My girlfriend can't stand it when I touch her

My girlfriend was abused as a child. Now, if I hug or touch her in any kind of way she says she feels as if she is being abused as a child. What might be going on?

Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

Was your gf always this way with you or did her withdrawal develop suddenly?

Also, are there any other changes going on between the two of you in terms of feeling relaxed and at ease with each other, enjoying each other?

Its possible her physical withdrawal, due to her sensitive nature about who touches her and the meaning of touch, reflects an underlying emotional hesitation about her feelings toward you.

This can be either strong positive or negative feelings.

She may be fearful of becoming more intimately attached to you, and withdraws.

She may be actually withdrawing and expresses herself through the amount of touch she wants from others.

Best way forward as almost always in a relationship, is to have a gentle conversation to open up the tension between the two of you.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Erin Pritchard, MA, LPCC-S
Erin Pritchard, MA, LPCC-S
Sea Glass Counseling and Consultation

Sounds like she might be triggered and having a trauma response. This is normal for folks who've experienced trauma. The part of our brains that detects "danger" acts like a smoke alarm in our house: it's constantly scanning for threats and makes a bunch of noise if it detects one. Smoke alarms can't distinguish between smokey bacon cooking or an actual house fire - they just detect a threat and alert everyone of it. Our brain is similar. Her brain has probably learned that physical touch is dangerous for her, so whatever response she has next is her brain's way of trying to protect her. Particularly with sexual trauma, this can be a really frustrating experience for romantic partners trying to connect physically or sexually. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sarah McIntyre
Sarah McIntyre
Sarah McIntyre, M.Ed., LPC
Thank you for your question.  I think it's wonderful that you are approaching this with openness and curiosity.  

The reaction you are describing is extremely common in survivors of abuse.  What you said is insightful...when you touch her "she feels as if she is being abused as a child."  From your description, I would agree that in those moments she is re-experiencing something that happened in the past as if it is happening right now.  Re-experiencing or reliving traumatic experiences is a key symptom of PTSD.

If you are seeking to better understand what is going on for her, I would highly recommend Bessel van der Kolk's book the Body Keeps the Score.  This book also discusses effective treatments for overcoming trauma.  

Best of luck to both of you,
Sarah
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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