SyntaxError: Parse error Was a Man in Your Life Abused?
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Was a Man in Your Life Abused?

"It's very hard to be a partner with someone who has been sexually abused as a child," says Janice Palm, executive director of Shepherd's Counseling Services in Seattle. Especially when the person doesn't talk about it. And many men never do.

Are there clues? Palm, whose center runs one of the few therapy groups in the country for partners of sexual abuse survivors, describes a pattern of behavior with the telltale sign of pervasive unavailability.

Emotionally distant
When a child is abused by a person he trusts, Palm says, he learns that intimacy is dangerous, that attachment will hurt. Based on this early lesson, he may instinctively avoid closeness as an adult.

Sexually absent
Many survivors lose interest in sex completely. Others emotionally withdraw during the act. (Partners will complain, "He's very loving and attentive, but when we start to get sexual, he just goes blank. It's as if he's not there.") Often, young victims learn to disconnect emotionally to get through the abuse.

Sexually compulsive
The fallout from abuse may manifest as promiscuity or sexual addictions like looking at pornography. Another red flag is discomfort at being touched.

Hypervigilant
A man who is unusually overprotective of a son or daughter may be expressing what he wishes a parent had done for him as a boy. This behavior may intensify when the child reaches the age at which the father was abused.

Once the abuse is out in the open, Palm says, let your partner take the lead about how much he wants to talk. As a victim, he had no control. Typically there is such shame and inadequacy attached to the abuse—it's the child logic of "I feel bad, I am bad," "I feel dirty, I am dirty"—he likely doesn't want you to see him that way. Or he may be hesitant to expose you to the horror of what happened to him.

The best thing you can do is encourage him to get help. Individual and group therapy are effective (check out MaleSurvivor.org for a directory of specialists). If he doesn't want to attend, remind him that when he's ready, you'll support him. Finally, be compassionate but truthful ("You know, honey, this is really interrupting our relationship, and I don't think I can live this way anymore").

When you see someone you love suffer and become vulnerable, it's very hard to take care of yourself—but it's crucial for both of you. That may mean finding your own therapist for support.

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    Love Among the Ruins
    It was long ago and it was far away, but for the one out of six American men who were sexually abused as children, the results are always present, deeply corrosive, and wildly contagious. David France talks to a few brave men—and the women who married them—who have shattered their silence, faced their traumas, and taken their first steps toward healing.
    Ray Skettini
    Photo: Mary Ellen Mark
    Donna Mertrud fell for Ray Skettini when she was only 17. A year older and the class clown at their Pequannock, New Jersey, high school, he had a chip on his shoulder, some people said. But he made Donna laugh. Three years later, when she agreed to marry him, Ray asked his family priest, Father James Hanley, to officiate.

    From early on, Donna felt something was wrong. Among the "red flags" that kept popping up, she says, were Ray's irritability and his tendency to pace. And then there was his subtle but growing detachment from her. "When we got married, we really explored each other. We had fun," says Donna, now 50. "Getting to know each other, forming as a married couple and as a family, we bonded closer. But as weird as this sounds, the more we did that, the more he pulled away, emotionally and physically." Slowly their sex life dwindled. Sometimes she had merely to touch his shoulder when he'd freeze and draw back. Donna wondered if he was having an affair. Mostly, though, she just felt rejected, and this broke her heart.

    "I knew he loved me. There are so many ways to show love other than sex—endearing things he would do," she says. "But my self-esteem really was depleting, because I thought, 'What's wrong with me?' It was something that I was very persistent about, trying to get to 'why.' There was a thorn in our marriage, and I needed to find out what it was." The more she challenged him about it, however, the worse things got. Ray, a surveyor and park ranger who often worked two jobs, would say he was tired or too busy to talk. "There was always an answer," she says, "but it never added up." Uncertain and lonely, she began to overeat—a groping attempt to feed her longing for intimacy, as her therapist would later explain. "So many people said to me, 'Donna, go have an affair!' But I didn't want that. I never wanted that. I wanted my husband back."

