How Men Can Heal from PTSD After Sexual Abuse

When men have experienced sexual abuse, their deeply felt trauma is often complicated by society’s inability to accept and support their need for recovery. PTSD is one of many challenges that sexual abuse provokes, and it’s critical that men receive comprehensive treatment to process their trauma, to transform their sense of self, and to reawaken their personal power.

Male survivors of sexual abuse are often suffering feelings of powerlessness when it isn’t socially acceptable for men to be powerless. As a result, this trauma may be forced under the surface, and shame compounds. The harrowing echoes of the original trauma can be terribly destabilizing and invisible at the same time. This story is too common for men with PTSD as a result of sexual abuse.

While the range of painful emotions and psychological trauma following sexual abuse is certainly universal, men may be even more likely than women to feel ashamed of their experiences. They may also be more likely to hide their experiences and not reach out for help and support. But compassionate treatment for PTSD and other impacts of sexual abuse can help men to turn a corner in healing their pain and reclaiming their lives.

What Challenges Do Men Face Following Sexual Abuse?

Too many people who have been sexually abused also struggle to cope in a society that doesn’t know how to support them in their trauma and help to heal their complex pain. The denial of males as victims is a powerful force that helps to keep victims trapped. Whether someone was sexually abused as a child or in adulthood—whether the perpetrator was a man or a woman—the trauma is intense and lasting. Denying or minimizing the effects of these experiences can not only keep the person trapped in the trauma but also add to it by rejecting their feelings and adding shame and other inappropriate pressures.

Post-traumatic stress disorder brings its own devastating symptoms as a man struggles to process the immensity of his pain and trauma. PTSD is a manageable disorder with the right expert treatment, but especially when left untreated, it can significantly affect one’s ability to manage life, work, relationships, and even emotions. For someone with PTSD, it is almost as if the original experience of trauma is happening right now in the present, and he can’t get away from it—even if it really happened long ago.

It’s important to be understanding of a complex variety of external pressures and PTSD symptoms that often exist in layers or tangles for men following sexual abuse:


External Pressures

PTSD Symptoms

  • Flashbacks and intrusive memories
  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping
  • Avoidance and withdrawal
  • Negativity and hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Hypervigilance

Common Co-Occurring Disorders and Other Risks of PTSD

It’s very common for men with post-traumatic stress disorder to experience the complications of other mental health disorders at the same time, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

Especially when their PTSD is untreated, men may turn to substances as a way to self-medicate and cope with the distressing symptoms of lingering trauma. Under these conditions, the risk of substance use disorders is very high. Likewise, the risk of suicidal ideation and attempts is also high considering the overwhelming pressure of depression and trauma symptoms combined.

Risk-taking and self-destructive behavior may be heightened with post-traumatic stress disorder. Interpersonal relationships can be incredibly difficult and even destructive if relational trauma and/or sexual trauma persist without adequate treatment. A man may even struggle with a distorted and confused sense of self. Regardless of his particular combination of symptoms and suffering, he needs compassionate care to reclaim his invaluable sense of personal power.

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How Does Treatment Address PTSD and Sexual Abuse Trauma?

The precursors to successful treatment for PTSD following sexual abuse are compassion and understanding. Especially for men who have had to endure other’s fear on top of their own and a lack of support, they need help in accepting the recovery challenges ahead of them.

Personalized trauma-focused treatment is critical to help a man accept the experiences that have come before and to develop ways to cope with triggers and stress in the future. In fact, with expert guidance, he can gradually approach his memories of past trauma and reshape the way he relates to it so it doesn’t have to completely overwhelm him. In this way, he is learning to rediscover and reclaim his personal power through exposure therapy.

A therapist may encourage a client to write about his traumatic experiences and his emotional experiences. Putting these otherwise consuming thoughts down on paper introduces a degree of distance in order to process them better. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a client to restructure their thoughts and behaviors as they are affected by the trauma, directly or indirectly. Additionally, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) works by combining careful exposure to traumatic triggers with a unique set of eye movements to help clients process and relieve their distress. Medications may also be helpful as a supplement to psychotherapy and under careful clinical supervision.

Because both the symptoms and the treatment options for PTSD are fairly complex and sensitive, it is ideal for recovery to begin in a residential treatment setting. It’s important, especially when establishing a course of treatment, to minimize retraumatization and to manage triggers. In a supportive residential environment, the focus is centered entirely on recovery, and clinicians who have extensive experience with trauma are readily available to help a client to shine a light on the path of strength and freedom.

BrightQuest is a long-term residential treatment center for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned San Diego-area program and how we can help you or your loved one begin the journey toward recovery.