I finally caught up with part two of Oprah’s special about male survivors of sexual abuse. In the comment section of my post about part one, 200 Men: Standing Together to Lift the Veil of Shame, we had a conversation about hoping for more focus on healing, less sensationalism. Paul at Mind Parts has already written an overview worth checking out. I thought I’d share some thoughts I had while viewing, both things that I liked and aspects I found troubling.
Perhaps as a result of the prior post and conversations, I felt even more aware of and troubled by some aspects of Oprah’s coverage today. Chalk it up to the format (talk show entertainment vs. therapy) and the way the show was edited, but some intense sharing seemed to just hang there unaddressed. I was touched to see glimpses of men reaching out to support one another. There were a few times when someone shared in a very raw way and I was bothered by Oprah’s response. Or lack there of. Sometimes she just does not seem to “get it” and I was left wondering how participants felt about the interaction. It highlighted for me that while it could possibly be a valuable experience for some, of course a show like this is not therapy and not even necessarily therapeutic.
I felt especially frustrated at Oprah’s need to discuss sexual abuse of boys in contrast to that of girls. I think there are specific issues that can be highlighted, but abuse and how one copes with it can also be very individualized. I believe at one point she even talked about sexual abuse as being more devastating for men, because of how it makes them question their manhood. Sexual abuse is devastating for children. Period. Did it sound that way to anyone else? I am trying to give her the benefit of the doubt because I just find that sort of comparison of survivor groups so distasteful!
I think it can be important to shed light on myths and cultural stereotypes that often make it challenging for male survivors to reach out for help. One thing I thought about during this episode was vulnerability. All children are vulnerable, it is their nature. From an early age boys are taught to split off that vulnerability and most emotions (other than anger). This can make it difficult to seek help and to express the full range of feelings about the abuse. It has and understandable impact on relationships. It is hard to be intimate (and I mean that in the broad sense, not just sexually) when you cannot share of yourself fully with another. Several of the men on the show had kept silent about their abuse even with their spouse, some for decades!
I liked the point Dr. Fradkin made, about the importance of acknowledging the truth about abuse, not just to yourself but to another person. I was so glad he clarified that it needs to be a person who is capable of understanding! (This got me thinking more about another post I have been contemplating, on different approaches to sharing one’s abuse story). I wondered what it was like for the men who had this incredibly public experience be their first experience of telling anyone! Or the impact on some, like John, who have not had any therapy prior to this experience. I wondered about what comes next for these men.
Overall, I felt Dr. Fradkin said a lot that was valuable and encouraging about healing. I especially liked how he encouraged and validated crying, stating that he tells survivors that tears are about valuing yourself and communicating to the wounded boy within that his pain matters to the adult you. Good stuff!
I did not like how he made therapists and good therapy sound like a scarcity! That is not my experience and not a useful message to send, given how much the show seemed to be geared towards survivors who have yet to seek help. There are plenty of great therapists with the ability to help sexual abuse survivors heal! It certainly is not always easy to find one that is the right fit for you. I list some useful resources on my sidebar. If you are not sure where to start looking for a good therapist, email me and I will provide further resources.
You can also check out these resources (and others) listed on Oprah’s website:
With an emphasis on men finding their own pace, 1in6 helps men educate themselves about sexual abuse, reflect on their situations, find answers to their questions and explore their options in complete privacy.
MaleSurvivor is dedicated to preventing, healing and eliminating all forms of sexual victimization of boys and men through online support, Weekends of Recovery, education, advocacy and activism.
MenThriving is a peer-support resource offered to men who survived sexual abuse in their childhood or adulthood.