    Little changed through nearly 25 years of marriage. Then in the fall of 2001, Donna returned to college to finish her degree in education. One course in particular, on the psychology of human relations, spoke directly to her. "I started realizing, 'Oh my God, there are names for the things I've been going through!'" Poring over her textbooks, she came to believe that her husband had been sexually abused. His behavior fit the pattern.

    Confirmation, however, didn't come until one afternoon that spring. While Ray busied himself in the kitchen, Donna turned on The Oprah Show and found several young men talking about having been abused by their priests. She stood in stunned silence when she recognized one of the offenders: Father James Hanley—the same priest who had performed their marriage and two years later baptized their first child.

    "Then I heard this tiny voice coming from the kitchen," she says.

    It was Ray, barely in a whisper: "I guess I'm not the only one."

    The shock was so great it capsized Donna, and she dropped to her knees in the living room. "The pieces of my puzzle started falling together," she says.

    It took another few days before Ray told her what had happened when he was 12, how Hanley had pretended to give him an education in sex, demonstrating each lesson on the boy's body.

    PAGE 1 of 10

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      How to Help Your Partner Cope with Male Sexual Abuse
      You may feel like there's nothing you can do to help your partner address the lasting effects of childhood sexual abuse, but Dr. Howard Fradkin says there's always hope. Discover ways to help your partner cope...and strengthen your relationship along the way.
      Dr. Howard Fradkin
      • If you remember just one thing, it's that love is very powerful. Communication, acceptance and caring for a survivor is very critical to that man, making him feel safe enough to talk with you. Remember: A survivor has had his trust betrayed, oftentimes by someone he knew or knew well, so his ability to trust others has been substantially impaired. Regardless of whether you're close to a man who has told you he is a survivor or you only suspect a man may be a survivor, it's very important to support him and earn his trust slowly.

      • Never assume or tell a man you know he's a survivor of sexual abuse. If you suspect it, it's important to be gentle, because a survivor walks around with a great deal of shame, as men are "not supposed to be" victims. A gentle response might be to tell him: "I am here to listen to you. I am here to provide support to you, to talk about any problems you are having. I know you may be afraid of judgments. The only judgment I will have of you if you ask for my help is to give you my respect for your courage."

      • When your partner does choose to tell you about his abuse, it will be a normal reaction to wonder if it is true. In fact, you may want to disbelieve your partner's truth because you feel way too much pain hearing about it. If you know the perpetrator, it may be even more difficult, especially if you have positive feelings or perceptions about the perpetrator. On occasion, there are ways to validate a survivor's story, but oftentimes, it's his word versus the perpetrator's. Being believed is one of the greatest gifts you can give a survivor. Empathizing with him about his pain, betrayal and shame is another great gift. Think about this: Given how difficult it is for most men to acknowledge they have been abused, why would you think they would make up a story about being abused? Lying is extremely rare; for most survivors, it takes a great deal of courage to speak the truth, and when they do, they need your acceptance.

        It's natural for you to want your partner to talk about his abuse, his feelings and reactions. Just because you want to know doesn't mean your partner wants to talk. Tell him it's okay to take his time, to do it at a pace that feels safe enough for him. He may need to tell his story a little bit at a time, rather than all at once. In fact, for most men, this is preferable so they don't become overwhelmed.

      PAGE 1 of 4
      FROM: An Oprah Show Event - 200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward, Part 2
      Published on November 12, 2010

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        Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse
        Oprah
        After Oprah aired her no-holds-barred conversation with four admitted child molesters in February 2010, letters, emails and phone calls started pouring in. "We were overwhelmed by the response to that interview," she says. "So many victims and parents—and even molesters—came forward."

        Then, just a few weeks later, she continued raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse by touching on a subject that's rarely discussed—mothers who abuse. Gregg Milligan, a man who says he was raped by his mother when he was a boy, shared details of his horrific childhood. His story inspired even more victims to come forward.

        "That is exactly the reason why I wanted to do these shows," Oprah says. "To get people to step out of the shame, to come forward, to tell somebody."

