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How can I help my friend?

(3 Posts)
FloppyRagdoll Sun 02-Aug-15 15:03:12

I have been friends with a man for about 10 years - we work in the same field and meet at work events a couple of times a year; we gradually became close friends over time and tend to be in touch by e-mail regularly and skype most weeks.

When my friend's mother died after a brief illness about four years ago, my friend came close to breakdown. He confided in me that in his teens (maybe earlier but his particular memories go back to about 10 or 11 years old) his mother had abused him sexually (also, I would say, emotionally). He described it as "low-level" abuse - inappropriate touching, very inappropriate remarks. Also lots of mixed messages - eg the mother would put out stacks of his father's porn magazine collection to go to the dump and tell my friend he should look at it; then she would him he was "scum" and "just like all bastard men" (aged 13!) for doing so. His mother was later also very over-invested in his relationships, to the point of giving his girlfriends vouchers for shops like Ann Summers and insisting on accompanying the young couple to the store to see that they were spent.

My friend also told me around the same time that his older brother had abused him, too - physical bullying (the brother is five years older and at 15 weighed about 14 stone while my then 10-year-old friend was slight for his age), shouting, violence - brother used to throw furniture around and even once broke a tv during a football game; and on at least one occasion my friend was forced to perform oral sex on his brother, after which time his brother told him he was gay. At the time, my friend had no idea what the word meant. The brother is still a bully and in his late 40s has never been able to hold down a job for any length of time. He usually either has his contracts terminated early, and has even been sacked for losing his temper with clients or with colleagues.

I would say that on the whole, my friend has dealt with all this very well: he works in a public-facing role and is widely recognised as great at his job. He's married to a lovely woman and has two charming, well-adjusted kids. For a period when my friend was processing the abuse, he self-harmed a lot but he has not done so in the last 2-and-a-half years.

However, I recently noticed that he seemed quite down; and this week he mailed me to say that he was really struggling not to self-harm again and that he had come to believe that he was responsible for the abuse - that he had been complicit and maybe even encouraged it as he had enjoyed being his mother's "favourite". That he could have resisted more. And so on.

My friend has had counselling in the past; and taken part in self-help groups. Neither of those are an option for him at the moment where he lives; but he gets some good online support from a site for male survivors of abuse. Has anyone any suggestions as to how I can further help my friend? I keep telling him that he was not to blame and is not to blame; but right now it seems he is having difficulty believing that.

pocketsaviour Sun 02-Aug-15 15:26:38

I don't think there is much more that you as a friend can do that you're not already. I would encourage him to speak about his feelings on the survivor forum that he's on. Is there no way at all he could access counselling? Some counsellors do Skype sessions, would this be an option for him?

You can tell him that it's incredibly common for survivors to feel they encouraged the abuse; the abuser will of course tell them this. In some ways male survivors have a harder time than women because they experience an undeniable physical response to abuse (i.e. an erection) which the abuser can then point to as "proof" that the victim enjoyed the abuse.

Needless to say it's a total headfuck for the victim and the abuser knows full well that it further discourages the victim from seeking help.

Has it occurred to your friend that his brother was undoubtedly also abused by the mother? (Certainly physically but I would also guess there was a sexual component.) Your friend can be proud of himself that while his brother chose to enact the pain and shame he was feeling on other smaller and weaker targets, your friend chose the much more courageous path of seeking help for himself and not treating anyone the way he was treated.

FloppyRagdoll Sun 02-Aug-15 15:53:17

Thanks, pocketsaviour.

We do know that the older brother was bullied physically (at the very least) by a gang of older school kids when he was in primary school. That only became known in the family decades later. My friend has tried to ask his older brother about his relationship with their mother, but the brother has always insisted that he didn't remember anything other than eye-rolling-inducing comments about his "manly physique". The older brother also claims to have no recollection of abusing my friend ("But, hey, little brother, we could try to reenact it and see if I remember it then."); but his younger brother remembers at least some of the things that happened. Both brothers remember my friend as being "mum's favourite".

I'll suggest my friend looks at Skype-counselling: thanks for that suggestion. The survivor forum he uses has regular workshops which have really great reviews; and my friend is hoping to time a trip to the country where they are held to coincide with one of those. That probably won't happen until next year, though.

"Headfuck" is the right description. It's so bloody unfair.

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