I hurt for a long time because of childhood sexual abuse. Now I want to provide a safe place for hurting men to connect with other survivors of sexual abuse. Talk to us. You don't have to use your real name to share your experiences or ask questions.

Reusing Pain

I hate that I was sexually assaulted and physically beaten as a child. So many times I've wished it hadn't happened. But it did.

Despite the fact that I've been on the healing path for years, I continue to learn about myself and how my painful childhood has carried into my adult years.

One wonderful insight has emerged: I've learned to reuse my pain. That may not be a sophisticated way to say it, but it helps me to think in those categories. Recently, people have said many nice things to me about being a good listener, encouraging them, and being compassionate.

For a long time I tried to stop them and said, "That's not who I am." I knew my heart, and when I thought about qualities such as compassion I'd grade myself about a C minus. I'm sure that's because I still struggled with my lack of self-esteem.

Then it hit me. When I was a child, no one listened to me, especially when I tried to talk about serious things. I don't recall anyone encouraging me or expressing compassion. Perhaps a few individuals did listen, encourage, or express sympathy, but I wasn't aware.

As I’ve acknowledged those positive qualities others perceive in me, I think of it as reusing my pain. That is, I give to others what I didn't receive. I turn my pain inside out. That wasn't a conscious decision, but it was a healthy reaction in coping with my painful childhood.

I was abused and hurt as a child;
as an adult, I reuse my pain by caring for others.

"You're Nothing"

I don't recall that anyone ever said, "You're nothing," although I believed I was worthless and a really bad kid. My baby brother, Chuck, whom I am sure was also sexually assaulted, once said—in a moment of rare insight while drunk—"I'm nobody. Nothing. Worthless. And I hate my life."

We were at a family gathering at a park and Chuck turned and walked away from me. That incident happened about six years before memories of my abuse sneaked out of the hidden caverns. And yet I vividly remember his words and the pained expression on his face. Chuck was hardly the introspective type and that was quite an admission from him.

Since then I've met many men who received that message of worthlessness—some being told, others absorbing the concept. Regardless, we believed a terrible lie.

None of us is worthless, but I can't convince anyone of that by words. As I see it, only by our being loved and valued by someone who cares about us can we escape that untruth.

When I know I'm loved,
I know I'm of value.

Mirror Image

This morning as I came out of the shower I stared at my legs in the mirror. "You're skinny," I said to my mirror image. Perhaps that doesn't sound like much to most people. I am thin, and people have long teased me about it.

In the past, when I looked into a mirror I never saw skinny. The image that stared back at me wasn't obese but he sure could drop 25 pounds. (A disclaimer: I've never been on a diet, even though that reflection told me I was too heavy.)

Years ago, I read that bulimics and anorexics saw themselves as grossly overweight and I wasn't either. I was just a slightly chubby guy. And I lived with that perception most of my adult life.

When that distorted mirror image disappeared, I don't remember when, but I think it was about two years ago. One day, I stood in front of a full-length mirror wearing nothing but briefs. I stared at myself and marveled. How did I get so thin? (FYI, I'm 5'7" and weigh 135–138 pounds.)

What I saw for years wasn't reality—I know that now. But it shocked me to realize that I had "seen" and accepted the distorted image. I tried to explain my distortion to a close friend and he didn't seem to get it.

But for me, truly seeing my thin frame was one of the most exciting and positive inner proofs of my healing. As I saw my body reflected accurately, it made me realize I was now seeing many things differently. And I like what I see.

As the words from Amazing Grace say, 
"I was blind, but now I see."

Why Am I so Hard on Myself? (Part 2 of 2)

Back in the early 1980s, I saw a film called Ordinary People, for which Timothy Hutton won an Academy Award as the younger son, Conrad. Near the end of the film, Conrad faces his father, played by Donald Sutherland, and confesses that his brother, Buck, who died in an accident, got all the attention.

The father says Buck was irresponsible and took risks, and then goes on to say to Conrad, "I never worried about you. You were always so hard on yourself."

Recently I saw the film (probably for the fourth time) and I cried because I understood Conrad. In one sense I was Conrad—and so are many other survivors. While some give in and mess up their lives with bad decisions, we go the other way. Sometimes we're called uptight; other times we’re told things like "You really have your stuff together" (even though we don't).

I used to think, If only they knew. But instead, I smiled and thanked them.

