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Wounded Boys/Heroic Men

 

A Guide for Healing from Childhood Abuse

for Men and Their Partners

 

 

 

 

 

By

Daniel Jay Sonkin, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One   

Wounded Men, Wounded Boys

 

       The first time Sam called my office to make an appointment his voice was soft but urgent. He said that he needed to see me immediately, he had a real problem: His wife had given him an ultimatum--"Either get into counseling or get a lawyer"--and then she had walked out. Two days later, when I opened the door to let him into the office, I was surprised to see a 250-pound man who looked like a guard for the San Francisco 49ers.

       He seemed reluctant and angry as he entered my office and I had the feeling he was not there by choice. I asked him to sit on the sofa. He sat down, crossed his arms on his chest, and crossed his legs. His expression challenged me: "Okay. Do your thing, Doc."

       Sam was probably feeling the same way I did during my first session in a therapist's office; I didn't know what to say or expect. So I made nothing of his defensive posture. Instead, I asked, "Have you ever been to a counselor before?"

       "Just once with my wife, but not alone," he said. "In fact I've always figured that therapy was for people who were a little crazy. My wife was seeing a therapist because one of her friends was seeing one. That's probably how all the trouble started in the first place, and now I'm here."

       "Many men who enter into therapy for the first time think the same thing," I responded, and tried to reassure him that I didn't think that he was crazy. "People seek a therapist's help for many reasons. Usually they're just looking for help with a personal problem from a person who can present them with a fresh point of view."

       He breathed a sigh of relief, unfolded his arms, and uncrossed his legs. I asked, "What specifically brings you here today?"       

       "My wife left me this weekend. We've been fighting a lot lately and I think she's just had it with me and my temper."

       I asked about his temper.

       "I want to be left alone when I get angry," he responded, "so I go off by myself. My wife follows me and keeps pushing my buttons. She says, 'Talk to me. You never talk to me.' Then I get so mad I begin to talk to her. But it's more like yelling. I kind of rant and rave. After a while I just calm down."

       I asked how his wife felt about his "going off by myself."

       "I don't know," he said. "Frustrated, I suppose. If she doesn't like it she should just leave me alone."

       I asked a similar question about his "yelling."

       "I don't know. Maybe she gets pissed off," he said. "She says she gets scared."

       Why, I asked, did he think she felt that way?

       "I think her father used to beat her up pretty badly."

       "And have you ever felt like hitting her?"

       He said emphatically, "It's crossed my mind a couple of times."

       Then I asked if he had ever done that.

       "Well, once before," he said, cutting off his words.

       "Can you talk about it?"

       During what was a long pause, I noticed that Sam was quite uncomfortable talking about what happened. He probably had never told anyone about the violence.  So I said, "I know talking about these problems can feel embarrassing. But maybe I can help you understand your situation from a different perspective so that you can approach your problems differently. Maybe you would feel better just to talk about it. That's what counseling is really all about. Tell me what happened."       "Well," he began, "About five years ago I was drinking heavily and we got into a big fight about her family visiting. She's very close with them--always talking to them on the phone and going to visit." He paused, as if the memory was becoming clearer in his mind, then added, "I had just come home from work and had had a really bad day. Before she even asked me about my day she came right up to me and told me that she had already invited them to come visit us for two weeks. I said OK, but inside I knew it wasn't. I just got real quiet. I guess you might say I started moping around the house." Suddenly his tone became almost confessional. "Then I was slamming doors, throwing things down. I wasn't very nice to her. I was in the bedroom watching the news and she came in to talk. She starting asking me how I was feeling. Once she started seeing this therapist, she was always asking me, 'How do you feel?' I don't know how the fuck I feel! So I just ignored her."

       At this point Sam's eyes became intense, and his voice grew angry as he remembered. "Finally she was right up in my face telling me if I wasn't going to communicate with her that there was no point being together. The next thing I knew I was on top of her, screaming as loud as I could. I had my hands around her neck and I was choking her. I mean I wasn't really choking her, but I was holding her down." Then the confessional tone returned. "I know that there's no excuse for it, but it was a bad time for me at work and she got real angry at me, accusing me of not wanting her family to visit."

       I asked him if there had been some truth to that statement.

       "I guess so," he said. "I'm not very close to my own family and I felt a little jealous of her relationship with hers."

       "What happened afterwards?"

       "We didn't talk all night and most of the next day. And then we just kind of forgot about it."

       "We?"

       "Well, I tried to."

       I challenged him to think about whether or not she wanted to forget about the fight.

       "Not from the sound of this letter she left me."

       Sam's way of resolving the argument was by promising to never do it again. And although he never physically abused her again, he would frequently abuse her psychologically with threats and putdowns. They went to a counselor together. Sam talked about his alcoholic father, who also had a violent temper. The therapist recommended that Sam get into counseling as well.  As far as Sam was concerned, his father was history. Like many men who were abused, he couldn't see how digging up the past would change today. Sam was convinced that if Carol would just back off he wouldn't get so mad. He agreed to make a few calls to therapists but always found reasons for not going, the best being money. After a while Carol just stopped nagging him about it. He came home last Friday after work and found this note:

 

Dear Sam,

         I can't live with your anger any more. I've been waiting three years for you to get help and you always have had an excuse why not to go to therapy. I'm not exactly sure why you are so afraid to look at your childhood, but I guess that something happened that was very hurtful and frightening. I know that whatever happened then is still hurting you today. I have tried talking about it, I've tried ignoring it, I've tried being understanding and patient. Nothing seems to help.  You are either cold, distant, and withdrawn, or you're exploding out of control. I can't get close to you. I am still you will become violent with me again. I can't live with your pain and rage any longer. I can tell you are avoiding having contact with me. You're either at work, fixing something around the house, out with your friends, or drinking and watching television. Please get help before you hurt yourself or someone else. I want you to know that I am safe and will call in about a week, after I have had some time to sort things out for myself.

Love, Carol

 

       I asked him what he thought she meant when she said "something happened that was very hurtful and frightening."

       Sam lowered his head onto his hand and rested his elbow on the armrest of the couch. There was a long silence. His voiced quivered as he replied, "I don't know why this is important."

       "It's only important if whatever happened yesterday still gets in the way of your life today."

       "I don't know if that's true."

       I asked him if he was willing to find out.

       "Why is this so fucking important?" His tone of his voice noticeably changed to anger. "It's my marriage that's falling apart."

       His face was turning red and he was pounding his fist on the armrest as he spoke. This calm man was beginning to transform before my eyes. No matter how important I thought it was that he face his demons, we weren't going to get anywhere unless he thought so as well. I wanted to help him get through these powerful emotions, so I asked him how he was feeling right now, hoping that he didn't think I was sounding like his wife.

       "I'm fine."

       "Then I'd like you to take a minute to check in with how your body is feeling. How do your arms and hands feel? How about your chest and stomach? What about your head and neck? What are your physical sensations?"

       Sam quietly reflected on these questions. I could tell that he was focusing his attention to the various parts of his body. He looked up and said, "I'm kind of tense in my stomach and my shoulders."

       "And as you were asking me, 'Why is this so fucking important,' what were you doing with your body? Was there a change in your tone of voice?" I hoped that helping him get in touch with his physical and behavioral signs to emotions would make it easier for him to identify his anger.

       "Yeah, I guess I was pounding my fist and I raised my voice."

       I asked what he was feeling at that moment.

       "Maybe I was beginning to feel a little pissed off."

       "About what?"

       "Well, I guess I didn't like hearing that I needed to talk about my family stuff." He paused, then added with emphasis, "You're the third person to tell me that. I don't think it's that important. But I am about to lose my marriage, so I'm willing to do anything to stop that from happening."

       Sam's story is typical of many men who were victims of childhood abuse. His life is troubled and he feels that it's beyond his control. He is not so much interested in seeking personal help for himself as he is trying to "fix" his marriage. He has a great deal of difficulty identifying and communicating his feelings. He doesn't see the importance of talking about his childhood experiences and how they may have been partly the cause of his problems today. Like many men Sam is not clear about how therapy works and why it can be useful in solving problems.  Like many wounded men Sam has a pain inside that he tries not to think about or feel. But when someone starts to ask specific questions about what happened in his childhood, how he felt then and how he feels now, he begins to drop his guard and many of those old feelings rush in.

       After several sessions Sam was finally able to acknowledge that he had been abused as a boy. His father beat him with a belt, a stick, or whatever was convenient, and Sam frequently had welts on his back, bottom, and legs. He refused to go swimming or wear shorts during the summer for fear that others would see his injuries. And his father's violence was not restricted to him. Sam frequently watched his father physically abuse his mother. The son could not recall a week passing without his father coming home drunk and getting into a fight with his mother. Typically his father slapped his mother and pushed her around. On several occasions Sam remembered his father choking his mother unconscious. Sam also recalled being so fearful of his father that he couldn't move. This is Sam's most vivid memory:

 

One night I was watching TV after a tense dinner. We were all walking on eggshells trying not to get Dad upset. He used to get real angry if anyone would scrape their plate with their fork or knife. All I could think about was not making a single noise. I was so focused on my plate that I don't even remember anything anyone said. I learned how to shut the world out. Anyway, the inevitable happened. Someone said or did something wrong and he went crazy. He grabbed my mother by the hair and dragged her into the living room. He was beating the shit out of her. I was so terrified all I could do was keep looking at my plate so as to not make any noise. I glanced toward the living room briefly to see him choking her. Her entire face was blue. I couldn't move. I was terrified. What would he do to me if I tried to stop him? I looked back at my plate and just kept eating.

      

       As a result of these and other experiences Sam felt a great deal of anger, rage, and hurt. But he never expressed those feelings because it was neither safe nor encouraged. Therefore he never learned how to deal with these or other intense emotions in an appropriate way. Instead he would stuff them deep inside, hoping they would never show their ugly heads. Because he had no healthy way to ventilate these strong emotions he would resort to what he learned as a boy when feeling intense anger, hurt, or fear. Whenever conflict would arise in his marriage, a flood of strong emotions would immediately surface. One time his anger led to physical violence, at other times he would become verbally abusive and intimidating.

       Sam also told me that there were times when he felt as if he was "being possessed" by his feelings: "When we first started talking about the abuse, I would leave your office with this sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach. It was twisting, wrenching. It was as if I was a wet towel being wrung. Sometimes I would be sitting quietly or at my work and I would begin to think about what happened. Then I'd panic. I felt possessed by these intense feelings. All I could do to stop myself from screaming was to distract myself. Five o'clock never came soon enough." This is a common reaction early in the healing process. As old memories begin to surface you are also likely to feel the old emotions associated with the abuse.

       These intense feelings were present even when Sam was mad. His wife, Carol, felt his anger just by living under the same roof with him. His friends, coworkers, and other family members also sensed anger within him. In order for Sam to heal from the abuse he needed to acknowledge the presence of these powerful feelings within himself. Sam needed to admit that he was a wounded man.

       Sam's therapy led him to realize the effects the old abuse had on today's feelings, attitudes, and behaviors. The initial work of uncovering the memories was very difficult, but over time the intensity of the feelings lessened. Soon he was not only able to talk openly about the abuse, but he became better able to recognize when those feelings and attitudes of yesterday were affecting his feelings and attitudes toward his partner today. After six months' separation he and his wife entered couples counseling and three months later began to live with each other again.

 

The Wounded Man

       If you were physically beaten, sexually abused, or psychologically maltreated as a boy, it is important for you to realize that you are not alone.* There are hundreds of thousands of others like you. Many of these men have already successfully healed their inner wounds.  These wounds cannot be detected with X-rays or blood tests; they are wounds of the soul, the spirit--the psyche.

       If you have a great deal of inner hurt and rage stemming from childhood abuse, you are a wounded man. Ironically, as a wounded man, you may not know that you are feeling these emotions because you did not learn how to identify and communicate your feelings in a positive, productive way. Or you may have even learned to split off from your feelings altogether, as a way of coping with these strong emotions. But these powerful feelings don't go away by themselves. They need an outlet. You're like a pressure cooker: If you don't let the steam out, you'll explode.

      

*Childhood abuse and destructive behaviors are not strictly male problems. Research in the area of child sexual abuse indicates that the majority of victims are female. As a result of these experiences they also become wounded in many of the same ways as men. But because of differences in the way men and women are raised, their anger and low self-esteem may manifest in distinctly different behaviors. For example, women turn their their anger inward, which results in depression; men turn their anger outward, which may result in abusing others.

 

      

      

       Explosions of intense emotion are common for wounded men who haven't learned how to express their feelings in constructive ways. Unless you deal with the pressure directly, destructive behaviors are inevitable. These behaviors are destructive because they will continually cause more problems in your life. Such problems include denial that there is a problem, violence, and alcoholism or drug addiction. In order to change these unhealthy behavior patterns you must directly address the wound itself (the anger and hurt).

       Wounded men are hurt, injured, confused inside. If a broken finger isn't properly set by a doctor, the bone will set itself improperly. It may just look bent and be a reminder about the time you broke your finger; or you may realize that something is wrong with the way that finger feels and works. And even though the injury may not stop you from appearing "perfectly normal" to most people, you may develop an unusual way of using your hand to compensate. You have learned to adjust to your injury. But what happens when that finger is stressed? It may feel unusually painful or it may become even more vulnerable to breaking again.  You may have learned to adjust to your emotional injuries in the same way. Unlike physical injuries, however, psychological injuries are much easier to hide. Yet psychological wounds linger in the back of your mind and remain dormant until you are confronted with a stressful situation that reactivates them.

 

The Wounding of Male Children                                  

       This year over a million and a half children will experience some form of emotional, sexual, or physical abuse and at least a quarter of these will be boys. But no matter what type of abuse a boy experiences, the physical and psychological pain that it causes him may result in many different types of problems throughout his life, most commonly the continued abuse of self and others.

       Many adults say, "Boys are flexible. They can handle it." Or "Kids forget about it when they grow up." My interviews with hundreds of men abused as children, however, have not proven this case. In fact the majority of these child victims of abuse have suffered for years. Many have numerous physical ailments, frequent nightmares, troubled interpersonal relationships, and serious behavior problems. Though many men try to forget their childhood experiences, the memories and their associated feelings still affect their lives.

       It has only been in the last few years that counselors are beginning to understand the male victim of child abuse.  This may be because more men seem willing to come forward and tell their stories. Why is this happening? Because men are now beginning to overcome the social pressure to be mentally and emotionally strong and to seem unaffected by their pain. Women are helping men overcome these social pressures by encouraging them to express their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Fifty years ago it was considered unmanly to cry. Today men are hearing from women and other men that it is OK to show their feelings. Many women now view it as a sign of strength when a man shows his emotions.

       Abuse may carry a particularly high price tag for men. Males perpetrate the majority of abuses and and males perpetuate the generational cycle of violence. In order to stop the cycle of violence, you need to heal yourself. In doing so you not only help yourself, but you contribute to a much-needed change in society. Today millions of adult male victims of child abuse suffer within themselves and many cause suffering in others. By bringing an end to your own pain, you are more likely to do the same for others--whether it's your child, your spouse, a sibling, a friend, a parent, or someone you touch professionally. Healing is contagious. When one person does it, it inspires others to do the same.

      

Am I a Wounded Man?

       How do you know if you are a wounded man? Start with the obvious--your behaviors. Do you have an explosive temper at home or at work? Do you have a difficult time making a commitment in an intimate relationship? Is there a lot of conflict in your marriage? Do you have a sexual problem? A drinking or a drug problem? Do you have trouble remaining sexually faithful in your relationship? Have you been violent with your spouse, partner, or children? Do you have addictive patterns in your life?

   Another way to determine if these invisible wounds exist inside of yourself is to look at your attitudes toward yourself and others. What do you think of yourself as a man? What do you like and dislike about yourself? Most people don't consciously take the time to examine their strengths and shortcomings. Wounded men often have a poor self-image or low self-esteem. They are often critical of themselves and others. A good clue to how you feel about yourself is to think about how you treat others, especially those with whom you are intimate or emotionally close. For example, if you verbally insult your partner, you probably grew up with a critical parent. I wouldn't be surprised to find that you are also very critical with yourself. Another attitude to examine is trust. Do you trust others? Do you think that people close to you would hurt you if they knew how you thought or felt? Betrayal of trust is one of the outcomes of childhood abuse. A trusted adult uses his or her greater strength and power to take advantage of the child. As a result of this betrayal the young child grows up distrusting others, especially those close to him. How would you rate your self-esteem? What are you attitudes about trust?

       A third area to look at is feelings. Do you know how you feel most of the time? Many wounded men lack an awareness of their feelings. As a result they are unable to communicate with others. On the other hand, you may be very aware of your feelings. In fact you may be overwhelmed by their intensity and confused when so many different types of feelings surface at one time. Men who experience these intense emotions usually find ways to anesthetize themselves. You may use alcohol and drugs to avoid feelings; but any compulsive behavior -- whether it's work, sex, eating, or withdrawal into a private world -- can serve the same purpose. It helps you run away from your personal problems. How well do you deal with your feelings?  How do you avoid your feelings?

       Problems in any one of these areas may mean that the abuse you experienced as a child is still affecting you today. Being abused as a boy, however, may not be the only reason for these difficulties in your life. The problems may be compounded by the fact that the way boys are brought up in our society actually predisposes them to any one or a number of the issues described above.

 

The Wounds in All Men

       Our experience as men is uniquely different from women's in two very important ways: an emphasis on thinking rather than feeling, and praise for using aggression and violence.  Abused or not, the way boys are raised in this society can predispose us to serious problems as adults, especially in relationships. These difficulties are most apparent in the areas of communication and aggression. When it's combined with the experience of abuse, the effects can be deadly. Let's take a closer look at how this happens.

      

"Thinking" versus "Feeling"

        First, from birth on, men are taught to use the "thinking mode" far more than the "feeling mode," to be "rational" rather than "irrational"; men are taught from an early age that to be emotional is to act like a girl or a sissy. Men also learn that reason and logic are the best skills for success.

        Here is an example. Rob, a forty-year-old lawyer, recently came to me because of his problems with alcoholism. He was raised by his alcoholic grandparents because his mother and his father abandoned him at an early age.  Rob's wife had just left him, and I asked how he felt about it.

       He looked at me with a blank stare and replied, "How do I feel? I think she should come back to me!" This man responded by using his thinking mode. He "thought" that she should come back to him. In order to help him get in touch with his feelings I asked a series of questions. The first was, "When you 'think' about her leaving you, what changes do you notice in your body?"

       After several minutes of concentration, he replied, "I get tense in my stomach."

       I then asked, "If that tension in your stomach had a voice, what would it say?"

       "Come back, I miss you, I need you."

       Next I asked him to say, "I'm scared, I am hurting."

       He repeated "I'm scared and I am hurting" several times, then he turned to me and said, "Yes, that's it, that's right." At that point Rob was beginning to learn the language of feelings.

       Because men are often uncomfortable with their feelings, they have great difficulty getting through the windstorms of life. When emotional difficulties arise they struggle--often unsuccessfully--with solving problems by using only logic. Men sometimes lack the flexibility to resolve their deepest feelings through other means, such as introspection and communication. The result is that men frequently try to think their feelings away, try to find the logic in their emotions, or, most commonly, try to find an external cause for the problem.

       Think about a time when your partner was trying to tell you her feelings. What was your response? If you're like me your first instinct was probably to try to understand why  she was feeling that way or how you could make her feel better. If you didn't see the logic in her feelings you probably got frustrated. She may then have accused you of "not understanding." You may have tried even harder to talk her out of her feelings. And then an argument may have exploded, seemingly out of nowhere. This all happens because we feel uncomfortable with feelings.  When we men "think" that we have found the cause for feeling uncomfortable, namely another person, then we often attempt to get that person to change and stop doing whatever we think it is that makes us feel uncomfortable. The problem with this strategy is that it never addresses the real problem of our discomfort with feelings. To compound the problem the other person experiences our response as controlling, not listening, and unsupportive.

       When we use the thinking mode exclusively, rather than in combination with the feeling mode, we tend to put less value on other people's feelings. This is why men have trouble communicating with women. It is as if we speak different languages. Women typically want to discuss their feelings, while men don't understand what the problem is. Men want to give advice. But women get angry because they don't want advice; they just want their feelings to be heard and accepted.

       For centuries society has not given approval for men to experience and express their feeling, nurturing, relationship-oriented sides. Although men and women have the capacity to act in both traditionally masculine and feminine ways, boys and girls are saddled with sex-role expectations from birth. And such expectations limit their abilities to experience the full range of human potential.

       Thus an important part of our healing process is to accept the various aspects of our inner self, both masculine and feminine. When we achieve inner balance we are able to respond in a flexible way to situations outside ourselves. If a situation calls for a feeling response, then we are free to respond in that way. If it needs a thinking response, then we can think. 

       Tom, a thirty-eight-year-old, self-employed contractor, came to counseling in the midst of his divorce. This tall, thin, blond-haired, well dressed man can into counseling on the advice of a friend. He was continually anxious, and unable to sleep, relax, or concentrate on work. He had been severely psychologically abused by his father, who never showed him any physical affection. As far back as Tom could remember his father told him that to cry, or show any emotion, was being a sissy. Tom grew up the epitome of the thinking man. Feelings were simply not a part of his repertoire.

       This wasn't too much of a problem until he married a very emotional woman. The more emotional she got, the more analytical he became. He felt intimidated by her feelings and responded by becoming even more analytical and emotionally distant. Over time he became estranged from his wife and found himself out of love with her. Eventually his wife left him. Now for the first time in his life, Tom began to feel something.  But these feelings were so intense that he didn't know how to verbalize them. I told Tom that this was an opportunity for him to get in touch with his feelings, to learn how to deal with a part of himself that his father had never allowed him to experience.

       It took a major crisis for Tom to let himself feel strong emotions. Over time he became more and more comfortable using his feeling mode when the situation called for such a response. Such a crisis is often the factor that propels men into facing their emotions. If you are in a similar state you can learn how to make use of your feeling mode in all areas of your life. Uncomfortable situations arise in our lives to teach us lessons. And until we learn the task at hand they will keep coming up over and over again. When a wounded man refuses to face this challenge the crisis can become very frightening.

 

Men and Aggression

       A second difference between men and women is that, from an early age, males are taught to use aggression and violence.

       As infants boys are handled more roughly than girls. Boys are encouraged to participate in "rough-and-tumble" play--which is a cute way of talking about childhood aggression and violence. As we get older and are able to utilize our "thinking mode," we are encouraged to solve problems using logic and common sense. However, if that approach doesn't work, most males don't automatically switch to the feeling mode; instead, they usually resort to force.

       Fighting is a "skill" every boy learns either to develop or at least to confront while growing up. We have to prove manhood by demonstrating our physical strengths. Fighting becomes a rite of passage. If we don't go out there and pick a fight, one will eventually come our way. Fighting also has rules. The first rule is: You should never walk away from a fight. If you do walk away, you are a coward, a sissy, or (worse, according to the rules) acting like a girl. The second rule is: If you fight and get hurt, you shouldn't cry, because big boys don't cry; only girls cry. Showing hurt is not a boy's alternative; there is no alternative but to tough it out. And this rule is enforced by male role models from TV, movies, sports, and music, who give boys the same message: Be tough, be aggressive, and show strength.

       How does this emphasis on aggression manifest if you experienced abuse as a child? As you begin to look inwardly you discover a great deal of hurt and anger. But society hasn't given you a great deal of approval to express your inner feelings, so you try to think them away or just to ignore them.  Yet doing so only serves to make the wound fester. And at certain times the pain, the anger, and the rage may be too great to ignore. Indeed, at such critical times, you are likely to express your feelings in aggressive ways, such as, physical, sexual, or psycholgical violence Social conditioning makes men prone to act out their feelings rather than to communicate them, so you may be more likely to act on your aggressive impulses. Why? Because that's what you learned as a child.

       The potential for aggressive responses to stressful situations is great for the wounded man.  To say to yourself, "I'll never be like him (or her)" or, if you have already been abusive toward others, to tell yourself, "I'll never do it again," is not enough to bring about a change in your life. You need to go beyond words and face your inner feelings, develop new attitudes toward yourself and others, and learn new skills in dealing with personal problems. It is imperative that you actively begin to heal yourself. The healing process described in the book will help you bring about these changes.   

 

Is Healing Possible?

        Healing is possible, though it will take some time and work.  Many men and women in the helping professions have found methods that have been effective in helping men overcome the devastating effects of childhood abuse. Many books have been written for women, and today more books are being written specifically for men. I have personally watched hundreds of men rise above their wounds and find peace of mind. I like to think of these individuals as heroes because it takes a great deal of courage to go to battle with our inner demons.

       It is very important for you to know that changing your patterns of behavior today does not totally depend on first healing all your childhood wounds. You can develop specific skills along the way to help you stop violence and substance abuse as well as to resolve marital difficulties. But, in the long run, only by healing your inner wounds from childhood abuse will you become able to prevent such serious behavior problems from reoccurring.  This book will help you find ways to heal your inner wounds and to change the behavior patterns that perpetuate the problems in your life.

 

The Stages of the Healing Process

       The process of healing your wounds from childhood abuse will, in many ways, be unique to your particular situation. However, four stages to healing are common to all men embarking on this journey. Healing is not a linear process so you may not experience each stage in the order given below.  But throughout your healing you will experience one or more of these stages individually or simultaneously.

 

       1. Awareness and disclosure of being a wounded man and unlocking the              thoughts and feelings that go along with those wounds.

       2.  Understanding how and why the abuse occurred and ultimately how it            affects you today.

       3. Learning new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to others.

       4.  Transformation, the process that allows the development of different             aspects of yourself.

 

       Each of these stages have qualities that are particularly important for you.

 

Stage One: Awareness and Disclosure

       Awareness and disclosure means acknowledging that you were abused as a child, and accepting all the thoughts and feelings that go along with that fact.

       We have many secrets that we keep from others. Some secrets are meant to be kept to ourselves. But the most damaging secrets are the ones that we fail to acknowledge, even to ourselves. This may be the case for you. The thought of facing the abuse is so uncomfortable that you may want to take the memories (and all the thoughts and feelings that accompany such memories) and lock them up in a trunk in the basement. You may do this consciously; or you may have done it so long ago that you have forgotten all about it. In either case, even though the trunk is locked, the secret will unconsciously control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors Once you acknowledge the abuse you will begin to take control.  You will no longer be a victim to the secret.

       Once you have acknowledged the abuse and the emotions to yourself, the next step is disclosure--telling someone else.  One result of hiding the secret is that you may feel a certain amount of alienation. Wounded men often feel misunderstood, detached, or estranged from others. Saying, "I was sexually abused" or "I feel angry at my father for physically abusing me" will have a cathartic affect on you. You are likely to feel an immediate release of inner pressure, as if a load has been removed from your chest. The disclosure process may involve telling friends or other family members of the abuse, although this does not mean you should blurt out your secret to everyone you meet. Telling your secret to a supportive person will help you feel less alone in the world. Disclosure is not very different from the idea of confession: it is a cleansing process that helps you feel a sense or relief.

       Eventually you may want to confront your abuser and this will be discussed in Chapter 9. But this should not happen until you have become quite comfortable with your own healing process.

 

Stage Two: Understanding

       Understanding goes beyond recognizing the long-term effects of the abuse. Answering the questions, "Why did the abuser act in that way?" and "What other problems were occurring for the person at the time?" may be a part of this stage of your healing process. Most important, this stage involves the realization that you were not to blame for the abuse. You did not cause the abuse or allow it to happen in any way.  It is up to adults to protect children; it is not the child's role to protect himself from adults. Developing a general understanding of why people abuse others--children, in particular--can help you step back from your experience and view it from a different perspective.

       For example, after many sessions of anger and tears, Mark, a fifty-two-year-old, well-dressed businessman who lived a fast-track lifestyle, was able to step back from his experience and understand why his father physically abused him:

    

It was very difficult for me to get beyond my anger toward my father for beating me all during my childhood. When I would think of him I'd only feel anger. As I began to look at his life and the problems he had, I began to realize, first, it wasn't my fault and second, he abused everyone he came in contact with. He grew up with a violent, alcoholic father and he just never dealt with his own pain. During the year in therapy that I began to deal with this part of my life, I actually began to develop some compassion for him. He was a sick guy. As I did I felt less angry and really began to feel in my heart that it wasn't my fault. Then I knew that I was beginning to heal.

 

Stage Three: Learning New Skills

       The learning process is based on the assumption that everyone, both men and women, wounded or not, can stand to pick up new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to others. You may have been feeling very angry all your life about the abuse. You are now experiencing dysfunctional patterns in your own relationships, but are doing nothing to change the present. You may have analyzed your past so completely that you now use it as an excuse or justification for your current problems. For example, when confronted about his abusive behavior toward his child, one man stated, "Oh, I do that because my parents treated me in the same way." The understanding becomes an excuse for current behavior rather than a reason to change. So you first need to learn that change is possible. No matter how long you have had a particular way of acting or thinking, with persistence and practice you can learn new skills and attitudes.

 

Stage Four: Transformation

       The transformation process occurs as you work through the other stages of the healing process. Awareness, disclosure, understanding, and learning help to change your attitudes, emotional disposition, and behaviors.  You may begin to notice these changes in yourself; more frequently, however, such changes are noticed first by others. You will hear friends make statements such as: "You have changed in the last year"; or "You are less tense, less on edge lately"; or "You have been expressing your feelings a lot more lately"; or "You seem more self-confident than you did several years ago."

       The transformation process also involves using the experience to cultivate other sides of yourself. For example, if you have a tendency to think and analyze your feelings away, then you may want to learn how to feel more comfortable with experiencing and communicating your emotions. Or, if you haven't learned to step back, deliberate, and understand your emotions, then you may need to develop your thinking skills. Men who find it easier to experience their anger may need to express their sadness more often. Extroverts who need constant attention from others may want to nurture their quiet side, becoming more comfortable with themselves.

       Transformation occurs when you use the abusive experience as a springboard to enhance sides of your personality that may have been blocked. Sometimes this happens consciously, such as when the extrovert says to himself, "I am going to spend some time alone today," or when the thinking type asks himself, "How do I feel about this situation?" At other times transformation occurs unconsciously over time through the process of healing.

       You may have transformed your experience in more obvious ways, such as getting involved with programs that help victims or offenders of violence. Maybe you have been attracted to a profession that encourages healing, such as psychology, peer counseling, medicine, or other people-helping fields. You can help others with their pain if you are willing to work on yourself as well.  In fact this can be an important part of your healing process. You may have entered a helping field and have worked with many victims of violence, only to discover that you too had an abusive childhood. If this is the case for you, attend to your own wounds so they won't get in the way of your helping others.

       As you transform your wounds you will find that you are less affected by the abuse than you were. You will feel better about yourself and how you respond to others. It doesn't mean that you will never feel the pain again or that you won't encounter problems in your relationships. But it does mean that you will not let your childhood experiences determine your response to those problems. You will have more choices, fewer knee-jerk reactions. Therefore you will have greater control over yourself.  Mark was physically abused by his mother. As a result he would become very defensive whenever a woman would criticize him . Now he can catch himself when this reaction occurs.  He can say to himself, "She is not my mother and I am not a child. Is she saying something valid or do I need to assert myself?"

       Ultimately your process of healing will be unique within this framework. Therefore your timing will be determined by your own inner readiness for any particular stage. That inner clock needs to be respected by counselors and family members as well as yourself. The choice to heal rests with you, and only you can decide when and how that will occur.

       Three years ago, during the week of Father's Day, I asked each man in my wounded men's group to imagine that his father was there in the group. Each group member was to tell his father something he had never told him before. I placed an empty chair in the center of the circle: "There he is: your father. What do you want to say to him?"

       The tension in the room increased tenfold. Each person began to express his thoughts and feelings. Barry, forty-five, and unemployed, who had been referred to the group for physically abusing his daughter and wife, was unable to do the exercise. He said that he was afraid. When I asked him what he was afraid of, he stated, "If I got in touch with how I feel about this guy I might get violent."  He wasn't ready for this exercise.   He had only been dealing with these intense feelings for a few months. I told him it was OK for him to just watch and listen to the others.

       A year later I repeated the exercise. This time Barry was able to participate. He was ready to open up to his feelings. It would have been abusive to force him to do something he wasn't ready to do a year ago. I respected him for knowing his limits. Only he knew when he was ready. It was important for him to feel in control.

       For two more years Barry struggled to heal his wounds from childhood abuse. He had witnessed years of violence between his mother and father. His father physically abused him and sexually abused his younger sister. When he was ten years old his mother killed his father with a knife. She was found guilty of murder and was sent to jail, and he lived in one foster home after another until he was eighteen. He developed a serious drug problem as an adult, which led to three marriages and three divorces. In each marriage he was physically abusive. He came into counseling after attempting suicide when his third wife left him for another man. He saw no hope for his future.

       At his first session he disclosed his mother's murder of his father. It was the first time in thirty-five years that he had talked about what happened. His rage toward his parents came up in every session. The hurt, fear, and pain were not far behind. The feelings seemed endless. Over time, however, they became less intense, less present and overbearing. Through his therapy he came to better understand his parents. He realized that he wasn't the cause of their problems. He wasn't to blame for the violence. Barry learned how the violence affected his own sense of self-esteem, and how he carried his rage into each of his marriages. He saw how he was blaming his wife for his pain, just as he was blaming himself for his parent's problems. Through his participation in the group Barry learned how to talk out his feelings and problems rather than act them out.

       Over a period of three years Barry was transformed. To this day he still has anger and sadness about what happened in his family. But he's better able to recognize when those old feelings are getting in his way of seeing what is going on at the moment. He occasionally falls into old patterns, but he's able to catch himself before they get out of hand. He says, "The memories are a reminder that I need to be careful. I don't want to forget them altogether. Otherwise I may repeat the same mistakes. I've had enough abuse in my life."


Chapter Two

Preparation for Your Journey

 

      

 

       You must begin your healing journey with the right attitude. The healing process is very difficult, a challenge of heroic proportions. In order to make your own particular journey less traumatic I encourage you to make a conscious decision to approach the process with a healthy attitude.

 

The Right Attitude

       How do you find the right attitude? The answer lies within letters of the word HOW: honesty, openmindedness, and willingness. These qualities are the key to healing your childhood abuse.*

 

Honesty

       The first step in addressing any problem, whether it's healing from childhood abuse, stopping abusive behavior, or controlling addictions, is to be honest with yourself and eventually with others. The latter is not possible without the former. 

       Being honest only begins with acknowledging the abuse; being honest about how the abuse affected you then and how it affects you today. It may be difficult for you to be honest in facing your vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and shortcomings or even to acknowledge that you have a problem. However, without honesty, the healing process is not possible.

 

* The concept of HOW (honesty, openmindedness and willingness) comes from Alcoholic's Anonymous. AA uses many such slogans that help keep the process of understanding and working the Twelve Steps simple.


      

       Another aspect of honesty is to acknowledge your feelings, fantasies, and thoughts. You may have feelings of anger, hurt, and fear that may be difficult for you to acknowledge and communicate. You may have negative thoughts or fantasies, such as abusing others or yourself, that are painful or embarrassing to talk about. Through honesty the wound is exposed and healing begins. Talking out your feelings, thoughts, fantasies, and memories will also help remove your tendency to act them out in unhealthy or destructive ways.

 

Openmindedness

       Along the healing journey you will encounter new ideas, concepts, and suggestions that may seem foreign, illogical, or even absurd. Later I will suggest that you complete certain exercises, which experience has shown me are helpful to men healing from childhood abuse. It is crucial to the healing process that you stay open, impartial, and give equal weight to these new ideas even if you don't understand the point. In order for you to change you need to be open to new ways of being, and to break through rigid, dysfunctional ways of viewing yourself and others.

       First and foremost you need to be open to the idea that healing is possible for you. It is equally important that you be open to the idea that your experience has not only caused you grief but presents you with an opportunity to learn to develop new aspects of yourself as well as new skills. Above all you need to be open to the notion that you are a hero. Breaking through old patterns of behavior takes persistence, strength, and the belief that the rewards are worth the effort. Don't forget, you have survived thus far and can move on from survival to success. It is also necessary for you to be open to the fact that you are fundamentally a good person, no matter what type of problems you now experience. Through healing your problems will decrease, and the way you go about solving them will be more productive.

 

Willingness

       Initially you may feel that you are being forced to address this problem because of a failing marriage, alcoholism, or an arrest.  You may begin to feel resentful that someone else is making you look at yourself in a way that brings up a great deal of pain, discomfort, or embarrassment. You will want to resist looking at this stuff; every man does at one point. It is important that you stay willing to stick with your journey even when the going gets rough. Because of your circumstances, willingness may begin as resignation; but over time you will become more inclined to want to change for you, not just for others.  

       Undoubtably there will be times along your journey when you will want to give up and go back to old patterns. This is where your willingness will be most challenged. In Alcoholics Anonymous they talk about willingness to go to any lengths to become sober. This means voluntarily doing whatever it takes to solve your problem. The hero who embarks on the healing journey is challenged in a similar way.  No matter how difficult the challenge, it is important for you meet it squarely and move forward as much as possible.

 

The Rough Spots

       As you begin the healing process you are likely to encounter some difficult periods that may slow you down, stop you altogether, or create a backslide. You may begin to feel overwhelmed by your emotions, confusion and shock, guilt and shame, depression, agitation and anxiety, flashbacks and dreams, and the urge to slip back into denial. Expecting these junctures and preparing ahead of time can help you lessen their impact.

 

Emotions

       During your healing process you are likely to become acutely aware of the reservoir of emotions that lays silently--and sometimes not so silently--within you. As you begin to recognize your anger, sadness, hurt, and fear you may initially feel overwhelmed by emotions that have lain dormant for years. You may even fear that you will lose control, go crazy, or will never feel good again if you begin to heal your wounds. Becoming aware of these intense feelings is an important part of the healing process. It will take you some time to get comfortable with them; but as you do, you will learn that they gradually decrease in intensity with passing time.

 

Confusion and Shock

       You may experience confusion and shock when you first acknowledge that you were abused as a child. You may ask yourself, "What do I do with this information?"  After such a disclosure it will take time for the dust to settle and for the direction of travel to become clearer. It is important to develop patience. Healing does not occur overnight. In this book I will make concrete suggestions on how to deal with such a disclosure. Such structure will help you get through the initial shock of facing your wounds.

 

Guilt and Shame

       After you acknowledge or disclose your abuse you may experience guilt and shame. This is a common response.

       You may be feeling protective of your abuser, thinking, "I don't want others to dislike him or for him to feel uncomfortable." Or you may be worrying about the turmoil it may cause in the family, "I don't want to cause problems with everyone." You may believe that somehow you brought this upon yourself and may be feeling ashamed of yourself. These feelings are ways that you continue to blame yourself for the abuse. Guilt and shame will only prevent you from doing the work you need to do in order to heal. It is probable that others may get upset if they knew about what happened. Maybe they should.

       Yes, your abuser may feel uncomfortable. But what about your feelings?

       The bottom line is that you are not to blame for the abuse. And although talking about it may cause others to feel uncomfortable, you need to take care of yourself. You don't have control over other peoples' feeling reactions. It may feel very uncomfortable for you and for them should you choose to disclose the abuse to family members. But you don't have to make that decision at this moment. Your protection of others is noble, but it may be at your own expense. You may argue, "That's what abuse is all about, hurting others at your own expense."  This is true. But there is a big difference between hurting those whom you are supposed to protect, and acknowledging or expressing your feelings even though someone may not like them. When you express yourself there is always the possibility that someone may not like it. Learning to express yourself without violating the rights of others is something you will learn about later in the book. Don't forget: Telling family members is something you may choose to do, but not for a while.

 

Depression

       Depression is another common response to acknowledging childhood victimization. You may already have been experiencing low-level depression before you began your healing process, but it may be exacerbated once the abuse is disclosed. The depression is often a result of anger that you long ago repressed or turned inward. The depression may also be a result of feeling helpless and powerless over uncomfortable feelings or situations. Like many men you probably like to feel in charge of your life, strong and in control. You may already be experiencing feelings of powerlessness and helplessness in your relationships and at work, stemming from the abuse. These feelings, along with the anger, sadness, and hurt, may be overwhelming and could cause depression.

 

Agitation and Anxiety 

       Agitation and anxiety in the form of feeling nervous and being unable to sleep or concentrate on work may also occur in the early stages of healing. You may feel on the edge of getting angry, irritable, or easily upset. Some wounded men find themselves obsessing about the abuse or other problems to the point that they can't get their work accomplished. Later in this book I will give specific suggestions on how to deal with anger constructively so that irritations and anxiety do not lead to abusive behavior.

 

Flashbacks and Dreams

       Flashbacks are intrusive memories about the abuse that may occur at any time. They may be very frightening and upsetting, but don't panic if you experience them. They are a normal part of the healing process and it's even a good sign that these memories are beginning to surface. It shows that you're becoming more open to dealing with the abuse and, most important, you are more ready psychologically to move along in the healing process.

       What most men find very frustrating about their flashbacks is their uncontrollability. That is, you can't control when, where, or if they are going to happen, although you can control what you do with them. One of my clients compared his dreams and flashbacks to the weather. We really can't control what the weather is going to be like today. All we can do is be prepared by listening to the forecast and having the right items in our possession (an umbrella for rain, a short-sleeved shirt for sun). If you wear the right clothes you will minimize your inconvenience and discomfort. In the same way, if you have the skills necessary to cope with feelings, dreams, and flashbacks, then the pain and anguish that accompanies these experiences will be somewhat diminished. Inappropriate responses to these experiences can be as self-destructive as going out in the rain without a coat. This is especially foolish if you already have a cold, because you're likely to catch pneumonia or  at least prolong the healing process.

       Dreams, like flashbacks, can also help or hinder the healing process depending on how you relate to them. Dreams can give you valuable information about your feelings, thoughts, and attitudes that can ultimately help you grow and learn more about yourself. If you consider yourself weak and crazy for having dreams then you are not going to be open to using them to heal. On the other hand, if you are receptive and even welcome them, you will find them a valuable tool along your healing journey.

 

Denial

       Slipping back into denial is a common tendency for most men involved in the healing process. You'll most likely feel that talking about the abuse once or twice will be enough for you. And, in fact, it may be--but just for the moment. The desire to protect others may lead you to minimize the abuse or change your mind altogether, saying, "It really wasn't abuse."

       Most men are task oriented, and they like to know when the job is done. Unfortunately, the milestones of healing are not always easy to distinguish. If you want immediate results you are likely to become frustrated and convince yourself that you are now OK, or you may just give up the journey out of frustration. Minimization and denial are the most common obstacles that men encounter in their healing journey. Faith in yourself is the strongest medicine you have to fight these tendencies. You have to believe in your ability to heal and become the type of person you want to be.

       As a child you probably felt on some level that the abuse was wrong. This voice was your inner wise old man trying to tell you that your perceptions were correct. It was abuse. Listening to that voice today will help you through the times when minimization and denial are strongest. The inner voice is what has gotten you this far in your healing journey.

 

Masculinity as a Help and as a Hindrance

       "Masculinity" refers to certain qualities or characteristics our society expects of men that are, for the most part, not genetically predetermined but learned behaviors. These characteristics include being strong, aggressive, rough-natured, rational, brave, independent, and so on.  "Femininity" refers to qualities our society expects of women, such as being emotional, passive, empathic toward others, gentle, home-loving, relationship oriented, dependent, and so on. Because these qualities are learned, we all have a certain amount of both sex-type qualities within our personalities. In fact more men and women today are changing these social prescriptions of expected behavior. Many women are aggressive, strong, rational, and independent; and increasing numbers of men express their gentle side and their emotions and are more home-loving and relationship oriented. More and more people are struggling to reach a balance in their masculine and feminine qualities.

       Masculinity and femininity are not inherently good or bad. Each has its place, depending on the situation. In fact each consists of qualities that can help you in your healing process. For example, it takes a great deal of inner strength and discipline to embark on a healing journey. When you are in the midst of experiencing powerful emotions your rational function can also serve you well. However, masculine qualities alone will not be enough to heal your inner wounds. If you tend to lean too much toward the stereotypic masculine, you may be lacking in certain qualities that may actually help you in your healing process.

       There are many feminine qualities that will help you through your healing journey. Allowing yourself to experience your emotional side will help you get through the painful moments. When you let yourself be passive and sit quietly you can learn a lot about yourself. Listen to your inner thoughts, allow your feelings to surface, and pay attention to your dreams and fantasies.  Empathy and compassion for yourself as well as others will help to raise your self-esteem. When you permit yourself to depend on the help of others you will find the healing process progresses more rapidly than if you weather the storms all alone.

       Striking a balance between masculinity and femininity can be one outcome of your healing journey. Throughout life we encounter situations that call for a particular response. Some situations require a more aggressive or rational reaction, others call for emotionality or reflection. Flexibility is the key to productive problem solving and this is especially true for your healing journey.   

 

Getting Over the Rough Spots

       There are a number of practical techniques for dealing with the rough spots and facilitating the healing process in general. You may want to try any one or a number of the following suggestions as you move along your journey. I have found professionally that a combination of recommendations works best. Some of these recommendations involve only yourself, some involve other people. The individual approaches are writing in a feelings log; using a dream journal; using art mediums as a form of personal expression; meditating; and waiting. The suggestions that involve others include talking with your wife or intimate other, a close friend, or a supportive family member; joining a support group; or seeing a professional counselor. Let's look at how you can work with each of these at any point in your healing journey.

 

When You Feel Overwhelmed: Use the Feelings Log

       The feelings log is simply a note pad in which you record your feelings.  You may use a pocket size or standard size pad, whichever is more convenient.  Carry it with you everyday and use it to write down incidents that stir up feelings, and what those feelings are. It may be something someone said to you or something that they did. Feelings may also come up because of thoughts, daydreams, nightdreams, or flashbacks.  For example, "Today my boss criticized my work.  It made me feel scared and angry."

       Putting your inner experiences on paper may help to give you some distance from them so that you can better understand how and why you react to situations the way you do. Writing down your feelings gives you something to do with them so that you don't just obsess about them, deny them, or act them out. Most important, writing can also help you become used to identifying and labeling your feelings. As you become more comfortable with your feelings in general, you will begin to find it easier to communicate them to others as well.

 

When You Experience Dreams or Flashbacks: Use the Dream Journal

       Keep another notebook by your bed and use it to record your dreams. Writing down your dreams and flashbacks will make them less frightening.  Write your dreams down in your journal and ponder to yourself their meaning. The best time to record your dreams is upon waking, before you get out of bed. Write down everything you can remember, even if it doesn't make any sense.

       Dreams may be difficult to interpret, since their messages are often cryptic and hidden. A simple rule of thumb is that every character, object, and event in the dream says something about you personally, because it is coming from your unconscious. You need not always take the dream literally (though sometimes this is the case); the messages need to be decoded through the process of interpretation. It is also useful to attempt to tie your dream to something happening in your current life.

       Here are a few suggestions.  First, write out all of your associations to each part of the dream. If you dream about a large house and a room in the basement that is painted deep blue, write down all your personal associations to large houses, basements, and the color blue. If it's a particular house, note how you feel or think about that house. The next step is to tie those associations to what is going on inside of you. If your association to the color blue was sadness, you may find that perhaps you may be feeling sad inside. But the blue room is in the basement, where it's less likely to be noticed. Finally you ask yourself, "What is this dream trying to tell me?"  Dreams are often compensatory, that is, they attempt to balance our conscious attitudes. If you've been avoiding your sad feeling, this dream could be telling you that it may be healthy for you to go down into the basement and check out that blue room, your sadness. The exact meaning of your dreams may not always be apparent, but the more often you attempt to interpret your dreams the easier it will be to understand their messages.*

       John had started individual therapy after completing an inpatient drug and alcohol program. Thirtynine, married with sixteen-year-old son, physically fit and owing a sucessful dental practice he felt like he was on top of the world.  Yet he needed to better understand how he developed his alcohol problem in the first place--neither one of his parents drank. During the course of treatment he disclosed, for the first time to anyone, that he had been sexually abused by his uncle. Speaking of the abuse was painful for John. I spent several sessions just helping him get through the initial wave of intense emotion. After his revelation he came into session with the following dream.

 

I was in this old hotel where drug pushers and prostitutes hang out. All of a sudden there was an earthquake. The building collapsed and I was left standing alone. I was terrified, I didn't have a structure to protect me from the earthquake. There was smoke everywhere and dust in the air from all the fallen buildings. I couldn't see where to go.

 

*For a more thorough description of how to interpret your dreams see Robert Johnson , Innerwork: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986).

      

       John's dream was saying something about how he felt at the time of the disclosure. He felt as if he had been in an earthquake. A sudden and potentially dangerous shift occurred in the ground upon which he was standing. Facing the fact of his abuse had left him feeling insecure, uncertain, unsteady. In his dream he says that he was terrified. Yet, he was unharmed. John, in spite of his emotional condition, was still standing with both feet on the ground. He was keeping himself together. In the dream there was smoke ("Where there's smoke, there's fire") indicating that he has some fires to confront. The fires could be heat, passion, or emotion that he needs to  recognize and contain. The dust hadn't settled yet so it wasn't clear what direction to go. This was also true for John. He had just acknowledged his experience as a child. He was still confused.  It wasn't clear what would happen next. I suggested to him that sometimes it's better just to let the dust settle, that is, to let his emotions simmer off before moving on. This was a positive dream for John because we were able talk about the process of healing.

       As with dreams, writing down your flashbacks gives them room for expression so that they don't stay stuck inside of your head. Flashbacks can also give you valuable information about the nature of the abuse you experienced.  John would frequently have flashbacks about his uncle's abuse during sex. Initially he found these memories frightening and overwhelming. As he began to write them down and talk about them in counseling, he discovered that they lost some intensity and frequency. A year later they rarely occurred.

       Flashbacks are a normal part of the healing process. If you accept them, even welcome them, their occurrence will be less often and less disturbing. Most important with flashbacks, you are likely to experience feelings along with them. Writing down these feelings in your feelings log will defuse them so that you can go about with your daily business and not be taken off track.

 

If You Can't Put It in Words: Use Other Creative Mediums

       Some men have a great deal of difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings. If this is so for you, you may want to sketch your thoughts, feelings, dreams, and flashbacks in pen, pencil, chalk, or crayon.  Working in clay or wood, playing a musical instrument, or body movement can also help you in express feelings. You need not be "talented" in any of these areas to experience them. The purpose of these exercises is to release your feelings and thoughts by transforming them into another form. No matter what medium you choose the process of acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, dreams, and flashbacks is a way to honor yourself and invite healing.

 

To Calm Yourself Down: Use Meditation

       Sitting quietly with yourself and thinking peaceful, relaxing thoughts--or not thinking at all--can be quite an effective way of getting through the difficult periods of healing. John goes to the beach and sits quietly, listening to the sound of waves and seagulls. Tom finds that watching the fish swimming inside his aquarium calms him down.  Barry practices meditation regularly, especially when the going gets rough. Learning to quiet and soothe yourself is important simply because there will be times when you will need immediate calming down from your intense emotions.

       Find a quiet place where you are not likely to be disturbed by telephone, children, partner, television, roommates, and so on. Get into a comfortable position and take a deep breath. You can close your eyes if you like. Take several deep breaths and, as you exhale, let your body relax. Focus on each part of your body one at a time (head, arms, chest, legs, and so on), and as you breath out let all the tension leave that part of your body. Take your time. If all the tension doesn't go away the first time, don't worry. Like most skills meditation takes time and practice. Once you have completely relaxed your body, or relaxed as much as you can, focus on a peaceful image in your mind (such as laying out on the warm sand by the beach), an actual object (such as a fish swimming in an aquarium), or just let your mind go blank. The purpose of this exercise is to relax both your mind and your body. If thoughts begin to intrude, just wipe your mind clean like an eraser on a blackboard.

       If you are interested in other more involved methods of meditation, many bookstores carry a variety of books and tapes on this topic.

 

When You Don't Know What Else to Do: Wait

       An important part of the healing process is learning to wait out the storms of emotion or anxiety. Men are notorious for wanting to act on their feelings to make them go away sooner. Sometimes doing something is the right thing to do but at other times it is best simply to sit with your feelings. You can learn a lot about yourself by doing this. You may learn that your feelings come and go on their own. You will learn that you can survive these intense moments of emotionality, confusion, or anxiety. You may even learn more about your feelings by experiencing them intensely.

       If you are feeling overwhelmed just sit with your thoughts and feelings. Write down what comes to mind during the next couple of days. Use meditation if the feelings get overwhelming. Wait. When you are ready to act, you will know what to do.

 

If You Need Support: Talk with a Friend, Lover, or Family Member

       If you are comfortable with the idea, consider talking with someone about your thoughts and feelings. You don't have to give that person details, but you may want to let him or her know what you are doing. For example:

 

• I'm reading this book on healing from childhood abuse and I am feeling very frightened (angry, sad, and so on.).

 

• I'm reading this book on adults who were abused as children and I'm confused as to whether or not I was abused.

 

• I'm reading this book about child abuse and it's really painful to read.

 

       Warning: Talking abut your abusive experiences with another person, no matter how supportive and caring they are, can lead to a fight. How does this happen? When you begin to disclose the abuse you are likely to feel a little apprehensive about their reaction. Anger is likely to surface and you may become somewhat defensive. This is especially true if you don't get the kind of reaction that you wanted. If an argument begins to develop, take a break, cool off, and then resume the conversation. The last thing you want is to dump a load of anger onto someone from whom you want support.

       If you find yourself beginning to get defensive or angry again, you may want to stop the discussion and find a counselor who can help you in this process. Chapter 4 suggests some specific ways to go about choosing the right person to talk with.

 

If You Want Support from Other Wounded Men: Join a Men's Group

       If there is no one to whom you can talk about this issue, you may want to consider joining a support group for men who were abused as children. Meeting with other men who are going through a similar journey can be very supportive. It can be very reassuring to know that you are not the only man struggling with this issue. Don't try to do it all by yourself. Solicit the support of other men who are struggling with similar issues.  You don't have to fight the bad guys all by yourself.  John, for example, found out that doing it alone is counterproductive.

 

For years I thought that I could deal with my past by myself. I never told anyone that I was sexually abused by my uncle, not even my wife.  I figured if I could just forget about it, I would be OK. But the more I tried to forget, the more it would intrude in my mind. I would think about it during sex with my wife, even when I would affectionately touch my son. 

Three years before my uncle died, my wife and I decided to let him live in our carriage house. Uncle Richard and my son were very close. I didn't think he would ever do anything to him. I would tell myself that he was too old. I didn't want to make waves between my uncle and my wife.

When my son was sixteen he hospitalized for a serious drug problem. He told his therapist that he had been sexually abused by my uncle. Maybe if I had only been willing to talk about it with someone, he never would have done this to my son. At least my child is now talking about it with us.  I am now talking about it with others as well.

      

       Appendix One makes specific suggestions with regard to counseling as an aid in the healing process. Individual, group, and peer counseling can make the healing process that much easier and quicker, and I recommend it to all men. This is especially true if you are having any of the difficulties described earlier in this chapter. If you think that counseling can help you in your healing journey, you may want to read Appendix One now and begin to look for support. You will also find the names, addresses, and phone numbers of organizations that provide support for adults abused as children. Call to find what resources are available in your community.

 

Take Your Time

       It can be very frightening to confront your wounds so directly and deliberately. Proceed at a pace that is comfortable for you. Don't try to live up to some self-imposed schedule. You cannot go faster than you are psychologically prepared.

       Remember, there will be times in your healing process that you will feel very uncomfortable. Doing any one or a number of the previous suggestions will help decrease your discomfort, but may not take it away altogether. It is important that you learn how to ride through the difficult times. You can do this by reminding yourself this is a part of the healing process. Try reassuring yourself: "I will get through this storm of emotion. I have survived this long and I will survive again." Don't forget, as a child you were able to survive because you could tap into an inner strength. This was the hero within you. Survival is not accidental or coincidental. It occurs because you have the hope that a better life is possible. You need inspiration especially when times are hard. Sometimes the optimism of a child is necessary when adults are caught up in their hopelessness and cynicism. That optimistic child still exists within you. Make room for him.

       Ultimately you need to believe in yourself and in your ability to heal. Use this opportunity to grow, to become happier than you have ever imagined you could feel. This journey is an adventure into an unknown territory. The path will not always be easy. At times you will feel like turning back. But, if you keep struggling, your efforts will be well rewarded. The old adage, "No pain, no gain," contains more than a kernel of truth. So use your failures, mistakes, or setbacks as opportunities to grow, to learn more about yourself and others. But be aware that, when happy, we often seem content to stay that way. We want to capture those moments and never let them end. However, emotional pain is not unlike physical pain; it is our mind's (as opposed to our body's) way of telling us that something is in need of fixing and we need to pay attention to ourselves.

       Finally the healing process means rising above the childhood abuse and finding the many positive qualities in yourself that you developed because of--and in spite--of those experiences. For example, the abuse may have made you more sensitive to pain and suffering in others. Or, despite your conditioning, you may have made a vow never to abuse your child. In order to do this you will need to learn how to focus on your positive qualities as well as your problems. All along this journey you will get to know yourself better. You will better understand your reactions to other people and situations. You will also discover that you have choices in how you will respond. The rewards for your work will be higher self-esteem and subsequently more positive friendships and intimate relationships.

 

Knowing When You Are on the Right Track

       Sometimes your healing process will be overwhelming and confusion can set in. At these times it is important to keep things in perspective. You can't do everything at once. You need to slow down and trust that when you are ready to work on a particular issue you will take that step.

       Throughout this book you will read about issues that need to be addressed so that healing can occur. It will be helpful for you to identify guideposts or milestones that indicate that the healing process is progressing and that you are indeed on the right track. Some of these guideposts are listed below. When you find yourself doing any of the following behaviors or accepting these attitudes you will know that you are healing your wounds and that you do indeed have the courage to change the things within you that are within your control.

 

• When you acknowledge that you were an abused child, you are on the right track.

• When you are able to ask for help from others, you are on the right track.

• When you acknowledge that you are no longer a victim, you are on the right track.

• When you don't blame others and take responsibility for yourself, you are on the right track.

• When you begin to show your feelings more, you are on the right track.

• When you are stopping your own abusive behaviors, you are on the right track.

• When you are not trying to control others, you are on the right track.

• When you are willing to take responsibility for your own abusive behaviors, you are on the right track.

• When you are willing to acknowledge the hurt you have caused others, you are on the right track.

• When you are being honest with people close to you on a daily basis, you are on the right track.

• When you are willing to recognize your mistakes, you are on the right track.

• When you are willing to help other wounded men, you are on the right track.

• When you are able to identify ways that you contributed to a conflict in your relationship, you are on the right track.

• When you are able to tell yourself that you are a good and valuable person, you are on the right track.

• When you are able to appreciate your partner's point of view, you are on the right track.

• When you are able to tell your partner, "You're Right", you are on the right track.

• When you are able not to let your old feelings and attitudes dictate how you will relate to others, you are on the right track.

• By reading this book, you are on the right track.

 

 

 


Chapter Three     

The Abuse and the Wounds

 

       If you are like most wounded men, you may not be certain if you were abused or if what you experienced was really abuse. Having a definition of abuse is a necessary first step to being able to say to yourself or others, "I was abused." Understanding how abuse affects men will also help you identify your own particular wounds.

 

What Is Abuse?

       Think for a moment about what you consider to be abuse. If you are like most men, your first thoughts will be about physical violence--being beaten, having bones broken, being caused to bleed, or having been bruised. But do you consider fondling or oral sex as abuse? How about witnessing family violence? What about being called derogatory names or being locked in a closet? Most men don't immediately associate these behaviors with abuse. Yet abuse encompasses a wide range of behaviors and is not limited to physical abuse or violence that causes injuries.

       The four types of child abuse are: physical; sexual; psychological (which includes witnessing spouse abuse); and physical and emotional neglect. These are not distinct categories and there is much overlap. In fact children rarely experience only on type of abuse. For example, you probably also experienced psychological abuse if you were physically or sexually abused. Or you may have experienced both physical and sexual abuse. If you witnessed your father physically abuse your mother (psychological abuse), then you may also have been a victim of physical abuse by either parent.  What do all these forms of abuse have in common? First, each form of abuse has a negative impact on the child's physical and emotional development. Years of professional experience has shown that one out of three adults who grew up in a violent home will experience serious problems. Second, all forms of abuse can be stopped. Both perpetrators and victims can break the cycle by getting help.  This may be an important part of your healing process. You may be abusing others or be in a position to stop an abuser from hurting someone else.

       Third, all forms of abuse are against the law. Child abuse is now illegal in all states. Why? Children, because of their lack of intellectual, emotional, and physical maturity, are unable to protect themselves from adults. Adults have more power over children and, therefore are in a position to exploit that power.

       Let's look more specifically at the types of behaviors included within each form of child abuse.

 

Physical Abuse

       As with any definition of violence, the extremes are easy to identify. A light slap on a child's bottom is probably not child abuse, but breaking a child's jaw definitely is. It is with the in-between cases that you are likely to have trouble separating abuse from what you may have thought was normal punishment. You can distinguish abuse from "normal" or "acceptable" corporal punishment by physical and emotional injuries.

       Physical injuries may have occurred as a result of having been:

 

•slapped

•punched

•choked

•kicked

•bitten

•burned

•clawed

•scratched

•having your hair pulled

• being hit with a belt, stick, cane, pipe, whip or any object.

 

Injuries range from:

 

•receiving bruises

•black eyes

•welts on the skin

•being caused to bleed

•having bones broken

•being wounded with a knife or gun.

 

       By today's legal standards, physical child abuse is defined as any corporal punishment that either leaves marks or is potentially dangerous to the child.

       Jerry came to see me to learn hypnosis.  He was a profesisonal football player and need to stop a chain-smoking habit.  I asked him when were times he was likely to smoke more.  He answered, "When ever I visit my parents."  When I asked why Jerry recalled having been physically abused by his father:

 

   My dad was a physician. Everyone used to tell me what a great father I had. We lived in a small town in western Colorado, and he was the only doctor. In fact, he delivered many of my friends.

   But I used to dread his coming home at night. He'd slowly pound his feet up the steps to the front door. I used to count the steps. He'd come inside, close the windows, and pull all the shades. He'd look for me to find out what I had done wrong that day. As he was looking he'd pull off his belt and start calling for me. I'd hide under my bed, in my closet, or down in the basement, but he would always find me. He'd make me pull down my pants and underpants. Then he'd take that brown belt of his and begin to beat the living daylights out of me.

   My ass hurt for days when I would sit down. My mother would turn away; she'd pretend that nothing was happening. I couldn't cry when he beat me or else he'd hit me harder. I hated him for so long.       

      

       Not all victims of physical abuse experience physical injuries. For example, Micheal came to counseling to deal with his anger--especially with his wife.  Although he was only five-foot-four inches tall, when he would get angry he became a giant of a guy.  He never hit his wife but would yell and intimidate her.  He was abused by his stepfather, but never once was there a physical injury:

 

     He would slap me in the face all the time. I mean really all the time. I remember one week when he slapped me on eight different occasions. I was terrified of him.

     Sometimes he'd slap me for breaking a rule; other times he would slap me for nothing. He would sometimes correct my homework and make me sit down next to him and make the corrections. If I didn't do it right, he'd slap me on the back of the head.

     I never thought of this as abuse because he never made me bleed--except on one occasion--or it never left marks. But when you asked me how I felt about it rather than what I thought about it, well, it felt like abuse.

 

Sexual Abuse

       Child sexual abuse is any kind of forced or exploitive sexual contact or attempted sexual contact between adults and a person under the age of eighteen. To exploit someone is to take advantage of greater power or status over another person. Obviously, your parents or other caretakers, such as, school teachers, neighbors, friend of the family, or a day care worker, had greater power and status than you. You might have been forced into sexual abuse or manipulated or tricked into touching someone or being touched.

       Sexual touch can be obvious or subtle:

 

•being orally or anally penetrated

•being touched on the penis or buttocks

•being touched sexually on the legs, arms, back or other parts of the body

      

       Sexual abuse may also involve:

 

•being forced to watch a person expose himself or herself

•being tricked or forced into exposing yourself

•obscene phone calls

      

       Bret, thirtyfive and a lab tech at a local hospital, was arrested for sexually abusing his stepdaughter. Once he entered a group for other incest offenders he disclosed that he had also been a victim of sexual abuse. He described how his father would trick him into performing sexual favors: "My father used to come into my room at night and want to play a game with me for money. He would hide a dollar bill in his clothes and I would have to find it. He used to hide it in his ass or wrapped around his penis. I would touch him and he would get an erection. Then he'd tell me what I would have to do for another dollar."

       Leonard, a seven foot tall bus driver who play professional baskeball until sustaining a serious knee injury, was sexually abused by his father.  He described how he felt intruded upon sexually by his stepfather before he touched him: "He used to undress in front of me and barge into my room when I was getting ready for bed. Sometimes he'd come into the bathroom when I was taking a bath or a shower and stare at me. I could tell he was getting excited. It felt so uncomfortable but I didn't know what to say at first. I mean he never touched me until a year or so later."

 

Psychological Abuse

       Psychological abuse is very difficult for men to define. Psychological abuse includes:

 

•name calling

•humiliation

•rejection

•putdowns

•degrading

•belittling

•being made to feel ashamed of oneself

•isolation

•being corrupted

•threats of abuse

•threats to kill

•witnessing marital violence.

      

       Tony endured years of mental cruelty, or emotional abuse, from his father. Ultimately this treatment caused him to have low self-esteem. He was very critical of himself and would get very defensive at even constructive feedback from his wife. His wife insisted that they get into couples counseling and Tony reluctantly went along.  A shy man by nature, Tony grew up during the depression so learning to talk about feelings wasn't a priority.  What he did learn, however, was about psychological abuse.  He described how his father would mentally beat him down:

 

When he would yell at me, it would be so loud that I couldn't even hear the dog bark or the phone ring. He would corner me and stand over me like a raging monster. He would call me every name in the book and then he would threaten to beat me if I didn't repeat what he said. I would call myself all those names and he would raise his fist at me if I forgot one. Afterwards I would look in the mirror and I would see what he said to me. I really was what he said I was. I didn't think about hating him, all I could think about was what a piece of shit I was.

      

Isolation

       Psychological abuse may also include having been isolated for hours or days.

       Jerry described his being sent to his room for days on end. Tony remembered being locked in a closet for hours. Other men I have talked with have described being chained to the bathroom sink or tied to their bed.  This type of psychological abuse--confinement--can be especially frightening. It caused each man to think that, as a boy, he was alone in the world, that no one could help him, and that he had to endure his pain alone.

      

Being Corrupted

       Having been corrupted is another type of psychological abuse. This includes having been exposed to very negative role models or not having had limits set on your problem behaviors.        

       Barry's father frequently came home drunk with prostitutes and made Barry watch them have sex in the living room. When Barry became a teenager his father would encourage him to participate in these activities.

       Having been abandoned by his parents, Rob was raised by his alcoholic grandparents.  As an adolescent his grandparents would encourage Rob to get drunk. On occasison he would visit his real mother and would watch her freebase cocaine or use needles with her friends. In fact, his she also allowed Rob to use drugs and alcohol, which ultimately led to his developing a serious addiction of his own.

      

Threats

       Many parents threaten children with physical punishment if they misbehave. An appropriate punishment, such as loss of privileges, can be an effective way of teaching a child the difference between proper and improper behavior. Having been threatened with violence can be a very damaging form of psychological abuse, especially when taken to extremes. Sam, for example, recalled how his father threatened to kill him and described explicitly how he would do it with his hunting knife Mark's father told him he would "break every bone in his body."  Rob's grandfather would become verbally abusive when he was drunk.  On one occassion he threaten to strangle Rob with his belt.

      

 

Witnessing Parental Violence

       Another form of psychological abuse is having witnessed violence between your parents. Such experiences can be terrifying for a young person to watch and can leave deep emotional scars.  Barry recalls the night his mother murdered his father:

    

     Arguments between Mother and Father were a common experience growing up in my household. But I had a feeling that night was going to be different. Father was in his usual alcoholic rage, swearing at Mom. Chairs and other pieces of furniture were being knocked around. The sounds of slaps and punches echoed in my head. My mother's voice gradually became hoarse from her screaming and crying. Then there was a loud scream and then--silence.

     Mom walked out of the bedroom, where most of the fights took place, and passed out on the living-room couch. I looked into the bedroom and I saw my father on the floor. I thought at first he was asleep; he laid there so quiet and peaceful. Then I saw the pool of blood.

     The next thing I remember the police were all over the place, asking questions, taking photographs, carrying my father away in a plastic bag, and arresting her. I hated them both and I swore at that moment I would hate them forever.

      

Physical and Emotional Neglect

       You may not be able to pinpoint specific acts of physical, sexual, or psychological violence that occurred in your childhood. For you it may not have been what your parents did to you, but what they didn't do. In other words they may have neglected to provide essential care to you as a child. Certainly the kind of clothes you wore, the type and amount of food you ate, the number of toys you owned, and the places you traveled were dependent on your family's financial resources. However, your parents may have failed to provide you with such necessities regardless of their financial resources.

       Physical neglect includes:

 

•not providing medical care, food, clothing, supervision or proper shelter for a child

•permitting or encouraging a child to participate in negative or unhealthy behaviors       

      

Physical Neglect

       Leonard's stepfather drank away his paychecks. As a result, the family was forced to live in an unheated, barren basement for most of his childhood. Rob's grandparents didn't provide proper medical care for him. For most of his childhood they were out drinking, so Rob and his younger sister were forced to find food and cook for themselves. He frequently cut school in order to take care of his younger sister. One year he missed half the school year. His grandmother's response to the school principal was, "He's seven years old. He can decide for himself."

       Neglect may also have been in the form of a lack of supervision. As a young child, Micheal remembered being left alone in the house for days at a time, having to prepare his own meals, wash his own clothes, and walk himself to school. After his father and mother divorced, Micheal lived with his mother. She was cold, distant, and generally unavailable. As an adult he's had a great deal of difficulty being physically or emotionally close to anyone, even his wife.

       Having been encouraged and permitted to engage in negative behaviors is another form of physical and emotional neglect. Andrew was referred for counseling as a condition of parole.  Having been recently relased from jail he was making an effort to get his act together.  He was attending AA and had found a steady job as a machinist.  Counseling wasn't new to him--he was "talking to the man" as far back as he could remember.  He described to me what at the time seemed to have been a free and easy childhood:

 

I used to think that I couldn't have had an easier childhood. My parents didn't care what time I came home. They would let me use their alcohol and pot. I would be stoned or drunk during dinner and my father wouldn't know the difference. They didn't hassle me if I flunked a class or got a notice for cutting altogether. Yes, I had an easy life. Then the trouble started when my girlfriend got pregnant and I got busted for drugs in school. My parents did nothing. I kept getting into more trouble and they kept doing nothing. I kept asking for help by getting into more trouble and they kept doing nothing. By the time I was fourteen, I would get drunk at home in front of my parents. I got kicked out of high school and started stealing to get money for drugs. I was in and out of juvenile hall for most of my teens and then when I turned eighteen I started getting to know the adult system. I have served two three-year terms in jail. I've been fucked, beaten, and stabbed. My life has been a downhill road from day one. Getting into trouble is my old friend and I hate to say goodbye to him.

      

Emotional Neglect

       Emotional neglect may be the most difficult form of abuse for you to identify in your own childhood. It also may have had the most damaging effects on your life.

      

       Emotional neglect consists of:

 

•not having been loved

•not having received affection, empathy and genuine caring

 

       Most of us can say there were brief times when we felt that our parents didn't love, care about, or understand us. But emotional neglect is not just a fleeting feeling you get when you don't get your way. It is something that is pervasive, ongoing and evident in certain observable behaviors.     

       Tony felt unloved by his father. His dad never showed any physical affection and never told Tony that he loved him. His father was cold, distant and still is to this day. When Tony was five years old he asked his father if he loved him. His father replied, "Only when you are good." Michael frequently got verbally abused by his father, so he grew up assuming that his father didn't love him. Rob's mother and father were divorced. He never knew his father. Rob was essentially raised by his grandparents when they weren't drunk.

       The extreme withholding of love and affection can be as traumatic to a child as physical violence. Barry's father continually told him, "I hate you. You are a worthless son of a bitch and no one is ever going want you."  Sam's mother got drunk and called him "an unlovable piece of shit."  It is easy to see how an emotionally abused child may grow up to feel extremely inhibited--prevented from discussing his difficulties with friends and family members, believing that he must solve his problems alone.

       Having an alcoholic or drug addicted parent can also cause emotional neglect. If one or both of your parents were generally intoxicated or high, they were probably unable to provide you with proper supervision, attention, and love. Even if only one of your parents was addicted, chances are that your other parent was so absorbed with the problems of his or her spouse that no one was emotionally available for you. If you grew up in a single-parent family where there was alcoholism or other addictions, you probably ended up taking care of your parent rather than the reverse, as it should be.

       Having had pathological role models as parents can also be a form of emotional neglect. Rob's mother was involved in criminal activity. Rob was exposed to all types of seedy characters as a child. For him, experiencing the dark side of life was common place. It was just as frightening for Rob to be in his mother's house as it was to be on the street. Rob learned to not be afraid of breaking the rules. He even figured out how to outsmart the system once he started getting arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

 

The Effects of Abuse

       The effects of abuse generally fall into three categories: emotional, attitudinal and behavioral. If you suffer from emotional effects of abuse, you will either experience overwhelming feelings or have troubling identifying them at all. Feeling reactions include: anger, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, and depression.

 

       Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks are linked with emotional reactions because they usually carry with them a great deal of emotional charge. When an idea or something we see or hear that reminds us either consciously or subconsciously about the traumatic event, it triggers an emotion or memories connected to the abuse.

       Attitudinal reactions have to do with your attitudes towards yourself and others. Two common reactions to childhood abuse in this category are: low self-esteem and distrust of self and others.

       Finally, behavioral reactions are manifestations of feelings and attitudes. These include destructive behaviors, such as violence and addictions; and issues relating to sexuality, such as sexual orientation confusion, hypersexuality, or loss of sexual desire.

 

Emotional Reactions

 

Anger

       Feeling anger is one of the most common reactions to having been abused. The pain of being rejected by a trusted adult created a bundle of anger of you that you have kept in all these years. Eventually you will express those feelings either directly or indirectly.  More often than not, you will misdirect it towards others.

       Anger is a normal reaction to being abused. Ordinarily anger tells us that we are uncomfortable with a situation and motivates us to respond appropriately. Unfortunately you were probably unable to express your anger directly to your abuser because it only increased the likelihood of more abuse. You may have also gotten the message from your abuser that getting angry was inappropriate, disrespectful, or just plain wrong. So the anger doesn't go away by itself, it sits and festers.  And over time that anger turns into rage and gets harder to ignore.

       If you feel uncomfortable with your anger you will purposefully try to avoid situations that make you feel more anger. Gradually your goal becomes to not feel or show anything. This pattern may be so automatic for you that you lose touch with your feelings altogether.

       Sam still feels a great deal of anger toward both his parents. He describes why:

 

My father would come home drunk just about every night. He'd ask my mother what I did wrong that day. She was so afraid of him, she would tell him something just to keep him off her back. I thought she was a weak bitch for sacrificing me for her own ass. He'd come into my room and wake me up. He'd start hitting me with anything that was nearby--a ruler, a piece of track from my train set. Once, he started poking a pen into my butt. I tried not to cry so that I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing he was hurting me. I was terrified even when I heard the car drive up into the garage. I hated him then and I still hate his guts.

      

Other Emotions

       In addition to anger you may also feel sad, lonely and hopeless. Your inner sadness at being abused by a trusted parent, relative, or friend can sometimes be beyond words. Being unable to express your feelings, you probably felt a great deal of loneliness. You think, "No one knows how much I hurt inside." You may have also felt hopeless that the abuse would ever stop. The physical pain would disappear after a matter of hours or days, but this emotional pain has lasted for years.

       Feelings usually travel in groups--if you're feeling one you may be also feeling others. Some men find that they have to express their anger before they can get to those more vulnerable emotions.  Anger and sadness are like the shell and yolk of an egg. The yoke is the precious part of the egg where new life begins; the shell needs to be hard enough to protect that new life. However, you need to break out of that shell of anger eventually to begin a new life.

       Like anger, these feelings are probably not easy for you to express, but they are just as important to release. Why? Because many of the behavioral problems that you will read about later are in part caused by a lack of comfort with or an inability to communicate these feelings.

       Men are conditioned from early childhood not to feel or express their feelings. Tapes like, "Feelings are not manly" or "Big boys don't cry" play in your mind more than you are probably aware.  Few men have seen their father cry. Our television and movie heroes don't cry. When our sports heroes lose, they go out and drink their sorrows away. Yet within every man who was wounded as a child is a hurt, sad boy who yearns to be held and comforted. If you do not express these feelings they will snowball and cause depression. These intense feelings can take you over and, at times, may be overwhelming.

 

Fear

       Fear is another emotion that you have felt for many years. As a child it kept you alert and focused on danger and probably saved you from being abused at times. Today that fear may not be so helpful It may keep you from making intimate commitment to others. You may be overly suspicious of the people around you. This fear may also keep you from expressing your feelings.  In a relationship your fears can lead to jealousy and distrust.

 

Depression                                                              

       When you do not acknowledge and express your emotions in a healthy way, feelings of anxiety or depression can result. Depression can feel like a cloud hovering over you, day in and day out. You will lose interest or the ability to concentrate in most activities. You may have a significant gain or loss of weight, sleep problems, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, or even thoughts of suicide. Anxiety, on the other hand, may lead to excessive worry about self or others, physical restlessness or nervousness, heart palpitations, sweating, stomach problems, and trouble falling asleep. Medication can help to lift depression or calm anxiety in the short run; but learning to handle your emotions will ultimately help you learn to develop control over these reactions to childhood abuse.

 

Flashbacks                                                              

       You may be experiencing flashbacks in the form of fantasies, intrusive thoughts or feelings, daydreams, or nightmares. These are caused by unresolved traumatic experiences that carry a heavy load of emotion. You may remember specific incidents of violence from your childhood when you find yourself in situations that remind you of your abuse. Leonard, who was sexually abused by his stepfather, would remember specific incidents of sexual abuse whenever he would have sex.

 

Whenever we were having sex, I would remember how he used to sneak into my room at night and begin to masturbate me. It was like I was somewhere else. I wasn't with the person I was with. I would leave the room in my mind and begin to think about other things so I wouldn't think about her. Sometimes I would lose my erection, and at other times I just wouldn't have an orgasm. It wasn't until I began to talk about it with my counselor and began talking about my feelings that I was able to get a handle on those thoughts.

      

       You may also remember specific incidents of abuse when you feel emotions that are similar to how you felt as a child. Sam graphically described one argument he had with his partner.

 

I was chasing her around the house, and when I passed by a large mirror we had in the hall, I stopped and looked at myself and all I could see was my father. I saw his scraggly beard and messy hair, I remembered his alcohol breath, his clenched fist and the hatred in his eyes. There he was, or was it just my imagination? My father had died fifteen years ago but I saw, at that moment, that he was still alive--inside of me. I vaguely heard my wife crying in the bedroom. When I came to my senses, I went to the door of the room and I told her I was leaving. I spent the night in a hotel.

 

For both of these men, their flashbacks were very real and present.  And, most importantly, they interfered with their ability to handle the present situation appropriately.

       Your flashbacks may not be in the form of memories but of feelings. You may not remember specific incidents but you do remember the feelings that went along with those incidents. Sam was able to recall all of the violence between his father and mother but he did remember his reactions to it. He remembers feeling so upset that he would run into his room and hide in the closet and stay there for hours. Thirty years later, whenever he and his wife argue, he experiences those same fears and desire to run away. He would want to hide in his closet. The feelings he experiences were just as real as they were thirty years ago. Flashbacks also come in the form of dreams, nightmares and daydreams.

       Flashbacks do not mean that you are crazy. They do mean that certain memories carry with them an emotional charge and therefore they become intrusive, asking for attention. When the memories are discussed and the feelings that are associated with the event are also discharged, flashbacks are less likely to occur. Jerry had disturbing fantasies for many years:

 

I used to have these thoughts about killing people. I'm talking about people that I loved. These thoughts would come up especially when I was angry. When I started coming to therapy, I didn't want to talk about them because I thought you would think I was crazy. What's interesting is that when I started talking about the abuse and getting my anger out, those thoughts came up less often.

 

       If you are unable to deal productively with your feelings, either about past experiences or current situations, those unexpressed emotions will find an outlet in either self-destructive behaviors or acting-out towards others. Feelings, like termites, are not always apparent but if you look closely you'll find them just below the surface bent on destruction.

 

 

Attitudinal Reactions to Abuse

 

Low Self-Esteem                                                       

       Low self-esteem, feeling bad about yourself, or shame are common effects of child abuse. You may have received messages, both subtle and direct, that you were worthless, bad, or crazy. Your parents may have been extremely critical, degrading, or humiliating, and eventually you began to believe these messages.

       Having been blamed for the abuse is another reason why men have a poor self-image. The abuser may have called you provocative or seductive. You may have believed that you could actually do something to stop the abuse toward yourself or others. Eventually you began to blame yourself for the abuser's problems: "If only I had been a better child."

       Over time low self-esteem becomes generalized. It affects every part of your life--at home, at work, at play, and with friends. Men with low self-esteem often find themselves being taken advantage of by others. They have difficulty standing up for their beliefs. They feel depressed, hopeless, and self-critical. Most importantly, they lose a sense of who they are as they try to live up to others' expectations and in the process lose sight of their own feelings and needs.  

       You may have the type of low self-esteem that is direct; you will just come right out and talk about your stupidity or worthlessness. Or you may take an indirect route, by acting as mean and tough as you can. That way you get others to think that way about you and you can tell yourself, "You see, I am a piece of shit."

       Now that you have decided to heal, it is time to take yourself off the hook. That involves saying to yourself, and believing, that you were not to blame for the abuse.  It also means telling yourself that you are a valuable, good person. Reminding yourself of this fact and acting like you believe it can be helpful in the healing journey.

       Barry describes such a change in attitude within himself:

                                                                       

When I left home my father could no longer beat me. Then I began to beat me. I was always telling myself how worthless I was, no one in their right mind would love me. I was always messing up my life. I blamed myself for everything, including my parents' anger and unhappiness. I was carrying quite a weight on my shoulders. These thoughts about myself showed themselves in every part of my life. I couldn't keep a job for more than a year or so. I was married three times. I was always getting in trouble with the law.  I had a serious alcohol and drug problem. I would look at all of this and just keep reminding myself how fucked up I was. It wasn't until I started dealing with the feelings beneath all of these behaviors that I began to turn it around. The first step was to realize that the violence wasn't my fault and that I had to stop beating myself up or I would keep on a downward spiral.

      

Inablity to Trust

       Like low self-esteem, feeling distrustful of others can lead to many problems in relationships. Because the ones you trusted the most caused you great pain, you learned that the people who are closest to you will hurt you. If you can't trust your parents, or other important adults who are there to care for you, who can you trust? It is easy to see how you may come to this conclusion. Because of your experiences with abuse you may have learned to associate trust and closeness with pain and rejection. When this happens, you may find it very difficult to let a woman or man close to you. Your extreme difficulty trusting people may lead you to become overly suspicious or even paranoid.

       William was sexually and psychologically abused by his step-father. He was in jail for physically assaulting his wife. During an interview to determine if he was motivated for treatment he described how distrust can lead a person to suspiciousness and even paranoia:

 

I would fuck me in my ass that it would bleed.  I would hurt so badly the next day that I'd cut school so my teachers and friends wouldn't see my discomfort with sitting all day. I thought it was all behind me until I got married. I never really trusted my wife. I was always expecting her to hurt me in some way. Sometimes she wouldn't be home when I called or she would be late coming home at night. I would give her the third degree. She had to explain every movement she made, otherwise, I would go nuts. It got to the point that I would miss work to follow her around during the day. I was looking for trouble. I was obsessed with thinking that she was going to mess around. It was ironic that I was the one who ultimately had an affair. 

      

Behavioral Reactions to Abuse

      

Being Abusive Towards Others

       Becoming physically, sexually or psychologically abusive toward others is one of the most common behavioral responses to childhood abuse. Men, in general, are prone to acting out their inner feelings when they lack the skills to express them; and you may have learned in childhood that violence was an effective means to an end.  Your feelings may be so powerful that when you do react it's in an extreme manner. This pattern may be so frightening to you that you try to supress the feelings as much as possible.  So you put your emotions into a trunk and hide it in the basement of your mind. However, these feelings do not go away: They affect you everyday, exerting their influence in many negative ways.

       The combination of unresolve feelings and poor communication skills is dangerous. When a highly charged situation arises you are likely to respond in an aggressive manner if you haven't learned how to manage those feelings. In addition, you are likely to let out all those old feelings at the same time. The recipents of your rage are bound to feel frightened by the extent of your anger. If they are feeling the least bit defensive or criticize you for your excessive anger, an escalation is inevitable. If you escalate your already intense feelings you are likely to resort to your most primal method of coping with stress--violence. Violence brings about an end to the conflict but only serves to push the one you love away and gives you more amunition to get down on yourself.

       Many men who were abused as children end up abusing their own child. This may occur for the reason stated above or for another, psychologically more complex reason. Having been abused you probably felt quite powerless to do anything to stop your abuser. He or she may have threatened or tricked, you or it was simply too dangerous to resist given your small size and relative weakness. That sense of powerlessness may have followed you into adulthood. You may still feel victimized by others, helpless to determine your own fate. It is true that victimizing someone who is less powerful than you, who you can have control over, can make you feel more powerful. The obvious problem with this method of feeling more powerful is that it is at the expense of someone else's safety (and it is against the law). You may think of this as an reenactment of your own abuse, but this time you're in charge. There are other ways of feeling strong and in control without infringing upon the rights and well-being of others, especially those whom you love and should be protecting.

      

Abusing Chemicals

       Substance abuse, is another way to avoid feeling your pain. If you get high, then you don't have to feel anything. If you subsequently get angry and violent, then you don't have to feel the sadness and fear. In today's society there is a great deal of permission for us to anesthetize ourselves to our pain and misery. Alcohol is the most easily accessible drug to this end. You can use it to take the edge off the day, to induce a highly euphoric state, or to knock yourself unconscious. Other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, barbiturates, amphetamines, and prescription drugs are also effective ways to numb yourself to your emotional pain.

       The problem with this method of coping with pain is that eventually the anesthetic wears off and you have to experience the pain. And the pain will always be there unless you do something about it. Healing your wounds is that something.

 

Compulsive Behaviors                                                

       Compulsions, or becoming preoccupied with externals--whether it's work, exercise, relationships or sex--can also be an effective means to avoid internal feelings. As long as you are focused on what's happening out there, you are not going to pay much attention to what's happening inside.

       The price for these compulsions is very high. As long as you expect something or someone to take away your inner pain, you will never heal the underlying wound that's causing the pain. It's like ignoring the fact that your car needs new tires. Sooner or later you're going get a flat. This is the relationship between behavioral reactions to abuse and feeling reactions. You can only ignore the feelings so long. Eventually they come out, and it usually involves hurting yourself or others.

       The greatest cost of compulsing about externals is the loss of yourself. When you become so absorbed with whatever you are addicted to, you lose touch with your own feelings and thoughts.  You become a stranger to yourself. This is called alienation. If you can't have a real relationship with yourself, you won't be able to have one with others. You become a lonely person, with only your compulsion to keep you warm at night. 

       John, who was sexually abused as a child, had a number of compulsions that kept him from facing his own inner pain and anger.

                                                                       

I got involved in work. Involved is an understatement. I got addicted to work. I became so obsessed with it that I would spend all of my free time doing work-related activities. I hardly spent any of my time with my family. In fact my wife would encourage me. I think she knew I was running away from something and I think she was as frightened about those feelings as I was. All the while, I knew on some level I was running away from something. And I just couldn't put my finger on it. I would work at least twelve hours a day. I wouldn't even go home for dinner. I'd eat out, and off I would go back to the office until early in the morning. Sometimes I would sleep there. I never got to spend time with my kids. They grew up without a father. I was a ghost in their life. I lost touch with my wife, and she eventually left me, but most of all I lost touch with myself.

      

 

Sexual Orientation Confusion

       Questioning your sexual orientation is a common reaction to abuse, especially if you were sexually abused by a man. In fact you may have already asked yourself, "Am I a homosexual?" Research indicates that there is a link between childhood victimization of boys and homosexual activity later in life. This doesn't mean that a boy will become a homosexual but there may be some homosexual activity. However, the relationship may not be cause and effect. Some boys may, for a variety of other reasons, already be predisposed to homosexuality before being abused. Therefore they may be more likely to be at risk for homosexual child abuse. For some boys an early experience with a man may have contributed to a decision as an adult to engage in homosexual relationships. For some men the decision to engage in homosexual relationships may be independent of a childhood victimization.

       Sexual lifestyles, for the most part, are determined by both biology and our experience. We are all born sexual beings and the choices we make, either consciously or unconsciously, to engage in heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual relationships are based on many factors; including physiology, early childhood experiences, and sexual experimentation. Do not assume that homosexuality is necessarily a direct response to child sexual abuse. Sexual lifestyle choices are complex and therefore cannot be reduced to one event or factor.

       One night in a wounded men's group homosexuality was the topic of discussion. To everyone's surprise each man in the group had either had a homosexual experience or contemplated such an experience at least once. Research has also shown that this is not unusual. Over one-third of all men have either contemplated or actually had a homosexual experience. Just the same, this sexual confusion can be very frightening to you if you were sexually abused by another man or by a woman. You are probably feeling afraid of what other men and women would think of you if they knew you had this type of experience. Their judgments of you can be especially frightening if you are also conflicted about your own sexual orientation.

       John was confused about his sexual orientation, especially when he moved into an area where homosexuality was more socially visible.

 

My uncle sexually abused me and it always left a lingering thought in my mind that maybe I was gay. As a result I never had any close male friendships as I was growing up because I was afraid of any physical affection they might show toward me. I was also afraid of what people would think of us.

When I moved to California I was especially nervous because I wasn't always sure who was gay and who was straight. And I didn't want anyone to think I was gay, that's for sure. I remember when I joined this men's group some time ago, it was the first time I had ever made close men friends. Well out here everybody hugs everybody. It's considered normal. But not by me. When one of my friends used to hug me in public, I would get real embarrassed. What if people thought I was gay?

I began to talk about my fears of being homosexual when I got into counseling. A lot of my fears had to do with my being abused by a man, but some of my fears also had to do with a bias against gays in general. Hearing that I wasn't the only sexual abuse victim who felt this way helped. Once I was able to talk about those fears, and sort out my sexual abuse issues from personal biass, I wasn't so afraid of men, gay or straight. After a while I could even let myself be affectionate with another man. Now I just don't think about it so often. I just do what comes naturally.

      

Sexual Behavior Problems

       Sexual problems such as hypersexuality, or lack of sexual desire, or specific sexual dysfunctions, such as impotence (inability to get or maintain an erection) or premature ejaculation (ejaculating before you want to), can also be a result of childhood abuse. Intense feelings that are repressed may affect sexual functioning. Loss of sexual desire can be a way to deal with uncomfortable feelings that arise during sex, or a result of uncomfortable feelings, flashbacks, or negative associations. Hypersexuality, like most addictions, can also be a way of avoiding thoughts and feelings about childhood abuse.

 

Don't Judge Yourself

       This description of the effects of abuse is an overview of the most common problems that most men experience. You may find that you can identify with some of these characteristics and not with others. Try not to be critical of yourself for having any particular problem. No judgment is intended in these descriptions.

       We all have problems that are uncomfortable to face personally, let alone talk about with others. Taking a good hard look at your problems can be an excellent opportunity for you to beat yourself up or blame your abuser or family for your difficulties, but neither of these reactions will be helpful to healing. Beating yourself up only makes you feel worse, and blaming others gives away the power you need to change your life. This why I emphasize the importance of developing a positive attitude toward your healing journey. For example, thinking of your healing process as heroic can help you to reframe your struggles in a positive way. It takes a great deal of courage to face your demons. Few men take on this challenge unless they are confronted with a personal crisis. Even if you are not face to face with such a crisis in your life, use this opportunity to come to terms with your inner feelings, confront self-defeating attitudes, and change destructive behaviors. Doing so will enable you to meet the challenge of life's adventures ahead.

 

 


Chapter Four               

Breaking Denial: "I was an abused child!"

 

       As a child you were probably very resourceful, discovering many ways to avoid being hurt and lessen the pain and confusion.  If you were fortunate, you were able to find help or develop a supportive relationship with an adult or peer.   If you were less fortunate, you may have become violent or used drugs or alcohol to numb the pain.  You probably also learned to use minimization and denial to get through each day.  These methods of coping that may have helped in the short run, but over the long run will only cause more problems in your life.     Breaking through your denial and accurately naming your experiences rather than minimizing them is what the first stage of healing--awareness and disclosure--is all about.

 

Minimization and Denial

       When you were a child, you probably never talked about your abuse. Your parents may have told you explicitly not to talk about family problems.  They may have also minimized and denied the abuse giving you a subtle message to do the same.  For example, your abuser may have told you that what was happening was normal and that other children have similar experiences.  The abuser may have also given you the message that others would think badly of you if they knew; or that you deserved the abuse and that telling others would only bring you shame.  No matter what the case, you probably got the message that it was wrong to talk about the abuse.

       Evan, a 17 year high school junior old was referred because of truancy and aggression with peers.  After ten sessions he told me how his mother was teaching him how to masturbate.  He described in detail, showing no emotion, the sexual acts perpetrated by his mother for several years.  He told me that he thought that all mothers taught their sons about sex through this means.  When I asked him who told him this, he said, "My mother."

       Abused children not only minimize and deny the abuse they may also deny their feelings as well.  Sam described his childhood as "feelingless, walking around like a zombie."  He would frequently witness his father severely batter his mother.  His father would also physically abuse him.  One crisis after another didn't phase him.  Until one day a seemingly minor problem openned the floodgates; He began to express feelings long forgotten. 

 

A year ago when I first got into therapy I was asked how I felt about my wife leaving me.  I didn't know what the hell that shrink was talking about.  Six months later, my father died.  When I went to his funeral, I didn't shed a tear.  About four months later I was passed over for a promotion.  No sweat.  A couple of weeks later I was fixing the muffler on my car and I cut myself on a piece of metal.  It bled quite heavily.   All of a sudden, I began to cry and cry and cry.  I couldn't stop the bleeding or my crying.  I cried uncontrollably throughout that night and most of the next day.  I cried fifty-two years of tears I couldn't hold back anymore.

      

       Sam's minimization and denial begin in his childhood but continued into adulthood.   Like many wounded men he denied the abuse because acknowledging it would involve getting in touch with a lot of painful feelings.  Facing the reality and pain of the violence was so disturbing that blocking the incidents from his mind was the best way to avoid the discomfort.

       You may also have trouble acknowledging your abuse because of difficulty reconciling your negative and positive feelings about your parents or the person who abused you.  It's easier for you to block out of your mind one end of the continuum--usually the negative.  Bret, who disclosed in therapy that he was sexually abused by his father, said of him,  "He was the smartest man I knew as a child.  Dad was great!  He was perfect--well, except for this one problem.  But I still admire him a lot."  Bret talked dispassionately about the abuse, always making a point to remind me what a wonderful man his father was.  The goal of the counseling was not to get Bret to hate his father, but to acknowledge the abuse and his feelings of anger toward his father.  His denial was beginning to get in his way: Bret hadn't talked with his father for twenty years.  He had no male friends.  He was extremely dependent on his wife to fill all his needs for friendship and intimacy.  He had trouble communicating his feelings with his wife.  He was very afraid of her anger and would react very defensively.  And now he was being accused of sexually abusing his stepdaughter.  All of the problems in his life were forcing him to address this unresolved issue.

       You may be more prone to denial and minimization if the abuse that you experienced was less blatant.  Andrew's father never hit him or screamed at him; but he never showed any demonstrable signs of love: no hugs, no saying "I love you," no touching. He was cold and distant; no one was allowed to show feelings or to laugh.  Evan's mother would be walk arround the house naked.  She would sit down by Evan's side when he was watching television and begin to touch his penis.  Evan would feel very uncomfortable but he couldn't escape.  It was easy to say his mother was just trying to be affectionate.

 

 Rationalizations    

       One of the most common forms of denial is rationalizations.  This comes naturally to men because we often believe that we can think ourselves into or out of anything.  In this case we try to think ourselves out of feeling and remembering the abuse.  We try to think ourselves into feeling good about our abuser or believing that the abuse was no big deal.  But was it?

       How many times have you told yourself, "Well I deserved to get punished sometimes" or "I was a difficult child"? These are called rationalizations, and we use them to minimize or deny abusive experiences.  Evan would rationalize, "I was a very seductive kid.  I guess my mother had a difficult time controlling herself around me."  Rationalizations are forms of denial that serve to keep our defenses strong.   Through rationalizations you can avoid labeling yourself as having been abused.  Doing so keeps you in your head and out of your feelings.   Ultimately this form of denial keeps the blame on yourself rather than on the person who perpetrated the abusive behaviors. 

       Rationalizations are often meant to excuse the offender because, after all, "They didn't know what they were doing."  Bret's father was an alcoholic.  "He would get drunk and loose control.  He didn't know what he was doing,  If he did, I guess he wouldn't have done it."  Leonard understood his stepfather's sexual abuse of him as a result of his problematic marriage.  "My mom was always with her friends.  He was lonely and I was the only one around the house.  I guess it was better that it was me than a stranger." 

       Your rationalizations are efforts to think away the problem, find an excuse for the perpetrator, or minimize the seriousness of the act.  Most important, rationalizations keep you from feeling your emotions.  But these feelings don't go away--they sit and fester. Eventually they manifest in negative attitudes about yourself or others and in destructive behaviors.

 

 

How Do You Rationalize Your Abusive Experiences?

       Look at the list below.  Which ones apply to you?  What other rationalizations have you used?

 

Physical and Psychological abuse

•I was a difficult kid to raise

•I never used to listen to my parents

•I didn't try to stop them

•It was just normal punishment

•They worked hard and were stressed out a lot

•They would beat me only when I gave them a good reason

•I asked for it

•They were just trying to bring me up right

•It taught me the difference between right and wrong

•It made me stronger

•I fought back  

•I was a dumb kid

•They had problems of their own

•They had too many children

•I was a demanding child

•I had a lot of problems

•I was always sick

•I never told anyone

 

Neglect

•My parents had it rough

•They had too many children

•I was a demanding child

•They were just doing what other parents did

•My demands for love were just too great

•I was a sickly child

•We were poor

 

Sexual abuse

•I was seductive

•I didn't stop it

•I like how it felt sometimes

•They needed my love and understanding

•I was too affectionate

•I wanted too much attention

•I would dress improperly

•My body developed too early

•I would encourage him/her

•I was lonely

•I was needy

•I enjoyed it

•He/she was lonely

 

       Rationalizations prevent you from ultimately healing your wounds.  How do you break away from rationalizations?  By acknowledging to yourself that it was abuse.  You need to trust your gut.  If it felt wrong, then you are right!  Child specialists say that children have a built-in radar system that tells them when something is right and when it's wrong.  If you can recall how it felt then, it might help you decide today.

 

Were You Abused?

