Amy: Abuse survivor can't stand being touched

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • September 28, 2012 - 3:08 PM

Dear Amy: I am a single, Christian male in my mid-50s. I was molested and raped from the age of 11 to 12 by a man who was a community leader and a family friend. Though I have struggled with sometimes disabling depression for as long as I can remember, I realize that it is probably a mistake to attribute all of my pain and dysfunction to this unfortunate history.

An antidepressant I have taken for 10 years or so has allowed me to function at home and work, but I am still unable to tolerate the physical touch of another human being. As you might expect, this has presented a serious obstacle to establishing close relationships, particularly with women. (My last therapist recommended a sexual surrogate, which is not an option.)

Must I resign myself to a solitary life?

Amy says: I am not a clinician, but a sympathetic observer, and I am so sorry for what you have been through.

Professional help is vital. It is possible that you may have misunderstood the purpose of using a sexual surrogate, or the function of such a surrogate. In your case, it would not be for sex but to gradually introduce being touched by another human being.

Touch is a necessity for emotional and physical health. Most touch is not sexual, and it seems logical that you should start with simple, brief and benign experiences involving touch -- having a hand or a foot massage, or having your feet washed at church, for instance (this experience can be profound).

You are not consigned to a solitary life as long as you continue to do the hard work of reaching out for answers. Check out the sexual abuse support group This strong network of survivors can refer you to a local or online support group.

Emotional affair

Dear Amy: Several years ago I had an affair with a married woman, "Betsy." We fell in love, but my sense of guilt would not allow me to continue the affair. She had two young children and didn't want to get divorced until they were old enough to handle it and said that if I could wait 10 years for them to go to college, she would leave her husband and be with me.

I couldn't make that promise and started dating "Mary." We've been together for three years. While Betsy and I have not been physical during this time, we do speak on the phone a couple of times a week. I know I'm having an emotional affair with her.

I suspect that my failure to break ties with Betsy has held me back from falling in love with Mary. Mary is an amazing girlfriend but due to my emotional unavailability I won't move in with her.

I do not want to end up the fool who missed out on a chance at falling in love with a great girl because he couldn't let go of a pipe dream. On the other hand, I don't want to be the fool who gave up on love because he was unwilling to wait for it.

I feel like a louse who is emotionally cheating on his girlfriend while simultaneously stopping a married woman from being able to repair her marriage.

Amy says: Remember the saying, "If you love something, set it free"? It is the height of selfishness for Betsy to ask you to wait 10 years for the possibility that you might be together.

Conducting an emotional affair keeps you on the hook and her emotionally estranged from her family. In my book, she's the jerk. Tell Betsy you're going to set her free. And then do so. Completely.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Av., Chicago, IL 60611.

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