From a teen in Poland: At the age of 12 I’ve lost my biological father from rapid stroke. I’ve witnessed the moment when the stroke happened and when his body was convulsing on the sofa while I watched and cried terrified. Few years later by my encouragement, my mother have registered on the single dating site. She successfully find this man who might be the beginning of all my next troubles.

Maybe a whole year have passed by and I as a fresh model, was insisting to live in the capital city of Poland as it was easier for me to continue my model career and get a better education. My mother agreed but insisted that I would live with this man that she was in relationship with for a year or some. I agreed. I liked him somewhat.

One of the first red flags was the thought that I had while entering the new “home” do the neighbours think that I am his girlfriend or something? (at the time I was around 16 and he was over 50). My mother was to visit me and him every other weekend or we would visit her (4h ride distance).

At the agency I was constantly encouraged to get “skinnier” and lose weight. Once like every other visit, agency told me to lose some weight. After coming home I told this man about this (he was very invested in my losing-weight journey as in many other things e.g. school). He proposed to me this massaging machine and told me that it might help. So I took it and tried to massage the front and back of my lower part of the body (hips, thighs). Throughout the days he have been insisting to help me with massaging myself because I “could not do this properly myself”. I rejected his offer once or twice but at the end I gave up. So there I was, laying down on the bed while he was putting oil and massaging my legs with this massaging machine. I had shorts on and thrown over towel on the shorts. Yet I felt naked. I tried to do something on my phone or talk to him. Just to break the silence. The worst part was when he was massaging me near my private places and between the legs with this thing.

I want to underline that he never penetrated me or anything. And because of that I am so confused. Because it wasn’t and abuse now was it? After that it maybe occurred few times more. I remember that I just wanted to tell my mother what have happened but I just brushed it off.

After that on the spectrum of years I have suffered from depression, suicidal thoughts and failing at committing suicide, self-harm, thinking I was a male; suffering from gender dysphoria (I still would like to change gender), suffering from Ptsd and recently at age 19, being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. In the meantime I was having non major eating disorders, undiagnosed and untold. I am currently on antidepressants and recently I got myself drunk and cut my leg by scissors.

The fact of potential abuse and Asperger syndrome is constantly on my mind. I want to tell my mother and my therapist is encouraging it but I don’t think she can can handle it. I am living alone at my apartment now so I don’t have to see very often that garbage that this man is. I hate him yet I don’t think my feelings are.. valid or legit? I am confused.

Yes. Your feelings are absolutely valid. Abuse isn’t always about penetration. Abuse is about the violation of boundaries — in this case the boundary between an adolescent and an adult man who was in a position of authority. He was supposed to be acting as a “stepfather” who would protect and support you while you were at a distance from your mom. Instead, this man crossed boundaries that should not have been crossed. He was far too interested in your body. Massaging you crossed a line. Your discomfort mattered. He knew you didn’t like it, but he persisted in doing it. Instead of questioning the agency’s demand that you lose weight, he joined in on the pressure. These are not the behaviors of a protective father figure.

And — very important — don’t blame yourself! You were only 12 when your father died. You were still managing that grief. At 16, you were insecure and didn’t have enough experience in the world to understand your rights for privacy and this man’s responsibility to maintain boundaries. The blows to your self-esteem by the modeling agency made you even more vulnerable. (In my opinion, the insistence of weight loss contributed to your eating disorders now.)

Please listen to your therapist. You shouldn’t have to see this man at all and your mother needs to understand that. I do have one suggestion: If you don’t think you can handle talking to your mother on your own, consider asking the therapist to meet with you and your mom together for that conversation. A therapist can provide a safe place to talk about difficult things.

Meanwhile, I hope you will share your entire letter with your therapist. You are suffering from multiple traumas. If you haven’t told your therapist what you told me about the various ways you are unsuccessfully coping (eating disorder, cutting, getting drunk), you really need to do so. She can’t give you as much help as you need and deserve unless she has your whole story.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie