I’m a survivor of childhood sexual assault. Five years ago, I decided to speak up for myself and for thousands of other men in our culture who couldn’t voice their pain.
Although abuse and molestation are the usual words to describe our trauma, I preferassault. It’s a stronger, more accurate word. Someone larger and older forced us to do something wrong. And their manipulating us shattered our innocence.
Until scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, the Boys Scouts, and especially the trial of the notorious Jerry Sandusky, men didn’t speak up. Some were too ashamed; many lived in denial; others assumed no one would understand.
For a long time, I was one of those silent sufferers. Because the assault happened to me in childhood, I wasn’t mature enough to reason that I wasn’t bad; something bad had been done to me. I felt different, as if something inside me hadn’t been wired correctly. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked. “Why am I different?” Some days I felt as if I wanted to die; other days I didn’t know if the struggle was worth it.
Now living on the other side, I can shout, “It’s worth fighting through the morass of pain!” I’ve also learned that we male survivors receive healing from our stolen childhoods only through lovingly confronting our pain.
I was fondled regularly by a female relative until I was about four years old. When I was seven, an elderly man rented a room in our house. He assaulted my sister, who was four years older, and me. She told on him and Dad beat up the man, threw him out of the house, and threatened to kill him if he saw him again. My father was also an alcoholic, and when drinking, a brutal man.
With that kind of background, I sometimes wonder how I could have lived within the realm of normalcy. My response is that God was with me and took me through that horrendous time. It still amazes me because I had little interest in God and none in the church until I hit my twenties.
Yet when I was ready to face my past, two people accepted my brokenness. My wife, Shirley, and my best friend, David, lovingly supported me, allowed me to cry, and reminded me that they loved me. By their loving support, I slowly accepted God’s unconditional love for me.
Later I met other men who had been assaulted, and as I disclosed my pain, they trusted me with their stories. Many of us found healing through talking with other survivors.
In some ways, I’m one of the lucky male survivors: I forgot what happened to me. As I would realize later, it became my unconscious method of survival. For years, the pain of my assault lay buried deeply.
Despite the repression (which is what forgetting is), I grew up living with the effects, even though I no longer remembered my molestation. My wife was the first person I ever felt loved me without expectations. She loved me for who I was and not for what I did.
For me, that’s important to emphasize. I was the good boy in the family, the one on whom everyone depended. However, I assumed that any appreciation shown was because of what I did and not for who I was.
The Marks of Abuse
Those abusive experiences left their mark on my life. Like thousands of other assault survivors, I struggled with various issues. Those that troubled me the most deeply were:
Other issues erupted as I moved toward wholeness—and more than twenty years later, I’m still learning—and passing on what I’ve learned.
Because of my blog for male survivors, I receive personal emails from men (and sometimes their spouses) about their pain. I’ve realized that the more I give of myself to those hurting individuals, the more the Holy Spirit enriches my life and self-appreciation.
Providing a Safe Place
As a Christian counselor, you can help men tell their stories of sexual assault—perhaps for the first time. You can become the trusted guide on their healing journey.
For many men, however, speaking with a professional may be their first major step. For such wounded survivors, it takes a lot of courage to come to you.
The most important thing you can do is to create an atmosphere of trust and safety.These men have been betrayed by people whom they should have been able to trust, so they’re likely to be suspicious. Survivors need to sense that you are an empathetic listener—not someone listens impassively—which to them may mean listening indifference.
“I poured out my soul,” one survivor told me, “and he sat there saying nothing and with no expression on his face. I might as well have been talking to the maple tree in my yard.”
Eye contact is especially important. If you look away or appear distracted, you may lose them. They may assume that such simple gestures mean you don’t believe them or don’t want to hear their story. They need to know that you genuinely care about them. It may be as difficult for you to convince your clients of your sincerity and commitment as it is for them to believe you care.
By providing a safe place for male sexual abuse survivors to tell their stories, you can be used by God in the process of healing and wholeness.
Talk Back: What have you learned in counseling others through the journey of sexual abuse recovery?
Cecil (Cec) Murphey, a veteran author, hurt for a long time because of childhood sexual assault. Now he helps others in pain through his candid interviews, seminars, his blog for male survivors, and his books, When a Man You Love Was Abused and Not Quite Healed. He is the author or co-author of 135 books, including many international best sellers. He served as a pastor in Metro Atlanta for 14 years. For more information, visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Posted on November 01, 2013 in