prompt reply Dr Robert.
I am a little confused though, is this need to blame a common thing for sexual abuse victims? As you can probably read between the lines, I am 99 times out of 100 the one who is blamed for things not going to plan. So if the ‘blame need’ is not a common reaction, is it more likely I am trying to blame her childhood experiences for my inadequacies as a husband?
To your comments on her opinion of mental health services: Any exploration I do into her dislike of mental health services always ends in a confrontation (I am getting less and less tolerant of confrontations, although the paroxetine I started taking about 6 months ago has certainly helped me to control my temper, to not lash out verbally as I used to) What I have been able to learn is she had an uncle who was a psychologist or psychiatrist and he committed suicide (an occupational hazard I understand). She reasons, “If the professionals can’t fix their own minds, why should I trust them with mine?” She often uses what I (and the few friends who have seen her in a worked up state) consider bizarre reasoning to justify her conclusion. Anyway, she flat out refuses to have any meaningful participation in counselling.
Thank you for your caring about people and offering this service.
I’m not too sure about the "blame need" being a frequent outcome of abuse. The two most common are inability to trust, and difficulty with sexual intimacy. If you are concerned about your marriage, I suggest that you get some counseling—even if your wife is not willing—aimed at looking into what’s up here.
Hi Dr Robert,
I took my wife, dragged her really, along to a clinical psychologist. We have had two 2 hour sessions with her now and at the beginning of the second session the Dr spoke to me privately and said she is absolutely certain my wife has one or more of three personality disorders: avoidant, narcissistic, antisocial. I looked up these three on Wikipedia and found avoidant not a good match, narcissistic a reasonable match and antisocial was describing her perfectly. The Dr has told me in her 40yrs experience she has found people with these disorders to be very resistant to therapy. So we have to attend the consultations on the premise of marriage counseling, during which the Dr will take Angela’s side to gain her trust and confidence to the point where she will listen to and respect the Dr’s opinion, then she will be able begin treating the real causes of the problems. She said she needs to become her ‘mother-figure.’ (Angela’s mother (who was a prostitute) left her with her father when she was about 4 or 5 yrs old, she never saw her mother again until she was an adult, they now have a very superficial, amicable relationship.)
This is a huge relief to know there is a medical reason for her behaviour and she is not just a nasty person. But even so there is still a long road ahead of us (there is an awfully long road behind us too!) Thank you for your encouragement to get some counselling. I just hope I can keep her going to the appointments (and can continue to afford them, apparently there is a recession on!) and hope I can endure the road ahead too.