I had a conversation recently with a man who is a survivor of severe childhood trauma. He had endured enough trauma to form dissociative identity disorder and then grew up to get involved in a painfully violent relationship.
No, he was not the abuser in their partnership, she was.
This person, whom I will call Frank, went on to tell me of his experiences trying to find help for himself, and the tremendous roadblocks that faced him.
This article is about that struggle, and a reminder to all concerned that boys and men are injured by abusers too.
Frank’s Story of Growing Up
Frank was born in small-town U.S.A. His father worked full-time and was away a lot, even missing Frank’s birth. His mother was a stay-at-home mom as were many in the 1960s and 1970s.
Frank’s mother was an alcoholic who was not taking her isolation with her new son well. She had been restricted in her movements before Frank’s birth due to the family only have one car, but at least when Frank’s father returned home in the evening she would go out and have drinks with the girls.
Now that she had become a mother, society and her husband expected her to remain at home, take care of Frank, and keep her home clean.
At first, this isolated mother cherished her role as mommy. She would sing to her new son as she bathed him, and hum while she completed the morning chores before settling onto the couch to watch her favorite soap opera on the television.
But within a few weeks of Frank’s birth, his mom began to change.
Frank’s Fate Take’s A Major Turn
One day, so Frank told me the family lore said, his mother had a nervous breakdown. She refused to speak to her husband, pick up her son, or take care of her own hygienic needs. Since Frank’s father had a demanding job that required his presence at the plant, he could not stay home to care for his wife and son.
Instead, his father decided to use work as a refuge and hoped that his wife would pick up where she had ended turning back into the wife and mother she was expected to be.
To keep her infant son quiet, Frank’s mother put whiskey in his bottle and later in his sippy cup.
Indeed, on the surface, it looked like Frank’s mom has rallied to the occasion. When Frank’s father would return home from work, he would find the house clean and his son lying quietly in his crib.
It did not occur to him that Frank was lying too quietly for too long.
Frank’s Abusive Mother
NOTE: I told Frank I would never use details of what his mother did to him, and I will always stick with this promise. So, do not worry, I am not going to use triggering sceneries to describe what happened to Frank at the hands of his mother.
Frank’s life had become a living hell.
Soon after his father would leave for work in the morning, his mother would begin to drink. By midday, she was three sheets to the wind and unstable emotionally and mentally.
During these hours alone with her son, Frank’s mother would physically and sexually abuse him. No one caught on because she was very careful never to leave any obvious marks on his body.
By the time Frank was three, the beatings and sexual encounters by his mother had become so routine that Frank considered them part of normal life. How could he know differently?
By the age of three, Frank’s mind had also made several splits from reality forming trauma-selves to handle the harshness of his existence with his mother. Then at age five, disaster struck. When Frank’s mind should have consolidated into one cohesive personality, he missed this developmental milestone, a factor that meant parts of himself would be forever caught in trauma-time.
Finding Out About Shame
When Frank grew out of his infancy and began to attend school, he noticed when he visited his friend’s homes that their mommies were different from his own. They didn’t smell of whiskey or do hurtful things to their children. This lack of abuse in the lives of his friends alerted him to the knowledge that something wasn’t right in his home life.
However, it wasn’t until he began the seventh grade that the reality that what his mother had done sexually to him all his life was wrong, but instead of blaming his mother, he blamed himself.
Frank decided that he would stop making his mom be attracted to him by dressing more modestly and giving himself his showers.
However, when Frank made these changes and more, his mother became furious at him and then after calming herself assured Frank that it was okay because she was his mom.
The behavior his mother exhibited towards him sexually deeply shamed him and he carried guilt thinking he was the reason she did what did to him.
Frank’s Mother Gives Him Away to an Abusive Man
When Frank began his freshmen year in high school, things in Frank’s life took a distinctive turn for the worse.
Frank’s mom had become afraid that her son would tell others what she had been doing, and so decided to have an extra-marital affair. However, it wasn’t long before Frank’s dad discovered his wife’s infidelity and left her alone to finish raising their son.
At first, Frank was relieved because his mother began to spend more time at the bars and seldom sexually molested him.
One night, long after Frank had retired to bed, he heard his mom come home and was surprised to hear a male voice slurring in their kitchen. Curious, Frank got out of bed and padded downstairs to check out who was there.
When Frank entered the kitchen, his mother announced to the strange man standing in the room, “Here’s my son! Isn’t he beautiful?”
That night, and many nights afterward, the big man who had accompanied his mother home, sexually molested Frank. These encounters left him feeling dirty and so ashamed that he began to isolate from his friends at school.
Frank’s mom was using her son’s body to pay for her drinking and to pay the rent. Frank had become a commodity
All the abuse Frank had survived had not only left him splintered but also full of shame and self-doubt about his sexuality and worth as a person.
