Under-Estimating and Over-Estimating
Men often ignore and under-estimate the effects of unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in their lives. This tends to increase problems and prevent healing.
But sometimes men go to the other extreme, and believe that such experiences are the only or complete cause of problems that have other causes as well.
Such over-estimation is not uncommon, and very understandable. It can happen as one begins seeing connections between past sexual experiences and present life difficulties.
There are some typical ways men can end up over-estimating the effects of harmful sexual experiences, and under-estimating other major contributors to their problems and suffering.
Of course, harmful sexual experiences can have a huge impact on one’s life. But if you focus too much on how such experiences may have affected you, then it’s easy to overlook the (sometimes greater) contributions that other unwanted or traumatic experiences and relationships have made to your current problems.
For example, if you tell other people about your sexual experiences – partners, friends, family members, even therapists – they may believe that those experiences “explain everything” (or almost everything) that you are struggling with. The popular media send this message all the time, by featuring lots of stories and research about sexual abuse while ignoring the long-term effects of other harmful or traumatic experiences.
Other Potentially Harmful Childhood Experiences
Unwanted or abusive experiences happen to children who live in families and homes that are, like all families and homes, imperfect. And some are more imperfect than others. Experiences like those listed below can have huge effects on a child, and certainly can magnify or complicate the effects of harmful sexual experiences.
- Older children may abuse younger children.
- One parent may be caring, the other cold and cruel.
- Parents may be physically or emotionally abusive to each other.
- Parents or caregivers may be minimally involved or not very supportive.
- The home may be chaotic and unpredictable, and never feel like a safe place.
- One child may be a “scapegoat” who is rejected and abused by everyone else.
- Parents may pretend everything is fine when there is little love or connection in the family.
- A parent may lack healthy adult relationships, and use a child for emotional and sexual gratification.
- A parent may disappear when depressed, lost in an addiction, or hospitalized for mental illness.
- A child may be unwanted and passed from parent to parent, relative to relative.
- Disturbed, exploitive or violent relatives or family friends may live in or pass through the home.
- A single parent may cycle through boyfriends or girlfriends, some abusive and violent.
We cannot emphasize too strongly that many of the problems caused by unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood can also be caused – and made worse – by other harmful experiences including emotional abuse, physical abuse, harsh and cruel punishments, and emotional or physical neglect by parents and other caregivers. Alone or in combination, such experiences can lead to problems in many areas, including:
- Regulating emotions and impulses
- School and work performance
- Alcohol and drug abuse and addictions
- Behavioral addictions (porn, gambling, etc.)
How We’re Taught To Be Boys and Men
From very young males learn to relate to their feelings – especially “vulnerable” ones like sadness and shame – in ways that limit awareness and understanding of emotions, and prevent them from responding to emotions in healthy ways.
Such “masculinity training” can contribute to emotional and behavior problems, and can prevent healing from the effects of unwanted or abusive sexual experiences (and other harmful childhood experiences).
For more about this, see How Being Male Can Make It Hard to Heal.
There Is Always Much More to Who You Are
No matter what unwanted or abusive experiences you had as a child, and no matter how great the effects of those experiences in your life now, there is always much more to who you are.
There is a danger of creating – and getting stuck in – a view of oneself that revolves around having been a “victim,” or being a “survivor,” or any other potentially limiting way of defining or labelling yourself.
Finally, there are many things, including educating oneself and therapy, that can help men heal from harmful effects of unwanted or abusive experiences in childhood. But if improving your current life and creating a better future take a back seat to focusing on the past, then healing will be slowed down and maybe even prevented.