Forgotten Men – Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Be a man. Keep a stiff upper lip. Suck it up. Shake it off.
These are just some of the things that sexually abused men are afraid to hear. It is little wonder why most remain silent sufferers their whole lives. At least one in six men has experienced childhood sexual abuse. That statistic does not even include non-contact experiences (such as voyeurism, exposure to child pornography and voyeurism) which can also have a lasting effect on a survivor’s psyche.
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse in Adult Men
Here are some of the most prominent effects that male survivors of childhood sexual abuse can face in their adult life:
Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse deny they have been abused. Many may believe they were victimized because they were unable to protect themselves. In a world where masculinity is heralded and vulnerability is seen as a weakness, many male victims deny they were ever sexually abused. The truth is that many cannot face the fear, pain and shame that comes with admitting sexual abuse and acknowledging the traumatic memories. Denial is a double-edged sword in this case. While it may provide temporary relief for victims, it slowly eats away at the survivor’s self-esteem. With time, it can lead to a complete mental shutdown or collapse.
Let’s get one thing straight here. Your pain and experiences are VALID. Admitting that someone you loved hurt and betrayed you in such a vile way is difficult. Pretending it never happened is one way you may protect yourself. It's a defensive mechanism.
Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to experience long term depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and volatile bursts of anger. Many report extended periods of unhappiness and feelings of empty numbness. This is understandable. Many male survivors grow up with a distorted sense of their own worth. They believe they are unlovable and worthless. Many male survivors are unable to process their emotions and turn to numbing strategies like alcohol, painkillers and opioids to numb the pain. Unfortunately, these strategies often have an equally harmful side effect – as they numb the survivor to other experiences and feelings like empathy and self-love. Not all male survivors turn to substance abuse to numb their pain. Some engage in adrenaline-dopamine behaviors which give them a temporary psychological high. These include:
● Social networking, chatting.
● Risky activities such as boxing, racing etc.
● Self-harm through cutting, comfort eating etc.
Dealing With Thoughts of Sexual Abuse
Tragically, you cannot go back and change what happened, but you can move forward by starting to process and work through experience. Admitting and facing your reality will begin to ease the pain. Here are some coping strategies that can help alleviate the anxiety and stress of the painful memories.
Anticipate and prepare for triggers
Some of the common triggers that male survivors of childhood sexual abuse face include people or places they associate with their experience (such as a bedroom, or any place where they were abused) as well as certain sights, sounds and smells that remind them of the abuse experience. Be aware of what can trigger those memories.
Pay attention to your body and reaction
When you are triggered and feel stressed or unsafe, listen to your body. You may feel stressed, unknowingly hold your breath, experience racing thoughts, panic attacks, or nausea. You may even feel lightheaded. First, acknowledge that these reactions are not in response to any current danger or threat, but connected to unprocessed past emotions and feelings
Once you are aware of your reactions, take measures to address them. For example, if unpleasant memories trigger a panic attack, calm yourself as quickly as you can with self-regulating activities.
One of the ways to do that is with deep breathing exercises. Inhale slowly while counting to four, then exhale while counting to five. Do this as many times as required until your parasympathetic nervous system regulates. Once you are comfortable with this breathing exercise, use it during panic attacks till your heart rate normalizes and you calm down.
You can also self-regulate by visualizing a panic attack as a wave. Imagine yourself riding it till it reaches the shore or calm waters. Anticipate the wave passing and reducing in intensity as it crests. As you experience that wave, remind yourself that just because you are riding it doesn’t mean that you cannot swim. Practice this technique for every anxiety or panic attack you experience till it becomes second nature.
The worst thing you can do is suppress your feelings. It will do more harm than good. With time and work , those negative thoughts and emotions will begin to lessen as you process them. . You deserve to be happy. Start with yourself and maintain healthy boundaries from the naysayers. Become an observer so you can take stock of the emotions running through you without letting them overwhelm you. It will get easier with time.
Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse deserve as much love, attention and concern as other genders. Safe Place for Men was created as a nonjudgmental haven where survivors can work through their pain and experiences with competent help. Our online program is designed to transform the survivor’s life via personal development and growth. If you have queries, get in touch with us today! Realize your dreams and potential and overcome your trauma with our help.