I hurt for a long time because of childhood sexual abuse. Now I want to provide a safe place for hurting men to connect with other survivors of sexual abuse. Talk to us. You don't have to use your real name to share your experiences or ask questions.

How Do I Love?

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?


Pippi said...

22 is younger than you think. Don't give up just because it hasn't happened yet. Your life is truly just beginning.

Anonymous said...


People's hearts and minds sometimes shut down after someone has experienced a severe trauma. Emotions flatline because it would hurt too much to experience them fully. It's a survival technique and it probably helped you get through an awful time and allowed you to do whatever it was that you were suppossed to be doing: school, work, etc.

You may think it's strange, but a lot of people shut down and feel numbed out after they go through something terrible. You are by no means alone.

People who have shut down don't usually begin to feel emotions like love again (or sadness or anger) until they are strong enough and healthy enough. I think it's very, very good that you want to. Wanting to is the first step.

I got professional help and it has helped me enormously. I can tell my psychiatrist things I do not feel comfortable telling anyone else and she is morally and professional obligated to keep the contents of our sessions private. The only time a psychiatrist can tell anyone what is happening is if you are actively homicidal or suicidal.

If you do seek help, the first thing I think you should do is be evaluated for depression. Your inability to give or receive love could definitely be a symptom. I have suffered wretchedly from depression in the past but I am on medication and in therapy. They have both helped me immensely.

Depression can hold you in a death grip and suck the life out of anyone. It can and will keep you from feeling alive. If you are suffering from it, you need to get professional help and treatment before will be able to really experience any happy or pleasurable emotion.

Treatment can and does work. My life is proof of that.

I really believe that that is the first step you should take but be prepared: the doctor who evaluates you will probably ask you whether or not you were abused as a child. You should answer honestly but you do not have to elaborate if you don't feel ready. A simple "yes" will do if that's all you want to say.

If you do need treatment for depression, make that your first priority. As your depression lifts, you will be able to experience a whole range of emotions that are out of reach right now.

Whether or not you are suffering from clinical depression (only a doctor can diagnose and treat you), I think it is great that you were able to reach out to someone and tell him what happened to you. That is a very hard, scary thing to do and I am proud of you. Please be proud of yourself, too.

Something else that's really helped me has been keeping a journal and writing in it almost every day. You don't have to start off with anything deep or upsetting to start out: the beginning of my first journal is filled with entries like "Today was boring." and "I hate the subway."

I wrote a lot of very dull, mundane stuff like that for a long time but it got me in the habit of putting my thoughts onto paper and I was able to write about the abuse when I was ready. It has been and still is a big help.

I would also suggest that you read "Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse" by Carolyn Ainscough and Kay Toon. They also wrote a companion workbook that I've found very helpful but read the first book first and don't begin the workbook until you feel up to it.

There a are also a few good books that are specifically for men who have been abused, such as:

Victims No Longer by Mike Lew

Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims Of Sexual Abuse by Mic Hunter

Broken Boys/Mending Men by Stephen D. Grubman-Black

(I happen to be a woman, but I know some very strong, courageous men who were abused as children in addition to having gone through it myself.)

My heart goes out to you and I have been where you are now. You may find it hard to believe, but things can and do get better. Pippi is right: time is on your side and while you may not feel very hopeful yet, we are both hopeful for you.

I wish you the best of luck and a future filled with love, health and happiness.

Stormie Gale said...

It can be enormously difficult to overcome the impact of abuse-yet it is possible. Your worth and who you are Joe, is not locked in your past experience. It is perhaps challenging for you to give and accept love-because you've dismissed whatever you've ever known of love-betrayal by a loved one can certainly do that.

I commend you for opening yourself to this blog-as it demonstrates your desire for help. Permit time and patience with yourself, and the situation to take place.

Counsel can serve as powerful outlet for expression and release. The little that you gain through counsel, determine to make use of it Joe. No matter how seemingly small-make use of insightful information-step by step is a step forward-it makes a difference.

I too have known the very thoughts that you express-being tired of being tired of being tired...persuaded me to seek healing.

