MEN & TRAUMA
We know that women are twice as likely to experience post-traumatic stress as men, but men are more likely to experience trauma in the first instance, whether it be from physical or sexual abuse, military experience or something else. I have previously spoken about how unresolved trauma can contribute to mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, even when it stems from early childhood and may not be remembered, but I haven’t talked about how gender can influence the way in which somebody experiences trauma. The reason for this comes down to the behavioural expectations that society and culture may place on men, and how much this influences not only the way a man sees himself but also how he may view his trauma. These factors explain why male trauma is often overlooked, and it is this toxic view of masculinity that tells men they should be able to endure anything and not be affected by it. This is why many men shut down, and certainly a factor in high rates of male suicide.
Considerations when addressing trauma in men:-
- TYPE OF TRAUMA
Not only are men more likely to witness violence, but when they experience trauma themselves, it is more likely to be combat related trauma or a violent physical assault, both of which are leading causes of PTSD in men. Childhood sexual abuse affects between 8 and 29% of men, but this figure is still lower than in women.
- WHO CAUSES THE TRAUMA
While men are more likely to be hurt by someone they don’t know, in cases where they do know the perpetrator, such as in childhood abuse, this can make it difficult for men to feel confident in their own judgement of who they can trust.
- DIFFICULTY WITH DISCLOSURE
Men often have difficulty with disclosing trauma due to gender role expectations ie.the ideology of a victim doesn’t fit into the gender role schemas that society have set on men, for example, that men are physically strong and can control a situation to protect themselves. If a man grows up thinking this, then any trauma which makes them a victim may induce feelings of shame.
- VIEW OF SELF
Gender socialization may be a positive thing in terms of healing, in that men are less likely than women to view themselves negatively after trauma.
- MALE ALEXITHYMIA
Alexithymia is the restriction of emotional expression due to beliefs imposed on us by society. Boys are often discouraged from expressing their emotions from an early age by family and other role models. It then becomes very difficult for men to process the diverse emotional responses to trauma, which leads to hyperarousal symptoms rather than emotional responses like depression or anxiety.
- POWER DIFFERENTIALS IN CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE
Men often don’t disclose sexual abuse by another male due to feelings of shame, whereas sexual abuse by a female can be initially viewed as positive, as a result of being led to believe by society that sexual contact with a female is a good thing. Confusion often sets in later, because the man struggles to identify the experience as abuse, until perhaps they have a child of the same age that they were when the abuse happened.
Society instils in males the belief that they are supposed to be strong and not feel scared, so it can be challenging for them to acknowledge fear, and in the long term this can become a problem, particularly in relationships. Men can often fear their own reactions after a triggering event.
Gender socialization tells men that anger is part of them being strong and powerful, so it makes sense that this is often the easiest emotion for men to express, potentially becoming a mask for other emotions such as sadness, frustration, fear and anxiety. Men may be afraid of their own anger as it can be explosive and be used to push those close to them away, so they may need help in identifying the suppressed emotions behind their anger, as part of their healing, and learn healthier ways to express their anger.
- INTIMACY AND SEXUAL ISSUES
Society, culture and social media can pose problems for male sexuality, and this is compounded when sexual abuse comes into the picture. Sex an intimacy may become confused, causing men to struggle with emotional intimacy in relationships.
Men may not be ready to express their emotions or needs and are more likely to respond to goal and task oriented interventions. Some men are more comfortable with writing about their emotions rather than discussing them in person.
When we consider these points, it is easy to understand how men can cover up the effects of trauma from a very early age, because they probably don’t feel safe or comfortable in sharing their feelings, but instead feel shame that they weren’t strong enough to fight back. If a man learns to hide how he feels about the trauma, then that gives a sense of control over it. Feelings of shame are most common following sexual abuse, partly because they are conditioned by society to be strong men and partly because in childhood abuse the perpetrator is often a family member, which in itself brings feelings of guilt and shame.
Physical abuse can of course happen to adult men, but often it will continue into adulthood, from childhood, when the man was a vulnerable boy, involving verbal threats to not tell other people. In early childhood abuse, victims often aren’t aware of what traumatized them, but this absence of conscious memories doesn’t reduce the effects of the trauma.
As I have previously discussed in other posts, unresolved trauma can result in depression or anxiety, which will get worse if the trauma remains untreated, affecting relationships and the individuals self-esteem. It is easy to feel that the trauma shapes who they are and an inability to cope with the resulting feelings can introduce unhealthy behaviours and impaired judgement.