Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse

In this powerful episode, we address a topic that affects many but is often shrouded in silence and stigma: sexual abuse. Joining us for this important conversation is Michael Pezzullo, a seasoned therapist who works with trauma and sexual abuse recovery.

Together, we explore the impact that sexual abuse can have on one’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Some of the topics covered in this episode are:

  • Ways in which abuse can occur in childhood and/or adulthood 
  • Setting and maintaining sexual boundaries 
  • Navigating consent in queer spaces
  • Common misconceptions we have about sexual abuse 
  • Long-term effects that survivors may experience
  • Unique challenges faced by gay men who have endured abuse
  • Types of therapeutic approaches available for survivors

Whether you are a survivor, know someone who is, or simply want to understand more about this crucial issue, this episode offers a compassionate and informative perspective on a topic that deserves our attention and empathy.

Today’s Guest: Michael Pezzullo

Today’s Host: Michael Diiorio

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[00:00:02] Michael Diiorio: Welcome to Gay Men Going Deeper, a podcast by the Gay Men’s Brotherhood, where we talk about personal development, mental health, and sexuality. Today, I’m your host. My name is Michael Diiorio. I’m a life and wellness coach specializing in sexuality, relationships, and self-confidence.

Today, we’re discussing a very important and often challenging sexual abuse. This is a subject that affects many within our community, and yet it remains shrouded in a lot of silence and stigma. So on this podcast, for those of you who’ve been listening, you know that we believe it’s crucial to bring these conversations into the open because it does help to reduce the stigma, reduce the shame, and take important steps towards healing.

Joining me today is Michael Pezzullo, a licensed marriage and family therapist located in West Hollywood, California. In his practice, Michael works extensively with the LGBTQIA community, with a specific focus on Gay Men. Michael, thank you for joining us today.

[00:00:57] Michael Pezzullo: Thank you for having me.

[00:00:59] Michael Diiorio: All right, so I want to start off with a shocking statistic that I found when I was researching this episode. And this is from a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. And it says that LGBT people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBT people to experience violent victimization, including rape and sexual assault.

Additionally, LGBT individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing abuse, both from people they know and from strangers.

And one of the most shocking things of all is that about half of all victimizations are not reported to the police. So this is a big deal. And again, the source here is the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. So remember that when we’re talking about abuse, it could happen in childhood or adulthood. And in this episode, we’re going to be covering both any and all. And either way, regardless, it can be very challenging for a lot of guys out there to disclose that they have been abused, which prevents them from getting the help that they need.

So, um, you know, I know that this is a more serious subject, but as we said, it’s important that we talk about it. Now, for those of you who might be triggered by this, you know, please do pause if you need to come back and you can listen to it again. Um, we will do our, our best here to make sure that, uh, we have you covered. And, Michael, we’ll put your show notes or put your information in the show notes as well, in case people do want to contact you. Okay, Michael, it’s your first time on our podcast. Welcome.

[00:02:31] Michael Pezzullo: Yes.

[00:02:31] Michael Diiorio: Going deeper. So, um, why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience, and then maybe let us know a little bit about why you wanted to talk about this topic specifically.

[00:02:40] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah. Yeah. So, like you said, I’m a psychotherapist. I work in private practice. I’m here in west Hollywood. That’s where I am right now.

I’ve been doing this. I’ve been doing my own practice for five years. Before that, I’ve worked in a bunch of different treatment facilities. Addiction treatment, dual diagnosis treatment, residential levels of care, outpatient, PHP, all the different types, detox, you name it. I’ve worked with different populations. I’ve worked in sex addiction with adolescents. I’ve worked with older people. I mean, you name it, I’ve done different. Different. Different groups. But my, the intersection I ended up with for a while was LGBTQ addiction in particular. And what you see with that is a lot of traumas that follows underneath it. And so, like you said, in my practice now, I’m pretty heavily LGBT, although it’s mostly the g. It’s mostly mostly gay men.

And with that, I do a lot of traumas work as well. Trauma therapy covers a lot of different modalities. There’s a traditional talk therapy type. There’s, like, a more cognitive behavioral type, and now we’re seeing a lot more, like, somatic therapies, EMDR, ketamine, assisted therapy, and I do all of those.

[00:03:50] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, very interesting. And maybe we’ll get a chance to talk about some of those and what those mean and how they could help as we get into the podcast. The first question I had when I was looking at this topic was, what exactly is sexual abuse? We hear that a lot, and. And I was like, well, what does that mean exactly? So let’s start there for our audience out there who might not know exactly what we’re talking about. Um, can you give some examples? What is the exact definition?

