The Invalidation of Male Trauma in American Culture

Abortion Being One of Them 

Greg HasekWe live in a culture where trauma is all around us. The statistics are staggering. Sixty one percent of men and fifty one percent of women have experienced one traumatic event in their lifetime. Ten percent of men and six percent of women report that they have experienced four or more types of trauma. Seven percent of Americans have had or will have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Kessler, 1995).

It appears that men experience more trauma than women in our country. You would think that based on these numbers more men would be validated for the emotional pain they experience as a result of the traumas that have occurred in their life. Unfortunately men rarely get validated in our culture for the pain they experience from trauma. It is only recently since the Vietnam war, that men were validated for the symptoms of PTSD that they had experienced as a result of being in a battle zone. Since then, there has been more attention given to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, thirty percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan meet the criteria for PTSD (Department of Veteran Affairs, 2012). More and more programs are being established for these soldiers, although men often won’t follow through with services because of early gender socialization, combined with the mindset of a soldier to be strong and “suck it up”. Outside of men being validated for PTSD symptoms after they have served in war, there appears to be little validation for men as a result of other traumas they have experienced as either an adult or as a child in our culture.

One only has to do an internet search for services for male victims of sex abuse, to know that men who have been sexually abused are rarely validated for the trauma they experience. It has been reported that sixteen percent of males have experienced sexual abuse as a child (Adverse Childhood Experience Study, 1998) These numbers are reported to be very low because many men don’t talk or admit that something might have happened to them as a young child. The reason being the same as soldiers. Men are not “supposed to show weakness,” combined with culture’s invalidation and insensitivity to this issue as a major trauma to men. In the counseling office, this issue is often the most shameful for men to admit and in the majority of time, they will rarely admit it to their own wife.

Another hidden issue of trauma in our culture is the number of men who experience domestic violence. “The most comprehensive review of scholarly domestic violence research literature ever conducted concludes, among other things, that women perpetrate physical and emotional abuse, as well as engage in control behaviors, at comparable rates to men” (Hamel, J., May 2013). In fact there are over four thousand domestic violence programs in the United States but very few are oriented to male victims.

It has been my experience that there probably is no other trauma more invalidated in our culture for men, than the trauma of abortion or lost fatherhood. There has been much controversy over the years as to whether abortion is a trauma for women let alone men. In fact that battle continues on up until today. With over 55 million abortions in our country since 1973, there is a man involved with every one of them (O’Bannon, R.K., 2013). For the sake of this article, I will call abortion a potential trauma for both women and men. Men receive very little validation for the pain they might experience from this loss. As a result, just like with sex abuse and other traumas mentioned above, they will often remain in silent and tend to suffer alone.

So if men experience so much trauma in our American culture, and they are rarely validated for this trauma or seek help, how do these men deal with their pain? The answer I think is we need to change what we are looking for as evidence that it was traumatic for the male, when often times they grow up as a result of the gender socialization process thinking they need to be “strong” and “boys don’t cry.” This combined with a culture that seems to send the message of invalidation. I think we need to view men through their symptoms and trace those symptoms back to the trauma that caused those symptoms in the first place. For example, if a man has a drinking problem, it might be important to see beyond the drinking problem and see whether that man has previous trauma history in their life. It is my belief that because men are invalidated in our culture for the above mentioned trauma, they will often stuff the pain of the trauma and it will later come out in symptoms such as addictions etc.

This begins what I call the “crazy cycle” in our culture between the genders that furthers the invalidation of male trauma. Men seem to be viewed though their symptom behaviors in our culture. As a result, women who have experienced trauma are triggered by these symptoms. Instead of seeing men as having potential trauma behind their symptoms, they react and see men are wounders and not wounded. This crazy cycle only fuels the invalidation of male trauma in our culture.

So what needs to happen to change this crazy cycle and move to a place where male trauma is validated? First, I believe the gender socialization process of men “being strong” and “boys don’t cry” needs to change with boys at a young age. There needs to a national campaign that starts with boys at a young age and teaches them that it is okay to both show emotions and ask for help when they have experienced something hurtful. Second, there needs to be a national campaign that begins to reframe men through their symptoms and to see them as potentially hurting as a result of trauma. Third, the crazy cycle between the genders needs to be broken. In order for this to happen, men and women in our culture need to begin to heal the traumas that exist between them.

In summary, it is my belief that until men are validated for trauma in general in our American culture, men will act out their pain through symptoms, the “crazy cycle” between the genders will continue, and there will be little chance for men to be validated who have experienced possible trauma due to abortion or lost fatherhood.

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1. Adverse Childhood Experience Study, (1998).
2. Department of Veteran Affairs, (2012).
3. Hamel, J. (2013). The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project, Published in the Partner Abuse Journal.
4. Kessler, (1995).
5. O’Bannon, R.K. (2013). Based on Data From the Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute.

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