Trust and relationships
"I wanted to share how awful and ashamed I felt, but I was scared. Finally talking about it was such a relief. Now I tell people I trust."
If your unwanted sexual experiences were perpetrated by a person or people you loved and trusted, this can make it difficult to trust anyone else who offers you care or attention. This then makes it hard to form healthy and supportive relationships.
Trust is often used as a tactic of abuse, especially with children or people who are vulnerable in some way. Such a profound betrayal of trust can lead to the conclusion that trusting people or getting close is dangerous.
This conclusion is not ‘wrong’, because it was a sensible conclusion to draw from your experience.
However, while being careful and not trusting people can be important in some circumstances, it can get in the way of intimate, close relationships with people you really care for.
One way to relearn how to trust people is by ‘practising’ trusting someone safe who is in a trustworthy professional position such as a counsellor who specialises in working with men who’ve had unwanted sexual experiences.
Human beings are instinctively social creatures and have evolved to solve problems as a group. So by trying to handle things alone you are isolating yourself which is the opposite of what your body and mind expect, which is why it can feel so bad.
Men and boys in modern western society face myths about masculinity meaning self-reliance and ‘dealing’ with things yourself.
It is likely that your abuser(s) used this and other tactics to ensure that you were isolated at the time of your experience(s). You may still carry that feeling of isolation with you.
It may be in their interest for you to stay alone with what happened, but you can act on what is in your best interest.
You have taken a massive step by seeking support through this website. By reading these words you are joining a community of hundreds of thousands of men who are right now also living with the effects of unwanted sexual experiences. You are not alone.
You may find that you:
- Perceive any expression of care or attention as a sign of sexual interest, or an attempt to get something from you
- Feel vulnerable when people show an interest in you
- Are wary about sharing personal information
- Feel uncomfortable with gentle touch or touch without prior specific agreement
- Find sexual intimacy difficult.
These issues can make relationships unsatisfying relationships for both people.
If you want to feel closer to someone it might take time and feel like a slow process, but it is possible.
The first thing to realise is that you can’t build intimacy by yourself – it is a shared project.
It is important to remember that it is not trusting someone that led to what happened to you, but their misuse of that trust.
Intimacy means more than sexual intimacy. It is also about sharing special and important moments with someone and making connections such as discussing ideas, sharing experiences and supporting each other.
This way of relating is profoundly different from abuse. The dynamic of abuse is where one person’s ideas and wishes are important and the other person’s wishes are not considered at all.
So intimacy is about doing the opposite. You can develop mutuality, equality and a space for negotiation. So you can consider:
- Finding out about each others likes or dislikes?
- What kind of relationship would you like?
- What brings you closer to each other?
- What pushes you away?
- What builds connections in your relationship with them?
- How close a relationship do you/they want?
- What time and energy are you willing to put into developing intimacy in this relationship?
- How might you start to do this?
It can be helpful for you to talk to them explicitly about how you can do this together so you can put mutuality into action from the start.
Becoming a parent can be a challenging time for anyone. Men who have been subjected to rape, sexual assault or abuse commonly face added pressure.
Key times that can trigger difficult thoughts and feelings can include finding out about the pregnancy, the birth of the child, and if you were abused as a child, then the child approaching the age that you were when the abuse was happening.
Difficulties might be related to memories of the abuse itself, to worries about your abilities as a parent, or to both.
Some men worry they will hurt or abuse their children due to societal myths about perpetrators. This means they limit their involvement, especially with tasks that require close physical contact such as bathing and nappy changing, which sadly means them missing out on wonderful moments in their child’s life.
Remember that parenting is a challenging and sometimes overwhelming experience for most people. All parents sometimes fear that they may accidently hurt their child, or make a mistake in their parenting decisions. Not every worry you have will be linked to your experience. Some of it will be ‘normal’ parental anxiety.
Remember that research shows that 1 in 6 men have had an unwanted sexual experience. So as you observe caring, protective and nurturing Dads and Grandparents in the world, know that some of them will also have a difficult and painful part of their history. It hasn’t stopped them being great parents, and it doesn’t need to stop you.
Take time to work out your own thoughts about the kind of parent you want to be. We are not born with parenting skills, we learn them. You can be the kind of parent you want to be.