I will start this week with validation which is to substantiate; confirm; or give approval. Growing up in an abusive home the word validate was not in the family vocabulary. In fact, it has not been in many people’s families that I have worked with. In my household it seemed that I could never do anything right. Nothing I did was never good enough. I would bring home a report card with three “A’s” a “B” and a “D.” nothing would be said about the “A,s” and “B,” however I would here all about the “D” and how I was a screw up.
Here is an extreme but true example:
My mother and stepfather went to Hawaii for a week. While they were gone, they allowed me to use my stepfathers truck to go skiing in Mammoth, CA. I arrived home a couple days prior to them. So, to show my appreciation to them for the use of my stepfathers truck I did a couple of things. First, I washed and waxed my stepfathers’ truck. Next, I cleaned our entire hose, upstairs and downstairs including washing all the windows. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an ulterior motive. The reality is I was hoping this time they would appreciate, acknowledge and validate me for what I had done. When they arrived home the first thing the saw was the clean truck, of course I had to point it out to them. What I got was a halfhearted thank you. After telling them I cleaned the whole house including all the windows, my stepfather inspected it. All I was told was “You missed a spot on the window.” Not a thank you or kind word for anything I had done.
This was the story of my entire childhood and teenage years. Nothing I ever did was good enough. My fears, voice, feelings, and emotions were never validated, but always discounted.
I believe that if we are not getting acknowledged or validated as children or teens at home, we will seek it outside of the home. It could be at school by becoming a perfect student to impress a favorite teacher, professor or girl. It could be by excelling in sports to receive acknowledgement and validation from your teammates, coach or a girl. For myself, I struggled in school because of low self-esteem issues and although I loved playing baseball and was good at it, I was picked on by not only my teammates, but also by my coach. Desperate to be accepted, acknowledged, approved and validated I turned to the ones I surfed with. Drugs, alcohol and parties were a big part of that community. If all I had to do was do a line of cocaine and drink a little booze to be accepted, acknowledged, approved and validated, then count me in, even though it went against everything I knew was right and believed in.
Throughout my life and into my late forties this pattern continued. I became a chameleon. In the world of business, I would do whatever it took to be accepted and win others approval. In my personal life I would do the same thing, even if it meant going against all my morals, ethics, values, and beliefs. After all this is what all the successful business men whose circle I was in did. Eventually my behavior led me to nearly losing my family and everything I worked for. All that I had achieved did nothing to fill the hole in my soul from the loss of my father and the years of abuse I suffered. None of what had happened to me had ever been acknowledged or validated. My inner child was screaming for acceptance and validation.
I had become absolutely exhausted emotionally and spiritually. Something had to change and change fast. It was time to get help, but where and how? It was suggested I go to Alcoholics Anonymous, but I wasn’t one of those people. My therapist finally suggested the Betty Ford Center and the next day I contacted them and made arrangements to check in. When I started talking about my abuse with my counselor and peers, I was met with nothing but empathy. No one told me to get over it, it happened over thirty years ago. It’s time to move on. No one told me I just need to forgive, forget and move on. When I said I was angry at God, my mother and stepfather, I was told I had a right to be angry and we’re going to help you work through that anger. For the first time in my life I was acknowledged, accepted, and validated. For the first time in my life, I had hope that I could heal the scars of my abuse. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be loved on a whole new level.
Recovery from addiction is hard enough. But when you add the underlying component of sexual abuse, especially with men, it can seem impossible. Male survivors of sexual abuse have to be treated with gentle guiding hands and a gentle heart. We don’t need to be told what we need to do, we know we need to work through our issues. Telling a survivor to grow up, forgive, forget and move on only creates more shame. What male survivors need more than anything is to be heard without trying to fix them. The most important thing, however, is to validate them as human beings. Validate their feelings and existence. Acknowledge their pain and fear. Assure them there is hope for them if they’re willing to do the work. Your first encounter with a sexual abuse survivor, male or female, can either help to move them towards healing or send them right back the rabbit hole of shame and isolation. It was only when my feelings and life were validated that my healing journey began and soon rose to a whole new level.