[00:04:12] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, there’s, you know, I think with everything, and if you. You know, with trauma, too, there’s always going to be different definitions and different paradigms that people follow. And you can. You can go with what works for you, and you can think of multiple and see what, you know, what appeals to you. I think of when I think of abuse, I think of violating someone’s consent.

And, you know, consent is also. Can be a moving target, as we know, in any kind of sexual interaction. You’re saying yes or no every step of the way, and a lot of that is nonverbal. Some of that is verbal. Some of it’s a little bit of both. But I think it’s pretty clear when you’re having an interaction with someone, that you’re able to track that with the other person. And if there’s ever a moment where that has been, uh, ignored or pushed past, then I think that’s abuse.

[00:05:00] Michael Diiorio: Interesting. Yeah. I mean, I can think of my own personal examples where I’ve been in hookups where it was a no. And he really, really tried very hard to persuade me. Yeah. I mean, and I can imagine somebody who just has a hard time saying no or just kind of, you know, I hear about this all the time. They kind of just eventually just give and say, oh, forget it. I guess I’ll just do it.

[00:05:22] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. And that’s something that you can really work with people on in therapy, and I’m sure in coaching, too, is having boundaries and then upholding boundaries. And I heard this once, and I think it’s so important, is that holding boundaries, you have to be relentless when you do that. I think that we have this idea in my head. If I’m going to craft my boundary, I’m going to say it one time, and then I’m just going to leave it there, and everyone’s going to respect it, and a lot of people will, but there are people who. Who won’t. And it is. I do think it is our job to really relentlessly guard our boundaries.

[00:05:55] Michael Diiorio: Yep. 100%. I mean, who else is going to do it if it’s not you? Right? Yeah. Um, so let’s go back to some examples here. I mean, I know they’re not a statistician, but just based on what you see in your own practice, like, what are some common areas that you see specifically with gay men? Uh, where does this come up, the sexual abuse?

[00:06:11] Michael Pezzullo: So there’s a few different ways. And, you know, statistics. I’ve only taken one statistics class, and the most important thing that I learned is that statistics are mostly garbage. But, um.

[00:06:20] Michael Diiorio: What?

[00:06:20] Michael Pezzullo: But with this topic, if I had to guess, I would say that whatever the statistics say, that the truth is worse would be my general guess. But what I would say, too, is when you think about sexual abuse, is that you do want to separate it into abuse that occurred in childhood and then in adulthood. Anything that occurred in childhood, excuse me. Is going to be much more toxic and malignant. I mean, abuse in general that occurs that age, is going to be much worse. But that’s some, you know, that’s something you’re gonna really want to highlight and go into. And what I’ll just say is that I’ve, from my own anecdotal experience as a therapist, I hear about these instances much more frequently from gay men than from straight men.

[00:07:02] Michael Diiorio: Why do you think that is?

[00:07:05] Michael Pezzullo: I think there’s a couple of reasons, and they’re. They’re kind of tough to think about, but I think it’s important that we go into it. But so, I think that.

I think a lot of gay boys are molested as children. I think the reason is that predators are looking for boys that may indicate some sort of sexuality that’s not completely straight. And again, they’re so young, there’s no way to know for sure. But I think that’s a tell that they’re going toward. So I think that’s probably the most likely reason, if I had to guess.

[00:07:37] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. So it’s an easy target for a predator. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very interesting.

[00:07:42] Michael Pezzullo: And also someone who won’t speak up.

[00:07:44] Michael Diiorio: What about in the adult situation? So what are some scenarios that. That comes up where people are abused as adults?

[00:07:50] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah. So, you know, it’s interesting if I think of gay men in particular. Right. I think that where this gets very mucky is when it comes to, like, the more hookup culture and apps and stuff where you are. And this is the same. I mean, they’ve been saying this to straight women for years, but when you are knowingly putting yourself into a sort of risky situation and in a sexual situation by choice. Right. But that doesn’t mean that you’re consenting to anything that happens to you once you get there. But I think that, you know, there used to be a day and age where, like, you wouldn’t just go home with some random person that you didn’t know because you were worried about what might happen. But now we do live in this culture where you just pick up your phone and you follow the map, and the next thing you know, you’re at someone’s house, which is. Which is fine, and it’s all good and well, but, um, it is a little dangerous, I think, more than we remember. And anyway, I think the point I’m trying to get to is that I hear stories from. From guys and from friends, too, who have purposely gone on a hookup, and then something bad happened to them and they feel like they gave consent because they showed up willingly.

