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.

The Perfect Life (Part 2 of 2)

The speaker referred to “strategies for protection from painful memories.” He talked about unconsciously rewriting childhood history into perfect family memoirs.

Yes, I thought, I was one of them. In seminary we had to take a course in pastoral counseling. The lead professor asked me about my childhood.

“My mother was warm and accepting; my dad was quiet. I had a conventional, happy childhood.” I said more than that—and thought I was telling the truth.

Years later, I was showering and realized I had not seen my family the way they truly were. “My mother was hard-hearted and unloving!” I yelled at my wife. “My dad was mean and brutal!”

Shirley hugged me and said, “Yes. Several times I heard you talk to others about your warm, loving family. I thought your mother was one of the coldest individuals I’ve ever met.”

That opened me up. I had deceived myself (or I could call it lived in denial) and used words like conventional or happy to express my childhood. From that day onward I began to unwrite my family history. A year later, I was able to admit I had been physically, verbally, and sexually assaulted as a child and neither of my parents expressed affection.

When we no longer need the perfect life,
we accept the real one.

The Fantasy Life (Part 1 of 2)

I wonder how many of us had a rich fantasy life. I never thought much about that until recently. I had a vivid imagination and put myself in every kind of troubled, problematic situation and always, always came out victorious.

As a child that fantasizing probably “saved” my life. I learned to pretend, to imagine a happy life where everything was fine. During intense periods of pain, I discovered solace in my fantasy world. In school, I was skinny. Short. Not athletic. One of the two or three kids the captains argued over. “You take him this time. I got stuck with him for the last game.”

My late friend Steve Grubman told me that he invented an imaginary friend who was there for him in those painful times. That was how he coped.

Many of us received temporary peace through our imagination or pretense. And we can look back and be thankful that we could face some of our problems, even if they were only in our imagination.

As I thought about fantasy, I remembered the verses from the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians. The Apostle Paul said that when he was a child he thought and behaved as a child, but after he became an adult, he pushed those things out of his mind.

I still have fantasies, but I’ve noticed in the last 10 years they’re far more benign and rather fun. I focus on events or experiences when I relive a situation and think of what I might have said to make me smug. But I don’t need them any more to escape an impoverished, stolen childhood.

Do you?

Distorted Relationships (Part 5 of 5)

Ron* called it the blame game.

“In our family, we had to find out who was wrong and then we moved on,”

Ron said and pointed out that the blame game had been ingrained in him and his siblings.

He began to date Darlene* (who became his wife), and “during her first visit to my family, she saw that in action. All of it over who left an empty glass on a wooden table.”

“I was stunned because I hadn’t realized what we did to each other.”

“It was like a criminal investigation you might see on TV,” Darlene commented. “Does it make any difference who did it? The effect is the same.”

Those words forced Ron to think about his life and particularly the molestation he went through. “It hit me: I blamed my uncle who abused me.” Finally, Ron stopped focusing on blaming and turned his attention to the effect. The problems were the same, no matter who perpetrated them.

“It sounds like a small thing to many,” he said, “but as long as I played the blame game, I focused my anger on who did it instead of what he did. And it wasn’t just abuse—it was anything that went wrong.”

The blame game diverts our attention so that we don’t try to cope with the results. And it’s the consequences that need examining. That doesn’t absolve the culprit, and forgiving him is another issue to face.

But Ron, like others, spent so much effort on pointing to the guilty, he had no insight into what had happened to him.

Isn’t that the way it sometimes works in our lives? We charge the wrongdoer and don’t move on to ask, “But what has this done to me?”

Distorted Relationships (Part 4 of 5)

“It was all a lie,” Max, a 23-year-old, said to me. He told me of the leader in his church who befriended him when he was 10 years old.

“I was the only boy who didn’t like sports, and my classmates called me ‘faggot,’ even though I didn’t know what the word meant until later.

“The youth leader encouraged me. ‘You’re a nice, sweet kid. Don’t pay attention to what they’re saying.’ He spent time with me and he was the first adult who ever listened to me. After I cried, he hugged me and whispered, ‘It’s all right to cry. Let it go.’

“After that, we started with hugs and I felt so grateful to have a friend. I didn’t like it when he taught me to masturbate him and the other things, but I loved the man so much I would have done anything for him. ‘It’s our secret,’ he said. ‘Just you and me.’

“I thought he really loved me. The church fired him, and he refused to talk with me. So it was all lies. He hurt me, and I thought he truly loved me.”

Max and I met at the 2016 annual conference of “Hope for Wholeness.” He said that occurred during his teens. “For a couple of years I became that faggot my classmates labeled me.”

When Max was 20 years old, he was a miserable drug addict, a college dropout, and isolated from his parents. He attempted to take his own life and obviously didn’t succeed. A wise therapist suggested that he attend the “Hope for Wholeness” conference.

That was three years before we met, and he said that group saved his life and he’s finding others who strengthened him.

“My classmates were wrong about me,” he said. “And for the first time in my life, I’m happy and like who I am.

“I can define myself,” Max said, “And I don’t give anyone else that privilege.”

Distorted Relationships (Part 3 of 5)

“If he hadn’t . . .”

I wonder how many times I’ve heard that statement from survivors. And it’s a true statement. None of us survivors of abuse would be where we are if he or she hadn’t done something to us.

It’s easy to blame them and say, “It’s all their fault.” And yes, it was their fault. They did it to us. We can stand as accusers every day of our lives and the statement will still be true.

And we’ll still be miserable.

Or we can make that our starting point toward healing. If we continue to focus on blame, we trap ourselves inside a cycle of negative, destructive thinking.

Why not say the sentence this way? “Even though she . . . ,” and we focus on our healing journey.

This is where my faith (despite being shaky at times) reminds me of a loving, compassionate God, who desires to heal me. I can point to a number of individuals who embodied the kindness and love I needed and embraced me.

I began this blog in 2010 to reach out to hurting men who could remain anonymous if they chose, but I wanted them to read about the healing that’s possible. I stand as one sexually, physically, and verbally assaulted kid who has traveled down that healing path.

I’m not quite healed,

but I’m getting close.

Distorted Relationships (Part 2 of 5)

“I have an inner circle—myself.”

Of all the things the man said, that’s all I remember. It took place in a meeting where I was the guest speaker, and several people responded to various questions about being open with a few people. I had suggested they establish an inner circle—a cadre of people they could trust, such as two or three individuals.

The man admitted that he had never had a close friend, and “I used sex as a way to achieve love.” He added, “For a few minutes I felt good, but afterward I felt worse.

“I can’t open up to anyone because I’m afraid they’ll tell somebody or feel disgusted with me.”

Before I had a chance to respond, the leader of the group said to him, “Several of us felt that way when we first came.”

“Yeah, I was one of them,” another man called out. “But after three meetings here, I learned that some of their junk was worse than mine.”

Another man called out, “One day I opened up and told the group a couple of terrible things I did. No one seemed shocked.” He smiled before he added, “It’s still not easy, but the only way I know to get rid of those fears and inner demons is to tell someone else. And these guys have pulled me out of my self-disgust.”

I could have said many things that evening in response to the man’s confession about isolation, but the other 20-plus men did a splendid job. The next thing I remember saying is, “When you admitted to us about being isolated from everyone else, you were trusting us. We could have told you what a jerk you were, but none did.”

His eyes clouded up, he nodded, and dropped his head into his hands.

One man walked across the room, hugged the newcomer, and said, “I want to be your friend.”

I don’t know the end of that story, but I sensed two things. First, the newcomer opened himself—not a lot, but enough to admit his aloneness. Second, the others nodded, encouraged him, and one of them embraced him.

The healing had begun.

Distorted Relationships (Part 1 of 5)

About a decade ago my friend Gerald Coker died of cancer. What I remember most about our relationship was his attitude toward women. I didn’t know all his history, except that he detested his mother, who was his abuser. I don’t know if there had been sexual assault (he never said, and I never pried).

She had abused him verbally and possibly physically.

The significance of that—and I think it’s often true no matter the form of abuse by a female—is the distorted perception of women in general. Not once did Gerald ever talk about women in a kind or caring tone. He mentioned women he had dated, and he’d say things such as, “I know she’s slept with a dozen men.”

His references weren’t limited to them, but he tagged every woman as immoral. We were still good friends when he married either his third or fourth wife, and she was one of the finest women I’d ever known. He made accusations about her I was sure were wrong, but he insisted he knew the bad things she had done.

That’s what I mean by distorted relationships. One time I said, “You’ve never had a satisfactory relationship with a woman, have you?”

“Not yet,” he answered.

The last I saw Gerald before he moved to another state, had married the woman he had vilified. And I thought, it will never last.

It didn’t.

