Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dan Griffin - How Trauma Informs Men’s Identity, Addiction, and Recovery

This article by Dan Griffin at The Good Men Project has been hanging around in my tabs for a couple of weeks now - but it's important stuff, so I wanted to be sure I shared it here.

Too many men who have experienced trauma/abuse only know how to channel the fear, hurt, rejection, or sadness through the socially sanctioned outlets of anger and violence. That does not allow much space for healing.

How Trauma Informs Men’s Identity, Addiction, and Recovery

For many men, past traumas help them to understand their problems with addiction and violence—even in recovery.

Most of the men I’ve talked to over the years in the journey through recovery can identify some point in their lives when they realized it was not okay to express certain feelings or behaviors, especially if those feelings showed weakness, vulnerability or sensitivity. Crying above all was strictly discouraged.

They also learned—sometimes through everyday interactions with other men but frequently because of abuse or traumatic experiences—that the only appropriate way to express things like fear, hurt, rejection, or sadness was through the conduit of anger and violence.


One of the most powerful breakthroughs in addiction treatment is our growing understanding of trauma. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines an event as traumatic when both of the following are present: “(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, and (2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.”

Mental health practitioners now understand that one of the distinguishing factors with trauma is not the event itself as much as an individual’s response to the event. It’s very important to understand that if you’ve had a traumatic experience and still suffer from it, this does not mean you’re weak, sick, or that you are in any way at fault. When the serious effects of trauma go untreated, men in recovery—even long-term recovery—find that they struggle with relapse, isolate themselves from others and their communities, abuse loved ones, destroy their marriages, and act out in ways that damage themselves and others.

An alcoholic man in this place, for example, can work the Twelve Steps rigorously, but the emotional, physical, and psychological fallout of untreated trauma will keep him stuck in the pain, confusion, depression, anger, and hopelessness of addictive and unhealthy behaviors. Those around him might see him as a “dry drunk,” even though he has been technically sober for years.


Of course, men are rarely encouraged to talk about their experiences of abuse or trauma, and our culture seems very confused about what is acceptable behavior both from and toward boys and men.
Read the rest of the article.

For another perspective, this article ran in April of this year (2011) on the News72 site in London, England:

Abused men can suffer psychological trauma

U.S. men who say they have been sexually or physically assaulted by an intimate partner can suffer significant psychological trauma, researchers say.

Lead author Anna Randle of the Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care, an alternative to institutional, residential and group care placements for adolescents with severe conduct disorders and Cynthia A. Graham of Brunel University, both in England, reviewed two decades of research involving domestic violence effects on men.

The review, published in the Psychology of Men & Masculinity, found men abused by their female partners can suffer significant psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts.

The National Violence against Women Survey, which surveyed 8,000 men and 8,000 women, in 1998, indicates 8 percent of men and 25 percent of women report being assaulted sexually or physically by an intimate partner.

However, research has shown severe under reporting of spousal or partner abuse of men, Randle says. For example, men are not as likely to report serious injuries due to abuse and psychological or less violent abuse is more likely to go unreported to authorities.

In addition, police are less likely to arrest female suspects accused of violence than males, Randle says.

"Given the stigma surrounding this issue and the increased vulnerability of men in these abusive relationships, we as mental health experts should not ignore the need for more services for these men," Randle says in a statement.

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