How does a person gain an abuse survivor’s trust?
You gain trust by proving that you’re trustworthy. Don’t be intrusive and don’t ask for more than he’s comfortable in telling you. Above all, assure him (and mean it) that you will never talk to anyone about his abuse without his permission.
In your book, you warn against playing therapist. Can you talk about that?
Treat him lovingly. Don’t try to cure him or put into practice your knowledge of psychology. Your role isn’t to make him face his past or urge him to forgive. Give him your love and acceptance.
You write about the losses of those who were sexually abused. Perhaps that seems obvious, but tell us some of those losses.
Here are three:
(1) Abused boys weren’t raised in a healthy, nurturing environment, even if they had loving families.
(2) Many suffer from a kind of amnesia: they “forget” (which is a form of denial) their abuse, but the event marked their behavior.
(3) They lost control—their bodies were controlled by someone else and it left an emotional imprint. For example, many have no sense of boundaries because theirs were violated.
What’s wrong with saying, “Forget the past. Move on”?
They can’t forget the pain of the past. They may not recall every detail, but the experience was imprinted on them and will have an effect on their lives until they face the past and experience healing.
You refer to the inner abuser. Explain what you mean.
Long after physical abuse, survivors have an inner abuser—themselves—and they often carry guilt for letting the assault happen (even though they were helpless). Until they’re healed, their inner voice accuses them and undermines their self-worth. They often find it difficult to believe that they’re lovable and especially that God could love them.
“I want to face my abuser,” a man says. What would you suggest?
The survivor needs to ask himself: “What do I hope to accomplish?” I suggest he not confront. It’s rarely profitable, especially if he wants admission or a plea of forgiveness from the perpetrator. He needs to expect denials or excuses.
The Bible urges us to forgive those who have wronged us. How do we help survivors of abuse to forgive?
Don’t push them. They do need to forgive for their sake, but not until they’re ready. When they feel loved and accepted as they are, they may be ready.
Talk about “going public.” When is the right time for a survivor to talk freely about his abuse?
The simple answer is: When he’s ready. To have his story told by someone else or to be forced to tell it “for your own healing,” is almost like being raped again. Let him choose. When he’s ready, he can talk publicly. He may choose never to go public and if you love him, you’ll encourage him to do what he feels is best for his healing.
Sexual abuse is a terrible thing for anybody. But as someone who has moved into the realm of healing, can you say anything positive about your abusive childhood?
No one should have to go through the trauma of abuse. But by traveling down the healing path, many of us have gained deeper insight into ourselves. We’ve searched our inner motives and have risen from feelings of self-disgust, guilt, and anger. Most of us have learned to be more compassionate toward others who hurt. We’re often the ones survivors seek because they know we’ve been
Suggestions for Helping Your Man Through Recovery
by Cecil Murphey
Author of When a Man You Love Was Abused
- Be honest about your feelings. Don’t lie or try to hide how you feel.
- Try to be a reflective listener. That is, pay attention and give consideration to his thoughts and feelings.
- Seek eye contact. Look at him as he talks.
- Do whatever you can to make him feel safe with you.
- Suggest regular times to talk. Everything he needs to say won’t all come out in one conversation. He might not know what he wants to say, or he may be unwilling to divulge more. As he speaks and you accept his words, it enables him to probe deeper into his past. As he probes, he heals.
- Accept him as he is. He won’t be perfect at the end of his healing journey. Accept his idiosyncrasies or quirks.
- Recognize that healing won’t always be in one straight line. After months of progress and increasing intimacy, he may suddenly reject you or create distance. Be patient. Think of it as a time-out for him.
- Realize that you may project your attitude or values on him. Be careful. Your own childhood experiences may affect your attitude.
- When appropriate, remind him that you love him, that you pray for him, and that God has always loved him.
- Keep your expectations for him realistic. Avoid keeping a mental calendar of when he should be healed or how quickly he should be able to move forward.
- Accept the pace of his progress, even if it’s not as fast as you’d like. This is his painful past, not yours.
- Forego the temptation to say what you think he wants to hear. Speak the truth. If the truth might hurt, don’t say it when he’s still vulnerable.
- Avoid blaming him for the problems in your relationship. He has probably done many things wrong. Accept that it was the best way he knew to cope.
- Live in the present, and encourage him to do so as well. He needs to empty himself of the trauma of his childhood, but that doesn’t have to control his thoughts so much that he holds on to resentments and anger of the past.
- Accept that you may not know what’s best for him. You may, but what if you don’t?
*Material is excerpted from When a Man You Love Was Abused, pages 255-256.