I tell this about Gerald because he lived and died without facing his distorted view of women. That’s one of the sad results of abuse.

I want to face my pain
because I want to be free from it.

The Impact of Your Story

In a previous blog, I told you the question Paula’s husband asked. She’s a writer, and he asked her a second question: “What kind of impact do you think your story might offer those who’ve been wounded as you have been or who are still living in abusive situations?”

Powerful question, and I answer only for myself. In my case, I faced the molestation and have learned to talk freely about it. Would it make a difference if I specifically revealed the name of my first perpetrator? The only “good” I could see is that I would have been transparent. I don’t think any further revelation would significantly impact readers.

If she were still living, would I confront her? Perhaps. But first I’d have to decide what I expected to gain. If I wanted to force her to admit her acts, I’m not sure she’d do that. Even if she did, so what?

For me, the only reason I can think of for confronting that woman or the elderly pedophile, would be to say something like, “I know what you did, and I’ve come to tell you that I’ve forgiven you.”

My Struggle

(This post comes to us from Mark Cooper.)

I struggle with homosexual attractions, fantasy, and masturbation. Because of my Christian beliefs, I see this as sin.

I have finally admitted a long-seeded desire for revenge, especially against the older brother who abused me. He had more power.

As a “good boy” who grew up to become a man committed to presenting a good front, I stuffed my anger and desire for revenge. Sexual sin has been my drug to dull my anger. Sexual addiction is a result of the deeper issue, my anger.

In a moment of insight I’ve seen an issue that runs even deeper than my anger. That is my experience of being powerless when I was abused.

Every time the truth of my powerlessness hits, I feel terror. I can’t face that terror for longer than a few seconds. Then I pull away from both the reality of the powerlessness and the resulting terror. Anger kicks back in. The layers of self-protection begin again.

Honoring or Protecting?

My friend Paula said her husband asked, “Are you honoring your mother or protecting your abuser?”

In my writings I refer to my first abuser as a female relative—which is true. I’ve not identified her even though she’s now dead. I’ve held back because she has still-living children and grandchildren. I also learned that she, herself, was a survivor of sexual abuse.

I chose not to state her relationship to me—not to protect her and certainly not to honor her. My reason was to avoid tainting her memory in the minds of her children and grandchildren.

Was I right? She died before I faced my childhood and I never had to face whether to confront her. But I’ve chosen to protect her memory in their lives.

More than that, I realized my not revealing her relationship means I’ve forgiven her. That’s what’s important. Even so, occasionally I ask the question: “Are you honoring or protecting your abuser?” I’m learning to say, “It’s neither. I don’t want to destroy others’ faith in her.”

How would you answer the question?

Ramifications

For most of us, sexual abuse wasn’t a one-time event. And yet, the number of times is not the determining factor. Once we’re assaulted—and it can be verbal or physical—the results are similar. As I look back, the physical and verbal abuse might have been even more profound than the sexual.

A major loss is lack of appropriate trust. We read mostly about those who can’t trust anyone. But some of us remained susceptible, almost as if we’re saying, “Take advantage of me.”

Most of the time, naiveté described me. Even today as an adult, people occasionally castigate me for trusting others and call me too trusting. For a long time, my response was, “I can’t help it.”

And for many, many years I couldn’t. I’ve had to work quite hard at questioning the motivations and intentions of others. The other extreme (and more common response) is assuming everyone wants to exploit or hurt us.

One of my survivor-friends said, “I tend to believe everyone until they fail or let me down in some way.” He went on to say that one failure and he’s unable to trust them again. Once hurt, he can’t forget what they’ve done.

Those are all consequences of our stolen and broken childhoods.

§

I’ll pass on something that helped me. When I have any strong sense of faith or doubt about anyone, I try to wait until I can get alone and process it. What was going on inside me, I ask myself, that I had that reaction? Was it my self-protective inner wisdom? Was it the old pattern of willing to be exploited?

Not that an answer pops up immediately, because it rarely does. Instead, the tendency is for me to quote a famous line from the 1943 film, Casablanca, “Round up the usual suspects.”

When I discern that I’m doing that, I try to get with one of my friends to help me discern the truth.

Our abuse has powerful ramifications.
We can learn to defeat our warped understanding.

“Believe in Yourself”

After insisting I could write a book for her publishing house, an editor said, “Believe in yourself.”

She meant well, and I smiled. At the same time, I wondered, And how do I accomplish that? People throw out those empty statements all the time, but they never tell us how.

“Just get over it.”

“Surrender everything to God or your higher power.”

None of them ever says, “And here’s what you have to do.”

I want to believe in myself. I want to believe I can win over every challenge. But it feels as if I’m putting together a complicated gadget and no one included the instructions.

Self-belief doesn’t come easy for some of us. Braggarts, whom people sometimes mistakenly identify as overly self-confident, too often hide behind powerful words. Inside, they’re filled with doubts they try to silence by boasting.

Over the years, I’ve been learning to believe in myself and vanquish the trauma of childhood. Once in a while, flashbacks hit me (not often and not as severe as they did five years ago). Or I’ll reflect on something I did and realize I’ve regressed to an old form of behavior.

But that realization tells me I’ve made progress. Then I say, “Yes, I’m learning to believe in myself.”

Even so, I wish people would stop giving me those empty slogans. I’ve learned to shut up and ignore their advice. One time I did respond to a motivational speaker in a private conversation when he said, “Just believe in yourself.”

“Now tell me how.”

I embarrassed him and he sputtered for several sentences until I decided to help him save face. “Yes, I know it’s my battle, isn’t it?”

Perhaps it’s yours as well. I have no how-to advice, but I sincerely affirm that as I learn to accept God’s love for me and the affection of others, I believe in myself.

It’s not easy to believe in myself, 
but I’m learning.

Me? A Controller?

I doubt that anyone thought of me as a controller—at least no one ever used that term to my face. But I was and learned ways of controlling without appearing to do so.

The first time I became aware of that reality was when I met with a group of professionals in the publishing business. We held a variety of jobs, but all of us were involved with that industry.

We met in a restaurant, where we sat at tables and got to know each other, and later we heard the organizer’s message. Within minutes, I realized the other seven people at my table were hesitant to speak up, so I took charge by introducing myself and then asked each of them to do the same. After that I threw out questions and kept the discussion moving.

At one point, a couple of them opened up about personal problems connected with their jobs. After a pause, I made a humorous comment and moved on to asking why they came to the meeting.

Afterward, I realized I had taken charge of the group, not that it was wrong, and someone needed to do it. But I also realized I had manipulated the conversation to keep it on safe subjects—in that case, away from personal problems.

Over the next few weeks I was able to admit that at times I manipulated others and dominated the decision-making process. It was still a long time before I had the insight into my motivation.

Eventually, I faced the reality: I needed to be in control—not that I used that word. I would have said, “I needed to feel safe.” As a child I had been helpless and powerless and I had that deep, unconscious need not to be dominated by others.

I still struggle to manipulate the outcome. The more secure I am inside, the less I need to dominate.

As I grow more secure,
I manipulate others less.

I Deserve Compassion

I can now say the words, “I deserve compassion,” but it took me a long time to admit that. For years, I tried to be self-loving and self-forgiving, but a voice in the back of my head whispered, “You know all the wrong things you did. You’ve earned your pain.”

In one sense, of course, none of us merits anything good in life. (That sentence reveals my theological basis of everyone being a sinner.) What I failed to understand is that God loved me and forgave me. Once I truly accepted divine forgiveness, that led me to forgive others and feel compassionate toward others. Why couldn’t I love and befriend Cec the same way?

Although the process I went through is too complex to relate, for me, it came down to this. I didn’t warrant compassion until I saw myself as a beloved child of God. If that was true, I didn’t have to prove anything or do anything to make myself lovable.

I have three children and I love them very much. If I look at their lives, I can easily point to their flaws or take note of the ways they disappointed me. Instead, I knew I loved them and thereby I accept each of them as they are.

The hardest words I recall saying to myself were these: “I am loveable.” Although I said them aloud to myself daily, for almost a month I wanted to add, “because I . . .” and list my good deeds. Or I’d have to fight myself by adding, “But look at . . .”

I know I’m loved and worth loving.

I’m loveable;
I can show myself compassion.

The Way to Heal

After I went public with my abusive childhood, many people reached out to me; I appreciated their concern and compassion. A few of them, however, weren’t helpful. I call them the right-way-to-heal people. They knew all the rules and emotions associated with grief and (even more important) knew exactly how I felt and what I needed to do for myself. (They told me so.)

Most of their advice came from their own experiences. Not only did I understand the agony they’d endured, I appreciated their willingness to share their pain and healing with me.

