I’ve spent the afternoon reading about the effects of patriarchy on men (two hours) followed by an article in the Independent saying that a barber in Newquay has turned his shop into place where men can talk about their feelings so that they don’t take their lives (his friend took his own life), the connection being that men are socialised to be strong and capable at all times, to not cry and not talk about their feelings – and yet they just aren’t because no-one is and this is a social construct forced upon us all, to our collective detriment.
It strikes me that this is relevant to my work as a supporter to survivors of child abuse, and in this instance, specifically male survivors, so today I want to write about the experience of talking about what happened to us, in the hopes that I encourage any men reading to do that – to talk, when needed.
As a woman, perhaps as an analytical Virgo / definitely as a double Leo, and MOST definitely as a professional who has spent many years listening to survivors talk – I can tell you wholeheartedly that talking will make you feel better. If you let it out, all of it, in any old way, you will feel better.
Personally, when I discovered that I could write in my journal any time of the day or night about what happened to me plainly, factually and simply, I began to make huge strides in healing.
You can see it on the page. You can see the words. You can see your thinking. You can sort it out. You can see wrongdoing plainly. It gets to stop going round your head and just come out onto the page. This represents fresh thinking. You are no longer stuck, or plugged up. When one story is out, the next one can come out and then ones after that. They can all come out.
When I started to do this, I felt strengthened. No-one could argue with what I wrote. It was healing. It was a relief. No-one could argue that it wasn’t wrong. It helped to write about how wrong it was, how disgusting, how unfair, how blatantly wrong, the ramifications of it – everything.
While I was writing, I cried a lot. I had tissues at one side, cigarette the other side, and I cried and wrote and the hour ticked onwards. I had never had the time or space to do that, never given myself the permission (that’s how we say it). It had just gone on and that was that, I was expected to just get on with it. That is how many survivors live today, especially men.
But survivors of abuse firstly, should not have gone through abuse and secondly, if they had to, should have been immediately, thoroughly and ongoingly supported after that abuse. How many of us had that? Precious few if any.
Add to this the pressure and messages men receive – to not talk, to be strong, to bottle it up, and add to that the desire of the child to shove it away and not think about it – there is a lot of talking that needs to go on. The barber is right.
So as a survivor I thoroughly recommend talking. It is good, it is what should have happened at the time. It is cleansing, it is a relief, it opens the thing up, lets it breathe, lets the words out, lets the facts see the light of day.
Spiritually I found that I felt like a vessel – out one end, in the other. It was like there was so much to come out, so much to get through, but when I started moving it through, fresh things came up for discussion. I had not said or thought them before. Talking brings progress and eventual peace. Conclusions can be reached, end points. No longer ‘Where the hell do I start??’ but actual conclusions.
I do say that healing is an active thing, a thing that we do. Talking and letting it come out is a thing we can do to heal.
As a professional, I drew on this. I used the questioning tools that had been developed over years and years – did this happen? How many times? Tell me about it. And when it happened, was there this and that too?
And what about this?
Any of this?
These questions are designed to tease out the stories, the nuances, the exact behaviour, the risks lived through, the effects of it all. Survivors may not know that bit or that other bit was relevant. They may minimise and think this or that bit wasn’t that bad. They may find that what at face value seems like the worst bit, but actually to them, this other aspect of it was the worst bit. Talking brings clarity, understanding and cleansing, with the support of years of understanding and wisdom, and a professional there to say, ‘Actually that IS kind of important…’ and ‘Yes that is actually very serious indeed – have you thought of this?’
Talking to someone who knows what they’re doing is massively helpful – men, seek out services. They are for you too. It is wrong that you have suffered and are perhaps still suffering in silence.
Doesn’t It Hurt To Talk?
One of the patriarchy articles I read was from a medic working in war zones, oil and gas industries, front lines global and domestic, and he said that the men who came to talk to him were utterly different once they left his office. Two stone lighter. And this is my final point – what it feels like to talk.
It’s just basically a weight off. A confession. A scraping out of the contents of our heads. A release. It makes it go away afterwards – another central message of mine.
I used to arrive at work some days to find someone waiting who needed to talk. Crying, hanging around the office door, just upset – two hours later they’d hug you and leave, comforted, heard, recognised, validated, supported and with their plan sharper in mind.
After talking myself, I generally found that I had nothing left to say about abuse and would do other things instead. I may be dark in mood and a bit wrung out, but all the same I’d make headway with my guitar or the tidying up or whatever. At work, you’d not see the person who’d been waiting at the door for another two weeks, until it happened again. That’s how I came up with one of the analogies I use in my book, that child abuse scars are like wounds that periodically get infected and need cleaning out. Once cleaned, they settle down for a bit. The process goes round and round for a while and then just stops on its own. I saw this with countless survivors in the residential settings I worked in and that is why I believe in having a good purge every now and then.
Sometimes there are things we can do about what we are upset about and sometimes there is not. Sometimes we can reach an understanding of things and change course and this eases life, but sometimes we simply have to find the courage to accept what has been or what is, and to just live with it. But talking about it somehow makes it better. The winds flow through us as vessels, the bad passes out and away from us and better things pass in.
Since more men take their own lives than women, and there are plenty of male survivors out there not getting the support they deserve, I hope this article has given you the incentive to talk to someone and get it out / to journal at the very least. You are healing from your childhood at the same time as men’s place in the world is changing for the better – take the hands that are there to hold. It feels better on the other side – and remember, even the strongest oak bends in the wind.
If you don’t want to talk to someone in real life, you can work my program right from the beginning, available in my book Purple Dragon Mother: Healing From Child Abuse.