For many years, mental health professionals and the general public alike have studied and applied symptoms of CPTSD as related to women. However, men react differently to the stressors that cause complex post-traumatic stress disorder and are often either shamed for complaining or are misdiagnosed.
In this article, we shall examine how men express the symptoms of CPTSD and how our culture must change their attitudes toward male survivors.
To be honest, I am female and have limited knowledge of what it is like to be a male survivor. However, I endeavor to understand and to spread awareness just the same. If I get something wrong, I beg your forgiveness.
The Sad Truth About Men and Abuse
Although the statistics tell us that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience child molestation, those stats are probably low. The reason for the discrepancy is that men aren’t expected to tell on their abusers. In doing so they open themselves up for ridicule and self-loathing.
What a price to pay because society will not allow men to either feel or show their emotions or seek help.
Many of our men suffer instead in silence.
The Emotional Liability of Male Survivors
In the last article, we mentioned and examined how men are cheated in that they are not allowed by some unspoken societal rules to show emotions. This seems to be especially true of speaking of or showing signs of any type of child abuse in their histories. Men are told to “buck up” or “get your act together” while women are encouraged to cry and tell all about their pasts.
This vast gap in treatment leaves men with the liability of emotions they are not allowed to show and if they do they face repercussions that sometimes are worse than the abuse they encountered as children.
Also, as last discussed, men face the horrifying emotions that naturally occur in someone who has a history of severe trauma alone. These emotions include:
- Shame and Anxiety
- Fear and Numbness
- Helpless and Hopelessness
- Guilt and Anger
- Inability to Show Affection
Having such strong emotions without any outlet leaves men trapped in a dark cavern of despair and depression without help.
Shame and Anxiety
Western culture gives no room for men to have and express how they feel. Instead, we spend an inordinate amount of time forcing men to comply with how we think they should feel and if they do not, we cause extreme anxiety and shame.
Some men would literally rather die than to admit they have nightmares over what happened to them. The violence perpetrated against their bodies is stuffed down deep inside them leaving them emotionally paralyzed.
It is deeply saddening what society has done to the masculine parts of itself. In fact, it is criminal. In denying men the opportunity to say they were injured and to seek help for it is murder and we are all responsible for the many suicides committed by our men each year.
Fear, Acting Out and Numbness
Men are constantly afraid that they won’t live up to what society has told them they must become. They are told to be stoic, tough, rigid, and by all means, to avoid showing any negative emotions they could be harboring.
This cognitive dissonance leaves men with two choices, acting out or numbing out.
Acting out is when men take out their fear of innocent people, animals, or inanimate objects. A fitting example would be a man who is harboring fears of someone finding out about his abusive past or showing the emotions he is feeling as a result of them becoming an angry or vindictive person.
Numbness means the man looks cold and uncaring when in reality they are avoiding their own pasts and emotions by denying they exist. This denial results in deep stresses that can literally tear the man apart from the inside out by causing physical problems like heart or other diseases.
Helpless and Hopelessness
While men appear on the surface to be powerful and in control, if they are survivors of complex post-traumatic stress disorder they may feel a deep sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
It is when these emotional trials hit a man’s life that suicidal thoughts or actions become a real and constant danger. This is because men are taught from an exceedingly early age that to feel emotionally distraught or to seek help is unmanly and should not be tolerated.
Society puts some men in the position of enduring the stigma of seeking professional help from their CPTSD or dying. Shame on us.
Guilt and Anger
Men often feel they must not show or even feel their own emotions, this much we have stated. However, the guilt and it’s accompanying anger are making men ill.
Guilty feelings sometimes come as a result of men having the knowledge that they were sexually abused when they were children. Although they were innocent victims and had not the power to stop what was happening to them, men, like all children, internalize the guilt as if they had the power then to force the adults who harmed them to do so.
The anger isn’t pointed at the perpetrators, it is pointed instead at themselves. They may be racked with thoughts of, “I should have stopped her/him” or “Why didn’t I run?”
Let it be stated here and now that boys are in no way responsible for adults hurting them sexually or in any other way. The guilt belongs squarely on the perpetrator of this heinous crime.
Inability to Show Affection
This response to trauma and the effect of CPTSD is probably one of the most devastating of them all. Men who have been severely hurt by the people who were supposed to care for them or who have experienced severe and repeated trauma as adults sometimes are so terrified of relationships they freeze up and become unable to show affection.
This inability does not by any means these men don’t feel affection, it just means they are terrified to show it.
