Many men who have survived child abuse find that being in relationships triggers bad feelings. Here are some of the main ways men attempt to manage their feelings within relationships.
Clinging to relationships
Some men who have experienced neglect or lack of care can be so afraid of losing a relationship that they become vulnerable to entering into abusive or unhappy relationships. Alternatively, such men may also act in controlling or abusive ways within relationships to try to keep the relationship together. Worry about losing their partner, feelings of despair or anger, jealousy, even stalking and violence, are not uncommon.
Some men are susceptible to feeling like they are being controlled, exploited or abused within relationships. This can lead to them reacting with attempts to strongly control the relationship, which can in turn lead to abuse or violence toward their partner. Some men protect themselves by remaining distant or inaccessible within the relationship. It is common for male survivors to have lots of feelings of anger in relation to their abuse and for this to spill over into their relationships.
Avoidance of relationships
For some men, suspicion about the motives of others may lead to an inability to maintain relationships. This sort of hypervigilance for abuse was obviously adaptive in earlier life, but now may interfere with fulfilling relationships. Men may also feel they are unlovable or not worthy of a relationship. These perceptions, which are similar to self-blame (see above) may be easier to manage than dealing with the emotions caused by the abuse.
Some men combine all these approaches into a pattern of intense preoccupation with and pursuit of a new partner, swift disillusionment once the relationship is established, and anger or rejection of the relationship. This strategy attempts to meet the survivor’s need for affection with the pursuit of new relationships, but tends to be sabotaged by the opposite strategy of distancing/avoidance once a partner becomes so close that the survivor feels emotionally threatened.
Attachment to the perpetrator
A very common pattern is a survivor remaining in some sort of relationship with his abuser. The purpose of this strategy was originally to earn love, or at least some physical security, from the abuser. This pattern may continue for years after the abuse has stopped. This pattern may also make the survivor more susceptible to further abuse from other people who in some way are reminiscent of fill the same emotional niche as the perpetrator.
Becoming an abuser
Tragically, a small number of men choose to manage their feelings of fear and horror about their own abuse, by choosing to sexually or otherwise exploit or abuse children or adults.