       Think about an incident that occurred to you as a child that you believe may have been abuse.  Remember what led up to the incident, what the person(s) did to you and how it felt at the time.  Pay attention to your gut feelings.  Knowing what you know now do you think it was abuse?

       It is important to say "I was abused" because labeling your experience as such, means that you are willing to tell the truth.  Abuse often happens behind a veil of secrecy.  When you tell the secret you are likely to feel a significant relief, as if you have laid down a burdon you have been carrying for many years.  Telling the truth is also necessary for you to acknowledge your hurt, anger, and pain.  And doing so will allow you to begin to let go of those intense feelings that you have been keeping inside for many years.  Finally, as with any problem, it will be very easy for you to slip back into denial.  Saying to yourself, "I was abused as a child" will help you to keep focused on your healing journey.  This is not an excuse for you to feel sorry for yourself or a rationalization for problems.  However, beginning to understand the root of your problems can help to change negative patterns in your life.

 

Disclosure: Telling Yourself, "I Was Abused"

       The first important stage in the healing process is to break through your denial by admitting to yourself that you were abused.  This may be very difficult because making this statement may contradict a deeply held belief that you were not a victim of abuse.  Recognizing you were abused may also mean viewing yourself, your parents, or the abuser in a different light.  If the perpetrator was a family member, there may be a significant change in your relationship with that person.  Telling yourself, "I was abused", will also put you in touch with some strong emotions that may initially confuse you or make you very uncomfortable. As you break down some of your defenses you will become more vulnerable, less certain, less steady in your daily mood.  Nonetheless taking the first step, disclosure, is very important because this is where healing begins.

      

Can You Say The Words?

       Although you may have already acknowledged your abusive childhood to yourself, you may have never vocalized the words, "I was abused."  Even if you think you have already acknowledged the abuse, you must also say the words. 

       Find a comfortable place where you won't be disturbed and say to yourself, "I was abused as a child."  You may want to be more specific and say, "I was sexually abused by my neighbor" or "I was physically abused by my father."  Say it again.  You may want to look at yourself in a mirror or talk into a tape recorder to see how you look or hear how it sounds.  

       How do you feel as you say these words?  Are you feeling scared? Sad? Angry? Embarrassed?  If you are having difficulty identifying your emotions, focus on your physical sensations.    Are you tense in the stomach, chest or head?  Are you feeling lightheaded or dizzy?  If you are not aware of your feelings right now, that's OK.  Identifying and expressing your feelings will follow as you develop specific skills in that area.  If you have identified how you are feeling either emotionally or physically, say it out loud.  For example:

 

• "I am feeling angry or scared as I am telling you."

• "I am feeling tense in my stomach right now."

• "I'm feeling very awkward being so direct about the abuse. "

• "I don't know what I am feeling right now as I tell you this."

 

       Verbally acknowledging the abuse and the feelings you may experience as you disclose the fact is an important first step in the healing process.

 

Remembering Details

       Once you have admitted to yourself that you were abused, the next step is to acknowledge exactly what happened.  This process will also help you better understand why the abuse occurred and how it ultimately affected you.

       Many men have trouble remembering the details of abusive incidents.  It is not uncommon to try to forget painful memories either consciously or unconsciously.  However, remembering details can be important for several reasons.  First, thinking about specific events will help to fight your tendency to deny the abuse altogether.  Second, remembering details of violence also helps you to resist the urge to rationalize the abuse.  Finally, recalling incidents of abuse helps to separate facts from fantasy.

 

What Specifics Come to Mind?

       Let's begin to get some of the facts down on paper.  Think about one incident that stands out in your mind, that represents the kind of abuse that you experienced as a child.  If you have experienced several types of abuse by the same or different people start with which ever type you feel affected you the most.  Write it down in whatever way comes naturally.  You may want to begin by describing the situation before the abuse occurred.  Try to include your actions, other people who were involved, and your feelings.  For example:

 

I was coming home from school one day with my report card.  I saw my sister on the street and she wanted to know how I did.  I was scared to show her but I did.  She told me I was going to get into trouble with Mom because I got a number of low grades and check marks under behavior.  I began to get really scared that I would get hit.  I also began to worry about Dad's reaction.

 

       Next describe as objectively as possible the abuse you experienced.  This may be extremely difficult for you because of the feelings that it may stimulate, but try to get through this part of the exercise.  The next stage will address how you feel about that experience now.  Again, try to be as specific as possible in your description.  For example:

 

When I got home my mother wanted to see my card.  When she looked at it I could see that she was going to explode.  She began to call me names like stupid, idiot, lazy, and she said that I would never amount to anything.  She went for the belt that was hanging in the kitchen and began to chase me to my room.  I jumped on my bed and she began to whip me.  She must have hit me twenty or thirty times.  It seemed to last forever.  I felt so scared and hurt.  My bottom hurt for days after.  I hated her so much.  I remember wanting to run away forever.  But I was stuck, there was no escape.

 

       Your own memory is not the only source of information about the abuse.  Talking with brothers, sisters, friends, and relatives can provide valuable information about what you were like as a child, statements you made at the time and bruises they may have seen on your body.  Some of them may have actually observed incidents of violence that you experienced.  Mark was able to talk directly with his family members.  They confirmed some memories but not others, and they remembered incidents that he had long forgotten or thought were insignificant.  Although initially Mark was very uncomfortable, his conversations with his parents and siblings about the abuse led him to feel much closer to his family than he ever did as a child.   For them, trust is rebuilding and forgiveness is possible. 

       You may find evidence of abuse amoung your old keepsakes.  Few boys kept diaries but many girls do.  Diaries are more common with women so ask your sister.  If you think your sister documented incidents of violence from childhood, find out if she would be willing to talk about it with you.  Drawings are another source.  Tony, for example, was artistically inclined as a child.  He would draw pictures that showed a very unhappy child.  Some of his drawings were violent in nature and one in particular was a picture of his father standing on top of him with a club in his hand.

      

How Does It  Feel to Read About Your Abuse?

       Writing about these experiences is likely to bring up some uncomfortable feelings.  If you can already identify your feelings, try to write them down as you reread the last exercise.  For example:

 

"As I read about this incident with my father I feel angry  or sad  or afraid."

"As I read about the incident with my neighbor I feel embarrassed and ashamed."

 

       You may also be feeling very confused and unable to sort out any specific emotion.  If this is the case, simply identify what physical sensations you feel in your body right now.  For example:

 

"As I write this down I feel a knot in my stomach  or sweaty on the back of my neck  or tense in my face."

"I don't know how I am feeling, I know I must be feeling a lot but I just can't sort them out at this moment."

      

       As you begin to heal you are likely to feel many intense and frightening emotions.  Over time you will be able to sort out the feelings and get better at identifying and communicating them.  Don't give up: it gets easier over time.

       At this point you may being saying to yourself, " I don't feel anything when I think about the abuse."  If that is the case, think about how you felt, when you were a child.  Try to remember your feelings at the time you were being abused.  For example:

 

"I felt real angry at my neighbor for sexually abusing me." 

"I was really afraid of my father.  I hated him when he'd hit me."

 

       Remembering how you felt then, may give you insight about how you are feeling now.  If you can't remember how you were feeling then or now, try to imagine how your child, niece, or nephew (if you have one) would feel if they experienced a similar type of abuse.  For example:

 

"I would never hit my child the way my father hit me.  He'd be afraid of me.  I don't want that."

"Sex with a child is wrong, just because it's wrong.  My daughter would hate me it I did that to her."

"I imagine a child would feel angry and afraid of his parent if he was beaten with a belt."

 

       Cutting yourself off from your feelings is a common reaction to childhood abuse.  This is particularly easy for men because our socialization encourages us to do this in general.  If you can't get in touch with any feelings, don't despair.  If they are within you, they will eventually come to the surface.  Be patient.  

 

Looking at the Effects  

       Another important step in the healing process is to ask yourself;  "How are those experiences affecting my life today?"  Disclosing the abuse and your feelings about it can relieve you of tension.  Then can you begin to explore how to get beyond your intense feelings and change negative patterns of coping that have followed you into adulthood.  John describes this process after a number of years of counseling:

 

One way I would cope with my uncle sexually abusing me was to space out.  I would leave my body to him while I would go away in my heart and mind.  For many years, I would let myself be open sexually to women with whom I wasn't going to have a long term relationship.  Sex was less complicated and, therefore, more enjoyable.  When I got involved with a woman emotionally, I would find myself not being present when we were having sex.  I would think about other women, other things, work, friends, family, anything but her.  It became a way of removing myself.  Sex wasn't as satisfying as it was with other women with whom I wasn't as close.  It took me some time to realize this was a problem.  I never connected this to my being abused.  I just thought there was something wrong with the women I was with.  Now I still have the tendency to float but I am more aware of when it is happening and I can stop it before I am altogether gone.

 

I used to think that my uncle had taught me about sex through his masturbating me.  I never referred to it as abuse until one night.  I was dating this woman for about six weeks.  She was the first person I let myself fall for since my marriage.  I really opened up.  Well, about six weeks into things she decides to go back with her last boyfriend. I was really destroyed.  I felt so betrayed.  I began to realize that the feeling was familiar.  I couldn't figure it out.  I went home, it was a Friday night.  I went to a movie by myself and afterward I was feeling as anxious as ever.  I didn't understand it. 

                                                                       

I called my brother and asked him if he would meet me after work.  As I drove into town I began crying.  I realized how angry I was at my uncle for betraying my trust.  The experience with this woman reminded me of that hurt that I tried too hard to rationalize away.  When I got to the bar, I met my brother.  We walked into the back restaurant that was closed to the public and we sat down at a table.  I told him I had been sexually abused by our uncle.  The words just came out of my mouth.  I had never said those words before.  I will never forget his first words after I told him.  He asked if I was OK.  He was totally concerned about me.  It felt so safe to tell him.

                                                                       

He was the first person I admitted this too.  What was so ironic was that he and I were just getting close.  You see, he is a recovering alcoholic and he had stopped drinking about one month before.  He was beginning to acknowledge that he was an alcoholic.  I am so glad that I had him in my life at that moment.  My healing has been slow but progressing ever since that night.

 

       John never associated his sexual problems with his being sexually abused as a child. The sexual problems he experienced with women he wrote off as the woman's fault.  The betrayal he felt with the woman he was dating was so intense he began to wonder if his emotions were disproportionate to the event.  He began to ask himself, "Are these feelings coming from somewhere else?"  The thought of his uncle popped into his mind.  It took him only a few seconds to realize that he really felt angry at and betrayed by his uncle.  The words just came out of his mouth, "I was sexually abused."  Even though he felt uncomfortable saying the words, his gut told him it was true.  John had been in therapy for some time working on his marital problem in relationships, but the counseling took a different turn when he revealed his abuse to his therapist.  The focus at first was to understanding how his abuse affected him then and how it continued to plague his life as an adult.  Gadually he became more aware of his patterns and worked on changing those that continued to give him problems in relationships with lovers, friends and family, work and school. 

       Men come to terms with their abuse for different reasons.  It may be something that you read in a book or watched on television.  It may be as a result of a divorce or during an intensely positive or negative sexual experience.  A counselor, spouse, or friend may have brought this to your attention.  In any case a realization such as this can be often shocking, frightening, and painful.  But in most cases, the initial reaction is eventually followed by relief.

 

How Does the Abuse Affect You Today?

       In chapter 2 you read about the effects of abuse on children and adults.  How did your own experiences with abuse affect you then and today?  Effects can be feelings (anger, sadness, fear), attitudes ("I don't trust others" or "I like to be in control") or behaviors (sexual problems, aggression, substance abuse).  Try to come up with at least one effect within each category.  Once you have made your list write down how you how you would like to see yourself change.  For example:

 

"I have a lot of anger as a result of my experiences." 

"I don't trust people."

"I have a drinking problem." 

 

"I'd like to learn how to better express my anger and hopefully get beyond it."

"I'd like to learn how to be more trusting."   

"I'd like to get help for my drinking problem."

 

       During the Understanding phase of recovery you are likely to come face to face with unattractive parts of your personality.  Remember, every man, wounded or not, has skeletons in his closet that he is fearful or embarrassed to face.  However, coming to terms with these problems is how we grow and achieve greater levels of happiness and satisfaction.  The road is rocky but the final destination is worth the wait and the work.

 

Telling Others

       There is a great value to discussing your experiences with someone with whom you have a trusting relationship.  You may have often felt alone when you were being abused but you don't have to feel alone in your recovery.  When Mark first acknowledged that he was a victim of sexual abuse, he told his brother.  Although he had many close friends and relatives, he instinctively chose his brother.  Maybe it was because his brother had been in recovery for his alcoholism and he intuitively knew that his brother would be particularly supportive and helpful.  There wasn't going to be alcohol to get in the way of their relating on a meaningful level. 

       Jerry had been in group counseling for one year when he disclosed his physical abuse.  His father had died the previous week.  He had never told anyone that his father used to beat him regularly when he was a child.  When he came to group he dispassionately described the events surrounding his father's death.  The other members were amazed that he showed such little emotion.  After some prodding from several of the other group members, Jerry admitted that he was glad that his father was dead.  With encouragement he began to express why he hated his father.  He gave a number of reasons--such as, "He didn't play baseball with me"--that didn't seem to make sense.  When confronted on this issue Jerry looked at the therapist and said, "He beat me."  Jerry had never said those words to anyone before.  He never even said them to himself.  After describing several incidents, Jerry began to cry.  He cried for an hour and that wasn't enough.  That night Jerry began the process of healing from those experiences.

       Bret was at the movies with his wife, Leanne.  In the film a father was inappropriately fondling a male child.  Bret got up and left for a few minutes.  When he returned Leanne asked him where he went and he told her that he went to have a cigarette.  Although she had never seen Bret leave in the middle of the movie before, she decided to not say anything.  On the way home from the movie Bret was extremely quiet.  Although Leanne suspected that he was upset about something, she chose to not say anything until they got home.  Bret didn't want to talk, but Leanne kept pushing.  Bret complained about work, money, and all the other usual complaints but Leanne knew there was something else.  She asked if the scene with the father and boy disturbed him.  Bret asked, "Why would it?"  Leanne replied, "Because you have said that you thought your father did weird things to you when you were a child.  I never asked before because I thought it wasn't my business, but did he have sex with you?"  Bret stared at her.  No one had ever said those words before so bluntly.  He couldn't speak.  He wanted to say something but the words didn't come out. 

       For several weeks after that night, Bret was unable to concentrate on work or home activities.  All he could think about was how his father used to touch him in ways that felt good and bad.  It was very confusing.  He knew it was wrong but he let him do it just the same.  One night he came home from a particularly difficult day at work.  He walked into the kitchen where Leanne was preparing dinner and sat down at the table.  She turned around and asked if he was all right.  He asked her if he could see her therapist one time.  He told her, "I think I was abused."  So began the healing process for Bret.  Through his therapy it was discovered that Bret had sexually abused Leanne's daughter.  Although he was subsequently arrested and forced to go to counseling by the court, Bret made use of the circumstances to heal his own wounds.

       Each of these men told someone else about their childhood abuse and that experience alone had a dramatic impact on their recovering from the effects.  Who can you tell?  This is an important question you need to ask yourself.  When you choose a person think about what is it that you want from them.  Do you want them simply to listen, or do you want advice?  You may also want someone who will challenge you or push you to do something about your situation.  Perhaps you just want to be held and supported.  Take some time to decide what it is that you want from disclosing the abuse.  Knowing this will help you decide who it is you want to tell.

 

Who Can You Tell?

       You may discover that you intuitively know who to tell about the abuse.  Maybe you will gravitate toward a lover, friend, or family member whom you can trust with this special knowledge.  Perhaps you could only talk about it with a counselor, or someone who has also gone through a similar experience.  Think about all the possible people you could tell prior to making a decision.

       Jerry decided to tell his spouse about his childhood abuse.  He felt that she would be most supportive because she was, in his own words,  "my best friend."  Mark told his best male friend.  He wasn't in an intimate relationship at the time and his best friend was someone who he could tell anything.  Sam told his therapist and John told his brother.  Barry went directly to the person who abused him, his father who denied it.  Unfortunately Barry was not feeling self-confident at the time and fell into a deep depression.  It took him some time to get himself back together.  Evan told his father that he had been sexually abused by his mother.  The father became hysterical and Evan ended up taking care of him by trying to calm him down and reassure him.  Evan's needs were never met by his father.  Michael also went directly to his father and confronted him right after admitting to his counselor that he was abused.  The discussion quickly escalated into an argument and a physical fight.    Although the person who abused you could be a source of emotional support in your life now, I would recommend thinking twice before going to that person with your initial disclosure.  There may be a time to talk with that person in the future,  but it's better to wait until you have spent time deciding what you want to say and how you may deal with all the possible reactions.  

       After you decide who you want to tell, it is important to decide what you want to say.  It is not necessary to give details.  You may only want to say, "My father physically abused me" or "My uncle sexually abused me."  Details are not as important as just letting the person know that this happened, how you are feeling inside, and what you need help with.  If you feel comfortable giving details, do so but don't feel obligated if the person you are talking to wants to hear specifics.  All you have to do is say, "I don't feel comfortable talking about specifics right now." 

       You may want to preface your disclosure by letting the person know you want from them:

 

"I want you to just listen and not respond."

"I need your advice about what to do next."

 

       Time and place is also a consideration. For example, you may not want to plan your disclosure when going out to eat in a restaurant or when there is little time to discuss reactions.  It is important to be sensitive to the other person's needs.  Michael wanted to talk with his spouse about being physically and psychologically abused by his father.  It was late at night, and his wife was exhausted after a full day's work, she was coming down with the flu.  Not only was it not the best time for her but, given her condition, he was not likely to get the support and attention that he needed.  Find out from the other person when is a good time. Then set the time and do it.

      

If You Have No One to Tell

       If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse, lover, or close friend with whom you can discuss this issue, your healing process will move along that much easier.  The process of healing your wounds within the context of an intimate relationship or close friendship can deepen the bond and increase communication and intimacy;  but it can not replace the additional benefit of personal counseling with a professional trained in the area of abuse or joining a support group for men abused as children.  Therefore, if you don't have that special someone in your life, you may want to consider joining a support group or seeing a professional counselor.  (See Appendix One for a discussion of why counseling is a useful tool for change and how to go about finding a therapist who meets your needs.)

       You may feel that asking for help is equivalent to acknowledging defeat.  You may be thinking, "I should be able to do it on my own" or "What can a counselor or another person tell me that I don't already know?" "Why see someone who is as fucked up as me?" or "Only sick people go to counselors."   These misconceptions will only serve to impede your healing journey.  You shouldn't have to do it on your own.  Asking for help is not only helpful but necessary.  We can all stand to learn from someone who is objective and removed from our situation, especially if that person has traveled the same road. 

 


Chapter Five          

Healing Through Feelings

 

 

       Facing painful inner feelings is one of the most difficult aspects of your healing process yet doing so brings great rewards. All men are under social pressure to use their thinking rather than their feeling modes to solve personal problems but this is not an either/or proposition. Your first reward will come in the relief you experience by letting the pressure out. Learning to identify and communicate your feelings in a positive way will help to raise self-esteem and prevent destructive behaviors. It also means better communication and fewer arguments with your partner.

       Getting in touch with your feelings does not mean that you should forget about your thinking skills altogether. In fact a strong thinking function will help to calm you down when you're feeling possessed by strong feelings. The key is balance; learning how to use both your thinking and feeling modes. You do this by first learning how to identify and communicate your feelings on a daily basis. Once you have this skill you can call upon it when you think it's appropriate.

       For example, one night Jerry began snapping at his wife and blaming her for all kinds of problems. This unusual behavior made him wonder if something was going on inside that he wasn't recognizing. He thought about it for a while and realized that he was angry about an incident that had occurred earlier at work. He apologized to his wife for snapping at her, and started talking about his problem at work. She gave him support and even a suggestion or two on how to solve the problem with his boss. Jerry had to use his thinking skills to get to his feelings. Thinking helped him discover that he was not angry with his wife, but was turning his anger at his boss onto her. He knew that he needed to talk about his problem openly so that he wouldn't keep taking it out on his wife.

       A week later, Jerry's thinking skills actually kept him from escalating an argument with his wife. One day she came home in a nasty mood and began blaming him for this and that. He felt that she was attacking him unfairly, and began to get really mad. Suddenly, however, he realized that she was acting just as he had the week before. Instead of reacting to her anger, he began to think; and he asked her if something had happened at work that she needed to talk about. That question stopped her dead in her tracks. When she started thinking about it, she realized that her day had been particularly difficult.

       If you work on balancing your feeling and thinking skills you will be able to call on either or both to respond to a situation. It's as if you had a hammer and a screwdriver, but insisted on doing all your building with just the hammer. You might be able to do it, but the task will be more difficult than it needs to be and the end product probably won't be what you want.

 

Learning How to Hide Your Feelings

       As a child hiding your feelings protected you from the ever-present emotional pain or the actual physical pain of abuse. It was easier to deny your feelings than to face being rejected or criticized for them.

       Although you are probably not consciously repressing your feelings today, the old habit has not become automatic. Even so, it can take quite a bit of energy to keep your feelings in check. Bret, Michael and Rob exemplify what avoidance of feeling can do to a life.

       Bret was sexually abused by his stepfather from age seven through thirteen. The abuse was at times so physically painful that he learned how to escape his body through using his imagination. He would fantasize about flying high above his home and community, where no one could reach him. Today he still has trouble remembering incidents of abuse because mentally he wasn't there. When Bret became an adult, his fantasy world did not end. In fact the pressures of marriage, children and work led him to further withdraw from everyone around him. He habitually lied to everyone with whom he was close. He was extremely cold and withdrawn from his family. His sexual relationship with his wife was practically nonexistent and he would have frequent affairs with women he didn't know. His whole world began to cave in when his wife left him for another man. In his second marriage he was arrested for sexually molesting his stepdaughter.

       Michael, a juvenile probation officer, realized through his work that he had been physically and psychologically abused by his father. As a child he quickly learned that if he showed any feelings he would get hit longer and harder. His dad used to yell at him, "Stop crying, you sissy. Take it like a man!" Michael is in treatment for alcoholism and spouse abuse. He never shows his feelings. If he can't solve a problem intellectually, it's not worth solving. His wife, in contrast, is very expressive of her feelings. They get into numerous arguments because when she expresses herself, he feels under attack, defensive, and at times to explodes in a fit of anger--just as he was taught by his father. When he couldn't reason with his wife, he would avoid coming home altogether.

       Rob, a forty-year-old lawyer, was psychologically abused by both his mother and grandparents who raised him. He learned that if he was compliant and didn't ask them for anything, he could sometimes avoid having to deal with them.  Rob learned early on that the more agreeable he became the less flack he'd get from others. Rob was known to friends and coworkers as a hard worker. He could always be counted on when extra work needed to be done. He would never say no. At home he was the epitome of the good husband: He was always fixing this or that, he cooked, cleaned and took care of the kids; he was a super-husband. He was so responsible he would even clean up other people's messes at work and at home. He was constantly letting himself be taken advantage of by others. Although he appeared content on the outside, something was eating away at him from the inside. He had numerous physical ailments--the only way he was able to complain--and he was a workaholic who made no time to relax or do the things that he enjoyed. Because he wouldn't burden his wife with his problems he felt alone in the world. Stress cause his body to deteriorate and he had his first heart attack when he was only thirty-six.

       Bret, Michael and Rob have all carried with them into adulthood coping strategies that they developed as children to control or accommodate the abuse they experienced.  Each man developed "feeling avoidance" patterns early on that resulted in similar patterns as adults. Ask yourself if you do any of the following:

 

Do you think away your feelings?

Do you drink away your feelings?

Do you get high to avoid feelings?

Do you use fantasy to avoid feelings?

Are you numb to your feelings?

Do you have trouble knowing how you are feeling?

Do you have sex to avoid feelings?

Do you work to avoid feelings?

Do you rationalize your feelings?

Do you never spend time alone to avoid feelings?

Do you avoid intimate relationships to avoid feeling?

 

       If you don't deal with your repressed or avoided feelings, both those left over from your childhood and those that occur today, you will be more likely to experience the long-term effects of childhood abuse.

 

How Do You Avoid Your Feelings?

       Write down ten ways in which you avoid your feelings. Try to be as specific as possible. Note how each way actually helps you to avoid dealing with your feelings. For example:

 

I drink to avoid my feelings. It's easier to just zone out after having a few beers.

I think to avoid my feelings. If I think them away they don't bother me as much.

I work to avoid my feelings. I'm so busy I don't have time to think about them.

 

        Confronting your feelings is an important aspect of all four stages of healing: awareness, understanding, education and transformation. First, it is important to become aware of and communicate all feelings. It is also crucial that you understand how your feeling avoidance patterns grew out of necessary childhood survival skills. Once you are able to identify the particular ways in which you avoid your feelings, you will be able to recognize them quicker and ultimately change them through learning new communication skills.

       Finally, in the process of changing these patterns, a transformation will occur. You will have a greater balance in your life and you will feel empowered, because you will have more options as to how you will respond to situations. And, most important, you will be less emotionally restricted by your own past experiences.

       However, in spite of the potentially positive benefits of accepting and working with your feelings, you may have difficulty understanding why it is important for you to change this pattern. Imagine that after a heavy rain you go downstairs to your basement and discover a few leaks. You grab the mop and clean up. But what if you discover a flood? You are likely to feel fairly overwhelmed. If you could get away with it, you'd probably go back upstairs, close the door, and forget about the mess. Perhaps you might think, "There's nothing down there of value and I never used the basement anyway." You could forget about the flood and hope that it would eventually go away. You wouldn't have to get your feet wet and begin the long, arduous task of cleaning up. If you were to actually leave the water in your basement, however, the damage to the house could be irreparable.

       In the same way, ignoring your feelings can create damage in your life.  A flood of feelings are in your basement and the door is locked shut. You don't need to go down there to get your job done. You don't even need to go there to find a partner and have a family. You lost the key a long time ago, so you couldn't even get in if you wanted to.

       So why go down? Why bother with all that work? Because you want to heal. If you don't deal with your feelings appropriately you are likely to take them out on others by becoming an abuser yourself. Going down in the basement--getting in touch with your feelings and communicating them--has helped many men heal from the pain of childhood abuse.

 

Identifying Your Feelings

       Feelings are physical reactions to events that tell us how those events are affecting us. We use many words to describe feelings: happy, sad, angry, afraid, lonely, hurt, content. Some words describe degrees of feelings. For example, "irritated" may mean just a little angry, and "outraged" very angry; or "blue" may mean just a little sad, and "depressed" overwhelmingly sad.

       Feelings are not simply an intellectual experience; they are something you feel in your body. Each feeling has a physiological component, such as the nervous stomach that accompanies fear or the tension in the chest and arms that signals anger. Part of  learning to identify your feelings is to get more in touch with your physical sensations. Feelings usually travel in groups; rarely do we feel only one emotion.

 

Label Your Physical Responses

       The first step in learning to identify feelings is to label your physical responses to situations. Every feeling has a physical component that you can use to help identify that feeling:

 

tightness in the stomach, chest, head, neck, arms, or other body parts

lightheadedness

"butterflies" in the stomach

hot or cold sensations

heaving or light rapid breathing

heart pounding

 

How do you feel when you experience these physical sensations? Does tightness in your chest mean fear? Do butterflies in your stomach indicate anxiety? Your physical signs may differ according to the feeling you are experiencing. Get to know what they are saying to you.

 

Identify Your Behavioral Responses 

       The next step is to identify your behavioral responses to feelings. Do you get loud when you are angry or sulk when sad? Do you tend to withdraw when you are frightened or get critical when you are feeling anxious? Your behavior signs may be obvious or subtle depending on the feeling and the intensity of that feeling.

       Behavioral responses to anger, for example, include the following:

 

sulking

yelling

withdrawal

physical violence

criticism

      

       Tom would get a knot in his stomach when he was feeling anger. He also knew he was feeling angry by the tightness in his chest and the hot feeling in his head. Behaviorally he would act cold and distant. Sometimes he would become critical and verbally abusive. "I never thought that it was OK to tell someone that I was angry. I figured they were going to think I was starting a fight or something. I especially hated to hurt someone's feelings with my anger. But it turned out that I would hurt them anyhow with my coldness and criticisms."

 

       When you are not able to identify and communicate your feelings, you are expressing them anyway--but they are out of your control.  When Tony was finally able to acknowledge that he had been physically abused as a child, he discovered a reservoir of anger. But he was so afraid of confronting that raw emotion that he refused to recognize it. Unfortunately, it began leaking out everywhere. He made hostile comments at work, he didn't follow through with his commitments, he constantly criticized his wife and children. Everyone felt and experienced his anger. But when friends asked Tony if he was angry, he would respond, "I'm feeling fine."  For Tony to acknowledge his anger he also had to acknowledge the degree to which his experience had affected him, reexperience the old hurt and feelings of betrayal. Many years ago Tony had decided to "take it like a man" and not let it get the best of him. It wasn't until he realized that his fear of his feelings was getting the best of him that he was able to become less tense, more tolerant of others, and more comfortable with himself.

 

Wounded Men and Anger

       Anger is a powerful emotion that you are likely to experience during your healing journey, yet you may have a great deal of difficulty recognizing and communicating it. In order to get more comfortable with your anger it's important to look at what it is, where it comes from, and why it is so helpful to recognize and communicate it to yourself and others.

 

What Is Anger?

       Anger is an emotion that is usually provoked by an event, interaction, or thought. You can tell you are angry because it causes a physiological reaction. You feel anger; it is not just an intellectual experience. 

       Think about a time when you definitely felt angry. What sensations did you feel in your body? How did you behave?

 

Where Does Anger Come From?

       Anger is a normal reaction to a grossly abnormal situation. It is a common reaction to being abused because abuse is a violation of trust and it causes a great deal of physical and emotional pain. But for many abused children expressing anger is simply not an option because doing so may cause more abuse and generate more anger. So they learn to avoid it at all costs.

       You may be afraid of becoming violent if you get in touch with your anger. This fear may be justified if your experiences with expressing it have been negative.

       Much of what we intellectually know about anger, as well as other feelings, is learned--or not learned--in our families. So it may be helpful for you to look at how your family handled anger. This is Barry's story:

 

One time I told my mother that I was mad at her, and she immediately slapped me in the face and sent me to my room. I wasn't allowed to tell them anything when it came to feelings. They weren't even interested. Whenever my dad would get mad he'd throw things about--including my mother--and we would all run for cover. So I learned two modes: Shut up and go to my room, or go nuts. That's what I have been doing all my life. I try to communicate my anger directly, but it's not natural to me. I still want to go to my room or kick ass. It reminds me of when I first stopped drinking. I was able to stop after a while, but the urge to anesthetize myself was strong and kept coming back for years.

 

       Barry is right about comparing the urge to drink with the urge to resort to old patterns of coping with anger. However, we know that the longer a person stays sober the less urge there is to drinks. Likewise, if you begin to change your pattern of dealing with anger, those old urges to hide away or act out will eventually become less strong.  Through counseling Barry found a safe place where he could begin to express himself without getting punished or abused. Eventually he was able to express his anger outside the counseling office with his wife, his friends, and even with his family.

 

How Did Your Family Express Anger?

       Think about the messages your father and mother gave you about expressing anger. Were these feelings ever discussed? Answer each question below.

 

How did your father express his anger? Give several examples.

How did your mother express her anger? Give several examples.

How did your siblings express their anger? Give several examples.

Was it OK for you to express your anger? If you weren't able to express it directly, what did you do with it?

 

Why Recognize and Communicate Anger?                   

       Anger is a common emotion that all people feel at one time or another.  It is not just a privilege of wounded men. When something upsets us we are likely to feel angry. Therefore, long after healing, you are bound to come across situations that cause you to feel angry. This is why it is important to learn how to recognize and communicate your feelings.

       If we do not properly recognize and deal with anger it sits and festers and eventually leaks out. This can lead to periodic abusive explosions, stress-related disease, and addictions. Think about it. Have there been times when your anger has seemed to just come out of nowhere? Have you found your body developing aches and pains from holding it in? Do you blow up at others? Do you feel good about the way you deal with anger? Do your family and friends feel good about the way you deal with anger?

        Anger is likely to surface when you begin talking about your childhood abuse. At first it may be diffuse or generalized. You don't know who you're angry at or why, but you know that you are feeling it. Or it may be directed toward your abuser or other family members for not protecting you. During this time you should take the opportunity to learn how to deal with your anger in a positive and constructive manner.

 

Anger Is Necessary

       Feeling pain is actually necessary for survival. When you have a physical problem your body responds so that your mind will take note: I need a doctor, or I need to lie down, or I need to take some medicine. Anger gets our attention in the same way.  It tells us when someone is stepping on our toes either literally or symbolically and its very presence demands a response: simple recognition, verbal response, physical fighting, or leaving the situation.

       If we ignore anger it can intensify over time. Unresolved anger can lead to a variety of problems, from violence and chemical abuse to depression and hostility. Anger that goes unchecked is also stressful to your body, and can cause physical problems such as ulcers, headaches, back pain, and a host of other ailments. In an intimate relationship repressed anger can cause emotional outbursts and emotional distance. Sexuality problems may also be related to repressed anger. 

       Why bother recognizing and expressing anger? Because whether you recognize it or not, anger is a part of everyday living. If you don't pay attention to it, it will continue to escalate.

