Stigma is a mark of disgrace or infamy, a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation. It's a definition that male survivors of childhood sexual abuse know and instinctively feel. Acknowledging being a victim of sexual abuse equates to admitting to not being a man. In a society conditioned and driven by tenets of men being in power and having control, there is little room for victimhood, even if it's a reality of our world.
The need to be seen "as a man" and live up to the Marlboro Man's rugged portrait leaves many of us feeling guilty for the victimization experience. As logical as it appears, even with understanding a child's undeveloped brain during the assault. Or we are discussing the brain circuitry of freezing, flight, fighting, or fawning that took place. Emotionally we are crippled, lying in a fetal position questioning our manliness to stop the perpetrator. Supposing we didn't live up to the masculinity requirements to protect and defend.
This stigma, mark or sense of shame often plagues us and is assigned to us in a world that questions us, "Aren't you over that trauma yet? That was years ago." It's a dilemma. The gazes, whispers, and unspoken locker room code states, "You are a man, not a victim. Both cannot exist in the same universe." One or the other, but not both. If you accept your reality of sexual victimization, you forfeit the prize of being in control, being a man. Once again complex. During the betrayal, our minds made mental adjustments necessary to survive. Perhaps, an adjustment or belief that branded us as the cause or deserving due to an innate lack of masculinity. Or believing our inaction served as a passive voluntary consent.
How do we erase the stigma?
How do we end this internal conflict?
Instead of accepting the conditioned socialized definition of being a man, we must mediate and redefine these images. Marlboro Man, Superman, Thor, or the rugged cowboy were images that have been around for a long time. They represent pictures and portraits of what others dictate as manhood. We have several choices, but only two will give us a sense of completeness.
We can alter our reality. I've experienced men who rewrite history. They change the event assigning it benign significance or simply denying its existence in adulthood. I faintly remember research eons ago that showed men shifting views of unwanted abuse from negative to positive or less impactful.
Give up. This means we accept society's definitions of masculinity and accept that we will never live up to them. We withdraw and isolate ourselves.
Reactive aggressiveness. Struggling for a sense of masculinity, we blindly go overboard. We become hypermasculine. We attempt to dominate, control, and subjugate everything and anyone. Unknowingly, we identify with our abuser. We become tyrannical managers at work, bossy husbands and fathers, or demeaning dictators of anything that seems less than masculine. I guess, in today's terms, we call it toxic masculinity.
Reflective assertiveness. If you've experienced my leadership coaching, you understand my distinction between aggressive and assertive. In the realm, we are conscious of the betrayal and are ready to seek help. There's no need to alter reality, give up, ignore, react, or soothe our pains with compulsive addictions. Most of the men I coach find themselves on this path, leading us toward Redefining masculinity. This involves changing our idea of what it means to be a man. We realistically redefine the tenets of masculinity. We knock down the myths of men always being in control, never being victims, seeing that vulnerability, and acknowledging the reality of our sexual abuse as signs of strength. Here, we develop flexible, adaptable, and new concepts of true masculinity based on character.