Becoming a dad has healing effect on child abuse victims

Becoming a dad can have a hugely healing effect on men who were sexually abused as children, according to new research.

It can also make them determined to be better fathers than they had themselves in terms of protecting their children from potential abusers.

Jean O’Brien, who has just completed her doctorate in counselling psychology at Trinity College Dublin, examined the experience of fatherhood from the perspectives of men who were sexually abused as children for her thesis, and presents her findings at the Psychological Society of Ireland annual conference which continues in Kilkenny today.

“What I found among the men I interviewed was that they had tried to block out the abuse, maybe by drinking or moving away from the area where the abuse occurred. They tried not to think about it. But having children forced them to confront it. They could see their own vulnerability in their own child and were almost tormented about their safety,” Ms O’Brien said.

This anguish, fear and self-doubt about their own ability to parent, as well as determination to ensure their children were safe, meant men who were sexually abused often entered therapy for the first time when they became fathers themselves.

Ms O’Brien interviewed 11 men for her research, ranging in age from 30-60.

She said the “drive to be better fathers” was inherent before they went for therapy but therapy helped them reprocess the issues in an age where men are “trying to be tough and invulnerable”.

Ms O’Brien said a lot of the family services in Ireland focused on helping mothers and children but that her thesis showed a need for more services for men, including more outreach and advocacy services.


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