       Mark describes his anger habits:

                                                                       

I never used to get angry. Let me rephrase that. I never used to admit to myself, let alone to others, that I was feeling angry. I was angry all right, I would just let it out in indirect ways. I was sneaky. I was afraid that they wouldn't like me, or they would get angry back, or they would think I was out of control if I showed my anger. Of course my worst fear was that I would get out of control. I would show my anger in such hostile, indirect ways people were always pissed off at me anyway. When I learned to communicate my anger directly I felt better about myself and the person I was angry at. They also felt better about me.

 

       You can ignore your anger, you can bury it, you can try to drink it away, you can blame others for it, you can try to rationalize it--but it always comes back. The point is not to repress anger altogether, but to use it appropriately. This old Bengalese story illustrates the value of expressing anger:

                                                                       

On a path that went by a village, there lived a cobra who used to bite people on their way to worship at the temple there. As the incidents increased everyone became fearful and many refused to go to the temple. The Swami who was the master at the temple was aware of the problem and took it upon himself to put an end to it. He used a mantram to call the snake to him and bring it into submission. The Swami them told the snake that it was wrong to bite the people who walked along the path to worship, and made him promise sincerely that he would never do it again.

Soon it happened that the snake was seen by a passerby upon the path, and it made no move to bite him. Then it became known that the snake had somehow been made passive and people grew unafraid. It was not long before the village boys were dragging the poor snake along behind them as they ran laughing here and there.

When the temple Swami passed that way again he called the snake to see if he had kept his promise. The snake humbly and miserably approached the Swami, who exclaimed, "You are bleeding. Tell me how this has come to be." The snake was near tears and blurted out that he had been abused ever since he was caused to make his promise to the Swami. "I told you not to bite," said the Swami, " but I did not tell you not to hiss.*

 

 

* An excellent discussion on this issue, this story can be found in, Carol Tavris, Anger: The misunderstood emotion. (New York: Touchstone, 1982).


Today's Anger, Yesterday's Anger, and Old Baggage

       Anger comes in three packages: toda's, yesterday's and old baggage.  Today's anger relates to an immediate situation and is over and done with when the situation is resolved.  Yesterday's anger is an accumulation of emotion--anger you have not expressed explodes during a trigger situation. Old baggage is anger that is so heavy it can break the toe of the person who gets in the way when you drop it on them.

 

Today's Anger

       Today Tom woke up late and had to rush to get to work on time. He got to his car and saw it had a flat tire. His wife said "Good thing it's only flat on the bottom!"  Tom wasn't in the mood to joke. He was feeling angry. His stomach was in knots and he told himself how pissed he was feeling. Once he changed the tire he was able to calm himself down, and he didn't let it bother him the rest of the day. He even was able to joke about it with coworkers later that morning. That was today's anger.

 

Yesterday's Anger

       Barry's wife had been very busy at work for the past six months. She felt that she had no time to relax and play with him or the kids. This was not the first time she had dropped out of the family emotionally. Barry had always tried to be understanding and supportive of her work, and that meant a lot to her. Recently, however, he been getting annoyed by her frequent absences. He hasn't said anything, but the annoyances have been building up and now he is feeling angry. One morning as they were discussing money--a topic that already carried a heavy charge--an argument seemed to develop out of nowhere. She was telling him how she needed a vacation away from everyone and everything but they just couldn't afford it. All of a sudden he found himself yelling at her, "You never seem to have any time for us anymore!" That was yesterday's anger: an accumulation of anger from several situations, that he did not communicate.

 

 

Old Baggage

       Sam's father brutally beat his mother on numerous occasions. Sam would often try to intervene, only to become a victim of his father's rage.  Both his mother and father were heavy disciplinarians. As an adult Sam had tried to forget his childhood, and dismissed his experiences as "water under the bridge." Sam's wife Carol was very outgoing and expressive of her thoughts and feelings. She would try to get Sam to talk about about what was going on inside, but with no success. The more she pushed him to talk, the more he would withdraw. Most of the time she would just give up and leave him alone.

       One day Carol was expressing her concerns about the yard work not getting done and Sam became defensive. He slipped into his usual pattern and began to withdraw. This time, instead of treating, Carol calmly persisted, and Sam felt backed into a corner. From deep down inside of him swelled up overwhelming feelings of rage and hatred. When she saw the look in his eyes she was afraid. Sam's old baggage, compounded with today's and yesterday's anger, came to the surface in an intimidating and possibly abusive manner.

       Conflict, anger, and criticism are all very sensitive issues for Sam. Growing up in a family where anger was expressed violently left a strong impression on him. Whenever he encounters such situations today those old feelings flood his body and it becomes difficult for him to think clearly. It is as if he becomes possessed. He cannot hear what his wife has to say--or what anyone else has to say, for that matter. If Sam doesn't learn how to safely and appropriately vent his old feelings of anger, these explosions will become more frequent and more violent.

 

Sorting Out Anger

       If you are like most wounded men, you probably have a great deal of difficulty separating out the old baggage--that is, your anger as a result of the abuse--from yesterday's and today's anger. A good clue to when old baggage is being opened is when the amount of anger is more than the immediate situation calls for.

       Once you are able to step back and realize that a good portion of the emotion you are feeling is old baggage unrelated to the current problem, your anger will immediately lessen in intensity. The other person will seem less threatening and may even be able to support you at that moment.

       This concept may be very hard for you to grasp if you have never experienced this phenomenon. Essentially you are removing yourself from the intensity of the interaction for a moment and asking yourself: When have I felt this way before? Is this familiar?  Is this old baggage? Barry and his wife, Louise, had a close encounter with old baggage one night on their way home from the movies.

 

"We were driving home after seeing this lousy movie. Well, at least I thought it was lousy. Louise thought it was just great. Anyway, we were talking about what we liked and didn't like about it. I told her that I thought it was awful and she began to ask me why. Well, as I began to tell her my thoughts, she said I was wrong. That she couldn't accept the basis of my feelings, whatever that meant.  We began to raise our voices. I kept telling her why I didn't like the movie and she would tell me that my feelings were based on inaccurate assumptions or something like that. We came to a stoplight and at this point neither one of us was listening to the other person. All of a sudden I felt overwhelmed and I just grabbed her by the blouse and shoved her into the door. She got out and walked the rest of the way home.  The rage seemed to come out of nowhere. One second I was feeling tense, the next I was exploding.

      

        This wasn't the first time Barry had exploded so violently, and the next morning Louise moved out to live with her parents. These events brought Barry into counseling several weeks later.  Through counseling he learned about his anger, especially his old baggage resulting from being physically abused by his father.  His father had always been very critical of him and had never allowed him to express his feelings, anger in particular. It took him quite a while to realize that although Louise's way of discussing the movie may have been disturbing, he did overreact. Once he was out of the situation he was able to see clearly the similarity between her response and his feeling about his father's abuse. As he learned how to express his anger more appropriately he became better at recognizing when his old baggage was getting in his way of dealing with conflict situations. Several weeks ago hetold me about a similar interaction with his partner, but this time he was able to step back a bit and catch a negative pattern before it took control:

The other morning when we woke up Louise wanted to talk about money. Can you believe it? First thing in the morning. But it was important to her and it was the only time we had together before we went about our daily schedules. She wanted to talk about starting a savings account for the children. She suggested putting one hundred dollars aside each month in an account. I suggested that we put our tax refund in the account instead, since we needed the extra money each month for bills. She quickly responded by saying that she'd rather get into the habit of saving each month. I started to feel like she didn't want to hear my ideas. Let me say that again. I started to feel angry because I didn't think she wanted to entertain my suggestion. There, a feeling statement!

Well, I began to feel tense and I raised my voice, accusing her of wanting to control our money decisions. The minute the words left my mouth I realized that I was overreacting to her suggestion. I got out of bed and sat at the foot of the bed and thought for a few seconds. She was pushing me to talk, but I didn't want to say another word. If I did I knew I would explode. After a few minutes I turned around and told her that this conversation was bringing up some feelings of anger. I also think that some of it doesn't have to do with her or our conversation. I told her that I needed a few minutes to calm down. She backed off and got up to get dressed. I did the same. As we were eating breakfast I told her that I was beginning to feel frustrated because I didn't think she wanted to hear my thoughts and feelings. I felt this way a lot as a child. I told her I needed to stop because I was afraid of overreacting. Interestingly enough, the time-out also gave her time to think about what was going on with her. She told me that she was beginning to experience old fears and anger as well. Her father would spend most of his paycheck on alcohol, drugs, and prostitutes, so her mother had to work to support the family. I guess Louise was afraid that if we didn't have a savings account the same would happen to her. After this talk we were able to hug and come to a decision about our savings account.  

 

       Barry and Louise were able to step back before the conflict escalated and take a look at where their anger and defensiveness was coming from. Doing so immediately deescalated the conflict and eventually brought about a resolution. As an extra bonus they learned something new about each other and ultimately felt better about themselves and each other.

       It is equally important to separate yesterday's anger from today's anger. If you have been stuffing your feelings about something for the past several months, you are going to overreact when you reach your limit. This is why I encourage you to keep your anger account current: Don't let your anger accumulate. Here's how Michael and his family wipe the slate clean every month:

                                                                       

Once a month we all get together after dinner and sit around and get old anger off our chests. The kids really get a kick out of it, but you know, it has really helped me and my wife. We not only get our angers toward each other off our chest, but we also keep current with the kids as well. If things get out of control, we call a time-out and everyone cools down for five minutes. Since we have initiated this ritual, we have found ourselves getting little angers out more frequently so that they never build up to big angers. We end our ritual with appreciations so that we don't just get focused on anger.

      

       Use the anger identification skills you have learned in this chapter to identify yesterday's anger and old baggage. What are your physical sensations? What are your behavioral cues to anger? Use your feeling log, described in chapter 2, to become more familiar with your particular anger patterns. You can also use the other suggested exercises to cope constructively with intense periods of anger. Learning how to communicate your anger will help to ease the pressure of the old bagage and decrease the likelihood of acting it out in destructive ways.

 

Communicating Anger

       You can communicate your anger in many verbal and nonverbal ways. The possibilities are endless. Some ways, however, may actually lead to your feeling more anger, whereas other ways may help to dissipate the feeling. Stuffing, escalating, and directing are three ways people cope with their anger. You may have probably used all three at various times in your life. These three styles are,.

 

Stuffing

       Stuffing, one of most common ways we deal with our anger, is exactly what it sounds like. It is preventing anger from reaching the surface by keeping it stuffed inside.

       Whenever we have something we don't want to show others, we hide it. We may put it in the back of a closet, or in a drawer that no one is likely to look in, or in that old trunk in the basement. Stuffing does work for a while. However, if you stuff your closet full of all our old possessions, one day the closet will reach it's capacity and those items will fall on your head. In the same way, if you stuff your anger, one day it will spill out to batter your, your friends, and your family--whoever's standing in the way.

       Stuffers stuff their anger in different ways. Rob would withdraw and hide from whatever was making him angry, hiding even from himself. When asked directly, if he was angry, he would say, "I'm not angry" or "I'm fine." A good stuffer will find all kinds of reasons to stuff his anger. For example, Tom would make up excuses for anyone with whom he might become angry:

 

One night I was driving home from work and I saw  my girlfriend Donna walking very affectionately with another man. As soon as I began to start feeling physically tense, my "Don't get angry" tapes went off in my head. They went something like this: Donna has been lonely lately because I've been working such long hours and she really must get bored at home and she doesn't really mean to get me jealous and on and on and on. It was like I didn't have the right to get angry. So I never brought it up. I dropped it even though it ate me up inside.

 

       Making up excuses can be one way of stuffing anger. When I asked John if he could get angry at his father he said, "I haven't had the time to talk about it with him. He's been sick a lot and it hasn't been the best for him."  Doubting yourself is another way of stuffing anger. "Do I really have the right to get angry? It wasn't that bad." Low self-esteem thoughts can also be a way of stuffing your anger. Have you ever told yourself that you were stupid or silly to still feel angry about something that happened so long ago?

       You can also talk yourself out of feeling angry by intellectualizing. For example, Mark was a very successful businessman because of his keen analytical skills. He had everyone figured out, including himself. When he would become angry he would try to analyze the other person to the point that he didn't have to feel his anger.  There may be times when making the decision to stuff your anger is appropriate, such as when you are receiving a ticket from a police officer or when you are meeting your in-laws for the first time. But unless you deal with the feelings at a later time, you may be asking for trouble.

       Stuffing your anger can be a problem for several reasons. First, there is the pressure-cooker effect. After stuffing for days, months, or years, you will reach a point when you can't hold it in any longer. This is when you are most vulnerable to an explosion.  If you grew up in a violent home, violence could be part of that explosion. If you are from a home where alcohol or drugs were abused, you may use them to anesthetize yourself. Stuffing could also result in physical illness, such as ulcers or headaches. The more you stuff your anger the more your body and mind will experience stress.  Stuffing can result in chronic tension, confusion, or even depression. It may also result in alienation, feeling disconnected from others.

       Do you stuff your anger in any of the following ways? Do you stuff your feelings in other ways?

 

Denial: "I'm not angry."

Sympathy: "She really doesn't mean to upset me."

Low self-esteem thoughts: "I'm stupid for feeling upset."

Self-doubt: "Do I have a right to feel angry?"

Intellectualizing: "I feel like they're just trying to push my buttons."

Withdrawal: "I'm going to avoid that person."

Excuses: "I haven't gotten arround to it."

 

Escalation

       Escalation is another way of dealing with anger. It's similar to stuffing in that you say or do things that, instead of making you feel less angry are likely to make you feel more angry. But with escalation the buildup is much faster.

       Sam and Carol were in my office less than one minute when the following argument developed. They were supposed to meet at a particular time and place to come to the appointment together. Apparently, they got their signals mixed and ended up driving separately. As a result Carol was fifteen minutes late for the appointment.

 

Carol:  What happened to you today? You were supposed to meet me at 4:30 in front of your office.

Sam:  You don't know what you're talking about. You never told me about it.  You always do this--you make plans and then you don't tell me about them. You really make me angry. You can be really stupid sometimes. Why do you do this?

Carol: You're crazy. You're the one who . . .

 

       It's clear where this discussion is leading. Both Sam and Carol seem to have their escalation technique perfected.

       Escalators are easy to recognize because they begin their sentences with "you." They don't talk about their own anger; instead they accuse others of wrongdoings. They may also ask provocative questions, such as, "Why did you do that?" Although they may not directly accuse the other person, there is usually an accusatory tone in the way they ask the question. Blaming is another common tactic used by the escalator to make the other person wrong. Why is it so important to make the other person wrong? Probably because the escalator doesn't like feeling his anger. When he does experience his feelings, he becomes very uncomfortable. Blaming the other person takes the heat off of him and keeps the focus on the other person's shortcomings. Escalators are also famous for calling names and swearing. You can see that both Carol and Sam were adept at that skill.

       Escalation can lead to physical or psychological violence, which can leave emotional scars that may take many years heal.

       Nothing usually gets accomplished when trying to solve a problem with an escalator. Some escalators will make up as passionately as they tear down. Life with an escalator can be not unlike a rollercoaster, thrilling but exhausting. And, once again, problems never get solved.

       Here are some ways we escalate our anger:

 

by blaming

by accusing others of wrong doing

by asking defensive or provocative questions

by calling names

by swearing

by thinking paranoid or suspicious thoughts

by making a case against someone before getting their side

 

       Some of these patterns of dealing with anger may seem familiar to you. In fact you have probably both stuffed and escalated at one time or another. You may believe there is no other way to deal with your anger, but there is: directing. Directing your anger is not always as immediately "gratifying" as withdrawing or exploding, but it can prevent many of the unwanted negative consequences you may experience with these methods.

 

Directing

       When you stuff your anger you deny feelings, saying "I'm find." When you escalate your anger you blame the other person, saying "This is your fault!"  When you direct your anger, you simply say to yourself or others, "I am feeling angry." Directing also means you must communicate your needs at the moment. Directing is not dramatic. It may initially seem unnatural, contrived, and awkward, but with practice it will become second nature and it's rewards will become apparent.

       You will need to dvelop new skills, because directing involves talking. Stuffing, therefore, is not going to give you practice at directing.  Directing doesn't involve putting others down or blaming them, so your escalation skills probably won't help you much either. Here's the formula for directing:

 

I am feeling angry that_________________________________.  I would like__________________________________________."

 

       How would Sam and Carol's conversation have gone had they used this formula?

 

Carol: I'm feeling angry that you didn't meet me in front of your office as we agreed this morning. I would like us to be clear next week before we go to work or to talk with each other during the day to make plans.

Sam: OK. That sounds like a good idea. I also feel angry when I don't know about plans that you make. I would also like us to be more clear about our plans with each other.

 

       When I encouraged Barry and Karen to try directing their anger, they both remarked that it wasn't as exciting as their regular pattern of relating. They both agreed, however, that they would never solve their disagreements by fighting the old way. There would sometimes be a release of tension after all the yelling and screaming, but the relief was short-lived. Soon after the tension would begin to build, leading to another explosion. Instead, by directing their anger, they were able to resolve their issue more quickly than they had ever done before, and without hurt feelings on either side. When anger is handled productively, it paves the way for positive feelings about yourself and others, and ultimately greater intimacy.

       Listening to someone directly express his or her anger can be as unsettling as directing it yourself. You feel a great temptation to talk the person out of the feeling, convince the person that he or she is mistaken, or even attack back. When this happens, escalation is inevitable.

       When you hear anger you are likely to feel criticized, rejected, or abandoned--not unlike you may have felt as a child. Old baggage and yesterday's anger make it even more difficult to hear anger. These unresolved feelings leave you tense and defensive, like a mouse-trap ready to snap. Those old feelings become activated when someone expresses anger toward you. That's why it is important for you express those feelings in a safe environment.

       You may also have difficulty hearing anger because, as a child, you may have learned that anger meant hate. It is not uncommon for abusers to have two modes: OK and rage, love and hate. So you learn that when someone expresses anger he or she is also saying, "I don't love you." However, it is possible to love someone and express your anger at the same time. In fact the willingness to express such a difficult emotion, in and of itself, can be a demonstration of love.  Therefore you need to remind yourself that when others express their anger at you it doesn't necessarily mean they hate you, that you're a bad person, or that they are going to abandon you. It only means they are upset. You have stepped on their toes. Like you, when they are angry they simply need to be heard and responded to appropriately.

 

Anger in Context

       Anger is not the be all and end all of feelings. It is but one feeling that you have the capacity to experience. When you deny anger--or any feeling--it can undermine relationships and cause depression, acting out, or an inability to concentrate. Feelings usually travel in groups and fear, hurt, and sadness are usually not far behind the anger.

       Most men find it harder to get in touch with fear, hurt, and sadness than with anger. Society permits men to express their anger, especially if is accompanied by aggressive action. It may be tempting for you to stay angry and not delve down deeper into other feelings. Anger can make you feel powerful and intimate (when expressed appropriately), but it also can create distance and be used to intimidate others. It would also be easy to stay angry, vengeful and bitter if the alternative was to truly experience your deepest inner pain. So anger can serve as a defense against your other feelings. Healing means coming face to face with the pain. So learn about your anger, get comfortable with expressing yourself, but don't stop at that point.

       You can sutff feelings of sadness, hurt, guilt, shame, and fear and you may find extreme ways of avoiding them--such as alcohol, drugs, violence, or other self-destructive behaviors. Ultimately, if you cut yourself off from your feelings, you begin to feel alienated not only from others, but from yourself. Getting in touch with these more vulnerable feelings is very difficult because you probably have never learned how to be sensitive to them. As with anger, however, getting in touch with and expressing them can actually bring you closer to people. Ironically this can feel very threatening if you have learned through experience that getting close means getting hurt and trusting means being rejected. Jerry found this to be true for him.

 

When I first started expressing my anger it felt great. I was able to recognize it quickly and get it off my chest. When I came home at night, I was always expressing my anger about this or that. I was feeling great about getting my feelings out. There was only one thing: Everyone was terrified of me. My own family was afraid to say anything to me for fear of my rage. I was loud and intimidating in the name of being open and expressive. I realized that a lot of my anger was being fed by this incredible hurt inside from the abuse. Anger was a good start, but I got stuck there. I needed to go one step further. Expressing my hurt to my wife was really uncomfortable at first. I realized that there was a certain safety in being angry. Telling her about my other feelings brought up a whole new issue. What if she rejects me? What will she do with these feelings?" 

 

Although expressing his anger was important, Jerry made the mistake of stopping there. He needed to recognize that beneath this feeling were the hurt, sadness, and fear that were hidden long ago.

       When Mark was a child he would express his hurt in the form of crying. To his dismay he discovered that doing so only caused the abuse to become worse: "My father used to make me put my hands on the table. He'd hold my wrists and then hit them with a ruler. They would bleed profusely. If I cried, he'd hit me harder and longer. I learned early on not to show those feelings."

       For Leonard, on the other hand, expressing these feelings are simply incongruent with his idea of being a man: "I just don't believe in men crying. I know that's fucked up, but that's how I feel. My father was like that. My grandfather was like that. And for all I know, his father was like that. If that's your goal in the counseling, I don't think I can do it."

       You may have learned to simply numb yourself to your feelings, as Jerry did: "I was afraid when my father was home. I was afraid when he was not at home. I lived in a state of constant fear. After a while I just stopped feeling. Let me correct that, I stuffed my feelings.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to survive. At least I was able to focus on school and football. Today I have an ulcer, a daily reminder of my son-of-a-bitch father, who fucked me over for eight years."

 

Getting in Touch with Your Feelings

       The process of getting in touch with any feeling, whether its sadness, hurt, or fear, is very much like the one you used to recognize your anger. The best place to start is with your physical cues and behavioral cues.

       Sam had a great deal of trouble getting in touch with his feelings of sadness. I knew he must have felt sad when his wife moved out, but he was unable to access the emotion. I suggested that he sit comfortably in his chair, take a few deep breaths, and close his eyes. Then I asked him to think about a time he had felt sad. What was the situation? Where did he feel the feelings in his body? How did he behave? I asked him to bring that feeling into his body right now. After a minute of silence, I asked him to open his eyes and tell me about his feelings:

 

I remember the time my wife left me because I wouldn't go to therapy. I came home and the house was completely empty. I felt this heaviness in my stomach. I wanted to cry, but I was afraid what others would think of me. The crazy thing about it was that I was all alone. I couldn't even cry to myself. I felt so sad. It still makes me feel sad when I think about it.

 

That's how Sam began expressing his sadness: no fireworks, no drama, just sadness. As he spoke, I could feel the heaviness in the room. The first time you deliberately get in touch with your feelings you probably won't experienced a dramatic breakthrough. You may feel somewhat relieved afterward or it may be slow, subtle, and not immediately rewarding. Feelings sometimes need to be expressed piecemeal over an extended period of time before you begin to notice a difference.

       If you are having trouble identifying times when you were feeling sad, hurt, or fearful, your partner or a friend may be able to help you pinpoint specific incidents. "Remember when you felt sad about your guitar being stolen? How about the time you felt afraid that your wife was going to leave you? I remember when you felt hurt when I forgot your birthday." Frequently others recognize that we are feeling something before we do. We may be asked, "Are you OK?" or "Is there something wrong?" or "Did I hurt your feelings?" or "You seem sad, hurt, or frightened right now." So, in addition to bodily cues, other people can sometimes indicate by their reactions you are feeling sad, frightened, or hurt.

       You may get defensive when someone suggests you may being feeling something that you are either unaware of or don't want to communicate, especially when that other person is your partner. It may even feel like an invasion of privacy; "What is she trying to do, read my mind?" Although it may feel uncomfortable, try not to get defensive. If you are feeling something that you are not ready to talk about, just tell her, "Yes, I am upset about something, but I need some time to think about it before I talk with you. I will come to you when I am ready." Frequently your partner will recognize your feelings before you do. It's important to pay attention rather than get defensive. Maybe she senses something within you that you are unaware of. You could learn something about yourself by listening. It takes some self-confidence to let your partner help you in this way. It is an acknowledgment that she has something to offer you, and at the same time it doesn't mean that you are weak or less than her.

 

Communicating Feelings

       Communicating your feelings directly to others is an important aspect of healing. The formula is similar to that for directing anger: I am feeling (sad, hurt, frightened, etc.) because __________.I would like __________."

 

       It is important to express your feelings specifically, when the situation calls for that response, so other people have no doubt about what is going on with you. This way the other person does not have to read your mind. You have probably felt frustrated when someone has expected you to know what they were thinking or feeling without telling verbally. 

       Asking for what you want is equally important because it lets other people know how to respond. Should they give advice, help you in some way, give you a hug, or simply listen? Here are a few examples how this formula may work when healing from childhood abuse.

 

I am feeling sad because I've been having flashbacks about my father lately. I would like you just to know this so you are aware of why I may be acting a little low lately.

 

I am feeling very scared telling you about the sexual abuse. I want you just to listen.

 

I felt very hurt the other day when you told me to forget about the abuse. I want you to take me seriously by just listening without giving advice.

 

       Words, however, are not the only means of communicating feelings. Each man has his own particular way of expressing feelings, which may be different from how women or other men express themselves. Some men can express themselves through actions, such as crying, becoming very quiet, drawing, writing, or getting physically active. What's important is that you get your feeling out in the way that's most comfortable to you. Equally important is that your method is clear, direct, and doesn't infringe upon the rights of others.

       Learning to identify and communicate your feelings takes much practice. Paying attention to how other people communicate their feelings can help you learn new ways to express yourself. Each day it will become easier to recognize that when you are feeling that tension in your stomach you are frightened, or when you feel the sinking feeling in your chest you are sad, or when your breathing becomes lighter you're feeling depressed. Over time your awareness of your feelings will become greater. Taking the next step--expressing your feelings--is just as important to your healing. This is particularly helpful when discussing your childhood abuse with others. Even when you are alone you should learn to take your emotional temperature. How you are feeling about the abuse? The person who perpetrated it? Others who may or may not have known about it?

       Sometimes you may not want to communicate your feelings. It is important that you give yourself the time to sit with your feelings and get to know them. You can communicate them when you are ready. For some men the process of identifying their feelings can take hours or days, and all the asking in the world by others is not going to speed that process. However, taking control of how and when you express yourself is particularly important. In the past that control was violated by your abuser. Today, however, you do have choices as to when and how you will communicate you feelings. In that way you can begin to feel less like a victim and more like you're in charge of your life.

       Don't forget: You will never stop having feelings, as long as you are alive. In fact, you will probably continue to have feelings about the abuse throughout your life. Over time, however, their intensity will somewhat diminish. Subsequently they will have less of an affect on your behaviors and attitudes. In addition, as you air out those old baggage feelings from the abuse--whether they are anger, sadness or hurt--they will not intensify feelings that you experience today.

 

 

The Feelings Journal

       The feelings journal is one tool that can help you learn to become better aware of your feelings. Writing down your feelings, even if they weren't verbally communicated, is healthy because you are not stuffing (denying) or escalating (blaming); you are stating them as fact--"I felt this way"--and you are getting them off your chest. The sooner you can write in your journal, after you feel the feeling, the better. Write in it everyday. You can't go through a day without some feeling.  Remember, you don't have to show anyone your journal. It's just for you.

       Your feelings may be minor: "I was irritated when I got caught in traffic." or they may be more significant:"Today I felt hurt when my partner snapped at me." Feelings come in varying intensities. If you become overwhelmed by any emotion, use any one the various techniques described in chapter 2. Meditation, drawing, and exercise can be effective ways to help yourself when you feel possessed by your emotions.

       Learning how to identify, communicate, and feel comfortable with emotions, like any skill, takes time and practice. So go easy on yourself. Be patient. Most important, give yourself credit for having the courage to confront a very difficult problem.

 


Chapter Six

Healing Through Your Attitudes

 

 

       An important part of the healing process involves coming to terms with how the abuse has affected your attitudes about yourself and others. As a child you probably received both subtle and not so subtle negative messages about your worth or value. This psychological abuse didn't necessarily stop when you left home. Wounded men often take with them these negative messages and a result carry with them their own inner abuser. These negative messages are still running your life today.

 

The Inner Abuser

       You inner abuser are the voices within you that calls yourself stupid or incompetent. He or she will criticize you at every opportunity.  Your inner abuser will undermine your best efforts and attack you at every chance. It is important to become aware of how your inner abuser gets activated--usually when you make the slightest mistake or make a minor error in judgement.  When you try to accomplish a difficult task, he may be right there predicting how you are going to screw up or fail altogether.  He may be most evident in your relationships.  He may make you all too willing either to take all the blame for the problems in the relationship or to blame the other person for all the problems. Your inner abuser thrives on your serious problems, such as addiction and violence, because it give him the opportunity to get on your case on a regular basis. Here are some common negative messages spoken by the inner abuser:  

 

You can't do anything right.

You're stupid.

You're ugly.

You're too fat or too skinny.

You're not strong enough.

You don't act like a man.

You're unsuccessful.

You don't make enough money.

You are unlikable.

You are weak.

You act like a sissy.

You screwed up your marriage.

Your kids hate you.

You can't trust others.

You can't trust yourself.

 

       These negative messages, repeated over and over, inevitably result in low self-esteem. This will only you to continue feeling angry and distruful toward yourself and others with may ultimately lead to feelings of depression, alienation, and isolation. You may not be consciously aware of your inner messages but you may feel low self esteem or distrust of others just the same. These feelings often lead to serious problems such as violence, a critical attitude towards others, fear of communicating feelings fear of asking for help when needed, social withdrawal, or dependence on chemicals. For healing to progress, these problems needs to be addressed directly.

 

What Is Self-Esteem?

       Your self-esteem is made up of personal beliefs and messages that reflect how you value yourself. Self-esteem is either low or high depending on the types of beliefs and messages. As a child, your sense of self-worth came from the adults in your life, primarily those in your family. You have probably incorporated subtle or overt negative messages accompanying your abusive experiences into your belief system about yourself. Self-esteem is an important issue for almost all men who were abused as children. Your attempts to stop or control the abuse most likely met with little success, which resulted in feelings of shame, impotence, helplessness, and incompetence. 

       Tom, for example, believed that he was a failure in life. He was a carpenter, not a physician like his father. He would frequently refer to himself as a loser. To make things worse, he felt responsible for all the problems in their marriage. He believed that he was worthless because of his problems and as a result he constantly felt angry at himself and others.  Evan was sexually abused by his mother. He believed that he was responsible for the abuse because there was a part of him that enjoyed the abuse. He repeated the cycle by fondling his niece on one occassion. Today he is depressed and feels that his life is not worth living, that he won't ever change. Andrew was neglected by his parents. In response, Andrew developed a tough exterior. He learned how to use his wit and intelligence to intimidate others and to reinforce a superior attitude. After a painful divorce, however, he discovered that his tough exterior was his attempt to compensate for his own lack of confidence and low self-esteem.

       Blaming yourself for the abuse is another manifestation of low self-esteem. We come to do this because we are either overtly blamed by our abuser, or because others may criticize us for being "sexually provocative" or "a bad boy". However, children often blame themselves for their parents unhappiness because they don't know better. You may have often thought, "If it wasn't for me, they wouldn't be arguing."

       You may have also experienced psychological abuse in the form of name-calling, put-downs, and insults. You may have learned that your are only good for sex.

       Self-esteem is an important issue for all men because we are constantly faced with male role models, such as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, that portray the male ideal. Few of us can live up to that image and as a result feel somewhat less of a man.

       Having internalized these messages you may discover that you play them back in your head over and over and over again.  The result of this endless payback can be feelings of depression and anger, or destructive behaviors that only serve to lower self-esteem.

       Barry would beat his wife and then would become depressed. In order to lift himself out of his funk, he would become drunk. He would then escalate an argument to the point of violence and the cycle would begin again. Dealing with his feelings would not be enough. He also needs to address his negative self-esteem, which only serves to intensify his feelings and cause behavior problems.

       Why change low self-esteem? Because low self-esteem is self-abuse. Continuing to victimize yourself only perpetuates the cycle of violence. It manifests in destructive behaviors that only serve to reinforce you negative attitudes. Eventually it will also affect others. Low self-esteem will cause you to gravitate toward others who also have a negative self-image. When two people in an intimate relationship both have low self-esteem, there is a greater possibility that negative patterns of relating will emerge. If you ultimately want to heal your wounds, it is crucial  to come to terms with your inner abuser.

 

Putting Yourself Down: Negative Self-talk

         WNegative self-talk messages are messages that put yourself down, minimize your positive qualities, or contribute to general feelings of depression, anger or frustration. Negative self-talk are messages playdown your value as a human being. For example, "I'm a failure. I can't do anything right."

        These messages come from our past, but we speak them in our own voice.  Tony feels that his body is never good enough:

                                                                       

I'm balding. I've been losing hair since I was nineteen. I'm overweight. I feel like a fat slob. I've always hated the way my face looked. My nose is too big. My ears stick out. I feel unattractive. I know where this came from. My father used to criticize my looks all the time. He would make me stand in front of the mirror naked and then would tear me apart verbally. I've been doing it ever since.

 

       Negative self-talk can also be messages about self-blame or feeling responsible for other people's problems or even the abuse itself. Mark's parents were very unhappy. They would fight almost every night. Frequently they would fight about the kids. Mark felt responsible for their unhappiness, and he also felt responsible for their abuse of him.

