Q:I have so many symptoms of sexual abuse in my past, but I can’t remember anything for certain, like who did it. It is driving me crazy and the older I get the more it bothers me, sexually with my husband. I am 26. Will I ever remember who did these things?

Example of my symptoms are: I feel very dirty when touched sexually or have a sexual thought, I have had horrible nightmares of being raped since age four or five, I was sexually focused at early age, and I have many more. Help.

A: First of all, yes, your symptoms are certainly suggestive of sexual abuse. And I’m sorry you ever had to endure something so awful for anyone, and especially for a young child.

There are various ways people remember sexual abuse incidents that occurred in childhood. The most common ways the memories come to us are through visualizations (like your nightmares) and sounds (especially sounds that unreasonably frighten us).

There are also “body memories,” like the way you feel when you are touched sexually. These memories need to be understood for what what they are, and for what they are not. For instance, nightmares of being raped might only contain one or two elements of the actual scene from the abuse, and all the other elements of the nightmares might be essentially irrelevant. The same goes for body memories. You might jump a bit when your husband touches you from behind, for instance – just because you didn’t see it coming. But if you want the sex to go well, and you want to enjoy the touch, but you still jump when you are touched and you see it coming, that particular type of touch may be related.

You don’t mention therapy, but a good therapist who understands about sexual abuse issues will be able to help you sort the meaningful elements of your memories from the less important ones. But it sure does seem to me that you do have memories.

For the moment, however, why do you need to know who did it? If you never find out who did it, but you can heal from your related symptoms, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

The person who did it could be a stranger, or it could be someone you just don’t want to think of in such a way. Maybe some day you will feel safe enough to remember more about who did it, but today you still need to overcome and heal from the horrible way you were treated by “someone.”

Please see a therapist and ask them to help you with your healing, regardless of the amount of detail in your visualizations, in your reactions to sounds, and in your body memories.

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