Dear Dr. Saltzman,
Thank you for you work and this site.
I am a 38 yr old single female, who has had four long term, four year and a few shorter 1-2 year relationships with (generally speaking) decent, professional men – 11 years ago I met a young man (25), when I was 27, we had a very on again off again relationship that was extremely painful and unusual for me. The three, four-year relationships prior to this man were calm, committed and loving.
Admittedly, I was naïve when I met this man and very much used to the 'normal' bounds of relationships. I had not been promiscuous when younger and did not know what a 'player' was, I figured that most men were decent and where in a relationship with me because they wanted to be with me specifically. It never occurred me, prior to meeting this man, that some people are in relationships because they can't be by themselves. Despite having several relationships myself, I tend to enjoy being alone and in relationships and have had several single years between partners.
The man, who I will call 'B', was highly promiscuous when younger (as he told it at the time), suggesting to me that it was 'out of his system'. He was VERY interested in me and spent as much time around me as possible in the fist three months or so. To cut a long story short – his continual setting up of other women on the side and sleeping with them, orchestrating break-ups to sleep with them and then reeling me back in (all of which I did not KNOW at the time) almost sent me over the edge. My instincts/feelings were being triggered incessantly over the four years we were together, without knowing what it was that I was dealing with. I would attempt discussion, questioned him and was concerned that the relationship never seemed to progress, or deepen – he would fob it off as 'not used to being in a relationship' and suggest that I was possessive, and jealous etc (even thought I had never been before). I began to believe it because he was so much better looking, fun, outgoing and interesting than my previous partners that I figured that perhaps I was like that with him because I was so much more interested in him. I ended up stuffing my perceptions and feelings down (they became embarrassing) and feeling guilty and thankful that he had so much patience with me – FOOL!!! – A few years later, he entered recovery for sex addiction!!
My issue is that I have never been the same since –understandably – Disturbing, is something that happened toward the end of the relationship when the pain was so intense – I had began to sexualise the pain. I imagined him with various other women, some of whom were friends of mine, and despite the excruciating pain of it in reality, I became more and more aroused when fantasising about these betrayals - totally bizarre!!!
Since that relationship ended 7 years ago, despite being in relationships with very nice men prior and wanting to go out with 'nice men' now, being professional, educated, knowing what I want and am looking for and being in recovery from co-dependency; I continue to attract abusive, dependent men. The last relationship ended in a broken nose and two black eyes after three months with a very charming, highly intelligent, and articulate man who turned out to be an ex-cocaine addict, gangster!!! – Unbelievably – I am so gullible and accepting of different personality types and preferences - its scary!
I ask questions, I can say 'No!', I am assertive, I confront unacceptable behaviour rationally and calmly etc. – It's like I'm a magnet for abusive men since the relationship with 'B' – I am just not the same – I accept that it happened, I understand it, the disease, my role etc – it's the legacies that remain that are the problem. While I have sought specialist treatment, no one has been able to help with the sexualisation of abuse and how to address it – which to me – appears to be a significant problem.
What is scary is an apparent progression, I may have sexualised the pain of betrayal with 'B', but now I have become extremely aroused by the raw potential of violence in this other man. I don't want the violence but there is something arousing about the embodiment of its potential in this man. Although I did not continue seeing him after he kicked and hit me, I do continue to fantasise about him sexually (not about the actual abuse itself but the raw energy of his potential for violence) and am frightened by the possibility that I could return to satisfy what appears to be anger disguised as sexual passion. It is as if I have twisted his/the/their objectification, disregard, betrayal to cope with my pain and anger into something manageable: desire – from repulsion (which I am aware 'should' be my response) – to desire. It is perverse to me but I do not really know how to change it and believe that I will continue to attract men like this until I correct my emotional ledger. Initially I felt compassion for him, believing that no one really wants to do those things (your site suggests otherwise), then intense fear, which has now become arousal – I did not and have not experienced horror or repulsion even though I did with 'B'.
I don't know if I have been seeking the wrong psychological help, if this is fairly common, if it may be underpinning what appears to be something in me that abusers are attracted to since 'B', or what to do about it and hope that you can help. The potential that I have some sort of Stockholm Syndrome has not escaped me.
I do not sexualise abuse itself and certainly do not go around thinking that I am aroused by it, but it is common to my partners when they abuse me; it forms some kind of sick bond, like a perverse type of intimacy. I have thought my response could be a form of self-righteousness, hatred or martyrdom, except that it does not seem to have anything to do with my 'normal' thinking – like it's sort of split-off somehow and does not match any of my other behaviour, anything else I think, believe or stand for.
I seek a stable, safe, sharing, caring relationship with an emotionally mature, generous and kind man – not an abuser - and would like to address whatever it is in me that sexualises abuse – I was not abused as a child.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my concerns. Your suggestions and comments would be much appreciated
[Thank you for not publishing my contact details or name if you choose to post to your site]
Yours is an interesting and well written letter which raises many questions that should be addressed in a therapeutic setting. However, here on my website such a dialog is not possible, so, although there is much I would like to ask, I will do what I can, working just from the information in your letter, to shed some light on your situation. This will be the final "ask dr-robert" of the year 2009, and I ask the pardon of those who have written and are still waiting for a reply. I am doing my best to keep up with the huge volume of mail I receive, but answering everyone is simply impossible.
Now you say that you "seek a stable, safe, sharing, caring relationship with an emotionally mature, generous and kind man – not an abuser. . . ." But that is simply the rational mind, or ego speaking. And the ego is not the totality of ones being—far from it. Clearly, there are parts of your being which find what you call "decent men" less sexually intriguing than "bad boys" who like to use and abuse their lovers. You have put this in a rather passive way, saying that you "continue to attract abusive, dependent men," but that finesses the plain fact that it is not just that those men are attracted to you, but that you are attracted to and become involved with them. Many women do.
You attempt as well to shift the "blame" for your interest in bad boys--which obviously you find embarrassing and disconcerting--by theorizing that your contact with the first of them somehow altered your original emotional character so that now you find violence and abuse sexually stimulating, whereas before meeting him your sexual desires never would have moved in that direction. I cannot easily agree with that idea (although, to be fair, if you were in therapy with me I would now be asking questions aimed either at substantiating my doubts or discrediting them). I find myself thinking it much more likely that your failure ever to stay very long with a previous lover (the "decent" ones) indicates that something in you is bored, sexually, by such men, and that your excitement with what you call "the raw energy of his potential for violence," has nothing to do with having been "turned out," by the first bad boy, but is simply a part of your life-long emotional makeup which now, in your thirties, has come to the fore.
Working from that idea—which I believe very likely expresses something true about your situation—would provide, in my view, a much more effective platform for therapy than your current view that somehow your sexuality was "perverted" by your experiences with the first bad boy. And, in my opinion, as an explanation for your still being aroused by fantasies of the man who hit and kicked you, Stockholm Syndrome isn't even in the running.
This is an extremely complex matter which demands highly skilled psychotherapy, and I wish you luck in finding it.