Age, looks or smiling faces are not indications of freedom from dangerous sexual liaisons just as appearance is not reliable evidence indicating the presence or absence of an eating disorder.An eating disorder can thrust a woman into dangerous sexual experiences. She may not know she is walking into danger. She may not recognize the danger while it is actually happening to her because she is in a dissociative state or deep in an unealistic fantasy.
Sometimes a woman can be in pain without knowing she is being raped. She may go seek out the sexual exploiter because she thinks she did something wrong and wants to keep the fantasy of the relationship intact.
She may feel obligated to care for the exploiter because she believes her job and her identity is to take of anyone who hurts her in order to please them.
Exploring dangerous sexual liaisons in psychotherapy.
If the woman is aware enough or hurting enought to seek psychotherapy, she and her therapist proceed gently and firmly into the realms of the sexual experiences. The two becomes partners in exploring the experiences and the meaning of those experiences to the woman.
General description of early healing process
- Woman wants relief to her suffering.
- Therapist understands the connections between eating disorders and sexual eperiences.
- Woman is ashamed to discuss and doesn't know the connection between her behavior and her disorder.
- Therapist knows the adult woman reverts to a much younger psychological identity and can't protect herself.
- Woman yearns for the caring promises of the exploiter.
- Woman feels guilty because she should have known better.
- Therapist knows the woman could not know better. She was childlike in her experience.
- Woman tells a little of her experience in general terms.
- Therapist accepts this and is slow and gentle as she accepts without judgement the story.
- Woman gradually brings up more details of the sensitive information.
- Therapist listens and connects the behavior to the woman's psychological development and lived history.
- Woman resists knowing, but her awareness grows as she becomes more to think and feel and trust.
- Therapist respects that trust and continues to build it.
Building the kind of trust that allows the client and the therapist to work together like this is crucial. Even when a trustworthy relationship is established a client can feel,
"Well, yes, I trust my therapist, but not about this."
"Yes, my therapist doesn't judge me, but she then she doesn't know about this."
"Yes, my therapist is a good therapist with lots of experience, but telling her my stories would shock her and hurt her."
The woman and the psychotherapist work together to find the approaches that help explore and understand the sexual experiences that lead to danger.
Some examples of dangerous sexual experiences are when the woman:
- Is being stalked
- Seeks physical pain from others
- Puts herself knowingly or unknowingly in dangerous situations
- Is being abused or exploited with or without her awareness
- Does not recognize triggers that lead her to act out sexually
- Punishes herself for being sexual
- Withdraws from sex with or without vaginismus.
- Doesn't recognize grooming or seductive techniques that lure her to dangerous settings and experiences.
- Feels responsible for the exploiter and makes herself available to him in order to take care of him.
- Feels emotionally attached to the exploiter and seeks him out, trying to keep him in her life.
Questions to ask yourself:
If you are reading this essay to examine your own life, I invite you to consider these questions.
- Are any of these sexual experiences part of your past or present experience?
- Do you think and feel about some or one differently than the others?
- Are any more difficult to acknowledge than others?
- Are any more bewildering to you than others?
Awareness is the key to coming out of this dangerous aspect of sexual behaviors. Eating disorders bypass the conscious mind. The body is asked to deal with anxiety, stress and powerful yet incomprehensible emotions. This involves eating behaviors. It also can involve sexual behaviors.
Once a woman appreciates that she can be less dominated by shame, guilt, yearnings and cravings for the dangerous sexual experiences. That gives her more freedom to explore with her psychotherapist the meaning behind her behavior. It also stimulates psychological development so she is better equipped to recognize danger. Best of all, she develops behind the childlike stage and is not vulnerable to the exploitation.
Also see: Sexual Exploitation of Adult Women with Eating Disorders
Joanna Poppink, MFT, private practice psychotherapist, E-mail for free telephone consultation.
Author: Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder
photo: contributed by photostock