Formspring: Childhood Sexual Abuse

by Jason Stotts

I received another question on Formspring the other day, although this one is well outside my bailiwick:

Do you have any recommendations for couples in which the male partner is overcoming childhood sexual abuse? We’re already in couples therapy, so I’m looking for specific books, workbooks, exercises, techniques, etc. Good help seems hard to find.

I’d love to help, but unfortunately I don’t have any experience in childhood sexual abuse, nor have I read any really good books on the subject.  Being in therapy is probably the best idea.  However, if you want my two cents as a philosopher, and remember that’s I’m not a psychologist, then keep reading.

It depends on what issue your partner is having from the childhood abuse that will determine the best course of action. Since I don’t know the exact problem, I’m going to be shooting in the dark here, so if what I say isn’t directly applicable, see if you can take a kernel of usefulness from it anyway.

You need to begin by having him identify what feelings he is having now that he believes to be linked to the childhood abuse. Next, he needs to identify the basis of the feeling in his past.  Once he’s done this, he can make the connection between what happened in the past and the present feeling explicit.  Then, he needs to identify what, exactly, it is about the past abuse that is causing the problem now.  Once he’s identified this, he can work to overcome it and then his feelings related to it will gradually fade.

For example, is it that his partner being too aggressive makes him scared or ashamed?  If so, can he identify why? As children, we often want to think that we have powers that we don’t have and we want to take responsibility even in cases where we cannot be held responsible.  Many victims of abuse feel ashamed for many years afterwards, because they feel responsible.  Perhaps they feel like they enticed the adult to perform the action or they feel that they should have acted to prevent it.  The thing is that if you can take a hold of these childhood beliefs as an adult and re-examine them in light of what you know now, you can pick them apart and begin to diffuse the feelings.  After all, our feelings are the results of our antecedent judgments and if we change these, then we change our feelings.  The process isn’t direct or immediate, but it is inexorable.  If you can convince yourself, rightly, that there was no responsibility on your part for what happened to you, then you can overcome the shame.  Of course, changing these past beliefs isn’t easy, but it is the only way to truly move beyond them.

I know this isn’t probably super helpful, but maybe it will help give you some direction in trying to overcome the abuse.

I would also suggest that you make sure your psychologist has extensive training in childhood sexual abuse.  A general “couple’s counselor” is likely not well enough trained in the subject.  After all, although the abuse might be causing a problem in your relationship now, the solution cannot be attained by “working on your relationship,” but only by dealing with and overcoming the past trauma.

If you have further questions and you think I might be able to help, feel free to e-mail me at Jason(at)  If you end up finding a really good book on the subject, I’d love to hear what it was.

5 Responses to “Formspring: Childhood Sexual Abuse”

  1. Ellen

    I think you need to reread the question. It states the *male* partner had the childhood sexual abuse. Deciding to use she/her pronouns doesn’t make sense.

  2. JasonStotts


    Thanks, I totally missed that the first time around.


  3. Adam Reed

    One thing to be careful about (I’m a mathematical-cognitive psychologist, NOT clinical, but among psychologists this is common knowledge) is that the belief that one was abused in childhood is not necessarily factual. Many people have made some bad choices in life, with bad results, but rather than take responsibility for their own bad choices, they invent fictive excuses and then believe in the fictive excuse they invented. Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most common of such invented fictions. For a good autobiographical account of how this happens, I recommend “My Lie” by Meredith Maran.

  4. JasonStotts


    Good point. Does the subject always know this is the case or are they self-deceptive about this fact?


  5. Adam Reed

    Many actually believe that the abuse in their abuse-excuse took place, sue their “abusers” for damages etc. The technical term for this is “mnemomimetic delusions” – a.k.a. “false memories.”