What they didn’t grasp was that I wasn’t like them—and no one else is either. We were both abused as children, but obviously no two people suffer in the same way. As obvious as that may be, too many of them had become the right-way-to-heal people.

“Talk about it. Tell anyone who’ll listen. The more you speak about it, the easier it gets.”

“Be extremely selective about whom you tell.”

“You need a therapist. They’re the only ones who can help you.”

“Don’t go to a professional. Find a friend or a small group—individuals who have recovered from abuse. They’re the only ones who can help.”

Yet they all knew.

I didn’t need a lot of advice; I did need a lot of compassion.

No one can tell us how to heal;
it’s something each of us must figure out.

Turning the Abuse Around

(By Gary Roe)

I’m inspired by the Old Testament story of Joseph. He came from a highly dysfunctional family. His father had two wives and was a deceiver who played favorites. Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. Over the next 13 years he was carried off to a foreign land, mistreated, falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten.

Through a series of miraculous events, Joseph the Hebrew slave became second-in-command of the powerful nation of Egypt. Several years later, a famine struck the region and when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for food, they find themselves face-to-face with their long-lost brother.

Joseph could have done whatever he wanted with them. His brothers were terrified and expected death, but Joseph embraced and welcomed them. He chose to forgive. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good," Joseph said (Genesis 50:19).

Joseph believed evil could be turned around and used for good. He chose to look at the positives instead of dwelling on his brothers’ rejection and abuse. He refused to be controlled by the past. He forgave his brothers, and in doing so freed himself.

That story tells me I can shed the abuse of the past. I know it happened, and I accept that. Now I’m trying to turn it around and use it for good, in my life and in the lives of those around me.

I can find ways to turn the abuse around
and use it for good.

My Life Is a War of Obstacles

(By Gary Roe)

Sometimes I get upset and ruffled because I expect life to be smooth. That’s ironic considering my life since childhood has been a painful war.

Sexual abuse has all kinds of horrific aftereffects. We live with the results of the abuse and our lives are anything but smooth.

What if life is really about overcoming difficulty and obstacles? Maybe part of it is designed to bring me to the end of my own strength so I can begin to trust and experience the freedom that comes from not having to be in control. Instead of exhausting myself running from the pain, I can choose to turn around and embrace it.

As I allow myself to feel the pain, I begin to accept what happened. I’m less controlled by my past and live with more freedom. I am less self-conscious and engage more naturally with others.

Healing is not smooth or easy. It can be upsetting and painful. But it is good. Very good.

Life is not smooth and neither is healing,
but both can be very good.

Healing Is Tough but Worth It

(By Gary Roe)

Healing is tough but worth it.

My daughter recently broke both her arms, one of them very badly. The pain was terrible and she nearly passed out several times. After the doctors assessed the damage, they did surgery. The recovery process was slow, difficult, and painful.

Can you imagine what would’ve happened if we had refused surgery and chosen to ignore that fact that she had two broken arms? Ridiculous, right?

Yet we often minimize the pain and damage of what I call our soul injuries. The abuse perpetrated on us was far worse than two broken arms. The damage was internal and extensive. In order to heal, we’re going to need some soul surgery. The recovery and healing process will be hard, lengthy, and at times painful.

But as we stay with it and remain committed to healing, we’ll find ourselves slowly improving. We’ll be less burdened and live with greater freedom and purpose. And one day we’ll look back and say, “Yes, it was so worth it.”

So stay with it, my friend. Make your healing a priority. It’ll be worth it.

My soul injuries need my attention,
so I choose to make healing a priority.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Damaged but Protected

(By Gary Roe)

When people find out I was sexually abused as a child, they are shocked. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Children should be protected,” they often say.

“I was protected,” I respond.

Yes, I was severely abused by people close to me, but I also strongly believe that God protected me. The damage has been severe, but it could have been so much worse.

For example, my desire from childhood has been to make a difference by helping hurting people. I have always been in a helping profession. I believe that was God, turning evil around and into something positive.

My heart and soul were damaged, but not destroyed. In some sense, I was protected against the full onslaught of evil. And now God is working in me to bring more healing, not just to myself but to others as well.

It’s interesting that the more available I am to God to be used in the lives of others, the more healing seems to come my way. Over time, I am able to see even more of God’s protection in my life, and my heart begins to relax a little more.

We were damaged, but not destroyed. Now God wants to bring healing and let us experience his goodness. If I can open up and heal, you can to. We’re in this together.

I was damaged, but not destroyed.
I can heal and experience God’s wonderful goodness.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Getting Unstuck

(By John Joseph*)

Plateaus, deserts, valleys—whatever you call them—they’re no fun. The fact that we seem to be bogged down in our efforts to recover from childhood sexual abuse is discouraging, at best, and at worst, leads us to setbacks.

We become restless, listless, and even sleepless. Depression or anxiety begins to creep in and affect everything else in our lives—relationships, work, and recreation. People begin to notice and even wonder why we’re no fun anymore.

We're stuck.

What can we do to get unstuck? What will pull us up out of the mud and put us back on the road to recovery? What will help us re-center and tap into the joy of being alive?

Although the answers may seem elusive, I believe there are a couple of very important things we can do to jump-start the recovery process and start to feel human again.

The first thing I do when I realize I’ve gotten stuck is to gift myself with grace. Grace isn’t an excuse for where I am, but a kind, human-to-human response that I would want to give to anyone else I knew who was stuck. Instead of beating myself up for messing up again, I take a moment to do some healing self-talk that says, “Okay—so we’re stuck a little here. No worries. Just think about it. What do we need to do to get things going?” I don’t know why I always talk to myself in the plural. It just feels good to think there’s more of me here than just "I."

Then I take a little while to journal and meditate, then I wait. Sometimes the very thing I need to get going again shows up in a book or online. Occasionally, it hits me in a conversation with a friend. At other times, I keep pushing into different things and I realize the wheels haven’t really come off the wagon. They’re turning again, even if slowly, and I find myself back up on the road to become the person I am intended to be.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Journal to the Center of the Soul

(By John Joseph*)

One of the simplest and most effective tools in my recovery has been soul journaling. There’s something powerful about the act of writing out the pain, the people, and the prayers (positively and negatively) that put them all in a better perspective. I don’t know if it’s the power of the words themselves or just the fact that I write them out of my head that brings some relief, but time and again I’ve experienced good things from journaling.

I’m not a write-in-the-journal-every-day kind of guy. I write when I feel like I need or want to. It’s sporadic, and weeks can go by in between entries. Sometimes I write four or five pages; at other times, only a paragraph.

Recently, when I needed to do some journaling about my mother, I could write only one sentence: “Mom . . . upside down spells ‘wow.' ” Obviously I have some work to do on that relationship.

I think it’s important to write positive things as well as negative. It’s good to celebrate even the smallest victories in our recovery from abuse—a day with less depression or the realization that each day is a gift. It’s also possible to address the true self in our journals—that part of our soul that responds to nurturing through self-affirmation and blessing. There’s a lot of healing we can gift to ourselves through positive words.

Writing things out is an ancient prescription for soul health. Journaling, even sporadically, can be part of your journey to the center of who you really are.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Shame, Guilt, and Self-love

(By John Joseph*)

Shame is a universal experience. All of us can recall some moment of deep embarrassment, whether it's the feeling of not getting picked for the team (or being picked last); not getting the promotion we deserved; being caught doing something we shouldn’t do, such as lying or stealing; or something worse. These are the moments that, when recalled even years later, bring a blush to the face.

For most people, shame is a passing emotion. For many of us who’ve survived childhood sexual abuse, however, shame can become a constant state of inner existence. Feeling dirty, unwanted, unloved, and unneeded has left us with a ubiquitous sense that we are flawed internally—a rag to wipe up a mess and nothing more. That kind of shame is something far beyond simple guilt. It's chronic and untenable.

But what can we do about it?

The first thing that has helped me is to realize the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a momentary, passing feeling that tells us we did something wrong. In that sense, guilt is a built-in guidance system that helps us to become better human beings. We do something wrong, guilt helps us to realize it; we ask forgiveness of the person wronged (even ourselves), and we move on. Guilt ends. But chronic shame is about who we are, not what we did. Guilt says, "I did wrong;" shame shouts, "I am wrong."

The second thing that has helped me recover from chronic shame is to recognize I have built too much of my identity around that feeling. I have become the shamed person I think I am. Instead of choosing healthy self-love I need to live, too often I’ve lived out the false script of shame that tells me I am a mistake, after all, and the world doesn’t need me.

Each day I must choose self-love over shame.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Self-pity and Sorrow

(By John Joseph*)

One of the best things I’ve learned in my recovery is the big difference between self-pity and sorrow. One is useful; the other isn’t. One can benefit the process of healing; the other exacerbates the problem. One is like poison and the other is more like necessary medicine—it might not taste good, but it brings health in the end. You already know which is which.

