Monday, 24 August 2015
Sunday, 16 August 2015
This section provides some basic information on the complexity of this issue, then reviews research on long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse in men's lives. At the end of this section, several articles and books are listed along with the symptoms and other effects. The complete citations for these articles and books, which you can get from libraries and bookstores, are in the next section of this page (Recommended Books and Articles).Of course the sexual abuse of male children can lead to a variety of problems and suffering. But it's not that simple. My aim in this section is to provide some basic information that, while conveying the possible effects of the sexual abuse of males, helps people appreciate the complexity of this issue and avoid unnecessarily pessimistic beliefs.
Therefore, I will start with four basic points:
- Being sexually abused is one of many painful and potentially damaging experiences that a human being may suffer in childhood.
- Whether and to what extent child abuse and neglect (or other painful experiences) have negative effects depends on a variety of factors - related to the abuse itself, but also to relationships, in which the abuse and the child's responses occur.
- Child abuse, in itself, does not "doom" people to lives of horrible suffering.
- If a person has been sexually abused and experiences some of the problems or symptoms listed below, the abuse is not necessarily the primary (let alone only) reason for such suffering.
Child Abuse and the Human Condition
It is important to consider these issues in relation to what some people refer to as "the human condition." By this I mean:
- All human beings suffer painful experiences, and some of these occur in childhood.
- All caregivers of children are sometimes unable to protect them from painful experiences.
- We all need love and support to deal with the effects of painful experiences.
- Everyone must find ways to cope with the emotions generated by painful experiences - whether or not we get love and support from others.
- Many coping or self-regulation strategies work in some ways, but also limit people in other ways. For example:
- Ignoring painful feelings may reduce one's conscious experience of them. But it also prevents one from learning how to manage them in smaller doses, let alone larger ones - which makes one vulnerable to alternating between feeling little or no emotions and being overwhelmed and unable to cope with them.
- Avoiding getting close to people and trying to hide all of one's pain and vulnerabilities may create a sense of safety. But this approach to relationships leads to a great deal of loneliness, prevents experiences and learning about developing true intimacy and trust, and makes one vulnerable to desperately and naively putting trust in the wrong people and being betrayed again.
- At the extreme, getting really drunk can block out painful memories and feelings, including the feeling of being disconnected from others - but cause lots of other problems and disconnections from people.
- Some people suffer more painful experiences than others, and abuse is one of many possible causes of extreme emotional pain (others include life-threatening illness, death of a loved one, physical disfigurement, etc.).
- Some people get more love and support from their families and friends than others, and families in which abuse occurs tend to provide less of the love and support needed to recover from abuse. But families in which abuse does not happen can also experience significant problems, and can make it hard for family members to deal with the inevitable painful experiences in life.
- Finally, because everyone needs caring relationships and love, emotional neglect can be more devastating than abuse, particularly in the earliest years of life.
The Effects of Child Abuse Depend on a Variety of Factors
We have learned from many people's experiences and a great deal of research that the effects of abuse and neglect depend on a variety of factors. Below I group these effects into those which research has shown to influence negative outcomes, and a variety of other factors that are harder to measure for research purposes and/or may be very important for some people but not others.
Factors research has shown to influence the effects of abuse:
- Age of the child when the abuse happened. Younger is usually more damaging, but different effects are associated with different developmental periods.
- Who committed the abuse. Effects are generally worse when it was a parent, step-parent or trusted adult than a stranger.
- Whether the child told anyone, and if so, the person's response. Doubting, ignoring, blaming and shaming responses can be extremely damaging - in some cases even more than the abuse itself.
- Whether or not violence was involved, and if so, how severe.
- How long the abuse went on.
- Whether the abuse involved deliberately humiliating the child.
- How "normal" such abuse was in the extended family and local culture.
- Whether the child had loving family members, and/or knew that someone loved her or him.
- Whether the child had some good relationships - with siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, etc.
- Whether the child had relationships in which "negative" feelings were acceptable, and could be expressed and managed safely and constructively.
A great deal of research has been conducted, and continues to be conducted, on how such factors determine outcomes for those abused in childhood. Factors that increase the likelihood of negative outcomes have been referred to as "risk factors," and ones that decrease the likelihood of negative outcomes as "protective factors." Every person who has experienced abuse is unique. And every person who has experienced abuse has a unique combination of risk and protective factors that have influenced, and continue to influence, the effects in his or her life.
In summary, it is important to appreciate that these issues are very complex, and to be familiar with how abuse and neglect can - depending on a variety of other factors - affect various aspects of a person's life. Keep this in mind as you search the web for information and understanding about the effects of child abuse.
Potential Long-Term Effects of the Sexual Abuse of Males
This section lists potential, but not inevitable, lasting effects of the sexual abuse of male children. It should not be read as a "laundry list" of problems and symptoms that necessarily follow the sexual abuse of males, nor does the presence of any in males with sexual abuse histories necessarily mean the abuse is their primary cause. (See above.)
Findings on the long-term effects of child sexual abuse in males have been more consistent than those on prevalence. Methodologies for detecting problems and symptoms that could be outcomes are relatively straightforward, and many studies have utilized standardized measures that are widely accepted in the field.
First, I want to recommend a paper by David Lisak, Ph.D. This paper contains many powerful quotations from interviews with male survivors of sexual abuse. Lisak groups the quotations into themes, and discusses them with remarkable insight and compassion. The themes are:
- Homosexuality Issues
- Isolation and Alienation
- Masculinity Issues
- Negative Childhood Peer Relations
- Negative Schemas about People
- Negative Schemas about the Self
- Problems with Sexuality
- Self Blame/Guilt
Lisak, D. (1994). The psychological impact of sexual abuse: Content analysis of interviews with male survivors. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 7, 525-548.
Using standardized measures of symptoms, researchers have found that men who were sexually abused in childhood, whether or not they seek out mental health services, may suffer from:
- Hostility and anger
- Impaired relationships
- Low self-esteem
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep disturbance
- Suicidal ideas and behavior
SOURCE Jim Hooper