The Mighty Logo

What It's Like to Be Male and Triggered by Sexual Abuse

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I have no idea how to start this.

• What is PTSD?

I seem like the most unlikely person, when you look at me, to have these problems. I’m 5′ 8” and about 210 pounds, built around a bulky frame — not muscular, but at least sort of robust — and of generally not the physical appearance you’d associate with someone who is used to being absolutely terrified.

But I’m absolutely terrified.

My heart is racing, my hands are sweaty and a little shaky. My mind is flying a mile and minute and my stomach is doing cartwheels. I want to run and hide somewhere. My fight or flight instinct is shouting in my ear to quit writing this, and I’m doing my best to ignore it. What I’d really like to do is my go-to for times of stress — go curl up on the couch with a video game and calm the frick down. That’s the best go-to, anyway. The rest are self-destructive habits.

I’d rather not say, really, why I’m alarmed and in panic. Well, if you really want to know — don’t say I didn’t warn you — I’ll tell you. I just read a summary of a book — yes, just a summary — that talked about scenes dealing with abuse and rape and the effects thereof.

The last time it happened to me was about 19 years ago.

And it’s still “present” enough to shut me down, and turn me into a shivering, emotional mess. Rational thoughts fly out the window and I’m in survival mode. Either I’ll panic like I am doing now, I’ll start catastropizing little things, or I’ll start becoming irritable and difficult — never violent, but argumentative. If my attack is brought on by witnessing a rape scene during some movie or TV show, I’ll feel the victim’s pain and terror in my gut, maybe curling up or gripping the seat as if in physical pain; I might even reach out towards the screen in an attempt to comfort a person I know isn’t even real, just a picture on a screen. And to a degree, I really am feeling all of the physical sensory input types felt when it happened to me. The brain records sensory input during trauma and it gets muddled because the rational part is shut down. Any external input that reaches that part of my brain brings back all the feelings of back then.

This isn’t how I normally am. Meet Triggered Jason. I become a different person entirely. I can be difficult to be around. I’ll stress you out, and make a fool of myself. I’m sorry. I really am. I hate myself for it. But the normal, rational Jason can’t come to the door right now. Instead, I’m a mess of anxiety, panic, and flashbacks. Being yelled at or berated triggers me. Failure triggers me. Proximity to people can trigger me. Being around similar people triggers me. Witnessing violence… Yeah. You see what I’m saying.

And truth be told, I have very little control over it. Even the grounding techniques I know are ineffective. Counting and naming things I see, taking note of the here and now, squeezing a stress ball. Sometimes they work; other times, I can’t even think of them. My muscles are tense and my vitals soar.

This is what millions of people live with and have to overcome every day. Not just an event. Not a momentary painful experience, but trauma.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Thinkstock photo via yacobchuk

Originally published: October 27, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home