Self-pity is, of course, one of the worst indulgences a recovering person can entertain. It focuses all emotional resources on the self and its pain, abuses, maladies, and bad luck. Self-pity is the iconic “smiley face” always turned upside down. "Poor me," it says. "Nobody loves me. I’m a victim forever. Nothing good ever happens to me." Such repetitive inner messages never uplift the soul, but drive it deeper into despair.

Sorrow, on the other hand, is a necessary part of the healing process. We were victimized. We were unloved by someone, at least in the abusive moment. Abuse was something bad that happened in our past. But to focus solely on those unfortunate moments and to constantly indulge them is to empower them.

The abuse in my life was real. It did happen. But the moment I have right now doesn’t have to be wasted on feeling sorry for myself. I can, at least as an act of faith, decide that I will let sorrow over the things that happened take its proper time to lead me into productivity and acts of kindness for others.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Courage to Heal

(By John Joseph*)

The recovery process is an active one that demands a lot from me. It isn’t a passive progression that happens on its own—I must be a daily, and often aggressive, participant. I don’t like that, but it is true.

To deny my responsibility to pursue wholeness in the areas of my broken soul is to give my past power to destroy me through addiction, depression, and shame.

Am I going to let that happen?

The terrible truth is that there’s something in me that works against me. Call it my “addict," my “disease,” my “inner child,” or the “devil." Its name doesn’t matter. It's still out to take me down in any way it can.

John Mayer wrote some poignant lyrics about this in his song Gravity:
Gravity is working against me
And gravity wants to bring me down
Oh I'll never know what makes this man
With all the love that his heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away[1]
How many of us survivors have found ourselves on the edge of the emotional cliff, ready to jump off again? How many times have we acted out the same demeaning behavior only to go down the shame spiral again? Why do we feel the constant weight of what Mayer calls gravity in our bones that brings us to the brink, again and again, of throwing it all away?

Our various faith traditions may call it karma, fate, fortune, or sin. Whatever it is, it will gain the upper hand and destroy me if I am lazy or unmindful of it.

To recover is to have the courage to heal every day.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

*****
[1] Writer(s): John Mayer
Copyright: Reach Music Publishing-digital O.B.O. Goodium Music, Specific Harm Music, Sony/ATV Tunes LLC

Codependency

(By John Joseph*)

I’m the kind of guy that, if I saw you first thing one day, I would say, “Good morning! How am I today?” Yes, I am a codependent. What is a codependent? It is someone who is dependent on another person to define his or her feelings about themselves. It is a psychological term that came into use a few decades back to describe the behavior of family members living with an alcoholic.

Far too many wives and children become codependents, sentenced to the hell of merely reacting to the dependent behaviors of the alcoholic. They’ve been forced to define themselves based on the addictive behavior of another. Although they aren’t the addicted person, they are co-dependents and much of their lives are wrecked by the addiction and the addictive person.

Thus I’m a codependent. Maybe you are one, too. The sad truth is that someone else’s addiction to sexual abuse has affected our ability to live normal lives and to define ourselves in the healthiest ways.

What do we do now? How do we untangle the wreckage of the past? How do we cease living as codependents and find emotional health?

The first step is to move out of a dependent relationship. If someone in your life is abusive or addicted, leave them. Get out. Then get good counseling and enter a recovery program. It’s only when we rise up to reclaim our personhood that we cease to be dependent on others, no matter who they might be.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Trusting the Right Person

(By Gary Roe)

Trusting that you will make things right, If I surrender to your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life And supremely happy with you forever in the next.
This is the conclusion to Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. Trust is huge. Without trust, there can be no serenity. Without serenity, there can be no real happiness.

As a sexual abuse survivor, trust is difficult for me. Yet God designed me to trust him. He planned me, created me, and included me in his love story. I want to live my destiny and be "reasonably happy" in my day-to-day living.

Happy? That's a word I don't allow myself to think of too often. Perhaps I think it’s beyond my reach. If happy means pleased, content, joyful, and peaceful, I long for happiness. I want to be loved and be more loving toward others. I would like to be transparently real and surrender to God more fully.

He will make all things right. Things are not simply what they appear. There is far more going on than I’m aware. Can I trust that the one in authority, my Creator and Savior, will work out all things for my good, even when those in power when I was a child chose to abuse me?

Yes. He is teaching me. I can heal. I might actually become reasonably happy.

As I trust God loves me and works for my good

I can begin to experience more real happiness.



(This post is adapted from Not Quite Healed, by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe)

Making Healing a Priority

(By Gary Roe)

God, give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
the courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
This is part of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. I like the word serenity. Peace. A sense of inner calm. I tend to be up and down. I need steadiness. My soul longs to be more settled.

To experience serenity, I need to accept what happened. I was sexually abused. Many times. And that abuse had drastic, lifelong effects. I didn’t get what I needed growing up. I cannot change these things. I need grace to accept them.

But there are things I can change. I am not stuck; I can make choices. I need supernatural courage for this. I can resolve to make my healing a priority—not just for my sake, but also out of love for those around me.

I can't change what happened, but I can heal. I can grow in serenity.

If I want to experience serenity,
I must make healing a priority.


(This post is adapted from Not Quite Healed, by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Accepting the Past, Enjoying the Present

(By Gary Roe)

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it….
This is part of The Serenity Prayer penned by Reinhold Niebuhr. I have real difficulty living in and enjoying the moment. I worry about what’s next. I get stuck on what happened yesterday.

In order to survive the repeated abuse, I had to go somewhere else in my mind. This strategy worked then, but it doesn’t serve me well now. It’s time to move on and begin to embrace the present. As I do, I accept hardship more readily and experience more of God’s peace.

Serenity comes when I begin to take the world as it is. The past is what it was. Words, behavior, and relationships are what they are now. I could wish things were different, but that doesn't change the facts. I need to see the world as it is and engage with it. This will happen as I heal, and I can begin to really enjoy each moment.

Won’t that be wonderful?

As I accept the past
I can heal and begin to enjoy the present.



(This post is adapted from Not Quite Healed, by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Flashback: A Step Forward

(This is from Mark Cooper’s blog and used by permission.)

It lasted for only a second. Previous flashbacks had involved one or maybe two of my senses. But this time I not only saw him, I also experienced his presence through my sense of touch, smell, and taste. The touch, smell, and taste were not defined, but I knew they were present. It was the first time I’d had a multi-sensory flashback.

Pondering this particular flashback, I’ve realized that I was there. When I was abused, I was not watching from a safe distance. I was there and my mind was recording what my senses were experiencing.

I suppose in some ways I’ve looked at my abuse as one dimensional. I’ve acknowledged it happened, but have not allowed myself to fully grasp its reality on a sensory level. This is what the flashback is starting to restore.

Perhaps this flat, one dimensional view accounts for my inability to fully grieve the past and embrace today. If I have been guarding myself from accepting that I was really there, feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing, seeing; am I also inadvertently blocking myself from experiencing life today? Is this why I feel sensory overload at times?

I’m a bit nervous about future flashbacks. I also know that God uses flashbacks to help me open up more of my wounded places. He wants to heal those places, and he can’t while I’m denying their presence.

And I also take comfort that he will not require me to remember more than I need, in order to continue my healing.




"Why Tell Anybody?"

I don't know how he got my telephone number, and he never told me his name. As soon as I identified myself, he blurted: "Why should a man tell anyone about his abuse?"

"He doesn't need to tell anyone. He can keep it a secret until he dies," I said.

"But talking is just talking—just mere words."

Certain he referred to himself, I asked, "Have you ever told anyone?"

After a long silence, he mumbled, "No."

"Suppose I had a tumor inside my body," I said. "I could live with that a long time as it slowly grew. But I'd be aware and have some discomfort or even a lot of pain. And suppose the tumor wasn't operable. Then what?"

He didn't respond, so I said, “You might use medication to shrink that tumor. It would likely take place over a period of time, but you could do it."

"So you think that's what talking does?"

"It worked for me," I said, "and for many men who've talked with me."

Before we hung up, I gave him one of my original maxims: I know of myself only what I say of myself.

By that I meant we have to speak the words of our pain to someone else for the healing to begin. "Survivors need other people," I told him. "If you don't want to start with a spouse or a good male friend, go to a professional.

"Once you can start talking about it, you become an instrument of your own healing. You enlist others. Each time you're able to talk about it—"

"The more effective, right?"

I tried to explain that we've been created to connect with other humans. And with a basic need to be understood by others. I'm convinced that as I enable others to understand me, I also learn to understand myself.

(This entry was originally posted at Joyful Heart Foundation.)

Did It Really Happen?

