I was raped when I was nine years old. The abuse I suffered lasted for several months, but I have only a handful of memories, like brief flashes, and some of them are not even visual. I am so mad at myself for not being able to remember more, it makes me feel like maybe I’m making the whole thing up. I also hate that when I think of my abuse directly, I mostly feel numb. Replaying the memories in my head doesn’t upset me, I feel nothing at all. My problem is that I am obsessed with rape. I can’t stop compulsively seeking out movies and tv shows with rape in them. I don’t get pleasure from this, instead it’s like a form of self-harm. I get so hysterically upset from watching rape scenes, they give me what I call “emotional flashbacks” where I feel like it’s happening to me now, and I can feel all of the emotions that I felt during my own rape. I don’t know why I do this because it hurts me so much, and it takes hours to recover from. It’s like I need to trigger myself with these scenes and feel these things in order to prove to myself that my experiences were real, since my memories are so pathetic and easy to doubt. I usually feel so numb about my abuse, triggering myself like this is the only way I can make myself feel. I can’t stop, I think about rape all the time, it’s always in the back of my mind, and whenever I hear about a rape scene in a movie, I look it up right away, even though I know that doing so will hurt me. Why do I do this? What’s wrong with me? (age 24, from UK)
I’m so sorry that you were sexually abused as a young child. As you know all too well, it can have devastating (and confusing) effects. I think that you are correct in thinking that you have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I hope that you have sought professional counseling to help you deal with the effects of the abuse. I would suggest that you seek a therapist who specializes in treating trauma and who has training in EMDR, a technique that has been proven to be very effective in treating PTSD.
Your excessive focus on watching rape scenes is most likely a form of self-harm, like you suspect, but also just a self-created coping skill to help you feel. If you feel numb most of the time, it can sometimes take extreme measures to break through that protective shield. And the fact that you have some missing or vague memories of your trauma is quite normal, don’t force yourself to dwell on these missing pieces, but put your energy into healing and getting your life back. I have worked with many sexual abuse survivors and I can promise you that if you do the work, with the help of a trained therapist, it does get better.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts
PTSD: Can’t Stop Purposely Triggering Myself
Holly Counts, Psy.D.
Dr. Holly Counts is a licensed Clinical Psychologist. She utilizes a mind, body and spirit approach to healing. Dr. Counts received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Wright State University and her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Counts has worked in a variety of settings and has specialized in trauma and abuse, relationship issues, health psychology, women’s issues, adolescence, GLBT, life transitions and grief counseling. She has specialty training in guided imagery, EMDR, EFT, hypnosis and using intuition to heal. Her current passion involves integrating holistic and alternative approaches to health and healing with psychology.
APA Reference Counts, H. (2018). PTSD: Can’t Stop Purposely Triggering Myself. Psych Central.
Retrieved on November 16, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2015/07/03/ptsd-cant-stop-purposely-triggering-myself/
Last updated: 8 May 2018 Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018 Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.