[00:08:58] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. I think I’ve been with guys who, again, just because I walked into the door, that, in their mind is, like, you can just tell that they think they have, like, some kind of blanket consent. And I can imagine how it could be very hard for people to want to get out of there because you’re not in your home, assuming it’s not in your home, you’re in a place that you don’t know, you don’t quite know what’s going on. And so I can understand how sometimes it’s easier to just be like, f*ck it, I guess I’ll just do this as quick as possible. Get it out of the way. Get me the hell out of here.

[00:09:24] Michael Pezzullo: Yep.

Yes. Agreed. And I do think that there is a difference between, I’m, like, going along with this to get this over with, which I think is crossing a boundary of yourself and is something that you should look at also, and also being abused and violated. Both are unpleasant, but I think that’s something that people can discern, too.

[00:09:45] Michael Diiorio: Yeah.

So really, what we’re talking about here, a lot of these boundaries already, we’re kind of seeing that. That’s a big piece here. So how would you help somebody who has a hard time just setting boundaries in general? And is it fair to say that if you have hard time setting boundaries in general in your life, that this might be. That you might be more, I don’t know, prone or inclined to be in these situations? Yeah.

[00:10:04] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. People who struggle with boundaries, you’re going to see it across the board. You’re going to see it everywhere. It’s a learned behavior. It’s almost like a learned helplessness of people. Learn that if I am people pleasing or if I negate my needs, then people seem to like me more. And there is some truth to that. People that set boundaries, often people are disappointed in them because they’re not doing what they want.

But there’s also a respect there. When you interact with someone who has clear boundaries and a clear sense of self, you know right away who this person is and how, like, where we can go together, where we can’t go together. And if you’re a person with boundaries yourself, you’re going to respect them and feel like, I know what to do with you.

But people who get. People get very passive. They let their boundaries go. And I think the problem is that most people have done that for so long that the task of beginning to assert themselves is very difficult. Luckily, I think most people, even if they’re not stating their boundaries, they know what they are. They have a sense of what feels comfortable and what feels uncomfortable. But the task of using their voice and finding, like, the courage to be brave is tough.

[00:11:10] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve been in those situations where it is tough. And yet, you know, that’s the point about, I guess, a predator is they will probably seek out those who are maybe what, I don’t know how they would determine this, but maybe appear like they will have a hard time speaking up for themselves. And that could be, like, that could be a, you know, based on their age, race, sociocultural status, that could be anything, right?

[00:11:33] Michael Pezzullo: You, you can smell it on people when they don’t have boundaries. You can tell really quick. And I was talking to someone about this recently, too, and he was saying how, he was asking me, you know, people are always kind of trying to get, poke around and get me to do things and do people do that to you? And I said, no, honestly, no one ever tries to cross my boundaries pretty much ever, because they can tell that I have them. And people that are looking to do this, they are testing you, and then they’re seeing who doesn’t, who isn’t strong in this area, and then they’re going to, like, double down.

[00:12:05] Michael Diiorio: Totally. Yeah. Um, so when we, when people show up into your, in your office, do they show up saying, knowing that, you know, sexual, they have been a victim of sexual abuse or is it something that they find out over the course of a conversation and you kind of remind them or you tell them, hey, this is what happened to you. You know, you’ve been victimized by someone.

[00:12:24] Michael Pezzullo: I would, I would say, actually, for the most part, people tend to know that they were abused or that something wrong happened to them.

The degree of how much they want to go into it or the, the meaning that they’ve made of their abuse they’ve suffered. That’s what’s very variable and what you want to get to know on an individual basis. But I think most people actually do.

[00:12:46] Michael Diiorio: What is the impact of this kind of sexual abuse to someone in their other relationships? And, like, let’s say you want to have a relationship down the road and you have been abused by someone, that trust has been broken and those boundaries have been violated. How does it impact their future relationships?

[00:13:02] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah, I mean, obviously there’s going to be a poor impact, for sure. I think, you know, I think first and foremost, the biggest thing people are left with after sexual abuse is shame, which is so unfair because it belongs with the other person. It belongs to the person who did the violating thing. But I think that that’s what people are left with. And when you’re someone who’s holding a lot of shame, you’re always going to distance yourself from people because you don’t like a part of yourself. You don’t want people to see that part of you either. So it’s going to create a buffer.

[00:13:37] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. Not to mention the shame that already might be there. Right. I carry a lot of shame. Not. Not because I was abused, but I already have a lot of shame that I had to work through. Neil. And just add more on top of that would be very overwhelming.