I "forgot" (that's denial) about my abuse until I was 51 years old. For several months after the memories began seeping back into my consciousness, I kept trying to convince myself that the abuse hadn't happened.

I hadn't gone to a counselor or therapist, but that happened around the time we heard so much about the false-memory syndrome. Therapists had inadvertently planted false memories in some of their clients.

I wanted mine to be false memories.

But they weren't.

I was molested. 
Because I can accept that fact, I can overcome the pain.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

What If I Became an Abuser?

Although he said the words in 2008, I can still see his sad face. "I've been afraid to hug another man. I was afraid that because I've been molested, I might become a perpetrator." Tears slid down his cheeks as he said, "I don't ever want to hurt anyone the way I was hurt."

Although his response was more extreme than what most of us would say, for many of us, a secret, unspoken fear lurks in our hearts. We read that most perpetrators were themselves survivors of molestation.

What if I become one of them?

My response is that the fear may be a positive factor. It can mean the person is truly vulnerable and could abuse a boy. But more likely, it means that such a fear robs us of the joy of life. If we're constantly afraid of what we might do or could become, we can't fully experience life.

Are you afraid because you feel a strong attraction to children? If so, please seek professional help.

Or are you simply afraid that you might become a perpetrator? One of the lies many men struggle with is that they fear they'll do what was done to them.

I refuse to believe the lie that I'll become a perpetrator
just because I was victimized.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

"I Felt as if God Himself Had Molested Me"

"I felt as if God himself had molested me." Objectively and intellectually, he knew the reality, but he said that from an emotional perspective. His pastor was like God to him. "He represented everything I believed and cherished," he said.

He sounded like other church throwaways. I call them throwaways because they have no respect for the church, for ecclesiastical hierarchy, and can't comprehend a loving and compassionate God.

I wouldn't argue with such people. I would hope they could reach the emotional level of forgiving "God" for hurting them and enabling them to turn to the true lover of their souls.

God didn't molest me.
Someone who was supposed to represent God molested me.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Healing Is a Process

At a seminar in El Paso, I said, "Healing is not an event; healing is a process."

One man said, "I needed to hear those words." At age 43, memories of abuse by a church deacon began to surface. He had gone to a therapist for nearly three months. The question he had planned to ask me before the seminar was, "Why am I still not healed?"

Without knowing his question, I gave him the answer when I spoke to the entire group—something most survivors could have done. We'd like to believe that we have a moment—a special insight—and we're free forever.

I wish it worked like that.

We need the experience of enlightenment, awareness, or what we refer to as the aha moment. That's where we begin. Once we face the reality of our abuse, we start down a path of healing. Notice I used the word start.

None of us knows where the journey ends.

Why Me? (Part 8 of 8)

I was targeted.

I was chosen by my perpetrator.

Those two sentences were so freeing to me. During the early days of my healing, I regularly repeated them.

I could now add:
  • They were bigger and more powerful.
  • They didn’t have the right to hurt me or take advantage of me.
  • They were hypocrites. They tried to manipulate me into believing the lie that they did this out of love for me. Instead, they were doing it to meet their own addictive craving.
If my perpetrators were still alive, here’s something I would like to say to them: You kept saying you loved me, and I know it was a lie. Love never hurts or destroys another.

Why Me? (Part 7 of 8)

In the previous blog I introduced David*, a registered sexual offender who has been working toward his own healing.

He told me that of the many boys he had molested only three of them later confronted him. They asked him, the perp, why he had chosen them.

Naturally, he wasn’t going to incriminate himself, so he had four standard responses.

* “You were such a wonderful child, and you wanted me to do it.”

* “You kept hanging on to me, and I did it to make you feel better.”

* “You were such a lonely kid, and I felt sorry for you.”

* “You said you liked it, or I wouldn’t have touched you.”

Before I responded, David said, “I was able to make them feel guilty for what I had done.”

Yes, we were chosen. And manipulated.

We did nothing bad;
something bad was done to us.

Why Me? (Part 6 of 8)

In 2012, at a writers conference in Leesburg, Florida, a man heard me being interviewed for an article on male sexual abuse. After I hung up, he sat down next to me and told me that he was a registered sex offender.

For the next 20 minutes David* confessed what he had done before he was caught, convicted, and imprisoned for three years. He didn’t excuse himself, and many times tears filled his eyes as he felt the guilt and shame of his behavior.

“When I targeted a victim, I showed a lot of interest in everything he did or said. It wasn’t real, but that’s how those needy boys perceived it.”

David also said, “I touched the boys when I knew they were ready. They felt they were receiving affection from me.”

He shocked me when he said, “I had no trouble spotting vulnerable children. I could sense they felt isolated, didn’t like themselves, were insecure, and had been pushed aside or ignored by their families.” And the most telling statement was this, “I took advantage gradually and in such a way that my targets felt they had willingly chosen it.”

Tears filled my eyes, making me unable to talk for several minutes. He had answered a powerful question for me.

I was targeted for sexual assault.
I did not choose to be molested.

Why Me? (Part 5 of 8)

In 2011, an article in USA Today profiled serial molesters. It came out because of the charges against coach Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University. Donna Leinwand Leger interviewed psychologist Michael Seto, director of forensic rehabilitation research at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group in Canada.

Here are excerpts from that article.
  • “Serial child molesters seek out vulnerable children and cultivate relationships with them . . .”
  • “They are not picking children at random . . .”
  • “They are seeking out children who will be more receptive to their approach—children who may be socially cut off, impoverished, lacking a father figure.”[1]
Experts have a name for what those predators do by giving gifts, having outings, sleepovers, and other ways to have physical contact with their prey. They call it grooming. That is, they gain a child’s trust and ultimately get them accustomed to sexual behavior.

“When the grooming starts, the child may like the attention. They like the individual. The children are oftentimes very conflicted,” said Ryan Hall, a forensic psychiatrist in private practice in Lake Mary, Fla.[2]

* * * * *

[1] “Predator Profiles Mere Sketches” by Donna Leinwand Leger, USA Today, November 16, 2011, 6A.
[2]Ibid.

Why Me? (Part 4 of 7)

We needy kids carried an invisible sign on our forehead that perpetrators sensed. That doesn’t put the blame on us. Perpetrators took advantage of us because we were driven by basic, human needs.

Think about those who molested us. They were people we knew— authority figures or individuals we should have been able to trust. We were programmed by God to trust. We needed someone who made us feel wanted. Loved.

My male perp used to tell me I was special and said countless nice things to me. He invited me into his room and fed me snacks. I ate while I sat on his lap.

Think again of what I mentioned above:

1. He said the words (special).

2. He treated me as special (invited me into his room).

3. He gave me gifts (food in this case).

4. He held me (on his lap).

None of those described so far are in themselves evil. As a kid I’d sit on anyone’s lap who wanted to hold me. Few adults held me, so I gravitated toward any who extended their arms.

The four things mentioned above were the preliminary steps of the old man prepping me. Because I didn’t resist, my molester took the next step. His holding led to brushing my hair with his hand, stroking my face, and telling me what soft skin I had. He knew what he was doing. He sensed my need and manipulated me to satisfy his evil craving.

As a child I was victimized;
As an adult, I am a healthy survivor.

Why Me? (Part 3 of 7)

“Why did that person choose me?” I can’t tell the number of times an anguished man has asked that question. It usually comes in the midst of deep pain and often through many tears.

Although every situation is individual, I’m convinced of one special reason—which I touched on in the previous blog entry: We were needy kids. Those four words probably sum up everything.

We didn’t feel loved by our parents (or the parental figures in our lives). That doesn’t mean they didn’t love us; it means that we didn’t feel that parental love.

Like all children, we were born with the need to be loved and nurtured—that’s basic to any kind of emotional health. All of us were born with “skin hunger,” which becomes satisfied by being held, kissed, embraced, and patted. Those are normal needs, and most loving parents don’t need anyone to tell them to kiss their offspring.

We didn’t receive enough of those loving touches. That left us needy and, in our immature childhood, susceptible to anyone who treated us warmly.

We also yearn for the right words and spoken in soft tones. Each of us needs to feel we’re special to our parents. This doesn’t mean we’re the only ones they love, but we yearned to believe those parents brought us into the world to shower us with love. Discipline is part of that, of course, but most of all we need to hear those magic words, “I love you.” I’m not sure any of us hear them often enough.

Not once in my childhood did I ever hear either of my parents say those words to me. Did they feel loving toward me? Possibly—and that’s my way of giving my parents (especially Dad) grace.

I know why I was chosen: I was a child with unmet needs.

Why Me? (Part 2 of 7)

Why did my perpetrator choose me?

Katariina Rosenblatt (mentioned in the previous entry) pointed out significant reasons we were selected as targets. Here are three of them.

