What is meant by “finding help” can be complicated for someone trying to understand and support (and in some cases “deal with”) a man struggling with problems related to unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood.
If that’s your situation, this page is for you. We also have a more extensive Get Help section, which you may find informative and helpful.
This page begins with options for immediate live assistance, from a person with special training to help men with histories of unwanted or abusive experiences in childhood and people who care about them.
Then we explain why to consider focusing on yourself first, why pushing him to get help won’t work, and another approach to talking with him and supporting him sorting through his options and finding the help that he’s ready to receive.
Finally, we point you to some other sources of help for you and him.
Getting Help Now
There are several ways to get help now, by phone or online chat.
1in6 Online SupportLine – 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week
1in6 has partnered with RAINN to offer our ‘Online SupportLine’ for men seeking information and resources related to unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood, and for people who care about them. 1in6 works with RAINN to ensure that all SupportLine staff members are trained to help visitors from 1in6.org. Every staff member knows (1) the effects of unwanted or abusive childhood sexual experiences, (2) issues and concerns specific to men who have had such experiences, and (3) local services that are available. All ‘chats’ are confidential and users are encouraged to remain anonymous.
For information about other helplines/hotlines – phone and online – including some available right now (24/7), see Other Helplines & Peer Support.
If you or someone you care about is in immediate danger, of seriously harming yourself or himself, or being harmed by someone else, we recommend calling 911 or going to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Consider Focusing on Yourself First
Before we focus on helping the man you care about, we want to direct your attention to helping yourself. The closer your relationship to the man in question, and the greater the impact of his problems on you, the more important it is to start with your experiences and needs.
Especially if you are trying to help him find professional help, or to “convince” him that he needs therapy, we have a recommendation. Before suggesting anything to him, consider meeting yourself with a therapist who is very experienced at helping people like the man you’re concerned about. Even just one or two sessions can be extremely helpful. Why?
- Talking in person to a qualified professional can help you sort through your feelings, fears, frustrations, and strong impulses to take action (in what, for some of you, may feel like an increasingly unbearable situation).
- It’s your ability to manage such feelings and impulses that determines how effective you are at discussing these issues with him. Will you talk with him in a way that decreases the likelihood that he’ll get defensive? In a way that increases the likelihood that he will come to his own – freely chosen and internally motivated – decision to seek help?
Also, as Laura Davis has written in her extremely helpful book, Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child:
- “I was reading through some old workshop evaluations recently. At the bottom of one evaluation form, [someone wrote]: ‘I made an observation today. The people who complained the most about [the person who had been abused’s] behavior were the people who took the attitude that it was all [that person’s] problem. The people who were making it through the crisis were the ones who were willing to stand up and say they had problems and growing to do, too.’ I couldn’t agree more… keep an open mind” (p.5).
Basically, it often makes sense for you to get some consultation, support and help in dealing with the difficult situation you are in. Doing so can maximize your chances of helping the man you care about make his own decisions and commitments about seeking help and making changes for the better.
Ultimately, it’s up to him. But how you discuss these issues with him can make a big difference. And especially if you’re in a close or intimate relationship, the more willing you are to face and seek help with your own problems – including ones that he can trigger and that can trigger his – the more likely he will be too.
Why Pushing Him Won’t Work
Trying to be supportive and helpful to someone who is suffering from the effects of child abuse can be very difficult and challenging. Just knowing what they went through can bring up feelings of sadness, helplessness, frustration, and anger. If he clearly could benefit from some professional help but rejects that as an option, or says he’ll get help but never follows through, it can become very frustrating.
And it can be scary, if the well-being of your relationship or family seem to depend on what he chooses.
How to help someone you care about who has mixed feelings about seeking help? How to discuss things without taking sides in his inner conflict over whether or not to seek help – especially if you have a lot riding on his decisions and actions?
Much of it comes down to managing your own feelings, and managing your impulses to push him to make decisions or take action. But it also requires sorting through your own thoughts, feelings and needs, and figuring out how you can most effectively discuss these issues with him. There may be options for communicating that you don’t yet realize exist.
The vast majority of people who could benefit from professional help have very mixed feelings about seeking it.
- On the one hand, he may hope that someone could really understand him, and help him to make changes he wants to make in his life.
- On the other hand, he may fear that a therapist won’t understand, won’t be able to help, or will see him as “crazy.” He may fear that a therapist won’t really care and will just use him to make money from his suffering. He may not feel worthy of being helped, or fear that it would be just too painful or humiliating to confront his suffering and problems in therapy. These mixed feelings and fears are quite normal for someone who was exploited and betrayed as a child.
In trying to help a man you care about who is struggling with such mixed feelings, there’s a very common trap that’s easy to fall into. That people so often fall into this trap is totally understandable, and they often do it without realizing what’s happening.
Here’s the trap: trying to “show” or “convince” or otherwise push him into “admitting” he needs help, that he “must” go into therapy, etc.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. In general, when people have mixed feelings about something and someone else does all the talking (and pushing) for one side, it puts the other person in the unbalanced position of “holding the other side” and thinking and talking about the reasons he doesn’t want or need to change.
Also, when the person who fears that change might have some serious drawbacks is someone who was used or abused as a child, being pushed to change can trigger fears of manipulation and experiences of disempowerment like he experienced back then. Of course, you may be genuinely trying your best, and pushing out of caring and love (not just growing fear and desperation). But the fact is – as you’ve probably already begun to realize, even if you still don’t quite know what else to do – this approach is not likely to work. The fact is, it tends to polarize things further, and to increase his resistance to change, including seeking help.
A More Effective Approach to Talking With Him
The reasons that such communication styles do not work are very well explained by the therapists and researchers who developed “motivational interviewing,” a way of communicating that can be extremely effective.
Motivational interviewing was developed as a therapy for clients with substance use problems, who often have very mixed feelings about stopping or reducing substance use, and who are often seen by others as being “in denial.”
However, the principles of motivational interviewing apply to any situation where one person is trying to help another person resolve his or her mixed feelings about making a positive behavior change or committing to taking positive action.
Indeed, many men struggling with problems related to unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood are often struggling with such mixed feelings. They are often seen as “in denial” about what happened to them as children, as well as about problems of theirs that appear very related to those experiences.
But again, there is not only another way to see men struggling in this way, there is a more effective way to communicate with them and help them make healthy choices, commitments, and behavior changes.
As the developers of motivational interviewing, William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, have written:
- “Constructive behavior change seems to arise when the person connects it with something of intrinsic value, something important, something cherished. Intrinsic motivation for change arises in an accepting, empowering atmosphere that makes it safe for the person to explore the possibly painful present in relation to what is wanted and valued. People often get stuck, not because they fail to appreciate the down side of their situation, but because they feel at least two ways about it. The way out of that forest has to do with exploring and following what the person is experiencing and what, from his or her perspective, truly matters.”
To learn some very effective ways of communicating with people who have mixed feelings and fears about seeking help and making positive changes in their behavior, visit the Clinical Issues section of the Motivational Interviewing web site and read the following pages:
- What is MI?
- Interaction Techniques