[00:13:49] Michael Pezzullo: Mm hmm. Yes. And those are. Those are factors you look at as a therapist, too. You know, when you. When you hear about abuse and trauma, sort of as an outsider, sometimes you think of it as like a single narrative. But you, when you work with people, you want to think of, like, what are the layers that are being onto? And to your point, if it’s someone who didn’t have a lot of shame to begin with, then that’s good, then. But if. If they did, it’s really going to reinforce a negative narrative.

[00:14:15] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. I imagine it would absolutely impact other relationships. That trauma of having that. Having that happen to you. For me, anyway, like, I would be. It’d be very hard for me to trust somebody again. Um, and I wouldn’t want to let them in. So again, like calling everyone at arm’s length, not letting people in, building walls, not wanting to be vulnerable, you know, wanting to, in fact, do the opposite of evolution, which is build a big wall and put a, you know, big barrier between me and other people.

[00:14:41] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. I mean, you named it perfectly. Those are all really common things that show up for people after they’ve been. After they experience sexual abuse. Yeah.

[00:14:50] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. So they do. They come to you. I guess you’ve answered that. They come to you knowing that. And what are they looking for help with exactly?

[00:14:58] Michael Pezzullo: You know, what’s interesting is that, I would say, because we live in this day and age where we have more of a open conversation about sexual abuse, child abuse, things like that, which are so important because they’ve been happening, unfortunately, forever. This isn’t a new thing, but it was, you know, before, you would never talk about these things openly. I think because it’s more of an open conversation, people do share these things more willingly and they’re, you know, but I think the most important thing is you want to understand how did this affect this person in particular, because it’s going to be very, very different in each case.

But overall, the fact that we do bring these things to light is so valuable.

[00:15:41] Michael Diiorio: Let’s talk about that great segue. I was just thinking that shame keeps it. Shame wants us to keep silent. So there’s all that shame, which is all the more reason why you don’t want to talk to anyone. Let’s hope they get into your office, they talk to you, they disclose to you what’s happened, what is the value? Like, why is this such an important thing to do? Like, why would someone want to go through all that pain of reliving it, talking about it, you know, all that face, that shame, like, what’s on the other end of it?

[00:16:07] Michael Pezzullo: So I would say that there is almost always going to be a false belief system that has been absorbed. That just is not true. And you’re gonna, it may be obvious at the jump when someone tells you a story, you’re like, oh, wait. But sometimes you don’t notice it until you’re going along, but almost always, you’re gonna find it. And when you do, that’s where you can really intervene and help someone see that they are thinking about something in a way that actually is not accurate and literally bring them into the light.

[00:16:39] Michael Diiorio: Yeah.

[00:16:40] Michael Pezzullo: And you have to be, you have to be very, like, confrontational, too. When someone is insistent that it’s their fault that they were abused, you have to be even more insistent that they weren’t. You can’t really take this passive stance of like, okay, I see your point. You have to really, really be clear with them that I don’t see the blame for you unless you can prove me otherwise. But stuff like that.

[00:17:04] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. Well, I mean, yes, yes, Allah. But especially in the case where it’s like a child, like, how can I possibly justify that, that they were, have any responsibility in that?

[00:17:15] Michael Pezzullo: The most difficult part of childhood sexual abuse, and this is so important to talk about. I know it’s a little bit intense, but almost always when people think of abuse, they think of you’re grabbed and thrown into a room and attacked. Right.

Children are preyed upon by someone that they like. It’s almost always someone that they really like who’s older, who’s interesting, who maybe they’re attracted to or whatever it is. And they’re groomed. They’re literally groomed. And it slowly pulled into this dynamic that feels so intoxicating, it feels so exciting. It’s like your favorite uncle, your favorite whatever it is. And then it starts to cross the sexual line. And children do not know how to initiate sex there. It’s way over your head. I mean, it’s, they have no clue. Um, but this adult starts to do it. The, the problem is that almost always, I would say nine times out of ten, it is a positive, pleasurable experience for the child. They are enjoying it. It’s not this horrific, horrible thing. So at a certain point, the abuse will either end organically or it will just whatever.

Once they realize what had happened to them, it becomes this very conflicting experience. Because I was abused, yet I feel like I enjoyed the entire thing.

That messed is what really stings for people. And it’s super common. It’s really, really common.

[00:18:38] Michael Diiorio: And I’m willing to bet that that gets all tangled up in their own identity as they’re gay. As a gay person, it’s like, well, am I gay because of that or did I want that? And that was like, how do you entangle that?