1. Abuse within the home normalizes that type of treatment. One of our frequent commenters, Roger, has made several references about what his father did to him. Why would he question the ongoing behavior as a young child? The molestation took on a form of normalcy.

2. Economic disadvantages, such as coming from a single-parent home. My parents were poor and I was the fifth of seven children. I rarely got attention and never any affection at home. Hence I was open to anyone who showered me with attention and affection (even false affection).

3. Seeking a father figure to fill a “daddy hole.” Although we’ve discussed this before, we can overemphasize it. I believe part of our hardwiring—part of being a creation of God—is the inborn need for fatherly affection. If we don’t get that in childhood, most of us search for someone to fill that role for us. Too often, it’s a perpetrator who knows how to spot needy kids.

We become the target because of a normal, childhood need.

Because of our natural need for affection and attention 
perpetrators took advantage of us.

Why Me? (Part 1 of 7)

“Why? Why did it happen to me?” That’s one of the most common questions I hear from survivors. Sometimes they add, “I never did anything to deserve it.”

Nobody deserves it.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’ve come up with a few.

In 2014, I was the ghostwriter for a book titled Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor.[1] In the first chapter I contrasted Katariina Rosenblatt’s experience with mine. The biggest difference is that she was seduced into sex trafficking at age 14. That could have happened to me. (And yes, the sex trade wants boys, too.)

We pointed out that Kat lived in Florida and I lived in Iowa. Cec “wasn’t caught up in human trafficking [but] he easily could have been lured into the sex trade. He had many of the same problems and conflicts I did.”[2]

Most of us weren’t grabbed by some pedophile lurking in the dark; our perpetrators were those we trusted.

Kat, who works with survivors of sex trafficking helped me understand the profile. I’ll share that in my next blog.

[1] Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor by Katariina Rosenblatt with Cecil Murphey (Revell, 2014).
[2] Ibid.

An Idol

In the 1985 film Plenty, Meryl Streep played the role of Susan, an Englishwoman who worked with the French underground during World War II. The story is set 20 years later. Those years after the war provided the only meaning in her life. Everything before and after focused on her wartime work.

Here’s another example. When I was a pastor, by invitation I occasionally sat in on AA meetings at our church. One thing bothered me about a few of the more than 40 regulars. Some of them were dry alcoholics.

As I understood the term, those individuals hadn’t touched alcohol in years, but their behavior hadn’t changed. They were essentially the same as they had been when they joined.

James, the leader of the group, talked to me after one meeting and shook his head. “We know. We love them and we try to help, but some of them have made sobriety an idol—even a disdained one. They worship at the shrine of their abstinence and never leave.”

Much later, Gary Roe used the term in referring to sexual molestation.

We can elevate what happened to us and empower it with responsibility for everything that happens in our lives. Abuse can define us and control how we react to any situation.

What happened to us affects every relationship we have—even when we’re not aware. Molestation is probably our saddest, most devastating life experience.

We can choose to heal, to move forward, to receive help from other survivors, turn to God, or get counseling. Or we can keep going back to then.

As awful as our experiences were, healing means moving on and refusing to allow the trauma of childhood to define us in the present. Otherwise, our thoughts and actions go back to, “When I was abused . . .”

We don’t say the words, but the experience can still define us. That’s when abuse becomes our idol.

What is happening in my life illustrates what I believe takes place in the lives of most survivors. The effects of our trauma continue to manifest themselves. There will always be people and events that trigger our abuse-meters and send us reeling.

But we keep on and we remind ourselves that healing is a lifelong journey. To see it as anything else sets us up for disappointment and discouragement.

Or worse. We make an idol of our pain.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

My friend Gary Roe once said that sexual molestation was the gift that keeps on giving. His ironic statement meant that the assault on our innocence is bad enough, but it has residual effects. It keeps on tormenting us and showing up in many ways.

For example, most of us have little ability to trust and we’re often suspicious of others. Our lack of believing in them often becomes the so-called self-fulfilling prophecy. The relationship ends and we moan, “They failed me again.”

The old fears and deprivations of childhood flash into our hearts. Abandoned. Unloved. Unworthy of being loved.

The primal cry breaks through and becomes a piercing scream. Yes, our abuse becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

Unless we change. Unless we refuse the so-called gift. As we progress in our healing, we learn to do exactly that.

I reject “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Helping Others

In a previous blog I mentioned helping others. I did kind things and encouraged them. I tried to love people—that was genuine—but sometimes for the wrong reasons.

Although unconscious of the truth, I served them because I wanted their acceptance and love. I believe they needed and often benefited from what I did, but this is an attempt to be candid about misperceptions about myself.

My friend and a man with whom I wrote two books, Gary Roe, has also struggled with some of the same issues. “I was afraid of what other people thought, afraid they wouldn’t like me, or worse, I feared their anger.” He added, “I also worried that if I didn’t do whatever I could to make them happy, they’d abandon me like many others in my life. If I performed well, their response would get me what I needed.”

I needed to be loved. Helping them made me feel worthwhile or significant. I became so enmeshed in taking care of others, I had few thoughts about self-care.

I still help individuals when I can, but my motive is improving: I do what I can because it’s the right thing to do. Now I see it as a privilege and opportunity to share what I have and not to gain anything from them.

That change began one day when I felt worn out from helping and asked my wife, “Would people still like me if I didn’t do nice things for them?”

“But that’s who you are.” She added that it was my nature to help. Even though I spoke about my need to give so they would value me, she said, “But it’s still who you are—you care. You give of yourself.”

Shirley’s affirmation pulled me back to reality. My motives weren’t always pure, but I was still doing what I could for others.

Since then, I’ve realized I truly, genuinely want to help others. I gain deep satisfaction from that.

And as my wife said, it’s who I am.

Talents

I can’t remember when I didn’t know I could teach. In school I used to reach out to the so-called dumb kids and do what I could to help them improve their grades. While still in high school I became an excellent bowler and taught others how to play the game well.

Fifteen years ago, I was teaching a group of twenty people about talents—how to recognize and use them. One of the things I suggested was to ask our friends what they see as our special abilities. “All of us have talents of some kind. Sometimes we don’t recognize those talents,” I said. “Others may see them, but we remain unaware.”

Then I said, “I’m a teacher. That’s my primary gift.”

“I disagree,” one woman said. “You’re an encourager. You do that better than anything else.”

Her words stunned me and my impulse was to shake it off, but I said, “I need to think about that one.”

“She’s right,” someone else said.

Within minutes, most of the people confirmed that statement. And I was in total shock. I had never seen myself in that light.

That day, I accepted the truth about myself.

Since then, I’ve self-observed the way I interact with people. It’s a natural reaction—okay, it’s a talent. I wouldn’t know how to teach someone to imitate me, because I see that as a divinely given gift.

I’m writing about this because too many of us survivors feel worthless. But I still remember a slogan bandied around years ago when I went to graduate school in a predominately black university. Even though grammatically incorrect, it went, “God don’t make no junk.”

As useless as you may feel, you are gifted in some way. You may not be able to see it yourself, so ask your friends.

I am gifted.
So are you.

Being the Responsible One

I tend to be overly responsible and take on burdens that belong to others. As a kid, I became responsible for my two brothers. If they didn’t do their chores after school, I hurriedly covered for them. That became my pattern.

For years I tried to fix problems and people. And like many other survivors, I ended up in what we call the helping professions. I was a teacher and later a pastor.

These days I make my living as an author, especially a ghostwriter. It took me a few years to figure out that I leaned toward the underdogs—to help and encourage them. My biggest success has come from writing Dr. Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands, before he was famous. He’s the epitome of a person who should have ended up in failure. Most of the personal-experience stories I’ve written reflect that same perspective.

One day I realized those tendencies and thought, There’s something good about what I do. I focus my life on helping others. When I reach out and help others—such as writing this twice-weekly blog—I benefit from doing so. I try to give to others what I didn’t receive in childhood. That’s a positive response to my abusive childhood.

I give to others
what I didn’t receive in childhood.

By Now I Should . . .

Once in awhile, when I’m emotionally down, I stumble or become aware that I’m not at the end of the healing journey. Then it’s easy for me to berate myself. “By now, I should be . . .” is one of the most self-destructive things I used to say to myself.

I finally figured out ways to ward off that kind of thinking. First, I reminded myself of something my friend Malcolm George said to me in one of my dark moments: “When you tell yourself that you ought to be farther down the road, you’re probably healed more than you know.”

Second, I remind myself of who I used to be. I reflect on the insights and breakthroughs I’ve experienced over the years.

Third, I wrote a simple prayer when I was a pastor. For years, people reminded me of it and told me how much they valued it. Finally, in my dark moments, I started reciting my own prayer:

God, show me the truth about myself
no matter how wonderful it may be.