 

Back then, I thought if I would only do the right thing they would stop fighting and would be happy. I tried to get good grades, follow the rules at home, you know, just be good. But they would fight anyway. I did screw up at times and I would get the shit beaten out of me, usually with a belt, a hanger, or whatever was handy at the time. They would lay a guilt trip on me, telling me I was making their lives miserable. I believed it and thought I deserved the abuse. It never crossed my mind that their misery had nothing to do with me. But I kept trying to make them happy. I was doing for them what they were supposed to be doing for me. Well, this pattern did not end when I left home. In fact, it got worse. I was always doing things to make other people happy believing that my needs were not important. This pattern led to the downfall of most of my relationships. I never felt like I deserved to be happy. These tapes would play in my head: "My needs are not important." "Make everyone else happy." "Don't rock the boat." Then when things go wrong I take it all on myself. I punish myself for years afterwards. Until recently, it never dawned on me that I was just replaying my family dynamics.

 

What Are Your Negative Self-talk Messages?

        List some of your own negative self-talk messages.  Be specific. Are there messages specific to your work? What about your intimate relationships? Do you run these messages with friends or family? Do you blame yourself for being abused?

 

Getting to Know Your Inner Abuser

       Many of these negative self-talk messages were recorded many years ago. They represent a part of the abuser that has been incorporated into your own psyche. These  tapes don't belong to you but you have kept them just the same, listening to them faithfully every day. Unfortunately these tapes are trying to bring you down. You may even experience a downward spiral when you begin to start the tapes in your head. This is the mark of the inner abuser at work. He is the part of your real-life abuser who lives inside of you today.

       The inner abuser is most powerful when you do not recognize his presence. Therefore it is important that you come face to face with him and enter into dialogue. Doing so will make you more aware of how he affects you from day to day. The more conscious of him you become the better you will get at stopping a downward spiral of self- esteem. Over time he will have less and less influence over you. 

       The best way to get to know your inner abuser is by giving him a face and a name. In one of our sessions, I asked Barry to place his inner abuser on a chair in the middle of the room and describe him to me. He said that he looked something like an ape, with black hair all over and human facial qualities. His father had balck hair and would tower over him and scream and yell like an ape before he would beat him severely. Jerry's inner abuser was his cleanly father, a tall, muscular man in a three-piece suite. Evan was sexually abused by his mother. His inner abuser was a witch with long blond hair. Her name was bitch.

      

Who Is Your Inner Abuser?  

       Visual imagery can be a useful tool in the healing process. This is not an exotic technique--you probably did it quite often as a child at play. So you already know how to do it, you just need to remember. Let your imagination run wild.

       First, describe your image of your inner abuser. What does he or she look like? Be as specific as possible, down to the color of the hair and eyes, what he or she is wearing, and how he or she is sitting or standing. What name do you give this inner abuser? You may choose a name that describes the image, or it may be your name or the name of your actual abuser. Sketching or painting your image of your inner abuser will help you better visualize him or her.

       The next step in getting to know your abuser is to enter into a dialogue with him. This may sound strange, but it will help you learn how to stop the negative self-talk messages when they begin. This is the first step in raising self-esteem. Let's listen in on Barry's dialogue with his inner abuser, the ape.

 

Barry:          Well, I've been listening to you a lot these days. You put me down. Treat me like shit. Who do you think you are? [Steve has made the decision to take charge of his inner abuser.] I've been listening to you for thirty years and I'm tired of it. I'm not going to let you ruin my life anymore.

Ape:   Steve, I'm your old friend. You need me to keep you from getting too happy and confident. You know that you tend to get out of control with that temper of yours.  And you are not doing that well at work or home. Come on Steve, you need me to keep you in line.

Barry: I don't need you to keep me in line. In fact you're the one that gets me out of line. It's your negative messages that keep me down. I'm tired of being abused. I don't need it anymore.

Ape:   What would you do without me?

Barry: I don't need you. I'm tired of being abused by you.

Ape:   Let's make a deal. {The ape is beginning to back down.]

Barry: I don't want to make a deal. I'm in charge, not you!

 

Barry then described to me how it felt to talk with his inner abuser.

 

At first it felt awkward. I mean, it was like talking to myself. But then I realized how powerful these messages really are. He does exist inside of me. Talking with him has helped me really see who he is and how he tries to affect me. I've got to take control or he will, and I certainly don't want to see what that would be like.

 

       Consider asking your inner abuser these questions to begin with:

 

1.  Who are you?

2.  Where did you come from?

3.  What messages do you give me?

4.  What do you get out of your negative messages?

      

       Then you may want to tell your inner abuser how you are feeling about him. You may want to challenge your inner abuser point by point on each message. This is your opportunity, like Barry, to take charge and not be pushed around anymore.

 

Positive Self-Talk

       You can overcome the work of your inner abuser through positive self- talk. Positive self-talk raises self-esteem, de-escalates anger and depression, and brings about more uplifting feelings. It sets limits on how much your inner abuser is going to influence you.

       Positive self-talk is neither inflated nor deflated: It is a realistic assessment of yourself. Everyone has both positive and negative qualities. Positive self-talk doesn't focus on one or the other.

       The word "affirmation" that is often used to describe positive self-talk. An affirmation is a statement or assertion about yourself that is hopeful, optimistic, and empowering.

       For example, a negative self-talk message such as, "Boy I screwed up this time. I'm really stupid," can be made into a positive self-talk or affirmation by telling yourself, "I made a mistake and I am going to learn from it." The positive self-talk statement includes the fact that you made a mistake; this is a realistic assessment of the situation. But it also includes a positive interpretation of the event: We can all learn from our mistakes.  Let's take several more examples:

 

Negative:   "I'm fuckedup for beating up my wife." 

Positive:    "I have a serious problem with my temper. I have become violent with my wife. I need to learn how to control my anger."

 

Negative:   "I'm just a drunken asshole."

Positive:    "I have an alcohol problem. I need help before I hurt myself or others."

 

Negative:   "The abuse screwed me up. No one will want to be with me."

Positive:    "The abuse has affected me in some ways, but I also have positive qualities.         People will see those qualities in me. Everyone has problems.  At least I am        working on solving mine. "

 

Can You Transform Negative Self-talk to Positive Self-talk?

       Look over the negative messages you came up with in the earlier exercise. Transform those statements into positive self-talk messages. Remember, positive self-talk includes a realistic assessment of the circumstance as well as a positive interpretation of the situation.

 

Liberating Yourself from the Abuse

       The most common type of negative self-talk for victims of childhood abuse is self-blame for the abuse.

       You may be blaming yourself directly by telling to yourself or others, "I caused the abuse." Or it may be more subtle, such as, "I was a seductive child" or "I was always causing trouble." Look back at the rationalizations listed in chapter 4. Some of these may be internal statements that you run in your mind to blame yourself for the abuse. Self-blame perpetuates feelings of depresion, anger, shame, and low self-esteem. If you believe that you were somehow to blame for the abuse, healing will be very difficult. In order to break your low self- esteem pattern you must take yourself off the hook. You can do this by telling yourself that you were not to blame for the abuse. You were a child at the time. There is no justification for an adult to hurt a child. This is why, today, child abuse is against the law.

       Telling yourself that you were not responsible for the abuse doesn't mean that you are not responsible for changing how the abuse affected you. As an adult, you need to take responsibility for your problems by seeking help and changing destructive patterns of behavior. You may discover that exonerating yourself from this judgment can be very liberating.

 

Can You Tell Yourself, "I Was Not Responsible for the Abuse?"

       Saying to yourself or out loud that you were not responsible for the abuse is a powerful positive self- talk message. Say it out loud. How does it feel to say the words? Do you believe them? Repeat the statement several times. Even if you don't believe it you can begin by acting as though it was true. How would you behave differently if you really believed that you were not responsible for the abuse?

 

Other Ways to Improve Self-Esteem

       Improving self-esteem is like having a garden. If you don't pay attention to it, weeds grow, plants die, and before you know it your garden is a mess. In order to prevent this from happening, you need to go out there everyday and pick out the weeds, use fertilizer, and take care of the plants.

       Improving your self-esteem takes the same kind of effort. You need to do things that make you feel good about yourself. How about the fence you have wanted to put up in the back yard? What about the furniture that's been needing repair? How long has it been since you've been out for a run or played tennis? Does waxing and cleaning the car make you feel good? What about a hike at your favorite beach or state park? When was the last time you laid in your hammock and just meditated? For some men, having alone time can be energizing. Have you been spending quality time with your family lately?  When was the last time you expressed appreciation to your child, partner or a friend? How about a date with a close friend? Going into therapy can also be a constructive way to improve self-esteem.

       Doing things for yourself and others can make you feel good about yourself. That's what it's all about. What can you do today to help to raise your self- esteem?

 

Trusting Yourself and Others

       One characteristic that seems to find itself on wounded men's negative list relates to the issue of trust - trusting oneself and trusting others. If you can't trust yourself, you'll have a great deal of difficulty trusting others. Without trust your ability to have close, successful, intimate relationships will be greatly limited. This will only give your inner abuser amunition to make you feel worse about yourself. How do you begin to address this issue? By listening to your inner abuser.

       Is there a voice within you that says, "Don't trust anyone?" If there is, it is because as a child you trusted a person and that trust was betrayed. You didn't have the rational ability to say to yourself, "I can't trust this person."  Instead you may have generalize your experience to say, "I can't trust anyone. The world is not a safe place." In the early stages of development, children learn about the concept of trust, and form, what will be, life long attitudes about it. An experience with abuse can skew a young person's image about trust, in particular with persons who they are suppose to feel safe. These attitudes about trust are taken into every relationship and can affect your interactions with others profoundly.  You need to learn how to challenge this voice in order to discover how to trust others.

       Do you trust yourself? As a result of your abusive you may have also begun to question whether or not you are capable of making good choices about who you can and can't trust.

       Trust is the cornerstone of any close or intimate relationship. Without it there can be no real communication, no safety in being yourself. Lack of trust accounts for most of the problems that couples experience, and more importantly it is the reason why so many couples are unable to solve their disagreements and subsequently break up. Likewise, if you don't trust your inner radar, that is your thoughts, feelings and needs, you are likely to get yourself into situations that are unhealthy or even downright dangerous.

 

 

Learning to Trust Yourself

       Learning to trust begins with trusting yourself.  What you learned in the previous chapter about feelings and needs is an important part of this task. Trusting yourself involves believing in your heart that your feeings (such as anger, hurt, sadness, etc.) and inner needs (for affection, understanding, help, etc.) are valid and need to be expressed and responded to. Likewise, learning how to trust your perceptions of others is equally important, especially when it comes to intimate relationships. If you sense something is a problem but don't validate your perception and address it, you could find yourself in over your head before realizing what you got yourself into.

       Mark was sexually abused by his uncle with whom he spent a great deal of time. They would talk, go for hikes, and fish together. His uncle would even buy them season tickets to the Dodger games. For many years he believe that he found a great adult friend in his uncle. Mark trusted him with his thoughts and feelings. His uncle first began to convince Mark to take a shower with him. This led to massages and rub-downs. This led to fondling and eventually anal intercourse. This progression occurred over a number of years. Mark began to avoid his uncle and eventually stopped seeing him altogether. But this was not until Mark mustered up the courage to break off their relationship. His uncle betrayed Mark's trust in him. Twenty years later when Mark entered counseling to deal with him failing marriage and alcoholism, he disclosed the experiences with his father's brother. Mark came to realize that his experience greatly affected not only his trust of his wife and others, but most importantly, he lacked trust in himself. He explained:

 

I was so blown away by that experience I really began to question my ability to choose trustworthy people as friends. How could I have been so blind to this guy? I realize intellectually that there was no way of knowing, but in my heart I keep asking myself, "Why didn't you see it coming?" When he began to touch me in ways that felt uncomfortable I would pull away and he would try to convince how it was ok that we were doing this. I listened to him because he was a grownup. He was my friend. He wouldn't have hurt me. If I have listened to my gut I would have run away and never returned. To this day I still don't listen to my gut. I can't trust my own judgment about others. When I meet someone, I don't pay attention to what I'm feeling inside so I passively submit to what ever they want. As a result, I've gotten into some really screwed up relationships in my life. I want to learn how to trust myself, but I don't know where to begin.

 

        Like Mark, your lack of inner trust may be evident in your inability to choose healthy relationships.

       Lack of self- trust could also result in your having your needs met. For example, Steven had a great deal of difficulty asking others for help. On one hand, he rationally knew that it was normal to need assistance at various times. On the other hand, he had this irrational fear of others judging him for not knowing how to do something or needing their help. He wanted others to think he was competent and independent. In spite of his needs, he would continue on his own, sometimes creating more problems that he had initially. This was especially evident when he attempted to fix his car on his own. The more he tried to do it himself, the more it ultimately cost him when he got in over his head.

       Lack of self- trust could also result in your having difficulty setting limits with others. Larry had a great deal of difficulty with this issue. He would say yes, when he would really meant no. When ever anyone asked for volunteers or a favor, he was the first in line. He would agree to do something even when he knew deep down inside that he was already overloaded or simply uninterested. As a result, he was always taking on more than he could handle. He would frequently get physically sick from being burned out. At other times he would rebel and become completely irresponsible, letting down others who were counting on him to come through.         Trusting your perceptions of others, needs and your limits are a critical to having high self-esteem and ultimately healthy relationships. Otherwise you are constantly taking care of others at the expense of your own needs. Additionally, it is important to verbalize your needs so as to minimize other's need for mind-reading. It is important to learn how to trust your gut feeling response and to honor those feelings. This means learning to saying "no" when your gut tells you "no" and learning how to speak up when the little voice inside you is say, "Hey you, wake up, I need something."

 

Trusting Others

        How does this lack of trusting yourself manifest in an intimate relationship? One way is that many wounded men are fearful of expressing their inner needs and feelings. As a result there is lack of communication. This includes discussing highly charged topics like childhoood abuse. Are you fearful of talking about the abuse with your partner. Do you fear your partner's judgment of you, or worse her rejection of you altogether? Are you afraid of appearing weak or crazy? Do you think your relationship can endure a disclosure such as this? Perhaps you fear that your partner doesn't have the time for your problems.

       Bret was sexually abused by his father. He came into therapy because of sexual problems in his marriage. After disclosing the abuse to me it took him several months before he built up the courage to tell his wife. When I asked him why he was afraid he told me:

 

She'll think I'm nuts. Sometimes, I think I'm nuts. I don't know what she'll think of me. Maybe she'll think I'm making a big deal out of nothing or that I'm really homosexual. I don't even feel comfortable with this, how can she? What if she leaves me?

 

       Don't underestimate the strength of your relationship. If there is a foundation of caring, love and mutual respect the relationship can handle this problem. It may make things rocky for a while. There may even be times when you regret having said anything at all. But in the end, it can strengthen the bond beyond your wildest fantasies.  If your partner is interested in you, then she is going to be interested in your problems and your feelings. Don't use your fears as an excuse for not taking a step in developing trust in your relationship.

      

Learning to Trust

       Learning how to trust yourself and others is like any other skill described in this book - it takes both practice and the belief that change is possible. Learning to trust begins with listening to and honoring your inner positive voices and challenging the negative ones. It also involves taking risks by communicating both verbally and non-verbally your needs and feelings. It takes both a objective and subjective point of view. The subjective involves getting in touch with your inner self and ultimately making contact with another person. This gives your valuable information about how much you are trusting yourself. The objective part involves watching how others repond to your risk-taking. This gives you valuable information about how much you can trust others. The more you trust yourself, the more you'll learn how to trust others. The more you learn how to trust , the better you'll feel about yourself and others.

 

Listening to the Voice Within

       How do you learn to trust? The first step is by listening for the inner voices within you. Once voice is telling you how you are feeling and the needs your have. Another voice may be telling you that your feeling and needs are stupid or unimportant. Or it may be telling you that others will judge you harshly - that they can't be trusted. Is this the work of your inner abuser?

       Tony was physically abused by both his mother and step-father. When he began to listen to his inner voices he reported the following:

 

I sat quietly after returning home from our last session and I began to listen. Sure enough I could hear the voices loud and clearn. One said, I am feeling alone with this information (about the abuse) and I need to tell Evelyn. The other said, "Don't trust anyone Tony. Especially Evelyn. The world is a dangerous place. Remember what it was like growing up in your family? If you let her in, she'll hurt you. Stay strong Tony - don't be a sissy.  Besides, it's not safe.

 

Challenging the Inner Voice

       That inner negative voice of yours is similar to the negative self-talk messages and the inner abuser. That voice needs to be confronted or else it will negatively affect your relationships with others.  So the next step in the process is challenging that belief system.  One way of challenging that inner voice is through affirmations and positive self-talk. Positive statements, like "I can learn to trust this person", can counteract these negative messages by increasing your confidence and hopefulness. Likewise you need to remind yourself that your feelings and need, no matter how big or little, are valid and important.  A change in attitude can be encouraged by a change in behavior. This means taking risks, little risks at first.

 

Taking Risks

       Taking risks involves behaviors that demonstrate that you are acting "as if" you trust. What does acting "as if" involve? Communication is one of the best indicators of trust between two people. It's not communication per se but the manner and content of the communication.

       Risk-taking involves communicating thoughts and feelings that are otherwise difficult to share with others. When you do this you make yourself vulnerable. If you watch the other person's reaction when you make yourself vulnerable, you will receive important information about whether or not you can trust that particular person.  So, by not playing it "safe" you can learn who you can and who you cannot trust. If other person doesn't run out of the room screaming, puts you down or rejects you in some other way, you may decide that this person is safe and trustworthy. As with any communication, the chances of getting your needs met are increased if you are able to say ahead of time what you want from that person. For example, "I just need you to listen" or "I need to be held" or "I need your help solving this problem."

       Non-verbal communication is another way you may act "as if" you trust your partner. This type of communication can be in the form of touching. This is especially true if you find that physical touch to be very anxiety provoking. Mark was physically and sexually abused. For him, touch of any kind, sexual or non-sexual, carries with it many negative associations. When he and his wife entered couples counseling they both identified this as problem but from slightly different perspectives. Mark stated that Ellen was always coming on to him sexually. His wife, Ellen, stated that she understands about his fear of sex but she just wants "plain non-sexual physical affection." "Mark never wants to touch at all." She tries to put her arm around him and he always pulls away. Mark was very open about his lack of trust in this area but as he stated, "...Understanding this doesn't change how I feel."

       I explained to both how trust begins with small steps rather than giant leaps. I also talked with Mark about his inner voice and how he needed to act "as if", if he wanted to learn to trust. I asked them if they were willing to try an experiment. They agreed. I have them sit facing each other. I asked Ellen to put her hands on her lap. I told Mark "When you feel comfortable I would like you to put your hands on top of hers." Within a few seconds he put his hands on top of hers. I asked him, "When you feel comfortable, would you hold her hands?" He then held her hands. I asked them to tell each other how they were felt holding hands. Ellen said she felt good. Mark agreed. I told them both to just sit there and enjoy the contact. Then I had them reverse roles. Mark had his hands on his lap and Ellen put hers on top of his and then held them. Ellen expressed fear in making Mark feel uncomfortable. Mark said it did feel uncomfortable but he wanted to overcome the feeling. He told her to keep holding on.

       From that session on, things progressed from hand holding, to walking arm in arm to arms around shoulders and hugging. Ellen and Mark learned that going slowly would get his comfort needs met while at the same time Ellen would get her affection needs met. They also learned that they needed to communicate more with each other both verbally and physically. Mark needed to take risks in order to overcome his lack of trust. He needed to talk about the abuse and his feelings that were still ever-present. He also needed to challenge his inner voice and take a chance with Ellen. In doing so, he was able to break through his barriers to trust. And you can do the same.    

 

Can you take risks?

       What types of risks can you take in your relationship to build trust? What thoughts, feelings or needs can you communicate with your partner? What non-verbal ways can you take a risk in your relationship?

 

For example:

 

I need to tell my partner about the abuse I experienced as a child. I have a lot of anger and hurt inside that would be hard to express. I'm not so worried about her reaction as I am worried about how I'd feel afterwards. Well, I guess if I was honest, I'd say I was a little afraid of her reaction. I just want her to listen to me. Maybe if we set up a time after the kids are asleep to talk for a while I could talk with her about.

or

I hate getting massages. It reminds me of when my father abused me. I rationally know that Bobbie is not going to hurt me but my body gets real tense. If I took a risk, I'd let her give me a short and light massage. Maybe if I told her specifically how to do it I would feel a little more comfortable.

 

Rebuilding Trust                                                      

       Trust is easy to loose and difficult to rebuild. This is especially so when you or your partner has actually done things to engender a lack of trust. Have you done things that have contributed to a lack of trust in your relationship? For example, have you been judgemental, unsupportive, abusive, untruthful or unreliable? If this is the case for you or your partner, both people need to make a concerted effort to pay attention to trust building behavior. This is particularly so, when abuse has been perpetrated or a marital agreement has been violated. Rebuilding trust take time. Following through on agreements, staying open, expressing feelings, being consistent, providing information, working on your problems, admitting to your difficulties and keeping the lines of communication open will all serve to help rebuild trust. Each of these could be considered heroic deeds and therefore could halso help to build self-esteem. Most importantly you need to keep talking about the trust issue. Both partners need to frequently discuss how they are feeling towards each other in the trust department. Beyond this, time will eventually heal the wound so that it doesn't continually interfere with intimacy and love.

 


Chapter Seven

Healing Through Behaviors

                                                                                                          Wounded men are likely to have behavior problems that range from, violence and addictions to marital/relationship conflict, sexual difficulties, commitment problems, and general communication troubles.  In fact, it is often our behavioral problems, such as spousal abuse, that drives men to seek out help.

       Often the most difficult work of healing comes in trying to change these patterns of behavior. First, they are well embedded. And second, feelings, attitudes and behaviors are inextricably linked. During the healing process you will discover the inner attitudes and feelings that motivate your particular behavioral problem. If you work on all three levels--feelings, attitudes and behaviors--you will begin to notice changes.

       Change doesn't come quickly for most men. But if you take small steps every day, setting out reasonable, attainable goals, your behaviors will change over time. Perfection won't come overnight, but progress on a daily basis is definitely possible. Once again, don't be afraid to ask for help.

      

Abuse and Power

       The issues of power and powerlessness can help you understand why you may have learned to hurt yourself or others. As an abused child you experienced a tremendous feeling of powerlessness. You felt--and rightfully so because of your size--that you were unable to stop the perpetrator. Having once felt powerless, the desire to feel powerful, can be a powerful draw. As an adult you may have been drawn to a similar situation in order to reenact your own victimization--but this time you are the one who has the power. Sam describes how his abuse of his wife was a way of feeling powerful in the face of feeling powerless.

 

Last time I battered my wife she was yelling at me about not fixing her car like I had been promising her for six weeks. I felt like she was telling me how bad I was and that I was going to get punished. It reminded me of my father, who was always beating me physically and mentally. All I could think was, I am not going to take this any longer. Now I can do something about it. I was going to stop her. So I did!

 

       If you feel particularly powerless with other adults you may ultimately to turn to children where feeling powerful is much easier. Bret, who was in treatment for sexually abusing his ten year old stepdaughter tells how his own victimization may have partly accounted for his becoming a victimizer.

 

I was sexually abused by my father from the age of eight or nine years old until he divorced my mother when I was thirteen. He may have done it before but I just don't remember, or I don't want to remember. He used to come into my room after everyone was asleep and would get me hard and suck on me. It felt good in some ways but at the same time I felt really dirty and sick. He used to tell me not to tell anyone because they would think I was a queer. So I never said anything.  In fact I never talked about it until I was arrested. I remember there were times when I was fondling my daughter that I would actually be thinking about my father telling me that I was queer. I never really connected the two. I think I was trying to do two things when I was abusing my daughter. First I did it to a girl to prove to myself that I wasn't queer, even though I had thoughts about doing it to a boy in the past. But second, and I think most importantly, I did it to her because I could control her. I couldn't control my father, I couldn't even control my wife. She was the only one I could control. But she was smart. She blew the whistle on me. Maybe if I taught her one thing right, it was to recognize bullshit when she saw it.

 

       It is important to feel powerful, but it's crucial to understand the difference between feeling powerful and having power over others. Feeling powerful means feeling self-assured, aware of your feelings and beliefs, and being able to communicate them with others. You are empowered by self-confidence and knoweldge that you can successfully assert your feelings and needs.

       Power also comes in gaining mastery over your own self-destructiveness or unhealthy patterns. Your attempt to control others is no different than your abuser's control over you. Learning to control your abusive tendencies is an important step toward self-empowerment.

 

Violence Towards Others

       You may be asking yourself, "How could I hurt others like I was hurt?" The answer is that violence begets violence.

       As an abused child you probably stuffed your feelings for many years.  You may have low self-esteem and a general distrust of those close to you. You almost certainly didn't learn healthy ways of dealing with the anger, hurt, frustration, and conflict that are bound to arise in any intimate relationship. In fact, having witnessed or been a victim directly of violence, you may have learned firsthand that violence is a viable solution to problems. Add to these patterns a chemical addiction and you have all the elements necessary for continuing the cycle of violence. 

       Now the power to stop the generational cycle of abuse is in your hands. By applying the skills you are learning in this book to everyday living situations you can break this cycle of abuse. You know deep down inside the devastation that occurs when you are abused by someone you trust. Getting in touch with these feelings can motivate you to put an end to the violence. In this way you are not only healing yourself, but you are contributing to a much-needed change in society.

       Experts in the field of chemical dependency say that each alcoholic affects at least four other people. Likewise, a wounded man who has perpetuated the cycle of violence is not only affecting himself but those around him. Each time you abuse another person you are giving yourself more ammunition for the inner abuser to say "You see, I really am a bad person." On a practical level you run the risk of being arrested and thrown in jail. But far worse is the fact that you negatively affect the lives of both the victims and the witnesses. If you abuse your spouse, she may turn around and abuse the kids out of sheer frustration. If you abuse your kids, they may grow up to become child or spouse abusers. The costs to both yourself and others are too high to stay stuck in denial.

 

Controlling Abusive Behaviors

 

Breaking Denial

       The first step in learning to control your own abusive behaviors is to break denial by acknowledging to yourself and others that you are acting in an abusive manner. To admit that your behavior is out of control is an important first step in learning self-control. You may have a great deal of trouble taking this first step, especially if you believe that is is a sign of weakness to admit that you are having problems at home. It is much easier to blame your partner or the kids than to take personal responsibility. In fact it may have taken a drastic situation, such as an arrest, for you to be willing to examine your problems.

       Can you acknowledge to yourself that your behavior is out of control, that you have become violent with your spouse or a child? Can you acknowledge this to your partner and family? Give specific examples of the types of violence you have perpetrated and to whom.

 

Taking Responsibility

       The next step to learning self-control is to realize that you are responsible for your behaviors. You will have to change yourself, not others. Other people in your family may have problems, but you need to recognize that the only person who can control your behavior is you.

       You may have tried to control your violence by trying to control the feelings, attitudes, or behaviors of others. We do this because we believe that if we can stop others from doing things that upset us we won't feel our own emotions. If this is true for you, you may have already realized that it has limited success. In truth we can only control our own behaviors. Even your emotional responses to situations are not in your control, though you can control how or if you show your feelings. 

       One of my clients complained, " You can't vote on your feelings!" If you feel angry, hurt or sad you can't convince yourself that it is not so. You can take a walk, write about them, or talk about them, but you can't talk yourself out of them. Nor can you control the feelings of your partner or children. If they feel something, you can't talk them out of their feelings. You can be supportive and caring, which may help them get through the feelings sooner: but ultimately, it's their decision what they are going to do with their feelings. The list of things you can't control is long: the future, the past, whether or not your relationship will ultimately work out, whether or not your partner will leave you (or return if she has already left). But you can control your behavior.

       Recognizing that you are totally responsible for your behavior is probably the most difficult step you'll take in learning to control your violence. The temptation to blame your partner, children, boss, or police is so great that most men succumb to it. However, until you take complete responsibility for your behavior you will never be able to assure yourself or your family that the violence will stop. Only you can stop your abusive behaviors. Although the abuse occurs within a context, such as an argument with your spouse or child, it is still your choice to behave that way. Certainly there were times when you felt anger or hurt and you chose not to become violent. You make choices every day to behave in various ways. Sometimes you choose to ignore an issue or person; sometimes we choose to talk something out calmly; someimes you chose to yell it out; and sometimes you chose to act it out.  It's your choice.

       I know it feels sometimes like your violence is not a choice. Sometimes it feels as though your partner is pushing buttons, pulling strings, or turning a switch off and on. You may actually feel and believe that you are being seduced or provoked into acting in an abusive manner. Yet can deliberate and think about how do you want to respond to these inner feelings. Your response will ultimately affect how you'll feel about yourself and how your partner and family will feel about you later.

       Can you take responsibility for your violence? Try completing the following sentence: I recognize that I am responsible for my behavior when I _____________. For example:

 

I recognize that I am responsible for my behavior when I slap my wife.

I recognize that I am responsible for my behavior when I hit my child with a belt.

I recognize that I am responsible for my behavior when I touch my niece in inappropriate ways.

 

Taking a Time-Out

       If your goal is to stop being abusive toward others then you need to learn how to solve interpersonal problems without violence. One common technique is called the time-out.

       The time-out works by separating the you and the potential victim so that you can cool off, calm down, and rationally decide how you can deal with your feelings. When you begin to experience strong feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety (or any feeling for that matter), or if you find yourself acting abusive, say to your partner, "I beginning to feel angry and I'm going to take a time-out." Then leave the situation for an hour. Do something physical like taking a walk, run, or bicycle ride. The time-out is not a time to socialize, but to be by yourself and calm yourself down. This may be an excellent time for you to write in your feelings log.  It is also important to not use any mood-altering chemicals, such as alcohol or other drugs. You want to be more in control, not less. After the hour is up, return and talk about what you were feeling. If you begin to feel yourself getting out of control again, take another time-out. Use the time-out procedure as much as possible during the early stages of healing. This means that you may not completely solve all of your problems for a while, but at least you will stop one big one, your violence.

       You can also use the tIme-out if you are abusing a child. In this case either you or the child takes the time-out. If you are getting into a power struggle, then you may want the child to take a time-out by placing the child in his or her room to sit quietly for an hour to calm down. Afterward you and the child can discuss how to better solve the problem in the future. If you feel like you are about to lose control, you may want to take a time-out (make sure you have an agreement with your partner to watch the child during your cool-down period). No matter how you use the tIme-out, it is important for you to explain the procedure to your partner and children so that they know how and why it works.

       The time-out helps you learn how to better manage your feelings. Don't forget, the level of feeling that you experience may be greater than justified because of old baggage that becomes mixed in with the current situation. The intensity of your feelings may be to great for you too handle without a cooling-down period. Cooling down alone may not be enough to help you regain control over intense feelings. Anger can be stubborn and can take some time to simmer down. Learning to use your thinking function can help this process along.

       As we have seen, rebuilding trust is an important first step in the violence recovery process.  Taking a time-out helps to rebuild that trust. They key is threefold: Honesty, openness, and willingness. Honesty: You are saying that you are feeling angry. You are being honest with your feelings. You say that you are going to take a time-out and you do it. You say that you are going to be gone for an hour and you return in an hour. Consistency between words and actions helps to build trust. Openness: You are open to using a new technique. You are open to your partner or child's need for safety. Willingness: You are willing to go to any lengths to stop your violence. This means putting aside your need to win an argument or make a point for the greater need of nonviolence in your family. The time-out not only rebuilds trust with others: it also teaches you how to trust yourself that you can learn to control your destructive impulses. 

 

Talking Yourself Down

       Controlling your feelings may take more than removing yourself from the situation. You may have to talk yourself down. One benefit of being human is having the ability to both feel and think. Depending on the situation, one may be more important than the other; but being able to use both functions is important.

       Earlier we discussed stuffing, escalating and directing. You have probably used these methods to cope with all your feelings, including anger. For example, as a stuffer you may be telling yourself that you don't have a right to feel angry or hurt, or that you are a bad person for having these feelings. As an escalator you may be saying to yourself, "That no good son of a bitch, he's just out to get me."  In either case, the outcome is likely to be continued frustration and possibly an explosion.

       When you stuff you are trying to talk yourself out of your feelings. This is similar to trying to talk a dog out of wanting to bite you. Remember, you cannot vote on your feelings. Once they come up all you can do is deal with them in a healthy and productive way. As an escalator you simply end up making yourself more and more frustrated. You walk into an up elevator on the fifth floor when you wanted to go down to ground level. What's your choice? You could go all the way up and then go all the way down or you can get off on the next floor and wait for a down elevator. When you escalate you are building a case for stronger feelings. No matter which route you choose, stuffing or escalating, the outcome is likely to be disaster--especially if you are prone to violence.

       Talking yourself down is the third way to deal with anger. This method is similar to directing. When you direct, the potential for violence immediately diminishes. Simply telling yourself that you are feeling angry, hurt, or sad will help you lower the intensity of your feelings, and you will be less likely to act out those feelings violently.

       Talking yourself down also involves strategizing productive ways of dealing with feelings: staking a time-out, getting some physical exercise, meditating, doing relaxation exercises, writing in your feelings log, or simply going outside for fresh air. Directing and strategizing helps you think of alternatives to violence and the very process decreases the intensity of your feelings. The time-out is an opportunity for you to talk yourself down rather than stuff or escalate. When you return from the time-out, you are less upset than when you left. The time-out and talking yourself down are both anger-management techniques that can help you stop your violence. As a result you will feel better yourself and others will feel better about you.

       Communication skills can also help preventing violent acting-out. Communicating your feelings and needs--learning how to ask for what you want and how to say no--is very important.  If you have directed your abuse toward your child, you may need to learn about healthy child development, parenting skills, maintaining intimacy in relationships, examining sex role attitudes and clarifying relationship expectations. Use the feelings log, meditation, creative outlets and physical exercise (all described in chapter 2) to deescalate your anger and avoid a violent outburst.* The more skills you possess, the less likely you are to choose violence when confronted with a difficult situation.

       The bottom line is that violence is a choice. You need to make a conscious decision to choose other alternatives. The healing process has many aspects, but the most important is to immediately address the destructive, violent behaviors so that you and others are safe. Onceyou bring your violence under control you can heal your feelings and attitudes in order to remain violence free.

 

Addictions: Chemical and Process

       Wounded men are prone to addiction because of the need to suppress or avoid strong feelings. There is a high correlation between addiction and abuse and you may have learned addictive patterns of coping with problems by observing your parent or

 

*These and other techniques are covered more thoroughly in my earlier book, Learning to Live Without Violence: A Handbook for Men.   


abuser. If you have an addictive pattern in your life, you are less likely to face your inner wounds. Therefore it is crucial to completing your healing journey that you take the first step in breaking the cycle of addiction.

       Most people think about alcohol and other drugs when they hear the word "addiction." However, addiction is a more general term than alcoholic or drug addict. It refers to any habit or dependence on a chemical or process that can potentially create serious problems in your life. You can develop a psychological addiction to just about any substance and a physical addiction to many substances that we ordinarily think of as healthy or harmless.

       You may, of course, be addicted to a mood altering chemical. The most commonly thought of mood-altering chemicals are alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates (heroin), amphetamines (speed), hallucinogens (acid), and barbiturates (downers). Prescription drugs such as muscle relaxants (such as Valium), narcotics (such as Demeral), amphetamines (such as, diet pills), barbiturates (such as sleeping pills) and pain medication (such as codeine) can also cause an addiction. Caffeine, found in coffee, tea and soft drinks, is a highly addictive substance, as is nicotine in cigarettes. If you have you ever tried to eliminate or cut down on the salt or sugar in your diet you know that even foods can be addictive, either physically or psychologically.

       A process addiction is similar as a chemical addiction, except that you are not addicted to a behavior. One very common process addiction is workaholism. The workaholic is addicted to work. All you do is think about work, you can't wait to get there and you has trouble leaving. Like a chemical addiction, there is both a psychological and physical aspect of the addiction. Psychologically, you are always thinking about work, in that you can't get it out of your mind. You may also may get a physical adrenaline high from working constantly. Since you are working so hard, your body adjusts to high levels of stress, so when you begin to cut back you may notice a significant drop in physical energy. This may be followed by a depressed feelings. In order to fight this change in energy and feelings you will get back into your addiction. Other process addictions include sex, gambling, overeating, relationships, television, fighting, playing, sports, and even exercise.

 

The Stages of Chemical Use

       Chemical dependency is a progressive disease with particular characteristics that develop over time.  The following model can be used to describe the addiction process to any mood-altering chemical(s):

 

Experimentation >> Moderate Use >> Abuse >> Dependency >> Death

 

       When you use any mood-altering chemical for the first time it is called experimental use. After such use you decide, either consciously or unconsciously, that you either want to continue or that you don't want to use again. If you do decide to use again you quickly move into the second stage of the process, moderate use.

       During moderate use, your use patterns are fairly predictable. You may use on weekends, in social settings or with dinner. The amount of chemicals used will vary from time to time.  Most important, there are likely to be few consequences directly related to your use. Your work life and relationships are not directly affected by use of the substance. If there is a consequence as a result of your use, in this stage you will be able to recognize that you need to make a change in your using behavior to avoid additional consequences. 

       For example, Tony was psychologically abused by his alcoholic father. As a result he became very reluctant to drink or use other drugs because of his fear of being genetically predisposed to alcoholism. However, on occasion he would indulge by drinking a glass of wine in a social setting. One night he drank more than usual and as a result became fairly intoxicated. He became verbally abusive towards the host and knocked over a vase. The next morning he felt very remorseful and called the host to apologize for his behavior. He had never gotten drunk before, and his experience made him realize that he couldn't tolerate more than one glass of wine. He decided to curb his drinking for a while and has never had a similar incident. That was ten years ago.   

       Tony could have easily crossed over the line from moderate use to abuse  had he not acknowledged the relationship between his behavior and his drinking. The main difference between moderate use and abuse is denial. If you are an abuser you deny any relationship between your problems and your use. The consequences of your use begin to increase in seriousness and frequency. You use rationalizations, excuses, and blaming whenever these problems occur, and subsequently you are unable to connect the consequences with your use. As an abuser you also have difficulty seeing how your use affects those around you, so you don't try to alter your use in spite of the concerns of family members, friends, or coworkers. Over time your use may increase in frequency and amount and problems begin to develop in all areas of your life. Interpersonal and work relationships may show signs of stress and serious problems may arise. You may begin to get in trouble with the law. Your previous patterns of work and home life may change for the worse. Your health may begin to deteriorate. 

       The line between abuse and dependency  is different for each person. When you become dependent, either physically or psychologically, your life becomes unmanageable. Consequences will show up in all areas--personal, family, and work. When you become dependent your life begins to revolve around your chemical use. You frequently think about using or participating in activities associated with using. Your use is out of control. You either can't stop using once you begin, or you are unable to follow through with promises to cut down or stop altogether. Most importantly, you continue to use in spite of the adverse consequences associated with that use. You may need to use every day in order to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. Or you may have a pattern of periodic binging separated by a few days, weeks, or months of no or low use. You may appear to have it together, but people close to you will become increasingly aware of how alcohol or drugs are affecting your life.  

       As use progresses you may develop severe irreversible physical damage to the body. Withdrawal symptoms may be difficult because of extreme DTs, headaches, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, chills, and hot flashes. If you continue to use you will reach the final stage of chemical dependency: death. This may occur as a result of an overdose, by mixing chemicals, through complete physical deterioration, or by getting into an accident while intoxicated.

       Your using pattern develops after that first experimental use. The length of time it takes you to reach the end of the process will vary. You may use chemicals for years before becoming chemically dependent, or you may show signs of chemical dependency right from the first experience. If you have a family history of alcoholism or drug addiction, you may be genetically predisposed to some forms of chemical dependency. This predisposition may cause the progression of the disease to occur more quickly.

 

What Role Do Chemicals Play in Your Life?

       Ask yourself the following questions:

 

1.  How has your chemical use affected your life?

2.  How has it affected those around you? 

3.  What effects has it had on your emotions, health, or behavior?

4.  What affects has it had on your family?

 

For example:

 

Last week I got arrested for drunk driving. It was the second time and it looks like I going to lose my driver's licence.

 

I use alcohol and pot. It helps me relax t the end of the day . When I get high, I guess I do space out a little and I'm not much to talk to. Come to think of it, I don't get to spend much quality time with my son.  He and I are not as close as we use to be.

 

I am gaining weight from too much drinking. I have a high-stress job and my doctor told me that I was at high risk for heart disease, but I could do a lot to prevent it by stopping drinking.

 

  My wife and I fight a lot after I have had too much to drink. On a few occassions I hit her. She's talking about divorce. That's why I went into counseling.

 

 

 

Process Addictions

       The stages of chemical use can also be applied to process addictions. Instead of using a chemical, you have an out-of-control behavior that is causing you severe personal problems. Let's take one common addiction, of wounded men: workaholism.

       Your first day on the job signals the experimental stage. Once you decide to continue in the job the moderate stage begins. Typically you work from nine to five; occasionally, however, you may need to work longer hours. You may put in excessive hours and be less effective the next day, physically or mentally exhausted, or even physically ill. A family member may voice concern and bring this to your attention. If you are not addicted to work, you will see the relationship between your personal, physical, or family problem and the work schedule and make the necessary adjustments; if that's not possible you will consider changing jobs altogether.

       When you continue to works long and hard hours--in spite of the effects it may have on you personally or physically--you are beginning to develop abusive patterns. To justify your behaviors you will use denial in the form of rationalizations ("It's only during the holiday season"), excuses ("I can only work after everyone leaves at night"), explanations ("I had to get this report out"), and blaming ("My boss forced me to do it"). You will tend not to connect your poor health or problems at home with the job. You may work to avoid the problems at home, or may even become depressed if you slow down or take a break. Over time you work harder and harder and the negative consequences in your life become more and more serious and frequent.

       When you become dependent, negative consequences are beginning to show up in all areas of your life: at home, emotionally, physically, with friends and family, and possibly even at work. Your life revolves around your work. You think about work constantly. You can't get away from it. Your marriage may be falling apart. You probably don't have a relationship with your children. You may not have any friendships outside of your job. Your physical health may be deteriorating. Yet, in spite of these consequences, you continue to work excessively. You may try to cut back, but after a short time you continue to overload your work life.

 

What Role Do Process Addictions Play in Your Life?

       Ask yourself the following questions:

 

1.  What addictive process patterns can you identify in your life? 

2.  What effects have they had on your emotions, health or behavior?

3.  What effect have they had on your family?

 

For example:

 

    I think I am addicted to sex. It helps me relax. I think about it a lot. I spend a lot of money on magazines and I am constantly hitting on women.

 

    I have had VD a couple of times. I worry about AIDS. It's difficult for me to have a long term relationship.  I'm lonely most of the time.

 

    I don't have a family. I wish I did.

 

Any Addiction Is a Serious Problem                           

       There are four potential problems to developing an addiction of any kind.

       First, you will never heal the wound that's causing the pain and anguish if you are using medication to hide the symptoms. Chemical and process addictions do just that. They keep your level of tolerance for psychic pain high enough so that you doesn't have to deal with the brokenness inside.

       Second, addictions are detrimental to your health. Chemical use clearly hurts your body but process addictions can also have a negative affect on your health. Workaholism can lead to physical stress and that can lead to physical illness. Overeating can lead to obesity. Gambling can lead to bankruptcy or arrest, and consequent lack of income, another stress producer.

       Third, any addiction, can have a potentially lethal affect on you and the people around you Death from alcohol and other drugs is the most blatant example, but it is no longer unusual for men in their early thirties to experience heart disease as a result of overworking. With the advent of AIDS, and other sexually communicable diseases, some individuals who are sexually promiscuous may be taking their life into their own hands if utilizing unsafe sex practices. Violence in the family is also highly correlated with both process and chemical addictions. 

       Fourth, there is mounting evidence that addictions are passed down from generation to generation. Certain types of chemical dependency have a genetic component. If you are addicted to alcohol, for example, you may pass on that tendency to your children. Aside from the genetic link, however, children who grow up in addictive families learn addictive behavior and are psycholgically prone to develop similar problems when they become adults.

 

Life or Death?                                                          

       The choice of the addict is to live or to die. If you are addicted to either a substance or a process, your death may be symbolic (in that you have died either emotionally, intellectually or spiritually) or your death may be literal. On the other hand, living means being heroic and doing battle with your inner demons. It also means struggling to become a better person, getting to know yourself better, and developing social living skills so that you are more prepared to cope with the curveballs life throw you. Being alive means feelings your pain but it also means feeling your joy. It means that you will ultimately feel better about yourself and those around you. It will lead to a greater ability to love, be loved, and have peace of mind. Being alive is knowing that you are doing the best that you can in an imperfect world.

 

Stopping Addictive Patterns

       The first step in stopping the cycle of addiction is to break denial. It is important to acknowledge that you are developing or do have an addictive pattern. The next step involves getting help. You have probably been trying to deal with your addiction alone, but you won't get anywhere without the help of others.

       How do you find out if you are or becoming chemically dependent? Get an assessment from a qualified chemical dependency counselor.  For process addictions you will find counselors and groups that specifically deal with your type of addiction, such as overeaters groups, sex-addicts, etc. See chapter 11 for suggestions as to where you can get help.

      

Get Help!

       This recommendation can not be underscored enough. Although the advice in this chapter sounds easy and straightforward, developing an intellectual understanding of what needs to be done is not enough to break old patterns. Every wounded man can benefit from counseling.  When your wounds begin to affect your behavior to the extent that other's safety is being compromised you must take immediate action to control yourself. This means that you need counseling now!  Don't waste any time. The longer you wait, the more likely it si that your problem will get worse. If violence, or addiction are a problem in your life, go immediately to the Appendix to get information on how to find counseling. Remember, your recovery is in your hands.

 


Chapter Eight

Healing Through Sexuality

 

    Sexuality is a very important issue for all wounded men to address. Like attitudes about self-esteem and trust, sexual attitudes are formed early in childhood. Abuse may have affected your own feelings and attitudes about sex, which in turn may determine your sexual behaviors.

       The outcome of your feelings and attitudes largely depends on the overt and subtle messages you received from your family. If sex was considered a dirty word in your family, you may have developed negative associations with sexuality: if sex was talked about openly, without negative judgments, then you may have developed a positive attitude as an adult.

       Your first experience with sex may also greatly affect your feelings and attitudes. If you were a victim of sexual abuse you may have come to believe either that sex with a young person is appropriate, orthat sex is bad or dirty. You may avoid sex altogether because of negative memories or associations that interfere with your concentration. You may feel uncomfortable with certain types of touch with your partner. You may also have learned that sex is an appropriate outlet for pent-up feelings of rage, sadnes,s or inadequacy. 

       Men tend to have very different feelings, attitudes, and expectations about sex than women, which can complicate the healing process for a wounded men who is in a relationship. Men often view sex as their primary means of feeling intimate with a woman: whereas women often look to talking, spending time together, and relating as a way of being intimate that naturally leads into becoming sexually intimate. Men also receive many messages throughout their lives that reinforce the belief that much of their manhood depends on sexual functioning.

       As a part of your healing process you will need to examine your feelings and attitudes about sex which, in turn are reflected in your sexual behaviors.

 

Sexual Feelings: The Good, the Bad and the Confusing

       Everyone would like to be able to associate sexual intimacy with only positive feelings all  the time. Unfortunately this is just not the case. In reality most people have periodic sexual experiences that are less than enjoyable. For example, how many times have you not been in the mood but agreed to having sex anyway? The result was probably a less than perfect experience. What about times you were tired or not feeling well? What about when you were preoccupied with work or money problems? These are occasional problems we all experience, and we usually don't worry about them.

       On the other hand, many men (and women) are generally not satisfied with their sexual experiences. During sex they may be feeling angry, frightened, or confused. They may also have trouble feeling physically or emotionally turned on. Many of these individuals had negative or traumatic experiences in the past that are affecting their sexual feelings today.

       What are your feelings about your sexuality? Do you feel angry, sad, or confused during sex? Do you find sexual intimacy threatening, an invasion of your personal space? Do you have difficulty feeling physical sexual sensations or knowing when you are turned on or don't want sex? Do you avoid sex in order to avoid your feelings? Is having sex a way of avoiding your feelings? If you can relate to one or a number of these difficult feelings about sex you are not alone. What's more, there are specific steps you can take to deal with these and other negative sexual feelings.

 

Talk About the Feelings

       I've heard it said that, “Feelings are like savings bonds: The longer you keep them the greater they mature.” Stuffing painful feelings about sex will only make it more difficult for you to address the particular sexual problem you are experiencing. Just as you broke denial about your childhood abuse, you need to first admit the sexual problem to yourself and eventually to your partner. Breaking the silence will feel like a weight off your shoulder. Don’t forget to let the person who you tell what you want from them in terms of support, just listening, advice, and so on.

 

Look at How These Feelings May Relate to Your Abuse

       You may be feeling afraid of having sex for fear of thinking about or remembering your own abuse. Or you may be having sex to avoid feelings which can cause pain in others and also be self-destructive. You may have learned from observing your abuser that sex can be a way to avoid personal problems.

       Many men and women abused as children have learned to shut off physical feelings of pleasure altogether. This may have begun when you were a child in an effort to feel less physical pain from the abuse. But you cannot turn off bodily sensations in order to avoid physical pain without shutting down to physical pleasure as well.

       These are only a few ways that your feelings about sex may be related to your childhood abuse. Making the connections between now and then can help you understand your feelings so you are less likely to think you are crazy for having the feelings in the first place. Don’t forget: Uncomfortable sexual feelings are a common outcome to childhood abuse.

 

Read About Male Sexuality and Childhood Abuse

       Reading books on male sexuality or on adults abused as children will help you understand intellectually the problems you may be experiencing. You may even learn techniques that will help you solve your problem. Most important, these books will remind you that you aren’t a freak for feeling the way you do and that ultimately healing is possible.

 

Get Help!

       This is not the first or the last time you’ll hear this suggestion in this chapter or book. I know that reaching out for help is not in our program as men. Our fears that others will perceive us as being inadequate or weak often get in the way of our getting the support and assistance that we need to solve our problems. But these types of problems rarely go away on their own. In fact they usually get worse if we avoid them.

       See the Appendix for suggestions on how to find a counselor, as well as a list of organizations that may help you with problems with childhood abuse. Take that step today. It can only help.

 

 Sexual Attitudes: Myths and Realities

         The other night I went to my local bookstore to find reading material on male sexuality. When I asked the owner, he looked at me with a blank look on his face and then said, "Well I have a couple of books. Let me show you where they are." He took me to a section called Women's Studies. I counted twenty-five books on women's sexuality and two books on male sexuality. One was hidden between a book on the G-spot and a handbook on multiple orgasm, and the other was on the bottom shelf on it's side, with the title hiding, because it was too large a book to fit on the shelf. This experience made me think about one of the most common myths: Men don't have sexual problems.

 

Myth: Male Sexuality Is Uncomplicated and Men Don’t Have Problems

       Nothing could be further from the truth. Male sexuality is complicated, and many men do have problems with sex even if they don't talk about them. If fact studies have shown that men are often dissatisfied with their sexual relationships but they don't talk about it directly. Instead they make sexual jokes or innuendoes. This way they can avoid having others think that they are sexual failures.

       Some men believe there is something wrong with them if they are not enjoying sex. Others think it's the woman's problem. They will say, "She doesn't like this or do that" or "She's frigid."

       Relationship difficulties are rarely one-sided, and neither are sexual problems. Both partners need to look at their contribution in creating the problem as well and find ways to help solve the problem.  Sexual difficulties in an intimate relationship is a two-way street.

       Your sexuality may be even more problematic because of your inner pain and confusion. Unresolved feelings from abuse may result in a number of sexual problems. If you were a victim of sexual abuse, sexual activity may stimulate old feelings and associations that may make you either avoid sex altogether or learn how to dissociate yourself from the emotional aspect of sexuality.

      

Myth: Men are Responsible for Their Partner's Enjoyment

       You may believe that your performance determines whether or not your partner is satisfied. If she isn't having fun, it's either the size of your penis or you are not doing the right thing to the right part of her anatomy. This creates an incredible amount of pressure on you to perform. Too much of this performance anxiety can cause problems in and of itself.

       In reality you are not completely responsible for your partner's pleasure. Both people are responsible for getting their own needs met, and both partners need to be responsive to the other's needs. In this way sexual expression becomes a sharing experience rather than a chore or performance. Having been abused you may feel particularly pressured to please your partner, even at the expense of your own pleasure, because you don't feel like your sexual needs and feelings are valid. This is one way how low self-esteem can affect your sexual relationships.  If you learned in your childhood to be a "people pleaser," this pattern is likely to lead you to feel soley responsible for your partner's sexual pleasure.

      

Myth: Touching Should Always Lead to Sex

       You may have been taught that when you are touched by a woman this means she wants to have sex. We are simply not used to touching other men or women, except for shaking hands with a stranger, hugging family members, or rough touch, such as in sports. Women, on the other hand, will often hug or touch a friend without the expectation that sex will follow. With men, this is not so. This is particularly reinforced in the media, where touch is portrayed as always leading to sex.

       Touch may be a particularly sensitive issue for you as a wounded man. You may be more likely to interpret non-sexual touch as a seduction or invitation. Or you may be afraid of being touched because of painful touching you experienced as a child. It is as important for you to learn how to touch and be touched in nonsexual ways as it is in sexual ways. Touching can be a way of nurturing your self and others.  Nonsexual touch can be a nonthreatening way to begin to feel more comfortable with sexual activity.

      

Myth: Sex Means Intercourse

       Most people think of sex as synonymous with intercourse. Intercourse is certainly one form of sexual expression, but so is kissing, masturbation, massage or holding. When you define sex as only  intercourse, it greatly limits the various possibilities that exist for sexual expression. For example, if you only eat chicken, after a while eating may get a little boring. You may decide to experiment with other types of foods, and open up a whole new world of eating. Likewise, learning to expand your definition of sexuality can be equally enjoying.

       If you were sexually abused as a child your sexual repertoire may only include those acts that your abuser perpetrated. Or you may be specifically avoiding those particular acts to lessen your anxiety about sex. In either case, it is important to free yourself from negative associations so that sexual enjoyment is truly possible.

      

Myth: Good Sex Should Always Lead to Orgasm

       Men have been taught to believe that the outcome is more important than the process. Being goal-directed, in and of itself, is not a negative trait. However, if reaching that goal is so important to you, you may fail to pay attention to what's happening in the process. For example, you may be so focused on bringing your partner to orgasm that you may not pay attention to your own needs, or hers. 

       Having an orgasm is just one reason you may choose to have sex. Another important reason to have sex is to reproduce. These are goal-directed reasons. Process-oriented reasons include having sex to get close, physically and emotionally. An orgasm may be one outcome of this process.

       If you are feeling anxious about having sex you may be more focused on ending the experience as a way to lessen your anxiety; by making the time you experience the anxiety shorter. There is, however, other ways of feeling less anxious about sex. Likewise, if your "people pleasing" patterns of relating are leading you to feel responsible for your partner's orgasm, you are going to work hard to make sure that happens while all along ignoring your own sexual needs as well as the other process-oriented reasons for having sex.

      

Myth: Sex Is Easy and Men Are Always Ready for It

       It's plain and simple. You get excited. Your penis becomes hard. Your partner gets lubricated. You put your penis inside her vagina, you both have orgasms, and let's not forget the fireworks. Right? Wrong! For most of us mortals, sex is not always that easy.

       Getting aroused depends on many factors, from what what perfume she's wearing, to the time of day, to what you ate for dinner, to her mood, to how you're doing at work. There are many factors that contribute to whether or not you are going to feel turned on and many other factors that determine whether or not your feelings are actualized in sex. These factors are true for all men. As a wounded man you may have additional fears and anxieties about sex that you may have to overcome in order to be open to the experience.

       Once you know that you're interested, things are complicated by the fact that your partner's feelings, attitudes, and behaviors must be entered into the formula. Sometimes you both want to have sex, but more often one person wants it and the other doesn't. Sometimes there are factors that are out of your and your partner's control, like children or illness.

       The most important thing to remember is that sex is complicated because we are complicated. This doesn't mean that it will always be a chore or a ordeal. But like any behavioral interaction, it's going to be affected by your and your partner's feeling and attitudes. The better you know yourself, the more able you will be able to identify the problem and solve it.

      

Myth: Sex Will Always Be the Way It Was When You First Met

       You may believe that once you find a good sexual partner, sex with that person should always be as good as it was initially.  This would be so if both you and your partner never changed. But as people change so does their sexual relationship. As W.C. Fields once said, "The best cure for falling in love is marriage."

       Initially sex with your partner may have been very intense and passionate. But as you get to know each other some of that passion may be replaced with love and other feelings. Sex may also become more complicated because when you spend a lot of time with a person, you develop a history; and along with that history comes feelings, some of which may have not been communicated. Those stuffed feelings may affect your sex life. 

       When you begin to start your healing journey you may get in touch with feelings that you were able to ignore earlier in your relationship. These emotions may greatly affect your desire to have sex or even your functioning. There may even be a temptation to experience sex with some other than your partner.  Sex outside of an intimate relationship is less encumbered with these emotional difficulties, but this type of sex has is own types of problems.

      

Myth: Sex and Aggression are Inextricably Linked.

       "If men can't fuck something they kill it." This comment contains more than a kernel of truth with regard to how men frequently deal with their feelings. Throughout the centuries men have learned two options with regard to venting their emotions: violence and sexual intercourse. Violence and sex are ways of expressing anger, hurt, jealousy, and other vulnerable feelings. Although both actions can be a valid way of expressing feelings, it is extremely limiting if we allow ourselves to express them only in these ways.

       As a wounded man this is particularly important for you because you may have a bundle of emotion inside that is in need of expression but has no outlet. When strong emotions are only allowed to surface in the form of sex or aggression, behavior problems stemming from childhood abuse are likely to occur. This is why it is important to learn ways to express your strong emotions, such as anger, hurt and sadness, in other ways besides sex and violence. Some of these ways might include any of the exercises mentioned in chapter 2.

      

 

Myth: Sex Problems Mean Something Is Wrong with the Relationship.

       Just because you are having trouble enjoying sex it doesn't necessarily mean that you should throw in the towel with the relationship. Sometimes a sexual problem is just that, a sexual problem. Other times it may reflect a more general problem in the relationship.

       Sometimes a sexual problem may be simply an indicator that you need to heal. In either case a sexual problem can be an opportunity for you and your partner to work out a difficulty together, the end result of which may be greater intimacy and higher self-esteem.

 

Myth: Sexual Problems Go Away on Their Own

       This is the greatest myth of all. It is true, you can always hide your problems away temporarily. You can put them in that old trunk in the basement and lock it shut.  Eventually, however, you will have to face them, because they will get worse over time. That's why it is so important for you to begin the healing process now. The sooner you do it, the sooner you will experience a healthy and positive sexuality.

 

Sexual Behaviors: Desire Problems versus  Dysfunctions

      

       Sexual desire problems are common for men who were abused as children. Unresolved feelings may cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and memories that occur during sexual experiences. You may have found yourself avoiding sex altogether in order to escape such thoughts. It is not unusual for some men to go in the opposite direction and become hypersexual, focusing only on the physical experience, while detaching from any emotional involvement. Sexual desire problems relate to ones appetite for sex. This may only be problem if you or your partner is uncomfortable with the lack of or the need for too much sex.

       Sexual dysfunction, on the other hand, can also be related to childhood abuse. A sexual dysfunction is when something doesn't work the way it should. The most common forms of sexual dysfunction with men are premature ejaculation (ejaculating before you want  to ejaculate) and erection problems (impotence, inability to get or maintain an erection).

       It is also not unusual for men who were abused as children to either become prostitutes or frequent them for sexual satisfaction. Either of these can be a problem, both because of the high health and legal risks and the devastating psychological and emotional effects. Sexual identity problems--that is, "Am I gay, straight or bisexual?"--may also be a concern for you. If any of these sexual issues are present in your life, and causing you concern, addressing them directly can be an important part of your healing journey.

       Why is it important for you to face the issue of sexuality? Because keeping secrets, whether they are feelings, thoughts, or experiences with abuse will affect the way you relate to intimate others, especially in the sexual arena. It is important for you to examine how your experiences have affected your sexual relationships. If you have problems, you may need to learn new skills, or you may simply need new information to change your unhealthy patterns of relating.

       Finally, if you are going to open yourself to your feeling side, this is going to have an affect on your sexuality. We are not compartmentalized. If we change one part of the system, the other parts will adjust and accommodate that change. In this way our entire being is transformed.

 

Sexual Desire Problems: Lack of Sexual Desire

       You can lack sexual desire for any one of a number of reasons. You may discover that during sexual activity you find yourself thinking about the acts of abuse. Or you may find yourself feeling angry, sad, or frightened for no apparent reason during sex. You may feel uncomfortable having sex because you believe that it is bad or that you're dirty for feeling sexual.

       You may go about avoiding sex in any one of a variety of ways. Perhaps you simply tell your partner that your are not interested. Maybe you avoid relationships altogether. Having sex with prostitutes may help you avoid the discomfort of sex with your partner.

       Leonard worked the graveyard shift and his wife worked days. Although she tried to convince him to change shifts, he argued that the money was better during that time. On weekends he would either go hunting, fishing, or attend football or baseball games. He and his wife led separate lives. He came into therapy after being arrested for hitting her during an argument. This particular argument was sparked by a discussion about their sex. Evelyn as feeling frustrated their lack of sexual contact. Leonard protested her complaints accusing her of not being supportive of his work. After a number of sessions he disclosed that he had been sexually abused by his stepfather His father had also avoided the family and, as a result, his mother left him for another man. His stepfather would come into his room in the middle of the night fondle him. His stepfather had sodomized Leonard by the time he was twelve years old.

       As Leonard got older he was very uncomfortable when women made sexual advances toward him. His first marriage ended because of sexual problems. He rationalized to himself, "The way to avoid another marriage failing is to avoid having sex. What better way but to work when she sleeps." Leonard had never told his current wife about the abuse.

       After a while Loenard began to realize how much he had tried to avoid those memories and his feelings altogether. That's why he would feel angry at his wife when she confronted him about sex. The first step for him was to talk about the abuse with his therapist--someone whom he viewed as safe--who wasn't going to think that he was crazy. The next step was to talk with his wife about the abuse and why he was avoiding being intimate with her. Then in therapy, they began to discuss how they could begin to reinitiate sexual contact with each other.

 

Leonard:    I know that I'm not very comfortable with sex because of the abuse with my stepfather.  I don't think I ever learned how to ask a woman for sex. I never learned to say "no" either. I would just run away or avoid situations where I would have to deal with it. Anyhow, I guess I want you to go slowly. I need to know that I can say "no." It scares me to think I may be a lousy lover.  So is it OK with you to do this?

Evelyn:     Sure, are you kidding? I'll do anything to get us back together. I don't understand why you never told me about this. I wasn't going to hate you.

Leonard:    I wasn't worried about you hating me as much as thinking I was weird or crazy.

Evelyn:     I don't think you're crazy. What can I do to make you feel good again about sex?

Therapist:  He'll need to do it, not you.

Leonard:    We've been talking about this in my sessions. I guess I need to begin talking         with you about my needs--whatever those are.    

Evelyn:     OK. Tell me what you like.

Leonard:    What I like? I don't know what I like.

Therapist:  That's a good place to start. All people know what they like, they just don't usually think about it. Are you willing to do an exercise?

 

Sexual Desire Problems: Hypersexuality

       Some men use hypersexuality to avoid uncomfortable feelings about abuse. Hypersexuality is the desire to have frequent sex without much emotional contact. This can be acted out with one partner or with multiple partners. Sex becomes a way of venting strong feelings stemming from the abuse without dealing with them directl, and  hypersexual activity can be an outlet for your anger and pain.

       Because of social conditioning men find it easier to separate their feeling from the physical act of sex. As a wounded man you may be particularly prone to dissociating from your feelings in intimate relationships because, as you grew up, not  feeling was a key to your survival.  As a result you can be sexual without feeling close and you may become sexually promiscuous.  If you don't feel close you don't take the risk of being hurt. In this way sex can be a way to feel something sexual without experiencing your more vulnerable feelings.

       Bret describes how sex became a safe way of feeling close without feeling frightened.

 

I was very sexually active when I was in was in college. I never associated it with the abuse, but I now know why I liked it so much. I could be close to someone without their knowing much about me. I didn't want them too close, because I knew they would hurt me in some way like my brother did. I used to love having sex and lying together in bed afterwards. I felt so close to another human being. But the minute she became demanding of something more I would get up and leave. I would dread waking up in the morning and having her say something like, "Can I see you again?" I would experience that moment as an intrusion. Like when my father would fuck me. I didn't want to get that close to anyone, never!

        

       Mark didn't identify himself as having a sexual problem until he realized that he couldn't make a lasting commitment to a woman. He enjoyed romancing women and, as he put it, "the conquest" of having sexual relations. He enjoyed sex so much that whenever he felt uncomfortable with his life he'd find a woman and get into bed with her. The women he chose to conquer were often vulnerable or seriously looking for a committed relationship. Inevitably, he would break up with them abruptly, leaving them crying or angry. Sex and romance became a way to express his hostile feelings toward woman (especially his mother who sexually who didn't stop his father from abusing him) and in the process avoid true intimacy.

        

When ever I was board, lonely or depressed I would call up one of the many women I knew and set up a date to get together. It would inevitable lead to sex. Afterwards I would feel afraid of their wanting a relationship with me so I would leave as soon as possible. I cared for these women I just didn't want to spend any time with them other than a shore date and sex. This was great until I turned fortyeight. I realized that I had never been really close with one person. None of these women who I had been with knew me. I felt so alone. Just how I felt growing up.

 

Sexual Dysfunctions: Premature Ejaculation

       Premature ejaculation is one of the most common forms of sexual dysfunction for all men, wounded or not. Premature ejaculation is when you cannot voluntarily control your ejaculatory process. Typically you will become aroused and will quickly ejaculate even though you may not want to at the time. This problem can be very frustrating to both you and your partner. There is no specific length of time that you should be able to stay erect without reaching orgasm. Ideally you should be able to have an orgasm when you want to. For example, you may want to prolong lovemaking for hours or have a quickie. You are premature if you ejaculate before you or your partner wants you to ejaculate.  Just because you ejaculate it doesn't necessarily mean that lovemaking has to end. Many times you may have another erection in a short period of time or you can resort to other forms of love-making. This is where variety comes in handy.

