The first step in healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse is using your voice. It starts with saying these words out loud for the first time: “I was sexually abused by…” to a person or persons (group) where there is no shaming, no doubtful questions, nobody asking if you are sure. Once abuse is talked about, the secret is out. The most frequent harm experienced by survivors of sexual abuse is the lack of trust and the heavy burden of shame. This is a tricky time; some men dump and run. In other words, they build up the courage to tell someone, then panic and never come back, only to bury the shame again or act it out, using drugs and/or alcohol, compulsive masturbation, porn, gambling, eating, or spending money. You name it, the trigger hits and off they go. No one likes the feeling of shame; it feels terrible, as though you are the most defective person on the planet.
Freedom from shame; is it possible to be truly free from shame? For the most part, yes, it is. That being said, it does not mean a man won’t get triggered sometimes, but there are tools to learn to get back to the present and reassure him that the negative message in his head is not true and he can then reinforce his positive qualities. Shame comes from the boy feeling he should have been able to stop the abuse, or never let it happen in the first place. Men have told me the abuse was their fault even though they were only six when it happened. Why do men blame themselves for being sexually abused? How could a six year old defend himself against a grown man? Men are constantly told that to be a real man they have to buck up, don’t cry, don’t act like a girl, don’t ever be weak and protect their siblings and themselves, and now let’s add: be prepared to die for your country. Put all this together and boys, with these words and ideas going around in their heads, feel like they must have somehow caused the abuse to happen.
Our society is just beginning to awaken to the truth, just beginning. I still hear these phrases all the time. “ Men just get over it” “It happened so long ago, why should it affect me now” “It was my fault” and even “How can a boy be sexually abused?” It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t hear these words from some mental health workers as well. The statistics are one in three girls and one in four boys will be sexually abused by the age of eighteen. Why are we, as a society, not up in arms about this? Is it because no one wants to talk about it, or face the truth that we are failing our children?
Once a survivor speaks up, and gets validation from a group of men who have been through the same issues, he feels like there is hope. In our group of male survivors when a new man joins the group he usually says, “I thought I was the only one this happened to.” Newcomers are surprised to see that they are not alone. What happens next is that the men in our group become brothers, they support each other, encourage each other to do their work, and collaborate on difficult issues. It is heartwarming to see.
Freedom comes from telling your story, being validated that you are not alone, and working on ways to heal. Healing modalities include individual and group therapy, reading, journaling, inner family dialog work, psychodrama, and inner child work.
Some helpful websites include: malesurvivor.org, ithappenstoboys.org, 1inSix.org, courageoushealers.org, creativechangeconferences.com, frogsandsnailsandmobstertales.com
Our Ninth Annual It Happens to Boys Conference will be on 24 March, 2017 at the Westin Hotel, Austin, Texas. We are excited to partner with the Arbor to bring to the community quality education about helping men who have been abused.