The Abuse Continues into Adulthood
Frank graduated from high school with honors and then earned his doctorate in college also with honors. He soon began working for a university teaching in his field. It was while working at the university that he met Susan.
Susan seemed ideal for Frank. She was intelligent, outspoken and seemed to love him. Within six months of meeting her, Frank proposed, and they got married.
The reality of being married to Susan was much different than his dream of their relationship had been.
Susan brutally censored everything Frank said or did and used what he had told her about his mother’s sexual abuse of him as leverage to harm him. If Frank tried to push back, Susan would become violent, attacking Frank with her fists, knives, or any other object within her reach.
Once, Frank had decided to leave Susan but when Susan got wind of his plans she announced to Frank that if he left her she would not only kill herself but make sure everyone thought he had driven her to it.
Susan used every trick she knew to trap Frank in their relationship.
Frank Attempts to Seek Help
Due to the harsh realities, he faced as a child plus his dysfunctional marriage, Frank found himself dissociating like never before. He was often waking up in strange places with no memory of how he got there or what he had been doing. Sometimes he would lose days at a time.
Susan decided he was cheating on her and began to beat him even more than she had before. This behavior of Susan’s drove Frank’s dissociation even further.
Finally, Frank’s dissociation began to affect his work life as he would not turn up for days for classes and when he did be asked by a very upset dean where he had been.
Frank decided that despite what his wife and friends might think about it, he needed professional help.
The first three female therapists Frank saw caused him to feel more shame than he had on his own. They listened to his stories from his childhood and his horrifying marriage with disdain having already made up their minds that this big burly man sitting in their office was only wanting them to help him get on disability by lying to them.
His fourth encounter was with a male therapist who squirmed in his office chair as Frank related his history, obviously very uncomfortable with what he was hearing. It wasn’t long before the fourth counselor told Frank he knew about a group of survivors that was led by a different therapist he would like Frank to go to.
By this time Frank had become desperate. He made up his mind to attend the survivor’s group hoping to find men like himself who would help him understand his pain.
Frank’s Survivor’s Group Experience
From the moment Frank walked into the room of other survivors, he understood he wouldn’t be accepted. He was the only man sitting in the small circle of women who glared at him suspiciously when he took his seat.
The counselor announced him as Frank a survivor of sexual abuse in childhood, and as a man living with an abusive woman.
The looks Frank got from the women who sat around him made him cringe. There were clear leers of hate emanating from two of the women, but one huffed loudly and then spoke her mind.
“You trying to tell me this big man is the victim of a woman? I don’t believe a word of it and I want nothing to do with this group if HE is going to be here!”
The woman then gathered her purse, shoved her chair back hard across the floor, and stomped out of the room.
After the woman’s departure, Frank says he felt like he had when his mother would laugh and make fun of his body. Every inch of him was burning hot with shame and he was sorry he had gone.
Later, he woke up at home in the kitchen sitting alone. Susan had left him a note saying she was leaving him for another man and would not return.
Frank told me it was that night when he tried to die by suicide for the fourth time.
Why Am I Telling You This Story?
Some of my readers may wonder why I am relating to Frank’s story.
To be honest, Frank doesn’t exist. The story I just related to you was gleaned from several discussions I’ve had from several different men who are survivors of childhood abuse and abusive relationships in adulthood.
My reasoning for telling this tale is simple, men are the overlooked and forgotten victims that were left out of the #Me Too movement.
While Frank doesn’t exist per se, he is alive and well in thousands of men who survive traumatic childhoods, only to grow up and find themselves suffering at the hands of an abusive life-partner.
Then, to further their already tragic circumstances, men who seek help are met with the enormous hurdles of prejudice, disbelief, and even hatred.
Now, god knows I agree that women have the perfect right to be angry and almost militant over the ways we have been abused and used down through the centuries in the United States and around the world.
But, if we treat men who are wounded and hurting just as bad as those who have harmed us if we don’t at least acknowledge the plights of these men?
Yes, many of us were brutally abused by male perpetrators, but how many of us also were victimized by women? Women who either did not act to protect us or were the ones committing the acts against us that left us scarred and emotionally unwell?
I know I was victimized by my mother, just as the men who make up Frank, only the abusive encounters with my mother didn’t end until I was in my mid-twenties. Mother son abuse happens, and wives do beat their husbands.
Shame and condemnation from society keep men trapped.
How would you respond if a man came and sat in your survivor group? Would you welcome him, or would you feel suspicious and unable to open up in front of him? Would you fear him? Would you ridicule him either to his face or behind his back?
It’s past time that we women who live with the horrendous consequences of abusive pasts and harmful adult relationships embrace our brothers.
I will, will you?
“What I’m not confused about is the world needing much more love, no hate, no prejudice, no bigotry, and more unity, peace, and understanding. Period.”
~ Stevie Wonder