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Most abused children do not become abusive.
It's about healthy awareness, and effective prevention – not myths or demonizing.
This is an extremely important issue that deserves real thoughtfulness.
First of all, we need to acknowledge some things to you:
- No societies on the planet are dealing with this issue in truly healthy ways. Instead they tend to ignore the issue and/or demonize every man at risk of acting on such impulses, and rarely help men struggling with this issue.
But please don’t lose hope… There is hope. There is useful information and resources for you, right now.
Second, we totally understand how terrible it can feel to worry about abusing and harming others – especially children. It can do a number on your self-esteem, not to mention cause lots of fear, shame, and other disturbing thoughts and feelings.
On the other hand, this is a totally normal worry for men who’ve had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood. This is especially true because the media and other people often say, with totally unjustified certainty (see below), “If you were abused, you’re probably going to abuse others.”
Third, if you have already abused (or sexually used) a child and/or assaulted an adult, the sad truth is that your situation is much worse. You have harmed one or more other people (who usually have little or no help dealing with the consequences). You have deeply harmed yourself.
Most abused children do not become abusive.
If you have acted on such impulses, the fear, shame, guilt and other disturbing thoughts and feelings you have – or struggle not to experience – are totally normal results of such behavior. Such thoughts and feelings (on top of the reality of what you’ve done) have, no doubt, dealt a body blow to whatever sense you had of being a good person.
This is a lot to deal with. It’s not fair. But we’re not telling you anything you don’t already know, even if you usually try not to think about it. Still, we can confidently say this:
There is hope. Things can get better.
Two Key Messages
- Most people who abuse others were abused as children, but the reverse is nottrue: Most people abused as children do not go on to abuse others.
- If you do have some strong fantasies and impulses – especially if you’ve already acted on them – then it’s much better to worry about being sexual with children or abusing others than not to worry about it.
The best available research suggests that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. However, the research also indicates that:
- The vast majority of children who are sexually abused do not go on to abuse others.
The ability to worry about abusing others is actually a good thing. By this we don’t mean believing that you can’t help but abuse others; as we’ve just pointed out, it’s definitely not inevitable. Nor do we mean it’s good to be obsessed with such worries, which will make you feel bad but won’t help you avoid doing just what you fear.
Having a healthy dose of worry means you can be honest with yourself about your potentialto abuse others. Such honesty and, in many cases, quite realistic concern, are required to take healthy and effective steps to keep that potential from becoming a reality.
Again, worrying a lot is not healthy, nor is it effective to prevent what you are worrying about from happening. But mature awareness and responsible concern are healthy.
It’s about healthy awareness, and effective prevention.
Most importantly, if awareness is combined with doing what’s required (e.g., therapy) to decrease such fantasies and impulses, and to decrease your likelihood of acting on those you have, then you can be very effective at preventing yourself from abusing others (and harming yourself in that way).
In contrast, people who are unable or unwilling to admit, to themselves, that they have the potential to abuse others, are more likely to act on abusive thoughts and impulses when they arise, especially during times of major stress. They’re more likely to be “caught by surprise,” and less likely to have effective strategies for resisting such impulses.
In short, when it comes to becoming someone who abuses others – or not – it’s all about having a healthy and realistic awareness of one’s potential and, if your potential is high, making genuine and effective efforts to cultivate the understanding and skills that will enable you resist and overcome such impulses.
Worried, But Not Having Strong Fantasies or Impulses?
As you know so well, it’s quite a burden to have this worry. But it’s not something you must keep living with, and you deserve support and help overcoming it.
Because this worry is totally understandable and very common, any therapist who can address other consequences of unwanted or abusive childhood sexual experiences can help with this one too. And he or she can help without over-reacting or judging you.
For more information about therapy and finding a therapist in your area, see Get Help, especially the pages on Principles of Therapy or Counseling and Finding & Evaluating Therapists.
Having Strong Fantasies or Impulses, or Have Acted on Them?
The truth is, it’s very unlikely that you can overcome this problem on your own.
And no matter what you’ve imagined doing, been tempted to do, or actually done, you absolutely deserve support and help. But sadly, for many men in this situation, there are obstacles to getting what you need and deserve:
- In many places, it is difficult or impossible to find therapists qualified to help you.
- If such therapists exist where you live, it can be hard to find them.
- Even if you can find therapists to help, you may not be able to afford their services.
- By law, therapists are ‘mandated reporters.’ If you disclose to them that you are abusing a particular child, or at substantial risk of abusing a particular child, they must inform authorities. Obviously, this could lead to your arrest and imprisonment, which could involve serious risk to your safety (even to your life), and/or no access to meaningful or effective treatment.
Given these realities, we’re not going to pretend that getting the help you need will be easy, or even possible for you. But still, there is hope – even if you have already acted on your fantasies or impulses. It is possible to learn to stop. Don't stop looking for help. No matter what, don’t give up. Keep looking for help until you find it, no matter how long it takes.