Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse: Coping Strategies You Can Use
It’s estimated that 1 in 6 men has been sexually abused. But that number is probably quite low. It’s suspected that the real number is much higher because only about 16% of men with documented abuse think of it in those terms. Rationalization, minimization and compartmentalization seem to play a huge role in whether or not men even identify themselves as having experienced abuse. As best as we can tell, research indicates that most men stay completely silent and rarely tell a single person about their sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is a traumatic experience that profoundly affects any person, regardless of their gender. While it is essential to recognize and address the experiences of all survivors, male survivors of sexual abuse often face unique challenges in coping with their trauma. The prevailing societal norms and stereotypes that depict males as strong and invulnerable can make it even more challenging for male survivors to come forward, seek help, and cope with the aftermath of abuse. This post explores the coping strategies employed by male survivors of sexual abuse. It highlights the importance of support, therapy, self-care, and advocacy in their healing journey.
Male Survivors Breaking the Silence: Seek Support
One of the first, and most critical steps in coping with sexual abuse for male survivors of sexual abuse is breaking your silence. Due to our society’s expectations and stereotypes, most male survivors suffer in isolation and silence. This is because men fear they will not be believed, they will be mocked, or that their masculinity will be questioned. However, seeking support is essential in your healing process. Male survivors can start by confiding in a trusted friend or family member who can provide emotional support and empathy. In addition, support groups for male survivors of sexual abuse offer a safe space where individuals can share their experiences, connect with others who have faced similar challenges, and receive validation and understanding.
A word of caution; please be wise if you choose to disclose. One of the most shocking things I’ve learned in my practice, is how poorly men are treated when they disclose. I’ve heard horror stories from my clients about being dismissed, minimized, ridiculed, even verbally attacked by people they thought they could trust. Sadly, these men have recounted the hostility that people unleashed when they told of what happened to them. Wives, girlfriends, male friends, police and even therapists heaped this additional form of abuse on them. So if you are thinking of telling someone for the first time, do whatever you can to ascertain whether or not that person is likely to treat you with the kindness and gentleness you deserve.
But remember, that’s only one side of the coin. It’s also been deeply moving to hear some of my male clients describe to me how stunned they were by the love, support and respect they encountered. Many were completely shocked by the support they received and wish they’d told someone sooner. Even though they intellectually expected it, they had no idea of the reality of how kind and wise some of their friends and partners were.
Professional support is vital in helping male survivors cope with their trauma. Therapists trained in trauma-informed care can provide a safe and confidential environment for survivors to explore their feelings and develop coping strategies. Therapeutic approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and other specialized forms of trauma treatment have been proven effective in helping survivors process traumatic experiences and reduce the impact of symptoms like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Self-Care and Self-Compassion For Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Male survivors of sexual abuse often struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. If this is you, it is crucial to practice self-care and self-compassion. Self-care involves taking deliberate steps to nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This can include activities such as exercise, meditation, journaling, and engaging in hobbies that stoke your joy and relaxation.
Self-compassion will prove equally essential in your coping process. Male survivors of sexual abuse need to recognize that they are not to blame for the abuse they experienced. Uprooting deep guilt and shame is often a challenge because these roots can entangle themselves in your psyche and your relationship patterns. So you must learn to treat yourself with the same kindness, understanding, and forgiveness they would offer to a true brother facing a similar situation. It will take practice. But by questioning the validity of your self-critical thoughts and practicing self-compassion, you can reduce the negative impact of shame and guilt on your mental and emotional health.
Educate Yourself About Male Sexual Abuse
Education and advocacy can play significant roles in helping male survivors cope with sexual abuse.
Understanding the dynamics of abuse, its psychological effects, and the recovery process can empower you to take control of you healing journey. Education can also help you recognize that you are not alone in your experiences. This can be a source of validation and great relief.
But another word of caution, many of my clients have had to “bite size” their learning about the topic of male sexual abuse. Books, movies and research have been too emotionally activating for them at times. So they have to titrate their exposure to these material to make sure they don’t get overwhelmed.
Furthermore, advocacy efforts aimed at raising awareness about male sexual abuse have helped some of my male clients. They feel better knowing that they contribute to changing societal attitudes and reducing stigma. When society acknowledges the prevalence of male sexual abuse and provides support and resources, it becomes easier for every survivor to come forward and seek help without fear of judgment or disbelief.
Develop Your Coping Strategies
Male survivors of sexual abuse often develop coping strategies to deal with the emotional and psychological aftermath of their trauma. Here are some strategies that I’ve helped some of my clients develop:
- Emotional regulation: Learning to identify and manage your intense emotions is crucial. This can involve mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises, and grounding exercises to stay present and avoid emotional overwhelm.
- Establishing boundaries: Setting healthy boundaries in relationships is essential for to protect yourself from further harm and to ensure your emotional safety.
- Self-expression: Finding healthy outlets for self-expression, such as art, music, or writing, can help you process your emotions and thoughts.
- Building resilience: Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. You can develop resilience by focusing on their your strengths and personal growth, setting goals, and celebrating your achievements.
- Seeking resolution: Some survivors find closure through restorative justice processes or writing letters to their abusers (which may or may not be sent).
The Male Survivor of Sexual Abuse and The Role of Relationships
Healthy relationships are crucial for the coping and healing process of male survivors of sexual abuse. Building and maintaining supportive, trusting relationships can provide a significant source of strength and validation. However, it is also important to be selective about whom you choose to disclose your experiences to, as not everyone may react with empathy and understanding.
Supportive relationships can come from various sources, including friends, family, romantic partners, and therapists. It is essential for you to communicate your needs and boundaries in these relationships and seek help from professionals if you encounter challenges related to trust, intimacy, or communication.
Here is what I’ve seen; coping with sexual abuse is a challenging and deeply personal journey for male survivors.
Breaking the silence, seeking support, practicing self-care and self-compassion, educating yourself, and developing coping strategies are essential steps in this process. Additionally, advocacy efforts that raise awareness about male sexual abuse and challenge societal stereotypes can contribute to a more supportive and empathetic environment for survivors.
It is important to remember that healing is not always exactly linear. On the road to healing the effects of sexual abuse, each survivor’s journey is unique. What works as a coping strategy for one person may not be the same for another. Therefore, flexibility and individualized approaches are key in helping male survivors of sexual abuse on their path toward recovery and resilience. By fostering understanding, empathy, and support, society can play a pivotal role in helping male survivors reclaim their lives and heal from the trauma of sexual abuse.
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