I have a bit of a problem. It’s not a huge one, but I’d like to get past it. A long time ago (maybe 15 years ago or more), I had a dream that my dad was molesting me. Now, I love my dad, and I have nothing but respect for him. I know he would never do anything like that to me. But right after the dream I started to feel uncomfortable around him. If I sat next to him on the couch, I’d sit at the other end and keep a pillow between us. If he went to hug me, I’d want to pull away. I would especially hate it when he’d kiss my cheek. On my wedding day (I’m divorced now that’s another story), he kissed me on my mouth so as not to mess my makeup, he said. I pulled away and tried to make the kiss land on my cheek. I know he didn’t mean anything by it, but it bothered me. The situation has gotten a little better over the years, but I’m still bothered if he sits too close to me or tries to hug me.
It’s a problem because my dad is a very affectionate person by nature. All my life I’ve always been a daddy’s girl (my mom died when I was young). Now that I’m an adult, he and I are like good friends. I want it to stay that way, but I need to get over this dislike of being touched. What can I do?
Wow. I don’t get to say this often, but I don’t believe I’ve heard this one before. There’s a similar phenomenon the friend or coworker sex dream, usually starring someone completely inappropriate or out-of-the-question that does come up pretty often. Unlike your supercreepy version, of course, the coworker sex dream is at least kind of funny, although it can have oddly lingering effects: you find yourself glancing speculatively at the dream object, against all common sense, or blushing furiously when said coworker brushes your shoulder in the corridor on the way to the break room.
Yours, though, is more like a dream I had when I was five or so, in which my grandmother (in real life, batty and irritating but harmless) was trying to poison me. I gave her a wide berth for weeks, and I distinctly remember refusing food she offered (not a bad idea in general, come to think of it, with that particular grandma). But lady, 15 years of feeling weird about your poor old dad? That’s plenty, already. Good god, let it go.
I know, I know, you want to. If giving yourself a stern talking-to before a visit with dad reminding yourself that nothing bad ever happened between you and therefore nothing bad will happen if you let him hug you doesn’t work and neither does deep breathing or stiff drinking, it’s time to call in the pros. I’m pretty sure a short course of cognitive-behavioral therapy would be of use to you. CBT (this abbreviation always startles me, since I doubt very much you’d be interested in cock and ball torture) is based on the belief that the way we think determines the way we feel: change the thoughts and you change the feelings. You seem like a good candidate, given that what’s going on with you is 100 percent internal and that nothing your father has done or could do could affect things in the slightest. You really do need to change the way you think, don’t you think?
If CBT sounds too, I dunno, therapy-y to you, you might consider hypnotherapy, guided relaxation-meditation, or even EMDR, which I spent half a column making fun of just a few weeks back (3/7/07). It doesn’t matter, really. They all work OK. Just do something. This is a really stupid way to be broken, so get it fixed.
There is one word of caution I don’t feel like including here but suppose I must: be very sure of whom you’re talking to before you tell a therapist that you feel creeped out at the slightest physical contact with your father. Recovered memory may no longer be the "it" diagnosis (serious memory research having put the kibosh on that hogwash), but a therapist would not have to be an ’80s-style witch-hunting hysteric to wonder if there might be anything going on here besides a 15-year-old dream with no more basis in reality than the one I had about my grammy in the basement with a sandwich. I believe you that nothing bad happened, but when you add in the early widowerhood and all, you’ve got to admit that there are people who would hear this story and look at you funny. Just don’t be shocked if they do.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.