I do not view pornography. I try to lower my gaze and I try to avoid any programs which even have any kind of display of desires. I would love to get married, but I am afraid of getting a man who will treat me badly. But the thing I feel that women are expected to be ashamed of having any feelings at all. In what ways can we control our desires? Should we just follow the advice that is given to men?
Honestly, I don't want to end up being either a crazy cat woman or a lesbian. I'm sure some people are naturally like that, but with me, it's something I have developed as a result of my abuse, I think. I really don't want to do any sins, but I need practical advice in how to avoid them. I feel like I am a bad person, feeling guilt and shame.
Please, if you can give me some practical advice or strategies, it would really help.
In this counseling answer:
• What you may be experiencing sister is as you pointed out, is an attraction to women based on the need for power and control over not allowing yourself to be abused again.
• As you have been abused, however, your trauma should insha’Allah be professionally addressed so that you may one day be able to trust a man again and have a wonderful marriage and shared intimacy.
• Get counseling.
• It is likely that what you are experiencing is post-traumatic stress disorder.
• Support groups are often vital in healing.
• We can’t undo the wicked things others have done to us, but we can choose how we decide to deal with it.
As-Salamu ‘Alaykum sister,
Thank you for writing to us with your concerns and questions. I am so sorry to hear that you were abused as a child. Abuse is something that no one, especially a child, should have to go through. It is heartbreaking.
Being exposed to pornography as a child is also a form of abuse. While you did not indicate who abused you (relatives, friends or family or strangers), I pray to Allah that you do not have to go through additional trauma by seeing them now that you are older.
You are trying to heal from your past by lowering your gaze, trying to fight feelings as well as acknowledging that what has happened may have had an impact on what you are going through. This shows much insight and a desire to fully heal and recover from the pain and trauma you went through.
The Consequences of Child Abuse
Sister, it is very normal that you have trust issues when it comes to men and getting married. After all, you were abused and exposed to sexual material such as pornography when you were a child. You were further abused by two men, one you almost married. Why would you trust after all of that?
The Australian Institute of Family Studies states that “There is increasing evidence that children who have been abused, and in particular sexually abused, have greater difficulties with interpersonal relationships and especially trust compared with non-abused individuals. Given the betrayal of trust and violation of personal boundaries involved in child sexual victimization, this is not surprising”.
Often times survivors of childhood abuse (especially sexual abuse) often have misdirected attraction to the opposite sex. It means if a male abuses a female child that child may grow up so traumatized as an adult woman, she is unable to relate to a man in a natural way as she associates his maleness with abuse, trauma, fear and a trigger for memories and pain. This may in some cases misdirect the normal sexual impulses and feelings to the same gender as a woman.
Often times this occurs because a woman is seen as a “safer” option. As sexual energy is a normal component of human nature, it must find somewhere to go, somewhere safe. Thus, what you may be experiencing sister is as you pointed out, is an attraction to women based on the need for power and control over not allowing yourself to be abused again.
How to Control Desires
You asked how to control desires. Sister, desires are natural and normal. Yet, as Muslims, we do seek to control our desires so that we may please Allah, safeguard our hearts from hurt as well as our bodies. Therefore, the institution of marriage is designated for sexual pleasures and expression as marriage is supposed to be a comfort and a mercy wherein we do find safety, kindness, and mercy.
As you have been abused, however, your trauma should insha’Allah be professionally addressed so that you may one day be able to trust a man again and have a wonderful marriage and shared intimacy.
However, in order to address your concerns and feelings sister to lead to a resolution insha’Allah, I kindly ask that you do consider counseling as well as joining support groups in your area for Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. A counselor can provide a good reference or you can see out a good group by searching online.
Support groups are often vital in healing. They provide a safe space to tell of your experiences as well as hear about what others have gone through and how they started their healing process.
In addition, insha’Allah you will learn different coping skills. You will insha’Allah see that many are going through similar feelings. You may find as well that what you have been experiencing is “normal” as a survivor. Support groups can be all of the strong support in a safe environment.
Check out this counseling video:
Sister, it is likely that what you are experiencing is post-traumatic stress disorder (although I cannot diagnose you). It is one of the most common effects of childhood sexual abuse. A study published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that women who were survivors of childhood abuse (sexual) had primary effects later in life which included:
“Emotional reactions such as fear, shame, humiliation, guilt, and self-blame are common and lead to depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress: Survivors may experience intrusive or recurring thoughts of the abuse as well as nightmares or flashbacks. Distorted self-perception: Survivors often develop a belief that they caused the sexual abuse and that they deserved it. These beliefs may result in self-destructive relationships”.
These effects are related to how the women feel about herself internally and how she relates to others externally. Thus, the feelings you expressed of “feeling like I am a bad person, feeling guilt and shame” are considered “normal” reactions due to the abuse.
Sister, please do know that you need not to feel shameful, guilty or that you are a bad person. You are not. You are a beautiful, pious young Muslim who sadly experienced severe trauma in your life and as a result, these are the coping mechanisms your mind developed in order to survive.
Sister, by getting counseling, you can learn new ways to process and deal with all the emotions you are going through. A good therapist can guide you through the healing process and teach you new skills that will enable you to deal with all of what you are feeling on so many levels.
Sister, you are not alone. In the US for example, between 12 and 40% of children have experienced sexual abuse to some degree. How devastating! This is a lot of hurt and traumatized women (and men).
As you mentioned, women are often expected to feel shame about something that has happened to them or for the way they have learned to cope with the trauma afterward. This is wrong. No one should try to make you feel bad nor should you permit it.
Insha’Allah what you can do, however, is seeking out treatment to overcome what has happened. It won’t occur overnight, but it will be a journey of self-healing which you deserve and one insha’Allah which will enable you to move forward with your life in a happier way.
We can’t undo the wicked things others have done to us, but we can choose how we decide to deal with it. I see you as an intelligent, honorable, pious young woman who is keeping it real about how you feel. There is honor in that. I am confident that insha’Allah once you do begin therapy, you will soon find your concerns about attraction to the opposite sex falling away.
Part of the process of healing involves shedding old thought patterns, behaviors and coping mechanisms which either are destructive or maladaptive to one’s self. Insha’Allah, you are ready to take this step.
Please make du’aa’ to Allah to give you the courage to reach out for counseling, the patience to follow through as well as the determination to live a happy, love filled life because you are worth it and because Allah loves you, dear sister.
Please, let us know how you are doing,
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.