- “Really, you seem OK.”
- “You know, you have to forgive them.”
- “Well, I know someone who was abused, and they don’t struggle with that.”
- “How many times did it happen?”
- “Why didn’t you say anything?”
- “You’re going to be just fine.”
- “Somehow God is going to use it.”
- “Why did you let it happen?”
- “Well don’t say anything, because you could really destroy that person.”
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Men tend to suffer in silence, but they need to share their stories
Part 2 of an interview with Andrew J. Schmutzer
Co-Author of Naming Our Abuse:
God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors
Male sexual abuse is increasingly in the news, from scandals in the Catholic Church to exploitations at Penn State. Yet books and programs about healing are still overwhelmingly oriented toward the female survivor of abuse. As men who experienced childhood abuse, Andrew J. Schmutzer, Daniel A. Gorski and David Carlson, authors of Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel Publications) are uniquely qualified to address the healing process of male survivors.
In the book, each author shares his story, modeling for men how telling — and writing — their stories can play a significant role in recovery. “Writing helps the brain process the significance of what happened, not just the fact that it happened,” Schmutzer explains. “Dignity is recaptured by remembering rightly, honestly and deeply. Writing honors pain by putting it in black and white.”
Q: Why did you choose the metaphor of a car accident for the book’s outline and format? What are the four stages you walk readers through?
It was our desire to help men to talk about and name their abuse. Male survivors do not tend to meet in carpeted rooms and sit semi-circle in a church basement. Such talking time can feel staged or fabricated for men who do not process in such overtly verbal ways. So it was my idea to focus on a metaphor men can relate to. Men can readily relate to a scenario of a car accident. So we wanted to build the book around this metaphor, thinking of men sitting in their “man cave” — such as a nice garage — comfortable enough to talk honestly, admitting and exploring their stories of abuse.
The four stages of the book are built on the accident metaphor: the Wreck, Accident Report, Rehabilitation and Driving Again. There is a logical progression, a layered story, to this metaphor. The four stages not only acknowledge healing is a process, but the various phases also function as prompts, giving men the permission to think of their abuse story. Regardless of what stage a reader may be in, the story is going somewhere. Every story has a beginning — a “wreck” that must be faced — but also the hope of driving again.
Q: How does a man recapture his dignity through telling his story of childhood sexual abuse?
Stories of abuse are always written in a “minor key.” They are hard to face, hard to write and almost as hard to hear. Telling one’s story translates the trauma by integrating separated parts of the survivor’s life. Stories enable connections to emerge that one didn’t fully see before. So dignity is recaptured by remembering rightly, honestly, communally and deeply. Telling stories helps men feel.
Dignity returns as one remembers the lost pieces and fits them back together again. For example, recounting one’s story helps connect the appropriate emotion with the corresponding event. This can be extremely painful, but what emerges is a process and event akin to military boot camp.
Q: You say writing down your stories “translated your trauma.” What did you mean by that? What are other benefits of writing therapy?
Simply sitting in a circle facing “anger” one week in a 12-step program may have its place, but it often feels too abstract. Using the tool of story naturally helps gather together the pieces of one’s abuse-wreck. John can turn to Mike and ask, “Why did you cut the arms off your army soldiers at age 11?” This, in turn, helps Mike realize why he used to self-harm by pulling his own hair out. The larger story delivers a message that simple sentences can’t. The broad sweep of a man’s story puts into perspective the dysfunctional home that is capable of abusing its own children — the story has translated lost pieces of a life.
Writing therapy helps one enter the moment and face what happened (his wreck). Writing helps the brain process the significance of what happened, not just the fact that it happened. Writing honors pain by inscribing it or putting it in black and white. As patterns emerge, it gives survivors words. This is vital, since traumatic experiences are often word-shattering. So writing about abuse is naming it. This is very therapeutic.
Q: How is Naming Our Abuse designed specifically to address the ways men recover from childhood sexual abuse?
There is a thesis we are operating with, one our own writing proved: We cannot heal from what we will not name. The book helps by giving men permission to be broken and even live in certain forms of pain for the rest of their lives. The idea of recovery is a bit romantic, though it markets well. As men see us name our pains through the various stories in the book, we model what they too can do. We end each of the four stages by giving readers the chance to put the pen to paper and start “scratching out” their stories. Before the reader enters the next stage of the book, we ask them to reflect seriously on key statements we’ve written and write responses to questions. Finally, each section concludes with some coping tips for survivors working through that particular phase of their healing. This is practical work and information men can use and relate to.
Q: What are some things you should NEVER say to a victim of CSA (childhood sexual abuse)?
The key is to listen to their stories, not necessarily offer answers, especially simplistic ones.
Q: How can childhood abuse affect a person’s ability as an adult to assess and process incoming messages and situations properly?
Abuse can seriously affect one’s ability to read social situations. Because survivors are often hypervigilant (“on duty”), they often overact to certain social situations or simply don’t know how to respond appropriately. They are often hypersensitive to comments and often have one or several addictions related to their abuse (from overeating to pornography).
Because the victim’s social/relational filter is broken, victims are known for pushing away the right people and letting in the wrong ones due to an inability to read people well. Their boundaries can be very skewed and in need of reshaping. Abuse victims struggle with many forms of PTSD, much like war veterans can.
Q: At the end of the book, you each wrote a letter to your younger self. What was the purpose behind that?
The letters to our “little boy” is practically a therapeutic technique all its own. The purpose is to reintegrate the abused child (factual memories) with the older man (present experience/self). It is a powerful act to write to that abused boy, because it honors the child’s trauma and reconnects it to the older man’s residual pain and suffering that has lived on through the years. He may have been unable to face that “little boy” due to anger and shame. So even talking about that abused boy humanizes the vulnerable child who men are often conflicted about because the child was sexually “mugged” and now the older man has to accept that terror, weakness and vulnerability. It also acknowledges that core pieces of that boy live on, and this complexity and even brokenness must be accepted, processed, repurposed, and embraced in the older man’s healing journey.
Learn more about Naming Our Abuse at www.kregel.com.