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.

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.

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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.