“Why It’s So Hard for Him”

excerpted from
If The Man You Love Was Abused
Marie H. Browne, R.N., with Marlene M. Browne, Esq.

Interpersonal relationships in general, but particularly romantic or intimate ones, often pose the greatest challenges to abuse survivors. And if you think about it, it’s a perfectly natural reaction to having been victimized by someone close to you. If your mate was abused by a stranger (the least likely scenario), then his abuse issues will, on the whole, emanate more from the trauma of the actual attack rather than from the dilemmas posed by the abuser’s betrayal and breach of trust. If, however, your partner falls within the 90-plus percent of victims who were abused by someone known to them or their family, then he’s likely to have difficulty letting his guard down, for fear of future betrayal, not to mention his personal security.

As a consequence of being wary of trusting and feeling safe in close relationships, many abuse survivors share a persistent difficulty forming steady, stable interpersonal attachments (i.e., they have trouble bonding). Furthermore, feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, shame, depression, fear, low self-esteem, powerlessness, and inability to properly interpret circumstances and people make any interpersonal relationships a challenge for many survivors. But just as no two people are alike, each man has his own take on how to deal with the effects of his childhood trauma. For example, some victims, very much aware of how they were deceived, used, and abused in the past, become controlling and manipulative in their own adult relationships in an effort to protect themselves from the possibility of further exploitation.

Other victims react in an opposite way. Feeling inferior to others, they develop an excessive concern with what others think of them, and they are sensitive to criticism (i.e., they suffer from “interpersonal rejection sensitivity”). Fearing a negative response from their partners, some victims will suppress their emotions (both positive and negative) or fail to assert their own needs in the relationship, leading to frustration and distance between partners, not the desired closeness and satisfaction. Other victims will dispense with all emotional entanglements and resort to promiscuity (no attachments, just sex), avoidance, or isolation, due to their discomfort and awkwardness with delicate situations and emotions.

Although this might not be true for your mate, many victims who have not worked out the psychological remnants of their abusive past believe that it’s better to feel safe and in control than sorry and defenseless (a combination that didn’t work out well for them in the past).

While living by that motto might protect a person from the vulnerability and inevitable messiness of human attachments, it also precludes them from experiencing the tenderness and ultimately heating transformation possible through a loving, intimate, and conscious connection with another.

Once your mate gains insight into the reasons behind his behaviors and feelings, and believes that allowing you to become close will not cause him harm or make him weak, he will eventually let you in. As the partner, you unlock the healing process by gaining your man’s trust, making him feel safe, and having patience. Letting him progress at his own set speed and actively listening to him, considering the content, and responding from your heart, will work wonders.

Eventually, with therapy, effort, and determination, a person can learn to enjoy the feeling of his lover’s affectionate physical contact in the present, without re-experiencing the degrading, shaming, guilt-producing sensations they felt from the abusive sex of their past. When the treatment is successful, the victim replaces his trauma responses with healthy, loving associations gained from respectful, joyous, emotionally and physically safe sex with his mate.