Ilene Lieberman-St. John and husband
Photo: Mary Ellen Mark
While any kind of victimization is traumatic and life-changing, survivors of male childhood sexual abuse have the greatest challenges. Even in our enlightened age, society dictates that boys and men need to be tough, that to be considered "weak" is a disgrace and to have been placed in a powerless position is shameful. How can a man who has been stigmatized into silence believe that this terrible experience is not his fault?

I want to underscore, from my own personal experiences, that recovery is possible—and even empowering—but it takes tremendous courage, perseverance and understanding on the part of both the survivor and his family. It's a tough road but an unbelievably rewarding journey of self-discovery. I want to share what I have learned from all of my experiences in dealing with trauma:

The Only Way Out Is By Admitting That What You Went Through Still Affects Your Life 
Every journey begins with a single step, and this one is huge. Denial is very powerful, and because of the stigmas mentioned above, admitting the effects of sexual abuse is almost an insurmountable task. However, as loving spouses, we must remember that we cannot force this, only encourage it. Fortunately or unfortunately, timing is everything.

You Are Not Alone: Find a Support Group 
One of the most powerful tools is a support group, where you become a member of a group that really understands what you are going through. Finding your way to this is empowering: You will be heard and believed. It's a validation and justification of your experiences, with the tools to help you recover. Many organizations have resources including moderated chat rooms, referral lists, workshops and retreats, suggested reading lists and support for family members.

Ask for Help: Find a Good Therapist 
Most support groups not only have a referral list but also detail how to go about finding the
therapist that is right for you. Do not be afraid to "phone interview" a potential therapist, putting right up front what the situation is to make sure that they have therapeutic experience in this subject. Spouses: If your husband [or partner] is not ready, find a therapist who can give you the tools to help your family.

You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide: Examine Your Self-Destructive Behaviors 
Suffering is something we all feel we cannot bear, and most victims seek out things they think will take the pain away. This practice of "self-medicating" merely dulls the pain and does not take it away. These are usually self-destructive behaviors, also caused by self-loathing. Why are you punishing yourself?

More ways male sexual abuse survivors can begin to heal