[00:18:52] Michael Pezzullo: So I would say that, you know, I mean, like, we think of sexuality as being on a spectrum, right? So the whole thing of, like, did someone, I think before people used to really think like, oh, someone must have, like, flicked a switch and they made. They turned me gay. And we know that’s not true now. We know that it’s a spectrum. So, I mean, I guess the argument now would be like, did they push me more on the spectrum one way or the other? But I would think of it more of this way of someone, like, hijacked your sexual development. And we don’t know what that was exactly, but we can create a sexuality that feels good to you now that’s so empowering.

[00:19:27] Michael Diiorio: And that’s the benefit. Right. Going back to the earlier question of what’s the value is you can take something that happened, you can’t change the past.

You know, as I said, we can’t go back and change the past, but you can write a new story about it now going forward.

[00:19:39] Michael Pezzullo: Right.

[00:19:39] Michael Diiorio: And you don’t need to carry that past with you like baggage. It could be something that you liberate yourself from and you don’t bury your head in the sand, but you can come to terms with it where you can at least come to a place of peace or neutrality or something.

[00:19:51] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah, yeah. When I think that we carry a lot of things with us that just are not true, it’s the same thing of people who grew up with very homophobic family, whatever culture that says that being gay is bad and that’s just simply not true, that was, that’s a belief system that is inaccurate. Some people believe it, but we know that they’re wrong. I mean, there’s no objective, like, proof behind that.

[00:20:13] Michael Diiorio: What I do with Catholicism is, uh, that I kind of take what I like now and I leave the rest.

[00:20:18] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah, yeah.

[00:20:18] Michael Diiorio: I like this part. I don’t like this part. And I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s a proper improper and I think you can do that with anything in your past or anything that you don’t really have a choice over.

[00:20:28] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. Yeah. I mean, it’s the same thing. We used to stigmatize addiction so much more that if this is a choice, why would people whatever. And now we know that’s not true.

This is no one’s choice.

[00:20:39] Michael Diiorio: So, Michael, what you had said there really surprised me that most of the time that they find that a pleasurable experience, which is fascinating to me. Um, what might there other, like, what are some other surprising misconceptions, maybe, on the topic of sexual abuse, specifically in the gay population?

[00:20:54] Michael Pezzullo: I mean, that, I think, is the. Is the biggest one. And it’s something that really shames people because it’s like, I enjoyed. I mean, adult men that are raped can have a physical, pleasurable response to it, too, which can also make it very confusing of, like, I had a. My body responded in a pleasurable way, which we all know this, that you can have, like, you know, like, erections or whatever it is that you’re not consciously choosing. Like, our bodies do things all the time that are not our choice. You know, like, I wake up every morning exhausted. I want to be more energized, and I’m not, you know, it’s not my choice, but. So I think that the idea, though, that children actually enjoy the experience is just kind of, it’s like a mind f*ck to even think about. But I think it’s important to normalize that there’s just a physical process that people go through, and it doesn’t mean that they consented to any of it.

[00:21:45] Michael Diiorio: Right. Even in that, you know, hookup scenario that I talked about earlier, where you go, you. The hookup, like, eventually, like, if it. If it feels good at some point or pleasurable at some point, does that still mean that it’s abuse?

[00:22:01] Michael Pezzullo: I think there can be a really, like, a gray area, for sure. I think that if you’re. If you’re noticing that you’re uncomfortable doing something, then I think you owe it to yourself to get out of it, or you owe it to yourself to pause or take a break or to, you know, to do figure something out. And if you don’t, I think that you’re betraying yourself. You’re. You’re crossing some of your own internal boundaries. Most people I know, and, I mean, I’ve been to those, too, but when you just kind of go through something, I feel like you kind of walk away feeling kind of icky, like, you don’t walk away feeling like, oh, great, that was awesome. Like, yeah, it’s not that vibe. Um, so I would. I think. I would think of it that way.

If you’re literally saying no or you’re pulling away, another person’s pulling you back, then. Then obviously there’s something very wrong there.

[00:22:46] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, let’s talk about that in the context of, like, queer spaces, such as bathhouses, darkrooms, cruising, whatnot. Because I frequent those. I enjoy them. I think they’re hot and fun and sexy. But I will very easily say no, and I have no problem at all saying that. So, again, these are spaces where consent is, at least not in my experience. I’ve never given consent. Not verbally, anyway. Maybe with my eyes. But how do you negotiate that in those spaces?