The Big Freeze

One night I went to bed quite late, assuming my wife was asleep. I was relaxing when, in the dark, she reached over and laid her arm across my chest. I knocked her arm away, jumped out of bed, and turned on the light.

My actions had been instinctive—a carryover from childhood abuse. Not every survivor has such reactions, but it’s a common one when someone startles us. Even now if I’m involved in something and someone calls my name, I jump.

I refer to it as the big freeze, because I’m emotionally paralyzed for a few seconds. Or I numbed out when faced with a powerful emotion. It took me several years not to freeze when a man embraced me at social gatherings.

This past Sunday I was in church before the service began and wasn’t aware of someone coming behind me. George grabbed me from behind and hugged me. It startled me, of course, but I felt no visceral reaction. It just felt good and healthy.

I am overcoming my deep freeze.
I am feeling my emotions.

“I Love Myself”

For a long, long time, I didn’t love myself. I felt different, defective, and worthless. That’s common among survivors, and a few become braggarts or bullies as if to yell to the world, “See! I am worthwhile.”

It took me a long time to feel compassionate toward myself. Not only did I have emotional support from my wife and a few friends, but I began to experiment with what some call positive self-talk.

That experiment began after hearing a lecture. One statement went something like this: “You can change who you are by changing what you say when you talk to yourself.” I read several books on the topic and came to this conclusion: We can say positive things to ourselves to overcome the negative things we’ve been saying all our lives.

Here’s one such sentence I began to say to myself every morning and have been repeating it several times for the past 15 years: I love who I am, I love who I used to be, I love who I am becoming.”

I follow up with a second self-affirmation: “I lovingly embrace every part of myself—known and unknown.” I can’t tell you when the change began, but I can say I believe and joyfully accept those words today.

I lovingly embrace every part of myself—known and unknown.

Dysfunctional Patterns

When we were children, someone disrupted our lives and destroyed not only our innocence, but threw us into dysfunctional forms of behavior. Some adopt the pattern of their rapists; others push away from any kind of intimate contact. Still others dash into a life of promiscuity.

Twenty years ago I was part of a men’s group in Louisville, Kentucky. One man, whom I remember only as Tim, said that he had been so compulsive about sexual relief that he masturbated as many as 15 times a day.

One statement shocked and saddened me. “Sometimes my penis was so raw and painful I could hardly touch it—but that never stopped me.”

His behavior was extreme, but I assume all of us live with maladjustment. We don’t have to live that way. That’s one of the reasons for this blog—to help each other overcome painful childhoods.

For that to happen, our own healing must become the priority focus for us or we’ll continue to follow the same dysfunctional patterns we’ve been stuck in for years.

We have to make conscious choices to let go of fear and be open so that God’s love and compassion can motivate us. We also need to experience that love and compassion ourselves before we can spread it to others

True, deep healing is a long, slow-winding, and painful journey. Sometimes our long-established behavior is our enemy. We have to fight our natural resistance. It’s hard work, but well worth it, not just for us, but also for everyone we love and care about.

We can overcome our dysfunctional behavior.

I'm a Sexual Being

All of us are sexual. That’s part of being human. When others abuse us sexually, they touch the core of our being. Everything becomes skewed and produces a ripple effect that spreads through our entire personhood. The molestation alters the way we view ourselves, others, God, and life itself.

More troubling is that our minds become distracted with lustful or sensuous thoughts, fantasies, and desires. We struggle with keeping those feelings contained, but are they ever fully checked?

How could healing not be difficult, excruciating, and time-consuming?

I wish I could say that I never have lustful thoughts, but I do. And they’ll probably jump into my consciousness as long as I’m alive.

I’m still relentlessly sifting through behavioral patterns and ways of thinking that are victim-inspired and fear-focused. I’m determined not to give up. I will fight. And in fighting this evil, I will learn, and I will heal.

How do you handle such thoughts?

The Ongoing Process (Part 3 of 3)

My friend and fellow survivor Gary Roe once talked about his sexual assault and added, “As a result, I have certain struggles or handicaps. I’m convinced that learning to deal with those handicaps and to heal is a lifelong process.”

Not only is healing an ongoing process, but it demands courageous vigilance to survive the barrages of hurt, sorrow, and self-accusation. The more we trudge forward, the stronger we become. The scars are subterranean and insidious, but there is healing.

At the beginning, we probably assume full healing is imminent—which I did—because we’re unaware how severely we were damaged or didn’t understand that our wounds had been festering for years.

For many, the abuse itself took place during a short period. It could have been a one-time assault, or something that happened repeatedly for three or four years. Regardless of whether once or forty-six times, the molestation worked like an undetected virus that invaded our souls, went systemic, and infected every part of our psyche. Among other things, abuse destroyed our ability to see ourselves as we are.

I hope you read that previous sentence correctly. We’re born with the need to be whole. Or another way to say it is maturity and wholeness means being able to see ourselves as we are. Many of us still don’t see clearly.

This morning I read his post. While ostensibly responding to a question, he wrote a 300-word self-promotion piece. He does it every time. A few years ago I gently commented on one of his sales pitches.

The shock on his face made me know he had no idea what I meant. I don’t know if Tony was sexually assaulted (and I never asked), but his behavior is like that of many of us who lack self-awareness. He can’t see in himself what is so obvious to many of us.

Our journey is a search to know ourselves.

For the Rest of Our Lives? (Part 2 of 3)

In my previous blog I quoted this maxim: Murder victims feel no pain; abuse survivors feel pain for the rest of their lives.

“For the rest of their lives?”

Challenge that statement, and I can only say I believe it’s true. Over time the effects are blunted and less severe.

Terrible things were done to us and it takes a long time to work through the process and undo the damage. The injury is deep, painful, and we lived with our wound for a long, long time. As we grow, we continue to uncover layers of our inner lives that were tainted by the abuse.

For example, trust has been an issue for me—and probably for most men. It usually means we can’t believe others. I have some of that, but mostly I’ve gone the other way—I’ve been gullible. At least ten years into my healing, I realized that if people treated me as special and showered me with attention they could manipulate me and take advantage of me. Particularly, I loaned out a lot of money that was never repaid.

Whenever I heard sad, traumatic stories, I felt honored that they would trust me with their secrets. Sometimes they lied; sometimes they exaggerated, but they took me in. Only later was I able to say, “I’ve been had.”

That realization about trust came from facing my deep, painful memories.

Deep. Painful.
Those two words express why this is such a long journey.

Why Is It So Hard? (Part 1 of 3)

Healing from any kind of abuse isn’t easy. And those who imply it’s just a matter as simple as saying, “Yeah, it happened to me, but it was no big deal,” are deceiving themselves. This isn’t to castigate them, but only to stress that pain comes before we win over the past.

As I’ve thought about healing and why it’s so difficult, I’ve come up with a few ideas.

First, we need to realize that sexuality involves our total selves—mind, body, emotions, and spirit. God created us that way, and sexuality is a powerful force in our lives for good or for evil.

Second, our abuse took place in secret, and it happened when we were young and innocent. We lived with our hidden anguish for years. I turned 51 before memories flooded over me and forced me to learn to struggle with my painful childhood.

I wish I were totally free, and the best I can say is, “I’m almost healed.”

Murder victims feel no pain;
abuse survivors feel pain for the rest of their lives.

The Cost of Healing

I understand the desire for complete emotional healing. But there’s a price we pay if we want victory.

Courage is the first word that springs to mind. It’s not easy to face our pain and say, “Enough! I’m determined to be free.”

Time is the second word. We can’t rush healing. An old joke in psychological circles is about the client who was told he would need at least two years of counseling if he came in once a week. “If I come in four times a week, can I get cured in six months?”

It doesn’t work that way. Our abuse took place decades ago. We need to think of healing as stripping away not only painful memories but discarding our coping methods. It helped me to think of my life having a regime change.

Healing entails unwrapping the pain, re-living it when necessary, and then learning how to live without it. We need to absorb the truths we learn about ourselves and use them to help us change our behavior.

It is a process—and process implies it doesn’t happen quickly.

Healing from abuse is a process and not an event.

“I’m Totally Free”

In the fall of 2011, I participated in a two-day conference for male survivors of sexual assault. At a plenary session, one man spoke of his abuse and that it had once made him afraid to allow anyone to get close. He said God had healed him. “Now I’m totally free.”

As I listened, this thought raced through my brain: He’s still not going to let people get close. Then I thought I was being judgmental and silently chastised myself.

A few weeks later, Tom Scales and I had coffee together. He had also spoken during the conference. Without my bringing up the topic, Tom referred to that man. “He shouldn’t have been up there speaking,” he said. “He’s not healed enough himself.”

