Read

Dear Therapist: I’m Struggling With Intimacy Because of Past Trauma

Creator:
Published:
May 13, 2024
May 13, 2024
Read this article for advice on healing from sexual trauma and allowing God to work in the process.

Dear therapist,

I am on a healing journey. I see a therapist IFS and somatic therapy. I have a history of complex trauma, (sibling sexual abuse, violence at home and school). I am also blessed to have a spiritual director. I have had many recent grace-filled prayer experiences, which have brought some healing. I have brought my awful body feelings to prayer.

I get dysregulated with memory and body sensations. I have great difficulty talking and being vulnerable. 

I am married with adult and teenage children. I have had no marital intimacy for months due being triggered by our last 2 sexual encounters. Orgasm was the point at which it all became too much.

Alarm: I have been feeling what I can only describe as orgasm-type feelings in prayer. How should I respond to this?

My therapist is not Catholic so will not understand. There is no way I can talk to a priest about this.

— Alarmed Catholic Wife and Mum

Dear Alarmed Catholic Wife and Mum,

Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing about your healing journey. It takes great courage to step into the intentional psychological and spiritual work you have been doing. I’m grateful you have been able to bring the body feelings to prayer.

Deep wisdom led you to pause intimacy in recent months given your activation in the last two sexual encounters. I strongly recommend pauses in intimacy (and direct communication about this to your spouse) when trauma-symptoms are activated in those encounters. This doesn’t mean your husband (or you) is doing something wrong, but likely has to do with the way our brains learn to respond to “similar” situations to those that were unsafe historically.

Our brain’s job is to help us learn from past unsafe experiences and identify similar ones in the present/future. In the aftermath of trauma, it becomes much harder (but not impossible) for our brains to discriminate situations that are similar and safe from those that are similar and unsafe. When the wires cross, such as in a sexual encounter with a trusting partner, we can have the symptoms you are describing. I wonder if your therapist can help you map out what might be bringing up that parallel to past harm and how to differentiate your sexual script with your husband in sensory and cognitive ways. Pausing intimacy in certain seasons in trauma healing is key to establishing safety in your sexual relationship. It shows your body that you will listen to it when it is uncomfortable and your spouse will too.

As for the orgasm-type feelings in prayer, we want to foster curiosity rather than judgment. From what you’ve shared, it sounds like prayer has been a safe place to bring body feelings that you describe as awful. It would make so much sense, then, that prayer is increasingly also a place you can bring pleasurable feelings, including desire and pleasure. This is not because you are defective, but shows that your body is able to experience pleasure in a context you feel safe in. That’s good news! In response to moments when those feelings arise, I would validate them, remain curious about them, and continue to find ways to cultivate a similar atmosphere of safety in your relationship with your spouse.

You are right to be cautious about bringing these pieces to just anyone. Not everyone is trustworthy with our areas of vulnerability. I’m so glad you asked this, as you are not alone in this type of experience.

— Dr. Julia Sadusky

Creators:
Grotto, Julia Sadusky
Published:
May 13, 2024
May 13, 2024
On a related note...
5 Self-Care Practices You Can Do Over Spring Break

5 Self-Care Practices You Can Do Over Spring Break

Emily Mae Mentock

These Words Guided Me Through an Eating Disorder

These Words Guided Me Through an Eating Disorder

Cassie Brouillard

4 Saints to Pray to While Dealing with Depression

4 Saints to Pray to While Dealing with Depression

Sarah Coffey

Why Did This Marshmello Music Video Top 1 Billion Views?

Why Did This Marshmello Music Video Top 1 Billion Views?

Josh Noem

How To Stop Thinking Negatively

How To Stop Thinking Negatively

Julia Hogan-Werner

Why I’m Re-Thinking Social Media During Lent

Why I’m Re-Thinking Social Media During Lent

Bond Warner Strong

Why Are Boundaries Important?

Why Are Boundaries Important?

Patty Breen

What It’s Like to Live with OCD and Anxiety

What It’s Like to Live with OCD and Anxiety

Molly Cruitt

Seeking Christ in Times of Suffering

Seeking Christ in Times of Suffering

Kate Fowler

Dear Therapist: I’m Struggling With Intimacy Because of Past Trauma

Dear Therapist: I’m Struggling With Intimacy Because of Past Trauma

Grotto, Julia Sadusky

7 Things to Do Every Weekend to Avoid Burnout

7 Things to Do Every Weekend to Avoid Burnout

Emily Mae Mentock

What Tony Reali's Monologue Taught Me About Grief

What Tony Reali's Monologue Taught Me About Grief

Josh Flynt

Dear Therapist: I Have Misophonia and My Loud Neighbor is Making Life Miserable

Dear Therapist: I Have Misophonia and My Loud Neighbor is Making Life Miserable

Grotto, Brya Hanan

Prayers from Your Childhood To Get You Through Your Day

Prayers from Your Childhood To Get You Through Your Day

Grotto

How to (Politely) Decline a Holiday Gathering

How to (Politely) Decline a Holiday Gathering

Lauren Lawson

What to Know About Dating Someone with Depression

What to Know About Dating Someone with Depression

Emily Bouch

5 Ways to Cope with Loneliness Over the Holidays

5 Ways to Cope with Loneliness Over the Holidays

Julia Hogan-Werner

Suicide Survivor Gives Back to Support Prevention

Suicide Survivor Gives Back to Support Prevention

Grotto

Podcast S1 | Ep3: Change of Heart

Podcast S1 | Ep3: Change of Heart

Grotto

Finding Healing and Joy through Art

Finding Healing and Joy through Art

Grotto

newsletter

We’d love to be pals.

Sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll meet you in your inbox each week.