        In Part 3 of this series, Oprah continues the conversation with another admitted molester and survivors who've found the strength to come forward.
        PAGE 1 of 4
        FROM: The Most Dangerous Child Sex Offenders in America
        Published on April 12, 2010

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          Sexual Abuse Survivors' First Steps Toward Healing
          Dr. Howard Fradkin
           
          Congratulations on having the courage to read about taking your first steps toward healing. Every day, more help is becoming available, and more therapists are being trained every year. However, given that one in six men is sexually abused as a child, and many others are abused and raped as adults, the number of services available to men who have been abused is still grossly inadequate. Visit the online resource center, which has a number of specific websites for male survivors, general websites and some specific websites given the type of abuse or abuser. I encourage you to visit these websites and learn as much as you can.

          My hope is that the help that's been available for women in past decades will become just as available for men. It's really essential that men have the resources, the help and the support they need so they can heal just as effectively as women have learned to do.

          First Steps for a Man Who's Ready to Talk About His Abuse:

          • Give yourself a big round of applause daily. It takes a lot of courage to do this, and one step at a time, you absolutely can heal and recover.

          • Find somebody to talk to who's safe. That may mean calling a therapist, mental health center or local psychological association. There are many types of trained therapists: psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health, family, marital and pastoral counselors, as well as trained body workers and self-defense experts who can help. You can go online to find organizations that list therapists who are helpful. Be patient. You deserve to find a therapist who has been trained to work with male survivors. Having experience with women survivors helps, however, men do have unique needs. Some of you may feel safer talking to a male therapist, while others will definitely prefer a woman. What is important is finding a therapist who has the skills and the compassion to help you. If a therapist tells you, "That is the past, let go and focus on the present, as that is all you can change," find a new therapist.

          • Attend support groups. The Internet is filled with lots of resources, chat rooms and bulletin boards where you can go and talk to other men and just listen to other men share their stories. This is important because men need a community in order to heal. Remember it's fine to just listen at first and only share a little at a time as you are ready. You will feel safer this way, and your safety is very important as you start and continue to recover.

          • Know you're not alone. Know there are other men out there who understand. You're not isolated. There are other people who are going to understand. Remember the 200 men who stood in the Oprah Show audience holding up their childhood pictures on November 5, 2010.

          • Take your time. Talking about your abuse is a process, and it's really important that you be very gentle with yourself. Take your time and know this is not a race. We can take our time. We can be compassionate with ourselves. We can learn to be loyal to functionality and disloyal to dysfunction, which means men really have to examine the messages that got planted in their heads by their perpetrators and by usually well-meaning families. Messages like: "You should keep it to yourself. You have to be strong and powerful. You will hurt others if you tell." You can learn to give yourself permission to be vulnerable.

          More steps for a man who's ready to talk about his abuse
          PAGE 1 of 2
          FROM: A Two-Day Oprah Show Event: 200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward
          Published on November 05, 2010

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            10 Daily Affirmations for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse
            Dr. Howard Fradkin, a psychologist who has worked with more than 1,000 male survivors of sexual abuse, says one of the first steps on the journey toward healing is to practice daily affirmations. Try saying these out loud to yourself or to someone you trust.
            Strong man
            Photo: Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock
            • Recovery is absolutely possible and achievable for me.

            • I will practice being disloyal to dysfunction and loyal to functionality.

            • I give myself permission to connect with loving, affirmative, strong, sensitive, accepting men and women in my community.

            • I release and forgive myself for any responsibility I have accepted in the past for my abuse.

            • My abuser(s) from the past chose to hurt me—I will stop repeating the lie that it just "happened" to me.

            • Giving myself daily compassion is necessary for my healing and growth.

            • I commit to connecting to the boy inside me today so we can play, laugh and experience joy together, even if just for a minute or two.

            • I believe deep inside me that I possess the ability to face the truth of my abuse and the tools to heal.

            • I have the right and the ability to speak the truth of my abuse and deserve to be heard, understood, believed and supported.

            • Feeling is healing. As I heal, I develop the ability to experience a wider range of emotions to enhance my health and connect to others.
            More from the show
            Discover the first steps toward healing
            Find out some of the stigmas of male sexual abuse
            Male survivors share their stories
            FROM: A Two-Day Oprah Show Event: 200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward
            Published on November 05, 2010

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