What I really needed was to be heard. When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you are not doing what I have asked of you. People tried to give me unsolicited advice all my life. Their good intentions, unbeknownst to them, was causing me more harm than good. You see, even when I was a teenager and young adult, all people want to do was to try and fix me, telling me my thoughts were ridiculous, and discounting my voice. All I needed was to be heard.
What I needed was for my feelings to be validated. When I asked you to listen to me you began to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way. All you did was trample and discount my feelings. All I heard growing up was “you have no right to feel that way, look at all that you have.” You were right, I did have a lot. In fact, I was forced grow up faster than many people could even dream of. I grew up on the beach, surfing every chance I had. I grew up in a nice house, wore nice clothes, went to a great school. At Christmas time I received more gifts in one Christmas than most kids would receive in a lifetime. What I didn’t have was a loving and nurturing mother or stepfather. I would trade all of the luxuries I received for parents that nurtured and loved me, not abuse me. What I didn’t have was a voice. All I need is my feelings to be validated.
What I needed was to be accepted, all of me. When you accept the fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get to the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. When that’s clear, the answers are obvious, and I don’t need advice. When I started therapy and my feelings were validated, I finally was able to start my journey of recovery. No longer did I pull the victim card when things weren’t going my way. I was able to talk about my feelings with my therapist, wife, or trusted friend. They accepted me, the good and the bad. They listened to me and tried to understand me. My irrational feelings began to make more sense when I understood what was behind them. Advice was never given, rather they helped me see things from a different perspective. Once I was accepted, I was able to accept directions from other.
What I needed was for others to understand that I felt some pretty awful feelings about myself. However, that didn’t mean I was going to act on them. Feelings are different than actions. Not only did I feel awful things towards myself, I felt awful things towards others, especially my stepfather. For thirty-eight years I often plotted in my mind how I could assassinate my stepfather for what he had done to me. It was only a thought that I would never have acted upon. Nonetheless, it was a thought generated by the feelings of hate I had towards him for what he had done to me. Even worse was the feelings I had toward myself. Deep down inside I hated myself. I felt dirty and tainted. At times I just wanted to die. My self-esteem and self-worth were non-existent. I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. My abuse had stopped when I moved away from my abusers at the age of eighteen. Yet, I continued to abuse myself worse than my abusers ever did. While I had plenty of awful feelings about myself, I never acted on them. But on the other hand, on a subconscious level, I was trying to kill myself daily by engaging in dangerous activities and sports. By drinking massive amounts of alcohol and taking lethal doses of drugs. Thank God I never succeeded.
Perhaps this why prayer works – because God is mute. God is a gentleman. He doesn’t give advice or try to fix things. God just listens and lets you work it out for yourself. It was when I was finally able to tell God I was mad at Him and He didn’t throw lightning bolts at me that I was able to start really praying to God for help. These were not the prayers from the foxhole. You know the kind where you call out to God when you’re facing a major dilemma. These were real heart felt prayers to God. “God, I do not want to live like this anymore, but I can’t do it myself. I don’t want top drink or drug anymore. I don’t want to carry this hate, anger and rage any more. Help me become the man you want me to be.” That was the prayer I said nearly fourteen years ago when for the first time in my life I dropped to my knees and prayed. The obsession to drink and use was lifted right then and there. What wasn’t lifted was the thirty-eight years of pain and shame I was carrying. What was given to me was the courage, strength, and wisdom to work through the healing process of the thirty-eight years of pain and shame I had been carrying. Prayer worked for me and it will work for others as well.
What we do not need is to be told it’s time to move on, it happened a long time ago. We know we have to move on and if we knew how to, we would have done so a long time ago. We do not need unsolicited, well intentioned advice. Especially from people who have no idea what we have been through and go through on a daily basis. We do not need to be judged and looked down upon as though we are some sort of outcast. We don’t need to be misunderstood. Most importantly, we do not need to be told – “you just need to forgive, forget, and move on.”
So, when working with men that have been emotionally, physically, spiritually, and/or sexually abused, rather you’re a therapist, clergy person, family friend, or spouse, please be aware of how you approach them. What they really need is:
¬ Someone that will:
a.) Listen to them and hear them without judgment
b.) Believe them
c.) Validate them – that’s when the healing can begin
d.) Don’t try to fix them- you can’t – just love them
e.) Support them
f.) Help them to get the kind of help they need
g.) Pray with them and for them