Men Dealing With Childhood Abuse: How You Can Help

The events at Penn State may have been a trigger for many men. This article address how to help them begin, or continue to heal.

This article may not have the festive cheer I would hope for this time of year. Unfortunately my mind has been occupied and my heart heavy with the news of scandal at Penn State. This article will be an important on to remember as you gather this season with your friends and family for all of the men in you life, or yourself.

male-abuseBy now, everyone has heard about the egregious behavior and massive cover-up at Penn State involving the beloved Joe Paterno and his heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky, as it is only alleged at this time (though there is a very compelling grand jury report,) is said to have sexually abused numerous young boys over multiple decades. This posting is not about whether Sandusky is guilty — I will let a court of law determine that and pray to God that justice is served.

This posting is not about Sandusky at all. However, while the flurry of 24-7 news stories on the scandal has decreased dramatically, there will no doubt be another deluge of stories with the most salacious and graphic details once the actual court case gets underway. And just this past week, two more men came forward accusing Mr. Sandusky of sexual abuse.

My biggest concern from the moment this story started airing was what it was doing to all of the men and boys across the country — and even the world — who suffer from undiagnosed and untreated trauma, especially those who have been sexually abused.

Many of these men have no recollection that they have had such traumatic experiences. How many men were being triggered – and acting out in any number of ways as a result of the blast of coverage? It is hard to say what the true statistics are but I am confident that the majority of the estimated percentages for boys’ childhood sexual abuse are a far cry from the actual number of boys and young men who are carrying around the horrible scars of sexual abuse. Here are some of the different ways men could be affected:

· Increased use of alcohol or other drugs

· Relapse (back into active addiction – substance, sex, gambling, etc.)

· Those men who have been working through abuse histories could find themselves struggling with significant memories or emotional outbursts

· Isolation

· Exacerbation of mental health issues

· Abusive behavior, including acting out sexually in different ways including, unfortunately, sexual abuse

· Obsessive viewing and talking about the scandal, the people involved, and extreme opinions about the alleged perpetrator and/or victims

Our society has systematically pretended that boys and men don’t suffer from sexual abuse. We have this pervasive disparaging opinion about boys and men who suffer abuse and honestly express how it has affected them as weak and whining. That keeps a lot of men — especially those men regarded as ‘macho’”— silent and stuck in their suffering. And, as I have stated many times, when men suffer we tend to take our suffering out on others.

Here are five ways to support a man who has suffered abuse in the past:

· Help him find a forum for him to talk about it in a way that is safe for him, ideally with other men who have had similar experiences.

· If he is showing signs of problematic use of alcohol and other drugs, talk to him directly. Find an expert or someone in recovery to offer coaching on how to have the conversation or who can even be present with you as you have the conversation. 

· Help him get help. Men can have so many barriers — many of which hit them at the core of their being and their masculinity — to seeking help. Do everything you can to see the strength and courage it takes to get help and reinforce that message to him.

· Watch the Oprah Winfrey episode from earlier this year where two hundred men came forward about being sexually abused while their loved ones, many of whom never knew, were in another room listening and watching.

· If the man has already done a lot of work through therapy, recovery, and/or his faith, honor him for his courage and strength and let him know how much you love and respect him. Acknowledge the hard work of men’s recovery from addiction if he has gone through it.

Right now nothing seems like a gift about this scandal, but we can still pull something positive from it. A tragedy like this creates an opening for boys and men to be better able to talk about any and all kinds of abuse, and that is undeniably something very good. While the Catholic clergy scandals may have opened the door, the fact that this most recent scandal took place in the domain of one of our country’s most hallowed masculine religions blows the door wide open — it shows that abuse and experiencing abuse are not about strength. It is not some aberrant behavior of an aberrant population. Abuse can happen to anyone, it can be perpetrated by anyone, and it is more than likely happening all over the world right now. The secrets keep the sickness alive, lead to addictions, and destroy the individual from the inside. Secrets make men’s recovery from addiction and abuse even more difficult. It is time to end the silence once and for all. Right now let’s make sure that men and their families are safe and supported in the midst of the discordance.

Taylor Pyles

Taylor Pyles is a child abuse survivor and the founder of The Blue Ribbon Project. He has been a police officer with Annapolis Police Department for over a decade and is assigned as a Detective in the Criminal Investigations Section.  When not working, you'll find him spending time with his family and out enjoying the countryside on two wheels. 

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