[00:23:14] Michael Pezzullo: So I would say, you know, spaces like that, there is this, like, implicit consent that if you’re there, you’re up for it and you. So that is something to know, walking in the door, that people may have that assumption. I think most importantly, though, people who have experienced trauma is that you want to be very careful that you don’t re traumatize yourself. That’s, you know, because that’s something you want to be very, very mindful of. And I think the problem, too, is that when people don’t get treatment for trauma they’ve been through, then they go through something else that’s kind of similar. And it just stings again and it starts to become this, like, you know, repetition. So I would say to someone who. Who is curious about doing things like that, like, no problem, do what you want. Go help, go explore, whatever. But if you have any unfinished business that you haven’t processed yet, I would do that first.

[00:24:03] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, for sure. What I found with. With the bathhouse situation, and I’ve been to many of them all over the world, is it will draw people who are more likely to be predatory.

[00:24:15] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. I’m glad you said that.

[00:24:17] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. I’m not a big guy. I’m like, five eight. And so I have found that bigger guys will, in a dark room or something, corner me, push me up against the wall, can I, like, put their body literally over me, like, so that I can’t get out, which can be hot if I wanted to, if I. If I want them. Um, but if it’s not, then it’s very quickly, like, this is not safe. This is very uncomfortable. I need to get out of here. And again, it’s so easy, I think, for some people to just not want to not. Not find the words or not know how to say. No. Or fight back or, like, squeeze out of there.

[00:24:47] Michael Pezzullo: And can you imagine, too, if someone had already been, you know, raped or violated in their life and then they find themselves in that situation? I mean, good God, that would be so traumatizing.

[00:24:58] Michael Diiorio: Terrible.

[00:24:58] Michael Pezzullo: So I think that’s why you want to be mindful. I mean, same thing. You know, I can bear these to addiction a lot because I’m sober. But, like, if you’re. If you’re sober, like, you don’t want to go into an arena that’s going to be super triggering if you can help it. You want to be mindful of those sorts of things. It doesn’t catch you by surprise. So I think it’s sort of a similar concept.

[00:25:18] Michael Diiorio: What tips would you have for someone who would want to try that out? But let’s say they. They have not been traumatized in the past. They want to go try it out, but maybe, you know, they might be a bit more timid or they might think. They might have a hard time saying no. They might be scared to get in that situation that I just described.

[00:25:33] Michael Pezzullo: Well, I think if you’re someone who doesn’t, if you’re not sure if you can speak up for yourself, and then you need to figure. I would figure that out first.

[00:25:40] Michael Diiorio: Yeah.

[00:25:40] Michael Pezzullo: Before you put yourself in a situation where people are being given kind of permission to violate your boundaries that you should.

It’s been some kind of harsh, but I do feel like one of the tasks of being an adult is knowing who you are and standing up for yourself. And if you’re not sure about that yet, then I would not put yourself in an arena where you’re really going to be tested strongly. But if you are, then go try it out, see what you think.

[00:26:04] Michael Diiorio: And I don’t want to scare all of our listeners and viewers out there 95% of the time, a simple no thank you will do the trick for most people. But there have been and there are. It’s always in those spaces, at least where I found them. People who don’t want to hear you pretend they don’t understand you or just don’t care.


[00:26:23] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. And I think we do have to be. I try, you know, I don’t want to be, like, a cynic, but I think, I really do. My philosophy. I really do think most people are good people. I really do. And there’s, like, a small percentage of the world that’s not. And I think it’s important to be aware of that. And you don’t want to set yourself up for them to, you know, have bad intentions. Put it that way.

[00:26:43] Michael Diiorio: So how do you feel about. I mean, my approach is. And this could be very wrong. I’m not sure, but please correct me if it is, but when I go in there, it’s like a. It’s a. It’s a yes until it’s a no. Like, if there’s nothing, then if I’m there, I’m there for a reason, for me speaking. Speaking personally here. But it’ll be very clear no. If I’m not interested in you, it’ll be a very clear no. So I’m kind of open, but I don’t always want to have to be, like, consenting when I’m in a space like that, and it’s. A lot of times it’s very quiet in a dark room, like, things. You’re not really talking anyway. It’s not the kind of space. What are your thoughts?

[00:27:13] Michael Pezzullo: I think it. You know, it speaks to the type of person and their relationship to their own sexuality. Some people are a little bit more free. Like, they don’t mind people touching them, or. And some people do. I mean, like, if you. I want these people, but, like, if I walk through a crowded place and someone just kind of, like, grab. Touches my arm, like, I don’t like that. I’m very clear about who I want to do that and who I don’t, you know? And I don’t think that’s it’s better either way. I just think you have to know who you are.

