Dear Carolyn: When I was 18, I rented a room from my friend’s family. What I know happened is that one night when I came home, my friend’s father was waiting for me, naked. I was able to avoid him and walk straight into my bedroom and pretend it never happened. What I suspect also happened another time was that he drugged and raped me.
I had enough doubt and denial that I continued to pretend nothing happened for years. I was able to interact with my friend and deal with seeing her father on rare occasions I had to.
The past few years, this has become more and more difficult. When my friend calls or texts, I can’t stop thinking about what happened 10 years ago. I’m fearful her father is nearby, and I don’t want him to know anything about me. So I’ve stopped responding to her.
She has started asking my family about me and continues to try to contact me. I don’t want to hurt her or make her think she did anything wrong. But I’m not comfortable telling her the truth. I’m afraid she’ll gaslight me. I’m afraid she’ll tell her family and they’ll all gaslight me.
Is it okay to continue to ghost her? Is there a way I can tell her to stop contacting me without telling her the truth or making her feel like she did something wrong?
— Feeling Trapped, Scared, and Sad
Feeling Trapped, Scared, and Sad: What a sick feeling to have to carry around with you. I am so sorry that happened to you.
The issue of your friend is important and worth exploring, but even with her persistence — some thoughts on that in a moment — it’s still not as urgent as your emotional health. That’s what your body is telling you with its repetitive thoughts. It’s asking you to get some help dealing with it and finding ways to feel safe again.
There is infrastructure for this, and it’s free: The National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org) and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (rainn.org) will hear you out and refer you as needed to ongoing local care.
Self-care supersedes friend care. However, just as you left your trauma unaddressed, ghosting someone leaves an emotional rupture unaddressed, which can not only preempt healing but also prolong or intensify pain — for both of you. You don’t need to revive the friendship or tell her the truth, certainly not before you’re ready, or not ever. Your call. But a quick, “It’s not you. I have stuff to work out. Thank you in advance for respecting that,” would be a kindness to you both, pressing pause on the renewable stress of her outreach.
About her persistence, which could be lovely or telling or both:
At face value, she cares about you a lot. If true, that is a promising counterweight to your fear she will gaslight you. (Unless she’s done this to you or others, in which case, bye!)
Beneath the surface, it seems possible she has picked up more about her dad’s predation than you realize, and suspects he’s connected to your silence.
That doesn’t mean she’d be a sympathetic confidante; she’ll have her own process for sure. However, her possible role in your recovery — and yours in hers — are points at least to consider (in due time) in the secure confines of therapy. Plus she might have children, nieces, nephews someday.
The larger point being, you have opportunities to replace past denial and current terror with exploration and healing you direct. Grab the reins, make the call and take care.
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