Perhaps the cause is affection to them in the past was a trap where they were hurt regularly, and they are trying to avoid falling into the same hole again. Whatever the reason, this CPTSD response makes gaining and holding an intimate relationship exceedingly difficult as partners will not understand why they are treated with seemingly indifference and lack of affection.
Men and the Symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
In a previous article, we explored the symptoms of CPTSD in depth. We’ve seen how complex trauma changes the lives of its survivors and how the symptoms can greatly limit their functions at work and at home.
Although the list of symptoms for CPTSD is exceptionally long, let’s explore just a few that seem to relate to men in a huge fashion.
- Sudden mood swings
- Avoiding situations that remind of the trauma
- Feeling different from others
- Having difficulty maintaining relationships
- Being a rescuer
Now we shall see how each of these life-altering symptoms changes the lives of male survivors.
Toxic Masculinity and the Horrible Lie
Masculinity, as defined by society, makes men conform to concepts and attributes that keep them living a lie. The most harmful side-effect of this horrible lie is what has been termed toxic masculinity.
Toxic Masculinity refers to traditional societal norms that are harmful to men that keep men feeling they must adhere to an alpha-male stance of competitiveness, strength, and invulnerability. This thought process keeps men isolated and alone with their emotions and feelings.
The Stigma of Seeking Help
Although Sigmund Freud began psychotherapy, other than himself, he did not treat men but dealt mainly with the analysis of young women. This differential treatment seems to have been the catalyst for psychotherapy becoming recognized as something only women can do because men are supposed to be too strong to need it.
This one-sided look at therapy is extremely unfortunate as men can benefit enormously by seeing a therapist. Instead, they hide their emotions, put on a mask and a good front, and suffer in silence.
Stigma is discrimination, and by placing men in the position of not fearing not being seen as men because they seek help is exceedingly harmful.
It is up to society to remove the stain of stigma from men so that they too can seek out professional therapy so they can gain the peace that all people crave.
Changing the Story
Changing the fate of men is up to all members of modern society. Recognizing that all men are human beings and not the fake persona of he-men will require retraining and allowing our children to grow up knowing and understanding that feeling emotions and expressing them is healthy and normal.
There is one death by suicide every twelve minutes in the United States with approximately 123Americans taking their own lives every day. White males accounted for 7 out of 10 suicides in 2016, with firearms being used in 50% of those deaths. Middle-aged, white men are in the most danger dying at an increasing rate as the years go by.
Think about those statistics. No man needs to get so far down that he needs to think of taking his own life. Seeking help is the best and most loving thing a man can do for himself and his family.
If we do not change attitudes, men will be forever doomed to living out their lives afraid to feel and this means that men who are survivors of CPTSD will continue to lack the help they need or die.
How Can Men Help Themselves?
Even though it is not easy, male survivors owe it to themselves to allow themselves to seek professional counseling for the emotions and symptoms that plague them. The pressures of the stigma that will occur are nothing compared to the danger of leaving yourself in pain.
Reach out by calling or talking to someone in person about what you are holding inside. That can be a counselor, a religious leader of your faith, or a friend. It doesn’t matter, just do not remain silent any longer.
Many of the topics broached by this article have been harsh and some are upsetting. There are online sites that can help you to feel hope and to handle the intense emotions that you have held inside for so long.
Below find a list of these websites, their descriptions, and quotes from their “about” pages.
The Good Men Project
“The Good Men Project® is a glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century.” They state that they set out to start an international conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. And with over 3 million visitors coming to join in every month, it looks as if we’ve done exactly that.
“We explore the world of men and manhood in a way that no media company ever has, tackling the issues and questions that are most relevant to men’s lives. We write about fatherhood, family, sex, ethics, war, gender, politics, sports, pornography, and aging. We shy away from nothing.”
They invite their readers to “actively participate in the conversation in a variety of ways” including:
1) Writing to add to the conversation.
2) Talking on about it on weekly calls about specific topics of interest.
3) Joining the community.
4) Learning new skills.
1 in 6
1 in 6 offers several offers information and services including:
- A 24/7 online helpline where men and the people who care about them can chat one-on-one with a trained advocate.
- Free and confidential weekly online support groups for men who have experienced sexual abuse or assault.
- A wealth of useful information on topics related to male sexual abuse and assault, including answers to common questions.
- Trauma-informed training and webinars for service providers and organizations around the world.
- Male survivor stories, a collection of portraits, videos, and written narratives of male survivors of sexual abuse and assault.
We hope you will keep reading the CPTSD Foundation Blog and exploring our website as we offer a treasure trove of information about complex trauma and its treatment.