Home » Special People I'd Like You to Meet » Thursday Re-View — From a Boy Into a Man

Thursday Re-View — From a Boy Into a Man

child

He was a nice-looking young man, married, with warm brown eyes that always looked down, as if afraid meeting someone’s gaze would let them in to a place where he didn’t want to go.

His needs were simple – to explore grief-related issues regarding the recent death of his father-in-law. But in therapy, as in most things in life, those simple things can become complex fairly quickly, whether we want them to or not.

Almost 2 months into our sessions together, J had a major disagreement with his wife, during which he revealed to her that someone had sexually abused him as a child for almost 8 years.

Though this rape by his stepbrother occurred nightly, no one in the house was aware of it. If they were, it was neither acknowledged nor stopped.

While J described his rape at the hands of his abuser, I was bereft of words. The details were horrific. The most heart-wrenching part for me was to see the little boy J in the adult J’s eyes; to see the anguish, pain, bewilderment and betrayal that cried out from those many years ago. In my presence, for the first time in his life, J shared the details of that loss of innocence. He bared his soul. The little boy’s eyes beseeched me to understand, and to not betray or judge him. The hurt in his eyes mirrored what I felt he must see in my own.

Suddenly, I felt a single tear trace its way slowly down my cheek as I listened to J’s story. With that, my soul embraced his and wept. J told me later that my single tear meant more to him than anything I could have said at that moment. It validated him as worthwhile, and it told him, without words, that I walked with him in his pain.

tear

Inside the grown man who had to sleep with the lights on and the bedroom door open, who could barely touch his wife without remembering another kind of touch from his stepbrother, who felt safer in downtown Baltimore than inside his own home, was the little boy who wanted desperately to love and trust and be loved, but felt compelled to withhold himself to be safe.

As a wife and mother, I saw J as a little boy who was ashamed and embarrassed by what had happened to him, who felt responsible for allowing the abuse, and who still struggled with the fact that no one had protected him.

In listening to J’s story, I heard about the desecration of one person’s dignity; yet, I was also witness to the strength, resilience and courage of a little boy. J’s spirit could not be broken. His soul, the very essence of who he was, thrived. I was determined to fan the flickering flame of J’s spirit until it was a bonfire.

As a psychotherapist, I saw that the abuse and its secrecy brought with it shame, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, depression, guilt, and PTSD. Where to begin with a man who was stuck developmentally at about 8 years old?

After working with several behavioral modification techniques and guided imagery, I asked J if he had any neighbors or relatives who were about 8 years old. With a picture of a nephew in J’s mind, I asked him to compare the little boy to J’s abuser in size (the perpetrator had been large for his age). I quietly asked if a boy the size of his nephew could have overpowered J’s abuser. Awareness dawned in J’s eyes; it had not been a fair fight,, and there was nothing that any little boy could have done to overpower his attacker. In that moment, J began to forgive himself for not stopping the abuse.

Further into J’s therapy, I suggested that he write a letter to his mother, who had never acknowledged the abuse. J continually struggled with their relationship, and whether or not to have his mother as an influence in his daughter’s life. The relationship was adversarial at best, with only limited communication. The letter writing was for healing, rather than toward the eventual mailing of the letter.

letter

It took several weeks, but at the end of a session, as he made to leave, J put a few handwritten pages face down on the desk. When I read it privately, I cried. J told his mother exactly what happened for all those years; how all he ever wanted was her love and protection. He explained how he realized that he wasn’t responsible for the abuse, and that he was not a bad person. Instead, he was a human being with value who deserved to be loved. J pledged that he would spend the rest of his life protecting his daughter from harm, and becoming a better man. What happened to him would never, ever happen to her.

J’s story does not end here; his recovery would be a complex process. He never mailed the letter, but eventually told his mother all about the abuse during a heated phone call. She responded by denying such a thing happened, and called him a liar. While J hoped that his revelation would finally give him a loving, compassionate mother, he was not surprised by her reaction.

The breakthrough, however, was in J.

The little boy’s voice had finally been heard, and in the release of his secret, his heart was opened to healing. J’s journey was long, with more work and more struggles as he integrated this new J into his marriage. Yet it now included hope for the future. The man could finally forgive, love, and accept the little boy.

The shadows in dark rooms no longer held a threat; J’s eyes saw them flooded with brightness.

My heart saw a little boy at last grown into a man.

Seeing with the eyes of the heart…

man on beach

__________________________________________

20 thoughts on “Thursday Re-View — From a Boy Into a Man

  1. Such a long and painful journey Theresa. But to see that opening occur, and finally begin to release such a huge torment as he watched that tear slowly moving down your face, and begin a future lifetime of the love that he will now be able to hold, and heal, within himself, and then give to his children.
    It is the one thing that I think is a lot higher than they think, and that is the percentage of children who have been touched, physically and emotionally, by someone close to them (but not all). And the more I see and feel around these people, they also were touched by someone close to them.
    It is a persistent event that as you have found, is locked into a child, and very badly, because at the time they were emotionally open and had no experience to handle such a situation, and because they are petrified of saying anything they have to find a way of handling it all alone. No support, no help, just a lifetime of that lifelong fear that it created which goes into so much of their lives.
    Thankfully there are beautiful people like yourself that can help them to express that pain and finally release those years of turmoil and begin a time of healing.
    Thank you for sharing, to see the healing in this story shows there can be light after such a dark time. Mark

  2. I was deeply moved by this post. I find myself crying for the boy he was, and the man he has struggled to be. As a mother I can not imagine his own mother’s reaction. If my child told me me something so horrific I believe that I would be so broken that I would never be able to heal. I hope that he will continue to heal, and that the rest of his life will be filled with much deserved happiness. G-uno

  3. Another very tearful story, Theresa. I just couldn’t click the like button, but you did a great job as always in articulating this story and that I did like. My heart breaks for all those who have to endure such things though. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤

  4. Theresa, thank you so much for sharing this part of your great therapy work and I sense that J is on his way of healing. I believe that his mother must be suffering an incredible pain by denying the truth. Living in such a denial that I think she is the one now who needs to be lifted from her pain by seeking out for help.

    • Those in denial could so often use help, but so seldom reach out for it. This time, it was enough to start the healing in just one of them. Blessings, and my thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. And when eventually J gets to the point where he no longer lives a life of a victim his mother’s approval will cease to mean anything to him; he seems on the path to self-validation and I wish him abundance of success. Nice post, Theresa

  6. Theresa,
    To often in life the weight of others sins are borne by their victims. So struck are they that they should undergo such an atrocity from one so trusted, that they unnecessarily seek to find blame in themselves. No matter the circumstance an act is initiated by a choice. And if the end results are not toward a greater good, then that act is one of a selfish choice, and therein lies the fault. Yet innocent victims of such unholy acts find fault in themselves, since still they are marked with a bewildering stain that troubles their soul.

    The direction J received is a balance of truth and compassion. And only through that balanced direction has a fruitful harvest produced a wise man from a confused and frightened innocent boy.

    A heinous wrong has been righted through proper guidance, the courage of J and a true understanding and practice of love. And by it that wrong will not further handicap J nor harm others in his influence.

    A job well done, Theresa. A life repaired, a soul saved and other innocents protected.

    -Alan

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