[00:27:42] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. And that’s just it. That’s what I mean. So if it was in me, in that situation, I’m walking by a big crowd, like, at a bar, something. Somebody grabs my butt or whatever, I’m like, sure, no problem. Doesn’t really bother me, and I will just not say anything until it’s a no. So that’s what I’m saying. For me, I’m like, I’m a yes until it’s a no. And then that no is a very firm no.

[00:27:57] Michael Pezzullo: That’s a good way of putting it. Yeah, I think I’m a no until it’s a yes.

[00:28:00] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. Right. But even there’s just. Just this discussion. So as our listeners are thinking about this, like, which one are you? Right. Where do you fall in that spectrum? Are you a yes until it’s no, or no until it’s a yes?

I know that a lot of abuse could be from your actual partner as well. Speak to that.

[00:28:15] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah. I mean, yeah. So if there’s any, like, intimate, we call it intimate partner violence, which can often then lead to sexual abuse. That’s a, that’s a. I’ll put, I’ll kind of put that in its own category because that’s an extremely dangerous situation to be in. And the, you have got to get out of it there. I mean, you don’t, as a therapist, like, there’s no work to be done if someone’s still in a dynamic like that. Hubble’s therapy is like, actually contraindicated because it can just incite more conflict. So, you know, if you’re, if you’re. What I’m trying to say is if you’re, if you’re trying to process something traumatic that already happened to you, that’s, you should be in therapy. If you’re still engaged in a dynamic that’s dangerous, you’re not ready for therapy yet. You have to get yourself safe first. You have to get yourself out of it. Um, and then you can start processing what’s happened. Does that make sense?

[00:29:08] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, that makes sense. And it kind of speaks to that trust element that you talked about with, with childhood. The thing that I’m seeing there is with childhood, you set the example of it’s a family member or trusted friend or family member, and then with your partner, obviously, again, someone who’s trusted. So I think that that’s, that, to me, scares me. It’s like if, if that’s going to happen to me, that percentage is pretty good that it’s someone that I’m going to know.

[00:29:29] Michael Pezzullo: So what you’re going to see, and all human beings do this straight, gay, whatever, is that we get caught in these repetitions where we, you know how they always just say, like, men will marry their mother or whatever, girls go with their father. It’s true. It doesn’t have to be about gender, but you do very, very commonly either marry someone where there’s a similar dynamic to one of your, your parents, or you replicate the relationship you saw with your parents, with your partner. It’s like just we all, we, it’s just the thing we fall into 90% of the time, unless we do work on ourselves, we can really get conscious about it. So people who experience abuse as children from one of their parents, it’s very easy to pick a partner who’s abusive, unfortunately, yeah.

[00:30:16] Michael Diiorio: And it’s so important to have that awareness because I guess then, you know, you can, again, you can kind of look at it and say, oh, here’s, here’s the, here’s the programming that I have. Let’s see what we can do about that. Let’s undo that, right?

[00:30:26] Michael Pezzullo: I’m sure we’ve all been through this, where we have a friend who is falling in love with someone who’s horrible for them, and we’re like, please stop. Like, what are you doing? Like, you know, you’re begging them and they don’t want to hear it. They do not want to hear it. They’re caught in some sort of repetition where they’re just being pulled towards something toxic and you just can’t get in the way.

[00:30:44] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. As a therapist, what do you do? Um, and speak to the viewers and listeners out there. So I kind of speak in layman’s terms. How can you help them with that?

[00:30:54] Michael Pezzullo: I listened to this podcast recently, and this woman said that it’s almost impossible to pull some out of a fairy tale, which I think is so true. My. Honestly, my experience as a therapist is that you will get fired very quickly if you try to convince someone that their new love is bad for them. That’s not news people want to hear. And I’m pretty, like, direct, so I, you know, I’ll call it like I see it, but my. Okay, so, yeah, I think you do have to. You have to be bold to be brave and tell them, lay out your case and be clear about what you think is toxic. If they do not want to hear it, then I think it’s tough. But you kind of have to let the car crash happen and be there for them when they’re ready to pick up the pieces, because if you keep trying, I think they’re just going to get rid of you.

I can imagine myself doing that when I was younger. You don’t want to hear it when you feel like you found the one.

[00:31:47] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, yeah, there. There’s a quote that I love. I’m going to butcher about something. You can’t. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped at the end of that. And there has to be, like, a little sliver. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but, like, sometimes in the back of your head, you know, your friends could be telling you, this person’s wrong for you, and you might say, no, no, no, they’re on. But there’s a whisper in your intuition, like, maybe there’s something there. That’s all you need is just a little crack of intuition to explore with someone safe and confidential to, like, say, okay, wait, maybe there is something here.

