Thinking strategies


Coping Strategies: When Solutions Become The Problem

These strategies involve thinking about things in ways which help us avoid painful feelings. Here are some of the more common ones.


It is very common for survivors of child sexual abuse to blame themselves for the abuse, or to believe that it happened because there was something wrong with them. These beliefs are encouraged by perpetrators and sometimes by society. However, self-blame can also have a psychological benefit. Sometimes it can be easier for a boy who has been abused to look for the fault in himself, than have to accept that a person he loves is an abuser. Some men also find hope, if unconsciously, in the notion that if the abuse is their fault, if they can find a way to change what is wrong with them, then that might stop it from ever happening again. It seems easier to change ourselves than to change others who are more powerful than us.

Intrusive/unavoidable thoughts

Some survivors experience critical or despairing thoughts or worries. Sometimes these thoughts can seem to come out of nowhere. These thoughts can become ‘stuck’ in an endless cycle of circular worrying and obsessing. The origin of these anxious thoughts is often a desperate attempt by the survivor to ‘think’ his way out of experiencing the post-traumatic feelings. Over the years these thoughts become attached to ‘worry objects’ and can become habitual (“why didn’t I do this or that”, “if only such-and-such had not happened”, “why did this happen to me” and so on).

Rigid beliefs

These are very strongly held, emotionally charged beliefs about self, right and wrong, politics, the meaning of life and so on. When we are growing up, ideas which make sense to us become beliefs. One of the reasons ideas make sense to us is that they help us manage bad feelings. Examples could include religious beliefs that help with notions of forgiveness where there a person is experiencing shame, political beliefs which allow anger to be expressed against one group or another where it is psychologically dangerous to feel anger against the perpetrator, spiritual beliefs that the world is basically a good or rational place which help guard against feelings of terror and betrayal, and so on.

(Please note we are not saying that just because a person believes something which helps them manage their feelings, that what they believe in is not reasonable or true. We are not concerned with the objective truth or otherwise of someone’s beliefs. We are simply saying that some beliefs do help people manage strong feelings and from that point of view, can be seen as a strategy).