On the Phoenix Foundation site our primary forum for discussion of issues and concerns relevant to adult male survivors is our video series, “On the Path.” Here we will limit ourselves to suggestions for further reading and information.
It’s worth stressing here that recovery from childhood sexual abuse is not a do-it-yourself venture. Sexual abuse takes place in secret and silences a boy, often for decades into his adult life. To recover from that experience and its consequences the survivor needs to reclaim his voice and reach out, on the one hand, to personal allies willing and able to offer their support, and on the other, to those qualified to provide professional guidance. Books offer a good place to start and can provide useful information and reassurance on a continuing basis, but unless you have no other choice, it’s best to avoid using books as part of a strategy of working in isolation. It’s the experienced therapist who will best be able to address your specific needs as an individual. That work will give you a solid basis for grounding and referencing the reading you do.
Books on sexual abuse invariably raise sensitive issues, and you may react strongly to what you read. Try to do your reading in a place where you feel safe and at a time of the day when you feel more comfortable. Do you have a partner or friend you can rely upon for support? Perhaps this ally could stay in the room with you and review what you’re reading with you. If you feel yourself becoming upset, ask for the help you need to get grounded again. And remember that you can always put the book down and return to it later. Your recovery needs to proceed at your own pace, and the smaller steps taken carefully tend to be stronger and more enduring than larger ones taken in haste.
Finally, do bear in mind that authors all have their own perspectives and opinions; a point or argument doesn’t become true – or applicable or useful to you – just because it’s in a book. If you read something with which you disagree, again, talking about it may help to resolve the problem. You may also find that an author’s overall approach troubles you. If that happens, ask yourself whether you might be better off reading something else.
That said, there are some truly great reads for you to consider, and in the next section we list a few that we would particularly like to recommend.
Male survivors are of different minds as to which books on childhood sexual abuse has proven most helpful, but one in particular stands out:
Two other works likewise reflect the expertise of highly respected pioneers in the field:
Of the numerous manuals, handbooks, and workbooks available to male survivors, some are especially noteworthy:
Several manuals are of special interest as the work of male survivors whose recovery work led them to activism in the field and leadership in recovery groups and organizations:
If you are gay, bisexual, or questioning your sexuality, valuable support and insights can be found in two useful works by therapists with extensive experience in working with gay men. See also the collection of essays edited by Fontes ("Other Perspectives") and the anthology published by the Queer Press Collective ("Anthologies"):
Male survivors who are members of racial, ethnic, or religious minorities (from a North American perspective) face special issues and problems arising from traditional stereotypes and expectations within their communities. These are addressed in some valuable books:
If religious faith plays an important role in your life you may be looking for a spiritually grounded approach to recovery. Several such books are available, though there is currently still nothing aimed specifically at an audience of male survivors:
It was once thought that boys are hardly ever molested by females, but over the past 30 years it has become increasingly clear that this form of sexual abuse is common and extremely harmful to its victims. There is now an extensive literature on the topic, and several works stand out as especially useful to survivors:
There is a close symbiotic relationship between works that address trauma, which can be taken to mean the aggregate of the harm done to a child in abuse, and suffering, in the sense of the sum of how the victim and survivor responds to trauma emotionally. Some works adopt a clinical approach, addressing trauma, while others focus on the emotional response. But the best works representing either perspective all end up dealing with the other as well.
Both of these viewpoints are fundamental for a survivor to address, since recovery involves acknowledging the ongoing emotional impact of what was done to him as a child. Owning feelings will lead to difficult questions, some of them relating to the meaning of life itself.
Several classic works stand out as superbly helpful for their support in framing and addressing these questions:
One of the greatest challenges in recovery from childhood sexual abuse is that it compels the survivor to face head-on a knot of questions that may not even occur to many non-survivors: Who am I? Does my life have a purpose, something that gives it meaning? Is there something about me that is essentially and uniquely “me”? If so, how can I find it? What does it mean to be true to myself? We are each different and unique, but see what you think of these books, which we list here because they provide important perspective and help us to organize and focus our own thinking.
Many survivors find it helpful to see what other survivors have written about their recovery. There are a number of anthologies collecting essays, letters, and poems by male survivors, and others dealing with both men and women. Those of particular interest include: