Experiences that young men undergo will echo the way they function in adult relationships – especially if experiences were sexually abusive or unsolicited. It is important to keep in mind that this statement extends far beyond sexual relationships, and into relationships with family members, friends, coworkers, and employers. Early sexual abuse typically results in long-term issues, though with adequate care and appropriate treatment, traumatic experiences of all kinds can be successfully and permanently overcome.
It is often difficult for men to admit that early, unwanted sexual experiences have the power to affect them later in life. They will either harshly under-estimate or attempt to entirely ignore the lasting effects of abuse. This behavior will not only cause a host of problems, it will work to prevent thorough and necessary healing from occurring. In some cases, men will go to the other extreme – they will begin to blame all of their struggles and shortcomings on their early sexual abuse, believing that the abuse is the complete and only cause of issues that have several underlying causes. This kind of thinking is common in those who are just beginning the recovery process. Once they see the correlation between their past abuse and present problems, they will begin attributing all of their difficulties to this early traumatic event. Both under-estimation and over-estimation can be vastly detrimental. It is important to keep in mind that although sexually traumatic experiences often have lasting negative impacts, there are often many contributing factors when it comes to lasting personal struggles.
Men and Sexual Trauma
Popular media tends to portray sexual trauma in a certain light, especially when it comes to related consequences, such as alcoholism and drug abuse. Take the popular television show Intervention, for example. The message is consistently portrayed that childhood sexual trauma impacts the life of the addict or alcoholic more than any other kind of potential trauma. Many other media outlets focus on research regarding early sexual abuse, while unintentionally overlooking the effects of other damaging, traumatic experiences.
Traumatic Childhood Experiences
No one family is entirely free from dysfunction. Yet while all families and households are imperfect, some tend to be slightly (or dramatically) more imperfect than others. Some children will undergo more traumatic experiences than others – even if the parents of a specific child work hard to ensure that the household he is raised in is nothing but nurturing and supportive, traumatic experiences may still occur.
Here are several examples of childhood traumatic experiences (other than overt sexual abuse) that may cause significant problems during adulthood:
- Parents may be physically or emotionally abusive towards one another.
- The child may act as a ‘scapegoat’ for the parents or other household members.
- The home environment may be unpredictable and chaotic.
- The child may be frequently passed from his parents to other relatives, and back again.
- Parents may attempt to sweep issues under the rug, encouraging children to stifle their authentic feelings and emotions.
- Parents may lack involvement or a stable presence in the household.
- A parent may lack beneficial and healthy adult relationships, and use the child for support in an inappropriate way.
- A parent may leave the household regularly for hospitalization or treatment, for a mental or physical illness.
- A single parent may date a number of individuals, constantly brining new adults into the home.
Overcoming Childhood Trauma
Traumatic sexual experiences that occur during childhood can be deeply and severely damaging – and they are often made worse by other harmful experiences, such as abandonment, emotional abuse, and parental neglect. Most children who struggle with issues later on in life are found to have undergone a combination of traumatic experiences early on. These related issues may include problems at school or at work, interpersonal relationship problems, addiction issues (substance-related and behavioral), severe issues related to self-esteem, and depression. Men are often taught, from an early age, to relate their feelings to others in ways that decrease vulnerability and increase apparent masculinity. Stifling authentic feelings of sadness and shame will only work to limit a comprehensive understanding of emotions later on in life, and prevent men from reacting to situations and circumstances in emotionally appropriate and healthy ways. In order for men to effectively heal from childhood sexual abuse, or early trauma of any kind, these imposed ideals of masculinity must be smashed.
Next Chapter and Male Trauma Recovery
It essential for men who are grappling with past trauma and related consequences to understand that these experiences and underlying issues do not – in any way, shape, or form – define who they are. The black-and-white thinking that we previously discussed (the tendency to entirely ignore or wholly blame), might cause men to adopt one of two black-and-white roles – the victim or the perpetrator. Both of these labels are restrictive and detrimental, and there is much danger in getting stuck behind a limiting view of self. Men can overcome and heal from all traumatic experiences, no matter how severe they were or when in life they occurred. Intensive therapy and continued efforts towards deeper self-awareness can help the recovery process, though if co-occurring issues exist (such as substance dependency), inpatient treatment is often necessary. For more information on our specific program of addiction treatment and trauma recovery, please feel free to give us a call today.