Alone and Forgotten
by Rod Tobin
So what are the differences between male and female victims of childhood sexual abuse? Canadian therapist Rod Tobin, who has treated well over 50 men, sees differences in both society's perceptions of sexually abused men and the men's own healing process.
The first thing he learned in treating these men was that they didn't respond to the forms of treatment that had worked so well for female victims. The second was that the men didn't even want to be called "victims."
The main symptoms that these men feel he describes as
These show up in the men's lives in:
- mistrust and
The men he's worked with have been very closed about issues like guilt/shame, sexuality or low self-esteem, but they open up when it's about anger, mistrust and meaningless. (Tobin also prefers the word "embarrassment" to "guilt/shame," as a term men can more easily relate to.) As a result of repression of the earlier traumas, these men tend to go into anger or withdrawal when they experience hurt, embarrassment, confusion and even pleasure in their present lives.
- broken relationships,
- dissatisfaction with jobs and work-related endeavors,
- withdrawal from other people,
- low self-esteem,
- substance abuse
- and, sometimes, suicide.
This gives rise to the most common and poignant examples in the book. Many of the men were there at the instigation of their wives. Some brought their wives to later sessions. Very commonly, just as they were approaching intimacy (note: I said "intimacy," not just "sex")and things were going well, he'd grow "cold" and withdraw. She wold think, of course, that it meant he didn't love her and didn't want the intimacy. He wanted it; he just couldn't handle it emotionally.
Tobin analogizes anger to an iceberg. Below the surface, there's feelings of being hurt, afraid, depressed, embarrassed or lest-out. There's a very useful "Vocabulary of Feelings: Anger" chart that maps out mild, moderate or strong anger relating to each of the beneath-the-surface-of-the-iceberg" feelings, depending on the word the man says best describes his feelings.
The last chapter outlines a four-step treatment process that has worked for his clients:
- Engaging the man's strengths
- Setting goals
- Removing symptoms
- Maintaining the change
The book is aimed at therapists. The references, for example, are to psychological works and don't include listings for Mike Lew's Victims No Longer or Mic Hunter's Abused Boys, standard books to mention to male survivors and the people in their lives. It focuses on the psychological mechanisms behind abused men, even if the case examples gives glimpses into the the real men's lives. It's a "short read," and ideal for any lay person or therapist who wants to understand the psychological mechanisms involved.
Tobin began working with men who had been abused in a boys' facility. The book jacket describes half his caseload as being from the general public, but it still reflects its roots in his descriptions and case-examples. For example, there is not one specific mention of a woman as an abuser. For all that, it still has valuable insights to offer on understanding the dynamics of the abused man.