On the Road to Recovery – How Male Sexual Abuse Survivors Can Heal

While all forms of victimization are traumatic and life-changing to any gender, survivors of male childhood sexual abuse have the greatest challenges. Much of the literature on sexual abuse and trauma focuses on only women as victims. This isn’t an accident, there are also countless resources for female survivors dealing with trauma from sexual abuse and rape. However, men are often left out of the equation for several reasons, ranging from sheer ignorance to denial to disbelief. It also arises from our culture not providing any room for a boy or man as victim. Nevertheless, men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and rape are out there and their isolation is compounding their trauma. 

Recovery from trauma is possible-and even empowering-but it takes tremendous courage, perseverance and understanding on the part of both the survivor and his loved ones. It’s not an easy road but it is unbelievably rewarding because when you commit to the process you ultimately commit to a journey of self-discovery. Below are tips you should keep in mind:

First Thing Is to Admit What You Went Through Still Affects Your Life

Many survivors don’t want to believe that the abuse happened, let alone admit that it is affecting their lives in any way. But repressed memory is not a memory that has gone away, it is still there beneath the surface and it plays out as symptoms both physically and emotionally in the survivors’ lives. Denial is very powerful, and because of the stigmas mentioned above, admitting the effects of sexual abuse is almost an insurmountable task. Fortunately, or unfortunately, timing is everything. But the sooner you admit to how the abuse is affecting you the better.

You Are Not Alone: Join a Community for Survivors

One of the most powerful tools is a support group, where you become a member of a group that really understands what you are going through. Finding your way to this is empowering: You will be heard and believed. It’s a validation and justification of your experiences, with the tools to help you recover. 

Ask for Help: Find a Good Therapist

Most advocacy and healing-based organizations not only have a referral list but also detail how to go about finding the therapist that is right for you. Do not be afraid or hesitate to “phone interview” a potential therapist if that is what you feel you should do, in fact you alone know what you need so it’s important you ask questions about the therapists services, putting right up front what the situation is to make sure that they have therapeutic experience in the subject and to determine if it will meet your specific needs. For spouses: if your husband’s trauma is affecting your family but at the same time he is not ready, find a therapist who can give you the tools to help with the issues you may be encountering.

Examine Your Self-Destructive Behaviors

Suffering is something we all feel we cannot bear, and most victims seek out things they think will take the pain away. The pain can become intolerable and you will do anything to make those feelings disappear. And that is really the origin of what happens in human pathology. People take drugs to make it disappear, and they cut themselves to make it disappear, and they have sex with anyone who comes along to make it disappear and once you have these horrible sensations in your body and in your mind, you’ll do anything to make it go away. This practice of “self-medicating” merely dulls the pain and does not take it away. These are usually self-destructive behaviors, also caused by self-loathing. Why punish yourself in addition to what someone did to you?

Let Go: Forgive Yourself

No-one is ever ruined for life, even though it may feel helpless and impossible. The mantra needs to be: “It was not my fault, I have no reason to be ashamed” Every day is a new beginning, it’s never too late to bet on yourself and seek/take measures to take back power and control over your life. You must believe that you can take your life back. Don’t endow the person responsible for this with continued power over you-you can break away. The only one holding you back is you.

Turn Adversity into Strength.

The remarkable thing is that although abuse carries with it a loss of identity and sense of self, as you heal you will begin to discover parts of yourself that will help you build a new identity. Yes, mourn the loss of not having the luxury of knowing who you could have become if the abuse didn’t happen, but also believe in the reality that you can become somebody with what you currently have or what is left. In the end, the question you should answer is, would you like to find out who? What you will learn from this will make you a more powerful person. Survivors are often very creative, what gift do you have? 

It Takes Time: Understand That Recovery Is an Ongoing Process

Unfortunately, recovery does not happen overnight-it’s a process that builds on itself because sexual assault is a developmental trauma especially when it’s not addressed immediately. You must also realize that for every two steps forward, there might be one step back. It’s okay to feel unhappy or frustrated at the setbacks that might happen, but also celebrate and focus on the forward movement. It is not an easy road, a lot depends on how supportive your loved ones are, timing, patience, humor, perseverance and love, but most of all hope-hope to believe that all things are possible, and you’ll be fine no matter what. 

Come out of hiding. Embrace what you went through. Seek help. Commit to the healing process. You can be who you were meant to be.

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