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.

Setting Boundaries

As kids many of us had no boundaries. We were there for others to take advantage of. We didn’t know to refuse. Our lack of boundaries often made us vulnerable to predators.

One result of my lack of boundaries is that I became a rescuer, although it would be years before I acknowledged that. I reached out to other hurting people, trying to help them.

Consider my professions. I started as a public school teacher and asked for the lowest achievers in the sixth-grade class I taught. For 14 years I was a pastor and part-time chaplain. Being a professional writer may not seem to fit that role, but I’ve recently completed writing my third book for survivors. I’m also a professional ghostwriter—I help other people tell their stories.

As I’ve become aware of my need to rescue, I’ve also seen other areas of my life, such as not having the skill to say no without a lengthy apology.

That’s been changing the last three years. I’m learning to set boundaries for myself. In this blog, I frequently refer to self-talk. Many times I write simple, direct, and positive statements, put them on 3x5 file cards, and repeat them several times a day, often for months.

These two I’ve said since March of 2015:
  • Appropriately I say no.
  • I maintain wise, prudent, and practical boundaries.
Because I value who I am;
I can set boundaries for me.

No Self-judging Allowed

On a hand-painted sign I saw those words in a friend’s den. “I think I understand the words,” I said, “but is there a story here?”

“Yes!” Alan Jennings said. “I made up that sign for what I hoped would be an opportunity to tell people about my abuse.” The sign had been up almost two years and only a handful of visitors had asked about it.

“It began in a group therapy session,” he said. Alan was condemning himself for allowing an older boy to sodomize him. Before he sought help, he talked about allowing the horrible things done to him.

Another member of the group interrupted him. “Don’t you have any compassion for that little boy? He did what he had to do to survive.”

When Alan started to protest, others in the group also urged him to be kind to the abused child.

“I had been in and out of therapy for addictions,” he said, “but I realized I hadn’t been kind to my little boy.”

“You survived because of him,” one man said. “You may have done things you’re ashamed of now, but that hurt, despised little boy kept you alive.”

For quite a while we talked before Alan said, “I put up that sign to remind me and to help me to be kind and understanding to my younger self.

“Every night, even now I stare at my reflection in the mirror and think of the eight-year-old boy and say to him, ‘Thank you for helping me survive.’”

He smiled, “I no longer have to say no self-judging allowed. Now I leave the sign up in the den, hoping it will help others.”

The Other Survivor

My wife was also a survivor—a survivor of my abusive childhood. She suffered because she loved me and stayed with me while I worked through my pain.

For a long time, I didn’t realize how my childhood had affected her. I was too busy working on Cec.

As one example, when she was deeply hurt, I froze inside. Today I’d say I numbed out as many survivors do during intense emotional moments. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and my abuse kept me from giving her the comfort I wanted to show her.

I didn’t know when I was angry and couldn’t “feel” that emotion. More than once Shirley cried and I didn’t understand what I had said or done.

For me, the good news is that healing began, and Shirley was there from the beginning. One evening, I pulled her close and apologized. “Until recently I didn’t understand that you have been victimized by what was done to me.”

I’m glad I was able to see that and apologize. That didn’t change the fact of her being a survivor of my childhood molestation and pain, but I was able to affirm my love and appreciation.

“But You Act So Normal”

I’ve heard that statement in two different ways. The first came from someone with whom I shared my pain. “You’re pretty well put together.”

I’m not sure what people mean when they say such things. I certainly hope he thought I behaved like a normal person. If I’m emotionally “pretty well put together” it’s because I’ve worked hard to get there.

Another person once said, “I never would have suspected that you had been abused. You’re so normal.”

Frankly, that’s just another dumb thing someone says, probably without thinking. Possibly they’re trying to compliment me and their intent is to say, “You have come a long way.” Or “You’ve triumphed over such a painful childhood and I admire you.”

Maybe that’s what they meant. But it comes across as implying they assume anyone who was abused would remain an emotional cripple.

Regardless, when I hear such things I say to myself, He means well and doesn’t realize how stupid his words sound. I want to give those people the benefit of assuming they meant well.

I can do that now. But a decade ago, such statements hurt. In those days, such words minimized my journey as if to say, “You’re normal so it must not have been too bad.”

It’s so much easier to say, “I’m sorry for what you endured.”

Then I believe they “heard” my pain.