Grace before you Joe. Know that God nor the universe has singled you out for a life of distortion, confusion or emptiness. You can come to know life and meaning-despite your past experience.

You are loved, you have always been loved...you will always be


Stormie Gale said...

Knowing that we are loved can be hard to accept-especially when questions regarding pain and abuse go unanswered; yet, it is the turning point that ushers in closure-self-acceptance, purpose and healing~


TomsVOICEToday said...

I had exactly the same experience as Joe. It seemed like I could never initiate and sustain a long-term relationship. During the process of healing, I discovered that I didn't have bad boundaries; I had no boundaries. Having suffered sexual abuse as a child, I learned early that just about anything was acceptable as behavior. I heard all the words about proper behavior, but saw few live examples. As a result I learned what I saw and not what I heard.

I also found that, since I had no boundaries, I was always unclear where I started and stopped and where others started and stopped. In the beginning there was a lot of "inappropriate boundary crossing" and that damaged ever relationship I tried to establish. In some ways I was simply out of control and didn’t truly understand it. I guess “normal” can mean different things to different people.

Realizing, as an adult, that this would not work, I went to the other extreme and built such rigid and impervious boundaries that I never got out and no one ever got in. I was in the crowd, but totally isolated and alone.

My breakthrough came when I attended a support group for adult survivors of child sexual abuse. It was an amazing experience. I walked in with a lot of preconceived notions, none of which became a reality. As I listened to others tell their story, and as I finally told mine, I realized that it was the first time I had truly broken my silence. I had talked to many counselors, but they were obligated to confidentiality. Really breaking my silence gave me an amazing sense of freedom. I learned a lot that night and at subsequent meetings. I learned how to speak openly, candidly and honestly in that group. Slowly it helped me restore my trust in people. I learned to let emotions out and express feelings (although I admit, I still haven't cried in over 50 years). By sharing completely, the secrets had less of a hold on me, I realized I had no responsibility in the abuse and the shame was not mine. These steps helped me see the reality of my childhood events.

After all of this you are wondering when I am going to address the real issue--feelings and love. That is now. Going through the process of making friends, learning who I could trust and who I could not, avoiding the instinct to feel responsible for every bad event that happened in a relationship and learning that I DID have important contributions to make to a relationship were all eye-opening for me. My process to “feel” and to “love” was incremental. I have many honest and true friends today and my relationship with my wife, son and daughter, has never been better.

Part of this process had to do with “expectations”. When I stopped having expectations of how people would react or treat me, I let them be themselves. I could see them more clearly and see if they were people I wanted in my life. To summarize my path I would say the following:
• I needed to see myself honestly and clearly
• I needed to not burden my interactions with others with my expectations of what/how they should be
• Trust cam long before “feelings” and “love”
• In the beginning I tested “trust” because of my fear. I have learned that I no longer need to have that fear
• Love for family and friends is different, but always built on trust
• I am more open today about my life, my feelings and my passions and this has made me more open to others and allowed them to see the real me and decide if the mutual bond of trust and healthy/appropriate affection is there.

Anonymous said...

JOE, dude:


Here's something you have to realize now that your'e an adult.

You are now your own man. EVERYTHING you learned about life in your childhood is WRONG. PERIOD.

You have to almost "re-parent" yourself. This is something I didn't realize until I was 40.

I used to apolologize for everything, like my desires, wants, needs were all abnormal. Everything from the innocuous (justifying and explaning to my wife why I was watching XMen for the tenth time, when in reality I just liked it, nothing wrong with that), to more "life" stuff, like feeling guilty/having panic attacks when buying myself something like a new pair of boots or jeans or even lunch at a restaurant.

You have NOBODY to answer to but yourself.

Let your "parent self," this new awesome dude named "Daddy Joe" be the new parent to "lil Joe" and you live life how the **** you want.

You were raised on lies, man. Just as I was.

Stay strong, bubba. Youre a helluva lot stronger than you realize and give yourself some credit. Be kind to yourself.

You are loved.

--Survivor in Texas