Broken Boys to Whole Men: #11 – #HimToo: Sexual Abuse and Sexual Trauma

When I was a massage therapist in Chicago in the 90s, sometimes clients would come through the door with unexplained physical symptoms: tension and pain in neck and shoulders, low back or core muscles that wouldn’t go away; ultra-sensitivity in certain areas of the body; strange physical responses to touch, or “armoring” in certain areas. Occasionally, I would have clients who dissociated from their bodies, such that they could not feel even deep, specific pressure.

Often, these are the manifestations of some form of contact sexual violence in the person’s life—in the US, that’s one in three women and one in six men in the course of a lifetime. One of every ten rape victims is male; 52.4% of male victims report being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger.

You may be surprised to learn that male college students are five times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the general population.

Given the reticence of men to speak of this because it’s interpreted as a sign of weakness, men generally don’t reveal a history of rape or incest unless it comes up in therapy to address some other problem, such as in marriage or at work.

But just as depression in men often goes undiagnosed and untreated, men’s sexual assault and abuse go unreported unless a man suffers suicidal or depressive thoughts and seeks treatment.

In the weeks following an assault, a person may re-experience the trauma through memories or reminders; develop aversions to smells, noises, or sensations that remind them of the assault; experience a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, anger or negative thinking; or off-the-charts reactions to stimuli, such as anxiety, hypervigilance, or being easily startled.

These things can often be disruptive enough to force memories to the surface in men, as in women. The pain required to keep them submerged becomes greater than the pain of dealing with them, so a window of opportunity opens.

If you know a male who seems not himself or is exhibiting any of the symptoms above, or is self-medicating, bring it up with them sooner rather than later. You may save his life.

Trauma-focused therapy approaches can help immensely. Examples are Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, and EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Each works to help the person work through the traumatic experiences and move forward in their life.

When sexual trauma is revealed in a man’s life, it presents the chance to learn for the first time how to practice self-calming and self-care, reduce depression and anxiety, make meaning out of what happened, and develop other forms of resilience that benefit their entire quality of life.


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