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.

Self-loathing

(This post comes from a reader named John Joseph.)

One effect of my early childhood sexual abuse has been self-loathing. For the longest time I didn’t understand that was what I was dealing with. I thought I was just so messed up that I didn’t deserve the air I was breathing. I constantly compared myself to others, especially men, and I never measured up. The problem with that perspective is that it kept me from being the best me that I could be.

Self-loathing is an emotional habit rooted in envy. As a child my body was never as big as the men who abused me. They were taller, stronger, and their genitalia were bigger. I could never measure up. I can see clearly now that my lifetime of irrational comparisons was founded in those moments of abuse in which I was weaker and the abusers stronger. It wasn’t a fair fight. I was a child.

My continuum of self-loathing ran from a minor comparison of hair or height to athleticism or financial status. At best, it caused an irritation. At worst, it caused deep anxiety and self-destructive behavior such as addiction or depression. A few times I was so distressed by not being like someone else that I despaired and could have taken my life.

The cure for self-loathing I have found, is to recognize that envy hurts me. I am learning to celebrate myself—my body, and my lot in life. What I have is what I have. Comparing myself to others causes me to devalue myself. As I grow in recovery my goal is to love and appreciate who I am and to resist falling into the abyss of self-loathing.

Lasting Effects

The impact of sexual abuse can be devastating and it is long lasting. Because you were a child, and you were victimized by someone—and most of the time it was someone you trusted.

The first thing you need to know is this: The sexual abuse was not your fault. You may even be told that you did something wrong, but that person lied. You were a victim; you were an innocent child.

Most of the adult survivors with whom I've talked told me that they grew up feeling something was wrong with them. They believed they caused the abuse and blamed themselves.

You may have tried to talk about the molestation and no one listened. Until recent years, too many adults refused to acknowledge that such things occurred. If that happened to you, you have probably felt inadequate, embarrassed, isolated, guilty, shameful, and powerless. Then you probably reacted by suppressing this as a shameful secret.

For example, I was once involved with a men's group. One member, Greg, said that when he was seven, he wanted to tell his mother that his own father was sexually abusing him. One night at dinner, he said, "Daddy has been pulling down my pants and doing bad things to me."

"Eat your dinner," his mother said.

His two siblings said nothing; Dad continued to eat. That was the last time Greg opened his mouth about his abuse until he was thirty-one years old. That's when he joined a group of survivors of male sexual assault.

Research now affirms the link between the abuse and the effects. Each of us needs to be able to admit that the long-term effects are powerful and include poor self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, anxiety, feelings of isolation, self-injury and self-mutilation, eating disorders, sleep problems, depression, self-destructive tendencies, sexual maladjustment, and substance abuse.

Moving Beyond the Abuse

"It's the past. Forget it and move on," my youngest brother, Chuck, said to me. We had both been sexually assaulted by the same person. He didn't admit being sexually molested, but he didn't deny it either. On the few occasions when I tried to talk to him about it, his answer was, (1) "You can't undo the past," (2) "We don't have to think about those things," or (3) "That stuff happened back then." His words implied that we need only to forget the past, leave it behind, and it's gone.

If only it were that simple.

Chuck died after years of trying to cure his pain through alcohol. I don't know if the pain he tried to medicate was the abuse, but I suspect it was. On rare occasions when he was drunk, he made oblique references to "that mess in childhood."

Outwardly, Chuck wanted to get past the sexual molestation and get on with his life. So why didn't he "move on" with his life?

I had a second brother named Mel, also an alcoholic. He was married five times and died of cirrhosis at age 48. Unlike Chuck, Mel wouldn't talk about our childhood. "There's nothing back there to talk about," was the most he ever said.

I write about my two brothers because both of them seemed determined to get past the abuse of childhood by forgetting, denying, or ignoring. That approach doesn't work.

We don't forget—not really. We don't forget because childhood abuse affects our lives and shapes our attitudes about people and relationships. Some guys want to hurry and get over it, but it's not something to get over and to move on.

Abuse happened to us. Until we accept it and face what it has done to our lives, we don't really move forward. We only live unhealed lives.

“I Was an Object”

Even as an adult, I looked back on old Mr. Lee (my second perpetrator) as a grandfatherly figure. (All my grandparents were dead by the time I was five years old.) I even dedicated one of my early books to his memory.

He didn’t love me. To him, I was an object. I was there, and he used my body (and my soul) for his powerful lusts.

For me to say I was only a thing was tough for me. I thought I was special (often he said I was). They were lies.

When I told a friend how hard it was to use that word, he suggested I think of myself as a commodity. He used the word to mean an article of trade.

He said, “You were like something he bought by carefully grooming you. It wasn’t because you were special; it was because you were vulnerable and available.”

I hated to hear those words, but they were correct. They helped set me free.

I was a useful object to him;
I am a lovable human being to God.

A Wife's Perspective

During the past four months, I’ve received several emails from wives of male survivors of sexual assault. Two of them found me through this blog, the others from reading one of my two books about sexual abuse.

This came from one of those wives, who gave me permission to share as much of her email as I chose. After the first three paragraphs below, she went into details about her husband’s childhood and his adult struggles.

None of what she writes would surprise regular readers of this blog. And yet each email is a story of pain, struggles, and (sometimes) happy endings.

My reason for sharing this portion is to point out once again that we survivors aren’t the only victims.

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My husband is a victim of childhood sexual abuse from his father, older brother, and father’s friends, starting around the age of 6.

We have been married for 26 years, and I am just realizing through reading your book “When a Man You Love was Abused”, that I am also a victim of his abuse. This has only just become a realization to me, that I am also a victim.

I stumbled across a Focus on the Family podcast that you were on, addressing this issue. I was actually looking for a resource on healing from sexual sins in our marriage, when your podcast came up. I was in shock when I read the title of the show, “Helping Your Husband Overcome Childhood Sexual Abuse”. I did not know that such topics existed, or even books on the subject. Even though the subject matter is so hard to listen to, it was so helpful to hear two men [Gary Roe and Cec] share their struggles and their stories, and practical ways that a wife can help her husband! Up until now, I have only seen myself as the victim and not my husband. I have not realized the depth of how wounded my husband is until I read your book. All through our marriage I have focused on how I have been the victim from my husband’s actions, not realizing that they were a manifestation of his struggle. Up until now, I have not been able to see past my hurts, to be able to help him. I can now look back and see the effects in our marriage from his abuse.