A long time has passed with many struggles and failures since I started down the healing path. I've finally realized how hard I've been on myself. Too self-demanding, insisting on getting everything done right. Too obsessed with achieving results and rebuking myself for the smallest failure. Others could fail and I made allowances for them, but I held myself to a higher (impossible) standard.

Over the years, I've learned to feel more compassionate toward Cec. Now I remind him: This is who you are. You don’t need to prove anything to yourself. Now is your time to enjoy being who you are.

I used to be too demanding on myself;
now I enjoy being who I am.

Why Am I So Hard on Myself? (Part 1 of 2)

My friends used to insist that I was too tough on myself. I smiled and said something innocuous like, "Maybe you're right." I didn't believe them, but that was my way to avoid any discussion.

Why couldn't they grasp that I knew my responsibilities and my standards? If I didn't live up to them, why shouldn't I castigate myself? I knew the right thing to do and I didn't do it.

Like many men who were molested in childhood, I grew up with unrealistic expectations of myself. (I didn't realize they were unrealistic.) I needed to prove to myself that I was a moral and caring person. Too often, after I failed to live up to my exacting ethical code, I sank into a pitiful state, rebuking myself for failing. I had no idea how to show myself mercy—let alone think I deserved it.

As I look back, I'm aware that because of my wife and my best friend, slowly—very slowly—I was able to believe that I was worthwhile and didn't have to be perfect. My friend Jeff Adams wrote a maxim that helped me: "Demand perfection; accept excellence."

I'm not perfect,
but I like who I am, and that's enough.

Looking Backward

When I was living in Africa, early one morning I watched an African with his ox pulling a plow through his field. The lines were straight, and for the twenty minutes or so I stared at him his gaze never focused anywhere but straight ahead.

I thought of that after I read an inspirational message that urged us not to look backward. "Looking backward means going backward," the person implied.

Sounds like good advice in farming, but I'm not sure it's helpful with wounded people like us. We need to look backward. That's where our problems began. Unless we go back to the source, we stay so busy moving forward—but our childhood injuries stay unhealed and keep pace with us.

Going back to that damaged childhood isn't easy. And it takes courage—a lot of courage—to re-experience those wounds. But as one authority said, "The only way out is through. He meant that if we want release—true healing—we have to push ourselves to revisit that pain. The big difference is that we can accept our pain and let it help us move forward as mature adults.

We can learn to say things to ourselves like this:

* I didn't ask for that. I didn't want it.

* I was a kid with no way to defend myself.

* That bigger person overpowered me and stole my innocence.

* I felt unloved and unwanted and someone took advantage of me.

Those statements aren't cure-alls, but they can help us feel tenderness toward that isolated child. Here's a statement I've said to myself many times when I've revisited my childhood: "I did the best I could."

For me, that statement means that I took care of myself through innate childhood wisdom and survived. No self-blame or recriminations. Being a six-year-old kid with no one to help him, I remind myself that I handled myself the best I could.

Now I can walk—and run—along the healing path.

Instead of condemning my childhood, 
I say, "I did the best I could."


A frequent contributor, Mark, sent me an email in which he spoke about his intense loneliness, which I've paraphrased.

"I go to bed at night feeling a void that's been there since I was a child—a void that causes me either to fight illicit thoughts or give in to them. It's hard to believe that God isn't angry with me for the mess that's still a part of my heart, mind, and soul."

Loneliness is common to us survivors—and perhaps to most people. We yearn for those who can truly see into our hearts, know us, and still love us.

Maybe we need to reach out to others more readily, but that's not easy. We were the kids who trusted the wrong people. The theft of our childhood made us feel different, isolated, and unwanted. We didn't know whom to trust and the more we held back, the deeper our estrangement.


Loneliness has often intruded in my life, but most acutely since my wife died in the spring of 2013. On January 1 of 2015, the loneliness became so acute I went for a four-mile walk and kept praying, "God, help me embrace my loneliness. It's part of who I am. I'm tired of trying to run from feelings of isolation."

Nothing happened that day, but within a week I realized the loneliness was present, but I didn't fight it. That may not sound like much to others, but for me, it made feeling alone bearable.

I've accepted my loneliness. I don't know the cure for it and maybe it will always be there. Maybe that's simply part of what we call the human condition. But I also remind myself those are emotions. And my emotions fluctuate constantly. I know I'm loved by God, by others, and have finally learned to love myself.

When I feel lonely and isolated
I remind myself, "Those are my emotions. They aren't reality."