One of the saddest telephone calls I've ever received came from Joe, an Hispanic from the Chicago area. He said he was unable to love—he had known that. But worse, he was unable to receive love.
He emailed me and I gave him permission to call. He said he had met a young woman who claimed to love him and he assumed she did. "I don't hate her, but I can't feel any love for her—not for anybody."
Joe emailed after hearing me on a radio interview about sexual abuse. "It was done to me," he said. ("It" was his constant expression for abuse.)
I don't know how much I helped Joe, but I was aware that his actions as a 22-year-old adult mirrored what he had lived as a child. His attitude seemed to say that he experienced only powerful or powerless relationships. If he didn't exert control, others would "use" him.
"I feel like a zombie," he told me.
I felt sadness for Joe. Being abused prevented him from developing the capacity to express himself. He said he had never been able to talk to anyone about how he felt. "I had to remain silent or get beaten by my older brother who did it to me," he said.
"I want to feel loved; I want to offer love."
Everything I said felt flat and weak to me. As I told a close friend, "My heart went out to him, but I wasn't sure my words offered healing."
Joe has become a lurker on this blog.
What can you say to help Joe?