In this blog post, I want to draw attention to a harrowing and difficult topic to talk about, but one that needs a voice to represent it.
Working as a male couples therapist I have a unique position, privilege, and responsibility to my male clients who have survived the experience of sexual abuse in their lives.
Just the very nature of being a male and all that can mean to my clients is significant.
The painful reality is that little boys, young men, and grown men can, do, and have experienced sexual abuse in their lives.
Approximately 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse.
This abuse ripples through all of the significant areas of their lives.
Because of my focus on financial therapy, I am especially attuned to how the effects of sexual abuse show up in my clients’ financial and intimate lives.
The adverse effects of sexual abuse on my male clients' financial and intimate lives can not be separated.
Coming Out of The Dark
Secrecy & Shame
There is a much broader collective conscious understanding of the number of women that experience sexual abuse during their lifespan.
But the mere mention of male sexual abuse survivors carries a different weight.
Male survivors carry an added burden of shame and secrecy around their sexual abuse based on cultural narratives about what it means to be male and who experiences sexual abuse.
This unspoken dynamic makes it so hard for male survivors of sexual abuse to come forward with their stories of pain, suffering, fear, humiliation, and shame.
Yet it is this very reality that they need to face and work through to restore their sense of health, vitality, wholeness, and inherent worth.
Age of Abuse
Sexual abuse of male survivors can begin from the youngest ages and can carry out across the life span, even into old age.
This blog post seeks to open the minds of those that care about men, that men are not immune or free from the burden of experiencing sexual abuse in their lives.
Our silence on the topic only further leaves men trapped in their secrecy and related shame.
Men recognize on so many levels that their experiences of sexual abuse violate the male cultural standards of strength and immunity to pain of any type.
The truth is that men can and do experience vulnerability in their lives and profound emotional suffering.
Empathy and Acceptance
The path forward to supporting men is complex and nuanced and can start from a place of empathy and acceptance.
Creating and holding space for men to come forward and work through their shame, silence, and secrecy related to their sexual abuse is absolutely critical to creating healing for men.
Let’s not lose sight of the reality that men are deeply embedded in our lives and a valuable part of society.
When we don’t help male survivors of sexual abuse heal, we all suffer from their pain and hurt.
Navigating Their Financial Life
Many of the men I have worked with have had some pattern of problematic spending in their lives.
Whether that was shopping for electronics while on work travel or a rigid need to pay the tab during dinner and draw positive attention to themselves.
These financial behaviors, and so many more, became problematic for them and can connect back to their experiences of sexual abuse.
What these men were trying to accomplish without fully realizing it is bolstering the absence of self-worth and self-comfort that emerged from their adverse experiences.
How they have used money as an aid in boosting their self-worth or ability to feel comfortable has led them further away from those very experiences they crave.
Those experiences of self-worth and comfort can be created from a healthy sense of self and other forms of self-comfort that do not require spending money to soothe yourself.
Experiences like going for walks, meditation, yoga, journaling, artistic expression, or talking with a friend.
Work & Authority
Each of the male survivors of sexual abuse clients I’ve worked with has had significant issues with work and authority in their lives.
One part of this challenge is navigating power differentials in the workplace, which are a normal part of most work organizations.
Yet for the male survivor of sexual abuse navigating relational authority is very difficult for them.
So they will often either shrink, play small, or withdraw further from the work environment which leads to negative work appraisals and getting fired. Or they become combative and over dominating to ward off feelings of vulnerability, which often makes them tyrants at work.
Both patterns can lead to many other adverse financial and relational outcomes.
Connecting Mental Health, Sexual Trauma, and Money
Sadly, many of my male clients have not been able to make the connection between varied mental health diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, bipolar, narcissism, PTSD, and their sexual abuse.
While descriptive, these mental health labels do little to acknowledge or help my clients connect with and work through the pain of their sexual abuse.
At the same time, these mental health conditions block them from engaging more fully in their financial life.
Whether it is being able to keep current with the administrative work of managing money in their lives, such as paying bills, planning for their future financial life, staying on top of their taxes, and so much more.
Male sexual abuse survivors are sensitive to both relational engulfment and rejection—each one to varying degrees on either end of that continuum.
Sensitivity to relational engulfment and rejection happens alongside their often inability to foster financial intimacy with their intimate partner, who counts on their active participation in their shared financial life together.
Building A Support Network
Marital and Intimate Relationships
We are wired through our attachment system to seek safety and security inside interpersonal relationships.
Men will sometimes find the safety of their intimate relationship is the first place they disclose the unspeakable..
Yet a partner’s ability to hear this type of disclosure is varied depending on their background and capacity for providing empathy.
In the big picture, within the intimate relationship, there is an incredible opportunity for healing and restoration on many different levels, including sexual, emotional, relational, financial, physical, and spiritual.
Within the safety of a committed and secure connection, men can heal their sexual abuse wounds.
While it is not their partner’s responsibility to carry the total weight of their male partner’s sexual abuse, it is part of the shared intimate partnership journey.
People often will need to redefine friendships and who they can lean on during the healing journey.
It’s important to have a few close friends that either have had a similar experience or have experience supporting someone that has survived male sexual abuse.
These kinds of friendships can become an essential part of developing the support needed to make the transition from sexual abuse survivor to a person that has experienced sexual abuse and is now thriving in life.
The complexity and emotional impacts of male sexual abuse are not something to be navigated alone.
It is one of the most complex forms of abuse and neglect that can happen to any living human.
We don’t expect someone with a complex fracture to their leg to heal it on their own. Why would we expect a male survivor of sexual abuse who had their sense of self shattered to go it alone to heal?
In most cases they will need years of therapeutic support to work through the layers of impact to their sense of self and all of the other associated parts of being human.
Finding and working with a therapist who can be with you through your healing journey is essential.
Finding a therapist versed in working with sexual abuse, especially male sexual abuse, may take some time and effort but will be well worth the effort.
I, too, am a male survivor of sexual abuse. I have been traveling the journey of healing, understanding, and growth for many years now. Part of that journey has been discovering my dissociated sexual abuse memories.
This journey is not just professional, it is personal for me.
I talk more extensively about my journey of healing and growth in my book The Healthy Love & Money Way: How The Four Attachment Styles Impact Your Financial Well-Being.
Your ability to heal your trauma and be with your partner through the healing of their trauma is a critical part of fostering financial intimacy in your life.
Is it easy? NO. Is it worth it? YES.
I invite you to check out my signature program The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy for an in-depth exploration of the role of all types of trauma on your financial life and what you can do to start or continue to learn, heal, and grow through your painful experiences in life.
You don’t have to travel this road alone.
To Your Healthy Love & Money,
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