       Premature ejaculation often occurs when a wounded man is uncomfortable having sex because of feelings, selfjudgments, or flashbacks. There are a number of treatments for this problem and the success rate is very high. In addition to learning techniques for controlling the ejaculatory process, you need to talk about your feelings, thoughts, and flashbacks as well.  Techniques won't help unless you are also able to lessen your anxiety associated with sex.

 

Sexual Dysfunctions: Erection Problems

       You may also experience problems getting an erection or maintaining one. "Impotence" is the traditional word used to describe this phenomenon. The problem with this word is that it has many negative associations.  You may associate impotence with lack of manliness, power, or strength.  Erection problems can be very frustrating for you and your partner, but the difficulty can be easily rectified with patience and communication. Let's look at some the more common reasons why men have erection problems.

       Sexuality is directly affected by our thoughts, physiology, attitudes, and feelings. Sometimes it seems like the penis has a mind of it's own. Every man has had the experience of wanting to have intercourse but his penis did not; or having a "pistol in his pocket" and no thought of sex on his mind.

       Not every problem with erections has something to do with how you are feeling and what you think about your sexual partner. The ability to have an erection can be greatly affected by diet, level of fatigue, changes in blood pressure, medication, and drug usage.

       Tony was very frustrated by his inability to maintain an erection. When I asked him about his work, I discovered that he worked a minimum of fourteen hours a day, at least six days a week.  Tony was in a state of chronic fatigue. It was amazing that he could even get a brief erection. It would be necessary for him to make a drastic change in his work schedule in order to alleviate his erection difficulties. Within six months he was able to get his work life under control and in doing so was also able to get his penis under control.

         Rob had recently graduated from a chemical dependency program. He had been abusing alcohol and cocaine for twenty years. Sex was always an intense experience when he was high on cocaine, but he frequently had problems either getting or maintaining an erection when sober. Rob needed to learn what it was like for him to have sober sex. Although it felt much less intense, over time he was able to learn to enjoy sex without drugs.

       Not all erection problems are related to physical changes. Your psychological state of being can also affect sexual functioning. If you are preoccupied with work or other problems, feeling depressed or angry, or simply not in the mood, your sexual experiences will be affected in one way or another.  You may believe that you should always be ready to perform sexually and as a result may do so even though you may not want to be sexual. This type of erection problem occurs, it can be called, "The wisdom of the penis." Even though you may not be aware of it, your brain is telling your penis, "I'm not interested."  Dealing with childhood abuse issues may affect your sexual functioning. You may be feeling particularly sensitive to your feelings being hurt and that may affect your sexual desire or behaviors. An important part of the healing process involves getting in touch with strong feelings and this may also affect your sexual functioning. If you were sexually abused, you may find telling your partner "no" to sex particularly difficult because of your fear of rejection or feeling less-than a man, and as a result may be prone to erection problems. Flashback and negative associations to sex may also cause you to lose your concentration.  Sexual activity may stimulate memories of abuse or feelings related to those experiences which in turn may turn you off to sex. Thus, in order to solve many sexual problems, you must also heal from childhood abuse.

 

How Can You  Communicate Your Sexual Needs?*

       It takes a great deal of patience and understanding to overcome barriers to sexual enjoyment. Talking about sexual likes and dislikes is one step in the right direction. Every couple has problems communicating about sexual likes and dislikes, but most of your problems in the sexual arena can be solved through communication. Make a time to sit down by yourself or with your partner to discuss your sexual likes and dislikes.  Find out what your partner likes and dislikes--(If you find this exercise to threatening to do with your partner, that's OK. Do it by yourself, with a friend, or a counselor).

       What kinds of things turn you on? What turns you off? Write down or discuss your likes and dislikes about making love. Be specific. What kinds of clothes, hair, body types, or smells get you sexually aroused? What type of touch do you like? What type of touch do you find uncomfortable? How do you like to make love? What positions do you prefer? How do you like to touch others and how do you like to be touched? Do you like to talk during sex or listen to music? Do you like to share or listen to fantasies? Do like to make love in the dark or in the light? During the day or night? Do you like to give massages or get massages? Do you like to get yourself undressed or be undressed by your partner? Do you like to talk before or after making love? The questions are endless.

      

*The exercises in this chapter are not intended replace professional counseling. If sexual problems are occurring in your relationship, help is available.


       If you do this exercise with your partner, listen to each other's likes and dislikes without responding. Although you will be tempted to talk about your similarities and differences, this is an opportunity to simply learn about each other and not negotiate new rules. If you are uncertain about what makes you feel good, experiment (either alone or with your partner) with various types of touch on the different parts of your body.

 

Prostitution

       A large percentage of men and women who become prostitutes were sexually abused as children.  They may have learned as children that they can get what they want in the world (for example, money and possessions) through sex.

       It is also common for men who were abused as children to frequent prostitutes. Sex with a prostitute is less complicated that sex with an intimate. It is straightforward and usually only directed toward one person's pleasure. You can divorce yourself from all emotions, and live out your sexual fantasies in an anonymous environment. Some prostitutes will perform sexual acts your partner won't allow.

       These may be all reasonable justifications for frequenting a prostitute, but there is a downside. An unfortunate element of prostitution is that you will be receiving pleasure at the expense of someone else. Many prostitutes work for a pimp who either physically or sexually abuses them. Their work as a prostitute may be their only way to act-out their own inner pain as a result of being physically or sexually abused as a child. Prostitutes put themselves in great danger of being assaulted by a customer or contracting communicable diseases.

       If you frequent prostitutes or if who you are working as one, you need to examine your motivations, feelings, and thoughts about your actions.  You need to ask yourself, "Are my actions hindering or helping my healing process?" This is a difficult question to answer and therefore it will take much reflection. I am not placing a judgment on you if you either become or frequent a prostitute. I do, however, advise you to look inside and see if your actions are at all related to your being a wounded man. Are you trying to work out the abuse in a way that only seems to reinforce negative coping patterns?

       For example, it may be easier for you to have sex without feelings or to be in charge of another person, but is this really what you need to reinforce in yourself in the long run? If your behaviors are related to your childhood abuse, then for healing to occur you need to deal with your inner pain in a more productive way. You may not be able to answer these questions by yourself. Talking with a trusted friend, partner, or therapist can help you get clear as to how your behavior is affecting you inside and whether or not it's ultimately helpful or destructive.          

 

Sexual Lifestyle Confusion

       One possible outcome of childhood abuse is confusion about adult sexual lifestyle choices. This concern is particularly present for the man who, as a child, was sexually abused by a man.  If this was true for you, you may have secretly wondered to yourself as you were growing up, "Am I a homosexual?" or "Do men find something about me attractive?" If you have been unable to answer these questions, you may find yourself acting-out your conflicts rather than discussing them. For example, if you are fearful that you may be homosexual or attractive to gay men, you may become hypersexual or promiscuous with women in order to prove your virility to yourself and others. Or you may avoid sex altogether.

       To address this issue you must understand the difference between sexual fantasies and sexual lifestyle. It is not unusual for men, abused or not, to have fantasies about having sex with other men. And these fantasies are only a problem if they interfere with your sexual pleasure.

       Sam was physically abused as a child. He came into one of our sessions wondering if it was normal to have fantasies about having sex with men.  I explained to him that any fantasy was "normal" as long as it didn't interfere with his enjoying his sexual experiences. In other words it was OK for him to fantasize about having sex with one or twenty men (or one or twenty other women, for that matter) as long as it didn't interfere with his enjoying sex.  Barry, on the other hand, would also have fantasies about men while having sex with his partner. He would often have erection problems, and as a result would often avoid having sex. When he would have sex with his partner he would frequently become sullen and withdrawn. His fantasies were greatly impacting his sexual enjoyment.

       Sexual lifestyles, that is heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality--is a choice and is not necessarily a problem in and of itself. It's only a problem if you are acting out one orientation but for various reasons feel differently inside.  It is possible that through the healing process you may come to question your sexual lifestyle and that you may either change that orientation or eliminate doubts about choices you may have made in the past. The process in which you go about making these decisions will determine how good you ultimately feel about your decision. It is very important that you talk about your questions, confusions and doubts with a counselor or someone who has already gone through a similar process. As with any important decision, it helps to examine the pros and cons of the various options. Try to be aware of your feelings about each option--all your feelings, positive and negative. Although you may feel like you are the first or only person who has ever asked himself these questions, you are not. There are many support groups and books written for men who question their sexual orientation. Don't do it alone. A counselor, support group, friends, and even a supportive partner can make the process of understanding yourself a lot easier. And finally, as with any problem, take your time and be patient with yourself.

 

Normal Childhood Sexual Experiences versus  Sexual Abuse      

       Not all childhood experiences with sexuality is sexual abuse. In fact, only a few relate to sexual abuse. Many children experiment sexually with friends or siblings. Children also talk about sex with their parents. If you are uncertain as whether or not you were sexually abused the following, sketch of normal sexual development in contrast may help you understand your own experiences.

       Children learn about sex through their parents, teachers, peers and experimentation. A child may walk into a room where a parent is naked. As a result the child may ask the parent about a part of his or her sexual anatomy or how babies are made. Male babies can have erections and ejaculations. An older child may have a "wet dream" and talk with a parent, sibling, or friend about it. Children of all ages frequently talk with parents about sexuality. Today there are many books written for parents to help their children learn about reproduction and sexual anatomy. Sex education is also now a part of primary, secondary, and high school education.  

       During preadolescence experimentation is more common because physiological changes, especially secondary sex characteristics (body hair, breasts, enlarged sex organs, etc.), are occurring. Many boys find themselves preoccupied with sex. They are particularly interested in books depicting sexual acts or naked women who are acting sexual. Boys may be so fascinated by naked women they will watch their sister or mother undress or try to see female friends or the mothers of female friends nude.

       Boys also learn about sex from each other. Many adult males today remember the "circle jerk," when a group of boys got together in a circle and masturbated. It wasn't unusual, at one time, for girls to learn how to kiss boys by practicing with each other. Boys and girls experiment with masturbation by themselves as well.

        By adolescence young people have already made, or are in the process of making, their preferences known with regards to sexual orientation.  They are also beginning to act sexually on those choices. Today the average age of the first sexual intercourse for females is approximately 16.5 years old. This means that many boys are having sexual intercourse by age 14 and 15. Although parents may disagree with their child's sexual acting-out, it doesn't change the fact that many kids are "doing it."

       Each of these sexual experiences described above are ways children experiment with their sexual curiosity, feelings, and desires. They are referred to as "natural" because they are very common and do not seem to interfere with a child's healthy development.

       How do "normal" childhood sexual experiences differ from sexual abuse? The answer to this question lies in the concept of "consent."

       If a child believes that he doesn't have a choice over whether or not he participates in a particular sexual experience,  then he is being sexually abused. All children, because of their age, and their dependence on adults for safety, guidance, and personal needs, are constitutionally unable to consent to sexual acts with adults or with another child who forces him to engage in any sexual activity. 

       Many abusers take advantage of a child's inability to understand sexuality to justify their actions: "He didn't say no." Many abusers also take advantage of a child's normal desire to please in order to get the child to comply with his or her sexual needs. Some children will actually agree to the perpetrator's sexual advances because of their fear of rejection or other reprisals.  Another difference between sexual abuse and "normal" sexual experiences is that, in almost all cases, sexual abuse has a negative emotional impact on the victim.

       Any of the "natural" experiences described above could be abusive if the child is forced, either implicitly or explicitly. Take the example, presented above, of the naked father in the bathroom. What if the father would frequently come into the bathroom, naked and without knocking on the door, when the child was bathing? What if the child told him to get out and the father didn't pay attention to him? Can you see where the element of "consent" is not  present in this latter situation as opposed to the first example? Can you imagine how multiple experiences, such as this or worse, can ultimately affect a child's feelings of trust, power, and self-esteem?

 

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

       If you were sexually abused as a child there is a possibility that you may develop an impulse to act-out sexually with a child. The key to preventing this is to talk with others about your fears, fantasies, and impulses. Doing so will lessen the possibility of acting-out. However, this is a situation where family and friends cannot replace the value of seeking professional help. 

       Many child sexual abusers turn toward children because they feel intimidated by peers. A person who is younger and smaller is easier to manipulate and control than a spouse or lover. If sex is your only outlet for expressing feeling, and you feel intimidated or afraid of your spouse or another adult, you may find it easier for to express your feelings with a child. If you were sexually abused as a child and are afraid of acting out toward your own or other children, it is important for you to get help. By working through your own experiences with abuse and learning how to express your feelings, get your needs met, and feel in control of your life, you will certainly feel less of a need to turn toward others who, by nature of their size and intelligence, are able to make you feel more powerful and in control.

       Evan was in counseling for sexually abusing his eight-year-old next door neighbor. He talked about how his own victimization and difficulty dealing with his feelings led to him abuse someone himself.

 

My stepfather used to beat up my mother and then afterwards he would go out and get drunk. In the middle of the night she would sneak into my room and sleep with me. Sometimes, she'd put her hand under the sheets and start playing with me. Finally, I got old enough to start running away from home and using drugs. I was shy and not able to make girlfriends. I used to babysit for my next door neighbor. We used to wrestle with each other. One thing led to another and I started touching her down there. I was doing to her what my mother did to me but I just didn't realize it.  I couldn't confront my mother with my feelings so I turned to this kid. Luckily this all came out in the open. Otherwise I would still be abusing someone else rather than talking about my problems.

      

Sexual Attraction and Impulses towards Children

       We are all sexual beings, and it is not unusual for adults to feel sexual attractions toward children. It is also not unusual for children to feel that way toward adults. However, it is a problem if an adult or a child acts on those feelings. We as a society have agreed that sex between parents (or stepparents) and children is morally wrong because it causes great psychological and physical damage to the developing child.

       Many sex offenders claim that their victim was seductive. Any child can be seen as seductive if you want to see him or her that way. This is not an excuse for acting on your sexual impulses. If a child is seductive, he or she may have learned to be that way to get something from an adult. Many children learn seductive behaviors from other children, television, or movies.  It is very important that adults learn to control their impulses and not act upon their fantasies. Doing so will only cause destruction to others. Even though a child may seem cooperative or to actually enjoy the sexual activity the damage will occur inside just the same and find its way to the surface years later.

       Preventing sexual abuse is very similar to learning how to control physical or psychological violence. First you have to become aware of the problem in the first place. Then you need to learn to identify and communicate your feeling and needs. Healing from your own victimization experiences is crucial to preventing sexual abuse of children. It is very important that you realize that change can occur. Remember the key attitudes: honesty, openness and willingness. You need to be honest with yourself and others about what others you have done to hurt others. It takes openness to learn new skills and change attitudes toward yourself and others. And finally, it takes a willingness to do whatever it takes to heal.

 

Sexual Intimacy and Healing

       "Sex without love is an empty, meaningless experience," says the woman. "But as far as empty, meaningless experiences go, it's one of the best" replies the man. This comical quip says a lot about the way men and women perceive the relationship between love and sex.  Men can do "it" without love, which explains why the prostitution and pornography trades are mainly directed to them. There isn't anything mysterious about this phenomenon. Our different learning experiences growing up play a significant role in our expectations and attitudes as adults.

       As a result of this conditioning men and women have vastly different expectations when it comes to sex. Women learn more about relationships, feelings, and being sensitive to feelings in others and as a result learn to associate sex with relationship. Men, on the other hand. are encouraged to develop their analytical skills, independence, and competitive side, and therefore view sex as any other activity, you do it for enjoyment and the feeling of accomplishment. In addition, sex is one of the few areas where men let themselves feel emotions and therefore they often do it for a release.

       In today's world of changing sex roles men and women are becoming closer in their attitudes about love and sexuality.  More women are letting themselves enjoy the physical aspect of sex, whereas more men are appreciating the relationship part of sex. Healing from childhood abuse involves getting in touch with powerful feelings. If your are able to communicate your feelings with your partner you are going to experience a sense of greater intimacy.  Ultimately, this greater intimacy is going to affect your sex-life for the positive. Initially, it may seen awkward, or even less enjoyable than purely physical sex. In the long run, however, you will feel more intimate with your partner, and be able to turn to that person for emotional support  rather than impulsively act-out your feelings in inappropriate or destructive ways.

 


Chapter Nine     

Making Peace With Your Abuser

 

       As some time in your recovery process you may make the decision that talking with your abuser can actually help the healing process along. There are a number of reasons why you may decide to talk with the abuser:

 

Telling your abuser how you felt then and how you feel now is an important part of the disclosure stage.

Speaking with that person can help you better understand how and why it occurred.  If your abuser is receptive to talking about the experience you may be able to get some valuable information that may help to clarify your memory of the events. The abuser who has given his behavior much thought or who has been in therapy can help you understand his motivation.

Speaking with the abuser may help alleviate your concerns that others were or are currently being abused.

You may be interested in establishing a continuing positive and healthy relationship with your abuser.

      

       All or any of these reasons for confronting the abuser may ultimately help you to understand that you were not responsible for the abuse and that behavior resulted from his or her personal problems, not something inside of you.

       You do not need to confont your abuser in order to heal from the abuse. Healing from your experiences is a process that occurs inside of you and doesn't necessarily involve the abuser.  

       If you make the decision to confront your abuser there a number of issues you may want to think about before acting that can make the experience more productive. First of all you need to plan your initial contact--What do you want to say and what do you expect? You also need to think about that person's possible reactions and how you will respond. What if your abuser is not alive or available? Is it still possible to make peace with that person? And, finally, is forgiveness possible?

 

Your Initial Contact

       Initial contact with the abuser may be very awkward and frightening. Not only will this be uncomfortable for you, but the person with whom you will be talking is going to feel equally anxious. Therefore careful planning is important.

       There are a number of ways to begin such a dialogue with the person who abused you. You can simply sit down with that person and talk about the abuse. This approach may be easy for because you may already have an open line of communication with that person.  You may already feel comfortable with your feelings and perceptions about the abuse and your ability to communicate.

       But if this issue may is too charged for this kind of face-to-face discussion, I would like to suggest other ways to begin preparing for such a dialogue.

 

Writing a Letter

       Writing a letter to your abuser can be an excellent way to begin this process. Whereas a face-to-face conversation can easily escalate into an argument, writing gives both you and the person to whom you are communicating a chance to deliberate before responding. Writing also entails your thinking about your thoughts and feelings. This can be very therapeutic for you in and of itself. Writing takes the thoughts out of your head and puts them on paper where you can look at yourself in a somewhat detached way.  This gives you a different perspective on your experience. You may want to include in your letter what you remember about the abuse, how you felt then, how you feel now, and how the experience affects you today. This is a tall order, so just begin with what comes most naturally.  Don't worry about how you say it initially, just let the words flow out. You may decide not to send the letter. What is important is that you get the words out of your head and into another form. If you decide to mail it you can send only those parts that you feel most comfortable sending. 

       John was sexually abused by his uncle. He never told anyone until he was 34 years old. One month after he disclosed the abuse to his therapist, he decided to write to his uncle. Here is a portion of that letter.

 

Dear Uncle Richard,

This is a difficult letter for me to write. We've never talked about what happened between you and me when I was a child. You sexually abused me. There, I said it. You sexually abused me. You know I have only said that to four people; my brother, my therapist, myself, and now you. I want to tell you how I feel about it. There is so much feeling inside I am not sure how it will come out, but I'm going to try just the same. I want to start off by saying that I have been afraid to write this letter. My therapist has encouraged me for several weeks, so I decided to sit down and give it a try. I am most afraid that you will deny that you sexually abused me. I know it happened. It has taken me twenty years to label it as abuse. I had myself convinced that you were just showing me love and affection. That wasn't love or affection. You used me for your own needs. I know it wasn't for me.

 

I remember when I would sleep over at your house you would come into my room at night. You began by rubbing my back and then fondling my penis. You would usually masturbate me and one time you tried to have anal sex with me. I remember stopping you because it hurt so much. I would feel so confused. On the one hand it would feel good, and yet on another hand it would feel very physically uncomfortable and mentally I felt very scared and guilty. I felt as though I was doing something wrong. For twenty years I felt as though I was to blame. I hate you for that. Now I know you are to blame. You knew better, you used me, you abused me!

 

I am really angry at you. You hurt me. You were part of the reason why I have had so many problems as an adult. Why did you do it to me? You took advantage of me. You knew that I was an unhappy child. You knew that I would do anything for a little love and attention. You betrayed my trust. I feel so much anger inside. I have gone at times between wishing you were dead and wishing I were dead. But as you may recall, I tried that route a long time ago. I don't want to carry the anger and guilt around anymore. It contaminates all my relationships.

 

I want several things from you at this point. First, I need to know if you are sexually abusing other children now. If so, you need to get help from a professional. I also want to know if you ever got help from a counselor. If so, have you figured out why you did this to me? These problems do not go away by themselves. How do you know you won't do it again? Lastly, I want you to respond to this letter in writing. Right now I don't want to talk with you on the phone or in person. I hope you can understand why I need to deal with this issue, I want to put it behind me but I can only do that by letting you know how I feel.  I hope to hear from you soon.

 

       When you write a letter to the person who abused you it is important to not censor any of your thoughts. Put them down on paper as they are in your head. This can be helpful for you because seeing it on paper removes you from the intensity of the feelings. You may even be able to view the experience from another perspective. After John wrote this letter to his uncle, he told me the following:

 

I couldn't understand why you told me to write it down until I actually wrote the letter. For years I felt guilt and shame about the abuse--so much so, I couldn't talk about it with anyone. But when I wrote the letter I felt different immediately. I really mean it. As soon as I started writing I felt a big relief, as though I was taking a bulldozer load of feelings and dumping them back on him where they belong.

 

Speaking into A Tape Recorder

       Another way you may begin is by speaking into a tape recorder. Like writing, listening to yourself describe your feelings and thoughts can be an excellent way to view the experience from a different angle. This can also be an opportunity to express feelings that you ordinarily stuff. Don't censor your thoughts or feeling--yell or cry if you need to--just speak your heart and mind.

 

Your First Actual Conversation with the Abuser

       At some point you may decide to speak with the person directly either over the phone or in person. Such a discussion could either be greatly rewarding to you or turn into a disaster. There are ways in which you may want to prepare for and structure the conversation so as to make your chances for success as great as possible.

       It is most important to prepare for the discussion. The letter writing exercise described above can be an excellent way to organize your thoughts prior to the conversation. Think about what points you would like to make in the conversation. For example, you may want to tell the person certain thoughts and feelings. You may also want to know certain information from that person. John outlined his talk ahead of time before he decided to talk with his uncle.

       What thoughts I want to tell him:

 

He sexually abused me.

What he did was wrong and illegal.

I wasn't responsible for his abuse.

I remember it occurring for three years.

He masturbated me on many occasions.

He tried to have anal sex with me but I stopped him.

I've been in therapy for ten years.

I told my brother and therapist about the abuse.

I have been thinking about telling my parents.

He has a serious problem and he needs to be in counseling.

His abuse caused me a lot of problems both as a teenager and as an      adult.

He took advantage of my being a lonely kid.

 

       What feelings I want to tell him:

 

I am really angry at him.

He betrayed my trust of him.

I felt afraid of him when I was a child.

I thought he only loved me because of my giving him sex.

I felt used by him.

Sometimes I wished he were dead.

Sometimes I wished I were dead.

I feel so mad that he forced me to do those things.

 

       What I want from him:

 

Assurance that he is not abusing other children.

Who else he has abused.

What he remembers doing to me.

Why he did it.

Did he get help for his problem?

Does my aunt (his wife) know?

How does he feel about what he did?

 

       This was quite a lot of information. When John spoke with his uncle for the first time he didn't get to every issue, but it created a good structure for his conversation. During the talk he found out other facts about his uncle and the abuse that he hadn't thought about himself. Fortunately, his uncle was fairly open to the conversation. In fact he had received some counseling many years ago, but was still afraid to approach this topic with his nephew. 

       At one point in the conversation his uncle asked John, "What's going to help you get beyond this issue in your life?" John wasn't sure how to answer that question. In fact, John was unable to articulate just what he needed to have happen. He did know, however, that talking about his thoughts and feelings were a major step in that direction.

       The process of healing from childhood abuse is not always a clearly demarcated path, as in reading a map. Sometimes the most direct route from point A to point B is not the most productive.  John's story of talking with his father about his abuse as a child illustrates this point.

       Tom's father was psychologically and physically abusive toward Tom. He clearly remembers his father's constant criticism and explosions of anger. John didn't decide to start off talking about his abusive childhood. Instead he encouraged his father to talk about his own childhood, in particular his relationship with his father. It was through this discussion that Tom began to talk about his memories of his childhood. Rather than confronting his father, Tom decided that his father was less likely to get defensive if he was to discuss his memories about childhood in much the same way his father had just done. His father just listened. Suddenly, Tom realized that his father was beginning to cry. For the first time he realized the affect his actions had had on Tom. His father was open to hearing these feelings and thoughts and this conversation began a long series of talks between father and son that has led to a deeper relationship between Tom and his father. This conversation also facilitated Tom's own healing process.

 

When the Abuser Minimizes the Abuse

       Many abusers are not ready to take responsibility for their abusive behavior. Unless they have closely examined their actions they are likely to have put the abuse out of their mind. For this reason they may act very defensive when you broach the subject of abuse. One such reaction is to minimize the seriousness of their actions or the effects their behavior may have had on you. For example;

       Physical abuse:

 

"I didn't hit you that hard."

"You were tough, you didn't seem to mind it."

 

       Sexual abuse:

 

"I was just showing you my love and affection."

"I didn't physically force you to do anything."

 

       Psychological abuse:

 

"I didn't mean what I said, I was just angry."

"You don't remember what I said that long ago."

 

       Minimizing statements, such as these, can be difficult to respond to if you are not prepared. This is why I encourage you to practice talking about the abuse with a close friend, partner, or therapist before you actually confront your abuser. Think about how you would respond to these or similar statements that minimize the seriousness of the abuse or the affects it had on you.

       Physical abuse:

 

"I didn't hit you that hard."

  Your response may be: "I don't think you realize how hard you did hit me. I used to have welts on the back of my legs or I couldn't sit without pain for several hours. Once I bled from being hit with the metal part of a belt. It hurt a lot. You were much bigger and stronger than me. I was afraid of you."

 

"You were tough, you didn't seem to mind it."

  Your response may be: "I didn't show you how much it did hurt me. If I did you would have laughed at me. You never once asked me if I was all right after a beating. You made me tough, that's how I survived. You don't realize how much you hurt me when you would beat me. I still have dreams about when you would whip me with your belt. You didn't just punish me, you were abusive."

 

       Sexual abuse:

 

"I was just showing you my love and affection."

  Your response may be: "You sexually abused me. You weren't showing me love, you used me for your own sexual needs. It wasn't mutual, you were in charge and you used your power to get what you want. That wasn't how I wanted to be loved. I wanted you to talk to me, I wanted you to be interested in me. I wanted you to love me for who I was, not for sex. I used to think that the only reason you loved me was because I let you do those things to me. I wanted affection from you, to be held, not to be turned into a sex object."

 

"I didn't physically force you to do anything. I wasn't violent."

  Your response may be: "I don't think you realize how your mere size and the fact that you were my father was a form of force. I couldn't say no to you. I was a kid. I wanted your love and approval. You did force me because you never asked me if what you were doing was OK. You tricked and manipulated me. You were violent, sexual abuse is violence. You threatened me by telling me not to tell anyone. You were threatening in that you had power over me. You used your power to get what you want. You forced me to do something I didn't want to do."

       Psychological abuse:

"I never laid a hand on you."

  Your response may be: "The words you used hurt me a lot longer than physical pain. You were supposed to help me feel good about myself--feel like a valuable human being. Instead you made me feel like a worthless piece of shit and I have been feeling that way for the past twenty years."

 

"I was unhappy with my marriage. I didn't mean what I said."

  Your response may be: "You might have been unhappy with your marriage but my six-year-old's mind thought it was my fault.  I felt so bad all those years because I thought I was the cause of all your problems, and you have to admit, you made me feel that way at times."

 

       Another common response of abusers is to justifying their actions. Like minimizing, this is an attempt to place responsibility for the abuse on the victim or others. For example;

       Physical abuse:

 

"You were a bad kid."

"You never listened to what we told you."

 

       Sexual abuse:

 

"You were very seductive as a child."

"Your mother would never have sex with me."

 

       Psychological abuse:

 

"You were getting too big for your britches."

"I did it to build your character."

 

       When you are talking with the person who abused you, do not let them "off the hook." If that person tells you that you were a seductive child, tell him or her, "If I was, I probably learned it from you. That was how I learned to get attention from you," or "That's no excuse." An abuser who minimizes or justifies his actions is challenging you to stand by your beliefs. If you begin to doubt your feelings, question your memory, or become confused, you are once again a victim. As a child you didn't have the choices that you have today. You were either dependent on this person or they had power over you just through their size, age, and strength. Today, as an adult, you are on an equal footing with this person. You don't have to be abused anymore. You can express your thoughts and feelings and, above all, you can walk away if you choose.

 

When the Abuser Denies the Abuse

       Denial is an extreme form of minimization and justification. Some abusers will refuse to face their actions no matter how directly they are confronted. When this occurs you have a number of options. No matter what your response, it is important that you recognize your anger--if not to that person, at least to yourself.

       You can direct your anger to that person:

 

"I am feeling angry that you are denying what happened."

"I am feeling very angry with you right now."

 

       You can also tell yourself how you are feeling without expressing those feelings to the other person:

 

"I am feeling really angry right now. But I am just going to take a deep breath and keep my cool. I have a list of things I want to say and I am going to get through that list. I am not going to let him get the best of me. If all else fails I can write in my feelings log."

 

       You may also choose to tell the abuser that you don't want to hear his response to you, that you simply want him to listen. In this way you are given the opportunity to express yourself. Whether or not he chooses to acknowledge your perspective is a separate issue from your being able to ventilate your thoughts and feelings.  There is no guarantee that the person will listen calmly. In fact, he may react very defensively, especially if he is afraid of what you are saying to him. If you think that the conversation is getting out of hand, you may choose to end it. You may want to acknowledge that he isn't prepared to hear what you have to say and that perhaps you can talk at another time.

       Even if this person denies perpetrating the abuse, it is important for you to realize that your attempt to confront your abuser can be a valuable experience in and of itself. It takes a great deal of heroism, courage, and self-confidence to talk face to face with your abuser. Doing so can bring all kinds of feelings to the surface that have been long repressed. You may simultaneously feel your rage and your protectiveness of the abuser. No matter how receptive or unreceptive the abuser is to this discussion, it is grist for the mill in your recovery process.

 

Talking with Others About the Abuse

       Talking with your abuser may be complicated by your relationship to that person. For example, if the abuser was a parent, should you tell the other parent? If the abuser was a relative or neighbor, should you tell your parents? What about the abuser's spouse and children? Should you talk with your brothers or sisters about the abuse? These are important questions that you may want to spend some time thinking and talking about.

       There is a strong argument for not keeping your experience a secret from others in your family. One reason why child abuse, in all it's forms, exists is because of the veil of secrecy that keeps others from knowing about it. Abusers do not want others to know about their behavior because on some level they realize that what they are doing is wrong. Therefore, secrecy is the key to continuing their abusive behaviors. If others were to find out about the abuse, someone would be likely to stop the abuser. Keeping the abuse a secret is one way abusive families become isolated.

       Tony talks about how secrecy operated in his family.

 

We had all kinds of secrets in our family. Of course, no one outside our house knew about the violence. Even our close relatives weren't sure what was going on with us. They probably suspected something, but no one ever said anything to me. We had other kinds of secrets. These mainly had to do with feelings. No one ever talked about feeling angry, sad, unhappy, or anything. The funny thing was that they really weren't secrets. Everyone knew that mother was depressed and father was angry, we just didn't talk about it. We also had another secret that related to my brother, Allen. He was using drugs and alcohol but no one wanted to say anything to him. We would make up excuses for his weird behaviors. We really didn't have any secrets, we all knew what was going on. We just didn't want to face ourselves or each other.

 

       Bret talked about how secrecy only helped to perpetuate the abuse in his family.

 

He told me not to say anything to anyone about our time together. He told me they wouldn't understand. So I didn't say anything. I know now that had I said something, they would have made him stop abusing me. I kept the secret for almost thirty years. Although I have told my brothers and sister, I still feel like I shouldn't talk about the sexual abuse, that I should keep quiet rather than upset everyone. Everyone would stuff their feelings so as not to upset anyone in our family. Maybe I would have said something then if my parents encouraged us to say what was on our minds. Here I am, a grown man, and I am still afraid to rock the boat.

 

       There is much controversy in the field of child abuse as to what is the best approach to this issue. Some professionals believe that you should talk openly with family members about the abuse. If they don't want to hear about it or deny its occurrence, that is another story. However, it is better for both the victim and the family to place the issue on the table for everyone to see. This helps to break down the family denial and creates a sense of relief for the victim. Others in the field believe that it is up to the victim to decide who should be told about the abuse. If the victim wants to keep the story to himself, that is his choice. What is important is that he feel that he has complete control in this decision, as opposed to his lack of control over being abused.