How Much Is Too Much

Originally posted on January 27, 2008

I recall a while back watching a martial arts special on TMC. It was about the beginning of martial arts films and the impact various artists had on the industry. For the most part I was pretty clueless as to who any of them were until it got to Bruce Lee. But the part about Jackie Chan stood out the most. He spoke about his experiences while learning martial arts. Apparently there was a film and book made about these experiences, but the name escapes me. What stood out was that Jackie said that he left a great deal out because people just would not believe it.

That reminds me of the choices a lot of victims make when it comes to relating their experiences. They hold back information, not to lie or deceive, but because people just would not believe that kind of thing was possible. I find that I do the same quite often. In fact, outside of my family members I can only think of two people I ever spoke openly about my experiences with. One was a priest from my high school (in confession, so I do not think he knew who I was) and other is someone I stay with.

I suppose the disconnect for me is where people stop believing. Why are people willing to accept that a mother would beat her child, but not rape him? Why do people accept that a man could be tortured, mutilated and humiliated, but not sexually assaulted? People seem willing to believe a certain list of abuses and violence, but the more outside of the usual it becomes the more people find it difficult to accept.

Perhaps it is simply a side effect that I and other men and boys who have had similar experiences go through. We do not see any real limits on the capacity of human depravity. People are capable of a wealth of bizarre acts that would normally never cross any of the average violent person’s mind.

But it is difficult trying to gauge how far you can go in a description. It gets easier once you have been around enough people to know what generally is accepted and what is not. That does not make it feel any better knowing that some things simply cannot be said. I think it hits males the hardest because we have a hard enough time just being believed to begin with. Winning people over in the first place is a big enough challenge. Throwing out something like having to ingest your own blood would probably make people roll their eyes.

I do wonder though how much of this effects whether men and boys come forward at all. It would not necessarily have to be anything extreme either. It could be as simple has having multiple abusers or being abused by a person the boy does not even know. The added burden of shame and blame that gets attached to this definitely does not help. But I do wonder whether not being able to find a way to say it “believably” stops men and boys from saying it at all.

10 thoughts on “How Much Is Too Much

  1. You said a mouthful. You just can’t share everything that happened with most people. So you tell a piece or two, and gloss over things. Of course, the result is fewer people know. That’s why my blog is anonymous – I can share (a little) more.


  2. Anonymity can help to a certain extent, but there are instances in which some information would be easily recognized by people who know you. Other experiences might just be too emotionally loaded. And unfortunately there is also the potential for those experiences to be used as attacks against others who also come forward. I have seen this happen on several blogs and forums (feminist and otherwise) and seen this occur offline as well.

  3. Don’t I know it! I change details, I don’t post the latest outrage, I misdirect a bit. I worry that my evil ex or her lawyer will figure out it’s me, and work to maintain anonymity. Effectively, not only is being a wage-earning husband a punishable offense, being pro-men’s rights is too!


  4. It is funny that you mentioned men’s rights because there have been several instances online and a few offline where I have had that thrown in my face because I support making changes to address the needs of men and boys, which technically falls under men’s rights. i have also seen (more times that I wish) instances where just speaking about past experiences can be viewed as offensive. It makes the whole thing far more problematic and frustrating than it needs to be.

  5. I do that a lot too. When I tell people about my abusive ex-girlfriend I usually just mention verbal abuse or the like and almost never mention the physical. I guess i’m somewhat afraid it will undermine me in some way.

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  7. This is why I don’t mention it much anymore. People will use anything against you especially if you are a guy. Many play the selective truth game too and it is damaging. People seem to think that I am joking when I say I don’t want an abusive girl…

  8. The issue of self-censorship comes up often. How much can you tell before people start to deny “your” reality. Saying things believably is not about the victim – it’s about the person hearing and suspending their personal disbelief. I have seen too many people saying that they don’t believe what they have been told – because the survivor was not making sense of the situation and not communicating events clearly. Some will claim that a survivor is dwelling upon a particular thing and not explaining it. It’s not rational!

    I had to deal with one person who was unwilling to accept much they were told by survivors. They actually said it was because how people communicated lacked “narrative” and “structure” (their words) that allowed them to make sense of it all. No matter how much it was pointed out that is was up to the Survivor to make sense and not them – well they could not get with the program.

    I got them to read a particular book “Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris. It’s the first of the Harris books that deals with Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. He features very little in the story but there are two main characters who do feature. One is Francis Dolarhyde a mass murderer and the other is Will Graham from the FBI who is hunting him. The characters are explored in very different ways and the revelations are astounding. In particular – how hard it is for Will Graham to deal with his ability to get inside the head of Dolarhyde – the only way to catch him. The book is superbly structured and the narrative one of the best crime stories ever written.

    The person read the book and hated it. They did not like the way it made them think, how it made it clear how other people think – and the damage that came from that thinking when people are damaged and attempting to make sense to themselves and the world. They found out that “narrative” and “structure” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

    They never had a problem after that in dealing with Survivors as the stories came out. They may have hated the book, but the insights just would not go away!

    Unless people have the necessary experience – they just can’t get with the program.

  9. Thanks for reposting this. When I would explain some of the abuse I suffered when I was a boy at the hands of my brother many other guys would say, “yeah, me and my brother would fight a lot too”. I would then tell them I didnt fight back because the beatings would be worse. It got strangely silent after that.

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