How did both of us—independently—come to that same conclusion? I can’t give you reasons or a concrete analysis, yet both of us sensed he spoke more about his hopes than his reality.

That’s the positive side. The negative side is that the man was still in denial. He has issues he must yet face if he truly wants to be healed and free.

I’m learning the difference between hope and reality.

I Hate These Feelings

We all despise those painful memories that won’t let go. For most of us, the mourning begins as grief over being molested, of living in secret shame, and hiding our pain from others. That grief morphs into helplessness.

A friend, going through a lengthy period of despair, said, “I hate these feelings. I don’t want them.”

Before I could respond, he added, “But I need them. I have to face those losses and betrayals and grieve.”

Not many of us are that insightful. Even when we’re aware, we still run from them.

Healing begins when we face our pain.

Triggers

When I began to cope with my childhood molestation, the word trigger was a new concept for me.

As I learned, triggers can be internal or external, but they’re reminders of unresolved emotional issues. We often say that something happens to bring about what we call the knee-jerk reaction to negative experiences that haunt us.

Years before I got in touch with my abuse, one thing startled me, and I now see it as a trigger.

I’m one of those individuals who would eat anything and never said, “I don’t like . . .” A group of my co-workers and I had breakfast together in a home, and someone passed me a large jar of raspberry preserves.

I hurriedly handed it to my wife. “I don’t like raspberry preserves.”

Shirley stared at me. “But, honey, you like everything.”

I shook my head, and just staring at the jar nauseated me.

Years later, I understood. Mr. Lee enticed me to come into his room by offering me raspberry jam on saltines.

All of us survivors probably have triggers—even now—little things, ordinary events, or words.

Another trigger for me was the word special. When anyone said I was special, I became angry, but I couldn’t figure out the reason. Until later.

Mr. Lee used that word several times as he started patting my head and fondling me.

I rarely have those triggers disrupt my life today, but when I have a negative response to a neutral act, it says I still have unresolved issues. And by recognizing them, I can find healing.

Triggers alert me to
the still unhealed parts of myself.

Why Now?

A few years ago, a student wrote her master’s thesis about adult men facing their childhood abuse. Her research concluded that many males are into their forties or fifties before they cope with their childhood assault.

“Why then? Why so late in life?” I asked. Those were important questions for me because I was 51 years old before my memories broke through. In the midst of my pain I called out, “Why now?”

And then I laughed at my own question. No matter when I dealt with the pain, I probably would have said it was bad timing or not convenient.

But then, trauma never is convenient.

Instead, I examined my life and came up with my own answer: Because I was ready. That may sound strange because of the pain, and the tears didn’t stop for a long time. I hadn’t cried for myself since I was 11 years old because I learned not to feel pain when my father beat me. But the summer of my fifty-first year, the torture and agony broke through.

Even so, I was ready.

That is, as excruciating as it was, I was able to cope. It says to me that had the memories erupted earlier, I probably wasn’t emotionally strong enough.

I faced my pain because I could—finally.

If I’m feeling pain now,
it’s because I’m able to cope with it.


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Are there questions or specific topics you'd like Cec to address in upcoming blog entries? If so, please send an email to his assistant at the following address: cecilmurphey(at)mchsi(dot)com.

False Memories

There’ll always be accusers who claim they were sexually assaulted but weren’t. In recent years, we’ve become familiar with the false-memory syndrome. They’re “suggestible” individuals who claim to have suddenly remembered their childhood abuse, usually under hypnosis or guided imagery.

To suddenly remember the events of childhood isn’t unusual. Many of us had no memories of our abuse. A century ago, Freud pointed out that we block out those memories that are too painful to accept.

On TV, I recently watched the 1973 film, and heard Barbra Streisand sing the movie’s title “The Way We Were.” One line says that what was too painful to remember, we chose to forget.

But when I think about the false-memory syndrome, I’ve encountered three people who told me such horrendous tales of abuse, including infant sacrifices, that they strained my level of credibility.

How do we, the survivors of childhood trauma respond? Do we believe their words? Or even more, how do we help them?

I don’t know the answers, and my only response is, “Show compassion.” I write that because even if molestation didn’t literally occur, the person still has serious needs.

The most healing thing I can do is to listen. To care. To express compassion.

Even if the person lies or it’s a false memory,
I can never go wrong by being compassionate.


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Are there questions or specific topics you'd like Cec to address in upcoming blog entries? If so, please send an email to his assistant at the following address: cecilmurphey(at)mchsi(dot)com.

Knowing and Not Knowing

On February 19, 2016, I posted a blog called ”Unpleasant Things” about families refusing to know about sexual assault in the home.

Andrew Schmutzer, a frequent responder to this blog, commented, “They don’t know, because they don't want to know. This is an ETHICAL issue, not a cognitive one.” His response resonated with me.

Immediately I thought of the trial of Jerry Sandusky of Penn State. He sometimes took his victims into his basement, and one survivor said he screamed for help. Sandusky’s wife testified that she never heard any cries.

I can only conclude Sandusky’s wife didn’t want to hear.

We often don’t hear or see those terribly unpleasant things. Too many men have told me that other family members didn’t believe them or insisted, “You’re angry and making up things.” Or “He would never have done such a thing.” Those words add more pain. Like Andrew says, “They don’t want to know.”

In the film, A Few Good Men, Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) is asked to tell the truth. He ends his diatribe by shouting, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Too often those who should believe us can’t accept the truth. But then, I realize that all of us have some of that not-knowing-the-truth.

When any criticism or accusation is something we’re not ready or unable to hear, we deny it. I think of many times my friends or enemies tried to tell me something distasteful or repulsive about myself. Until I was open, I never “heard” them.

I make this point to say, we also need to learn to forgive those deniers. They help victimize us without realizing their wrongdoing.

I forgive my perpetrators;
I also forgive those who hurt me by being unable to face the truth.

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Are there questions or specific topics you'd like Cec to address in upcoming blog entries? If so, please send an email to his assistant at the following address: cecilmurphey(at)mchsi(dot)com.

“Males Are Less Traumatized than Females”

I wonder how many people have written or spoken words like that. They parrot the idea that females are more emotional and more damaged than males. They don’t produce any evidence, but make strong assertions.

Societal climate is more open to females writing and speaking about their sexual assaults. (Check Amazon.com and see for yourself.)

This much seems obvious to me; however, we males are more severely damaged by society’s reluctance to accept our victimization. We’re afraid of being called gay, sissy, or being judged as being less than male.

Thus many of us tough it out and remain silent. By not speaking up, we don’t have to face taunts and pointing fingers. But we also miss healthy affirmation, sympathy, and acceptance.

And why does it have to be a comparison between the genders? Shouldn’t it be enough to say, “I am a survivor of sexual assault that stole my innocence”?

I’m not concerned about proving I was more traumatized than a female. I am concerned about admitting my deep-seated pain and recovering. The more we males speak up, the more we push others to accept us.

In 1990, I heard a scholar insist that boys were not abused. Does anyone still hold to that? We’re making progress. And it’s up to us, the survivors, to gain acceptance by speaking out.

The more I face my abuse, the more I heal;
the more I speak about my abuse, the more I help other men to heal.

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Are there questions or specific topics you'd like Cec to address in upcoming blog entries? If so, please send an email to his assistant at the following address: cecilmurphey(at)mchsi(dot)com.

“But I’m Over It”

I’ve lost count of the men who tell me about their abusive childhoods and then add, “But I’m over it.”

They’re lying—even if they can’t admit it.

That’s not meant to be judgmental. In fact, I consider their words as more a wish or desire than fact. I’m not convinced anyone gets over it. We certainly move past the pain and the horror of childhood, but the trauma holds lasting effects.

For example, some men absolutely can’t trust others. One of my good friends was sexually assaulted by his mother and he admits he doesn’t trust women. Three divorces have forced him to admit that.

All of us have residual effects and we’ve lived with them all our lives. I’m an example of the overachiever. No normal person writes 137 books, posts twice weekly for two blogs, and does a lot of public speaking. I used to say, “God gave me a lot of energy,” and that’s true.

Now I say, “I was a driven man.” I constantly had to prove myself. I could have said, “prove myself to others,” and that’s a factor. But having to prove myself to myself that I’m lovable and worthwhile was the major residual effect of my abuse.

Last month, two different men told me they were over “it.” I didn’t argue or try to correct them. But both of them are in the morbidly obese category. Food seems to be their drug of choice. And their drug keeps them in denial about where they are now.

I’m not totally over my abuse, but I’m stronger and healthier for having faced my pain.

Healing is an ongoing process in my life.

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Are there questions or specific topics you'd like Cec to address in upcoming blog entries? If so, please send an email to his assistant at the following address: cecilmurphey(at)mchsi(dot)com.