200 men will discuss sexual abuse on Oprah, airing Nov 5th and Nov 12th. Now that Oprah is doing shows on this taboo subject, the impact of boys being abused is coming out. I know from my work with men that, for some, the abuse they experienced as a child continues to affect them as men. It might show up in major ways, through psychological and medical problems. But often it shows up in more subtle ways, through their relationships with their partners. Still others can feel the impact on their professional lives.
Trauma of any kind, and certainly sexual abuse trauma, has the potential to freeze your development as a man. It’s hard to grow up if part of your childhood was taken away. The trauma is only reinforced by the feeling that you did something wrong, that you caused the incident. This is compounded by the repeated failed attempts to fix it, because it’s unfixable. You can’t go back in time and undo it.
During episodes of sexual abuse, if neither flight nor fight is a viable option, victims employ the third option: mimicking death. When you can’t run or fight, you instinctually play dead. And it works. Victims survive. The problem is that the physiology of the body is stuck in a loop, never getting to experience the flight or fight response to that particular trauma. Consequently, physical, and emotional symptoms continue to repeat.
The unfortunate phenomenon of PTSD in soldiers coming home from war is teaching us about the full effects of all traumas. Hopefully this awareness will help up use all the innovative ways available to heal—not just treat—trauma from war and from child abuse.
Have you felt the impact of trauma, yours or your partner’s?