This month resident counsellor Douglas Holwerda answers the questions of a Vietnamese woman who was sexually abused as a child.

Dear Douglas,


I am a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman. I hope you can help me. When I was a child, I was sexually molested at different times by three men. It was when I was six, nine and 11 years old. I never told anyone what happened to me. I have never had a boyfriend, even though at times I have had a crush on someone. I have always been too afraid to get close. I am afraid I will have to tell him that I was sexually molested and that he wouldn’t want me. I am also afraid to have someone touch me because I think it will remind me of what happened with those men.


For a long time I have ignored this problem, instead focusing on work and other things. But now my family is pressuring me to find a husband and to have children. I cannot tell them what happened and do not want to disappoint my parents. My mother will feel sad if I do not become a mother. I am not sure that I want a husband or children, but it is difficult to be single in Vietnam. Sometimes I feel so confused and lost that I cannot sleep and think over the same things again and again. What should I do?


— Lost


Dear Lost,


I am glad that you are looking for support and ways to feel better, even when you are facing difficult things from your life. I can give you some ideas, but these are issues that can best be addressed in therapy, where you have more time and understanding to resolve the past and the fears that it brings up in you now.


It is the responsibility of adults to protect children, so when an adult sexually violates a child it makes it difficult for a child to know who and how to trust. You are living with a secret that causes isolation and fear. It makes trusting another with intimacy more difficult to do.


One of the aspects of therapy is to first understand and to become aware of what is going on in a person’s inner life. You are able to realize that it is fear that is keeping you from seeking out a partner. Your fears are a predictable result of having been violated. They are part of how you have learned to protect yourself. But they also cause a conflict, because, like most people, you want the freedom to decide what is right for you — to have a partner and a family, or not. The fears become an obstacle, a mountain that blocks the way in which you can see what is right for you.


So, sometimes we have a mountain to climb to overcome our fears. We have to face them and go through the feeling, to take the risk, in order to gain the control of our life. It is not fair that you should have to do this because the cause of your fear is not your fault. You have the right to be angry and frustrated that this mountain is in your way, but you did nothing to put it there. But to avoid it is also a risk that you will not know what is right for you because you cannot know what is on the other side of the mountain.


To face fears alone is difficult. A psychologist is one person who can help you to understand what is realistic in the ways that you decide for yourself what to do, and when to do it. Overcoming fears is difficult, but is also a way that we can feel a certain kind of reward for ourselves. To overcome sexual abuse is to take back the life that is ours and to not let the abuse we have experienced steal more from us than it already has.


Maybe many people in your life will never know what you have to overcome. It is your personal journey. It is up to you to find your way. But do not feel that you have to do it alone. Seek the support from someone who knows about this and knows how to encourage and support you to face the challenges that are part of your life.


I wish you well,


— Douglas


Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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