[00:32:14] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. Yeah. And I mean, you know, I think there’s a reason why every song is about tortured love. It’s like love is blindness. It’s this intoxicating thing that pulls you in, turns you into a different person, and then drops you on the ground, you know? So I think it does something to us, too.

[00:32:30] Michael Diiorio: Let’s talk a little bit about the types of therapies that you kind of mentioned at the beginning.

Give us a little rundown of what they’re about.

[00:32:37] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah. Yeah. So, and with trauma, there’s. It’s so fascinating. So, for a long time, traditional therapy was talk therapy, and the idea was that, and this is still true, that our mind is mostly unconscious, and very little of it is conscious awareness. And so what we’re trying to do is access the unconscious material by making ourselves more and more self-aware, which is still very, very true and very accurate. And the more you know about yourself, the better you’re going to operate in the world. 100%. But what we’ve realized, particularly with trauma, is that there’s a really strong reaction between the brain and the body that has nothing to do with your cognitive thinking and how rational and smart you are. And I’m sure, I mean, we’ve all been through this where we know something, but it’s still triggering us. We’re aware of something, but it’s still upsetting us. So that’s more of a reaction between the brain and the body. So now there are different types of therapy that address that process in particular.

Probably the one that’s the most well-known is EMDR, which that’s a whole other podcast to explain that. But it’s a way of helping the two hemispheres of the brain communicate in a way to regulate the nervous system. It’s very different than that conversation that we’re having right now. There’s also ketamine assisted psychotherapy, which is being used a lot with trauma as well. That’s very different than a traditional cognitive therapy.


[00:34:05] Michael Diiorio: What does the ketamine do exactly, in a therapeutic sense?

[00:34:09] Michael Pezzullo: So that one is, again, we could go. We could talk for a long time. Uh, the ketamine one is really interesting because it creates, um. It creates like a, uh, the. So the brain is like, um, kind of like hardwired. Think of it that way. Ketamine creates this window where it’s malleable, where it’s actually flexible. And so it kind of creates this space, and then you can do work while you have it. I don’t know if you’ve ever done, like, a psychedelic drug before, but, you know, when you’re on it, you literally have this different type of consciousness.

[00:34:38] Michael Diiorio: Yeah.

[00:34:39] Michael Pezzullo: If you can intervene there, you can create change.

A lot of people when they’re on a psychedelic, and I’ve had this experience, you have all these realizations and you think, oh, my God, this is going to be me forever. And then it comes and goes, and you go right back to who you were before, but when you’re on it, it feels so strong.

You go into that window is like a general way of putting it.

[00:34:57] Michael Diiorio: Fascinating. Yeah. I’ve only known enough ketamine as the party drugs on a dance floor, not in a therapist.

[00:35:02] Michael Pezzullo: It’s very different. It’s very. And it’s much better. A lot of people have told me that, like, oh, I’ve done ketamine on a dance floor. I’m like, this is. This is pure. It’s like the real substance. It’s not diluted with whatever the hell you’re, you know, this is. It’s the true medicinal experience.

[00:35:18] Michael Diiorio: Fascinating. And so that’s something that you do yourself?

[00:35:21] Michael Pezzullo: Yes.

[00:35:22] Michael Diiorio: That’s awesome.

[00:35:22] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. You can actually be with your client while they’re on ketamine and help them process, and then you do integration work afterwards, the next day.

[00:35:31] Michael Diiorio: So what would you help a client where patient, I guess, for you, a patient with who wants to, let’s say, set more firm boundaries or learn how to say no.

[00:35:41] Michael Pezzullo: So nine times out of ten, when you have that conversation is that you’re going to think of some example in the past and then get clear about where they should have set the boundary, and then you’re going to plan for the future. Okay. The next time this comes up, this is what I’m going to do. And nine times out of ten, they’re going to fail. They’re going to. The moment’s going to come, they’re going to know they’re supposed to do it, and they’re going to choke.

And then you don’t want to both feel frustrated and feel like, I would expect that to happen, is what I’m trying to say. So what you want to be very clear about is what do they experience in that moment when they’re about to get up to the plate and then they can’t do it? What happens to you? And I would just sort of keep them there until something comes up. Just stay with them in that process, because a lot of people, and I did this, too, it’s like, you are fine through most of the process, but then there’s a point where you struggle and you quit and you want to stay with them in that moment.

[00:36:46] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. And that’s another reason to work with any professional. Doesn’t matter really who it would be or what it is, because that accountability, someone to keep you on track, someone to keep you accountable, someone to hold space for you as you go through that stream spiral, like, oh, no, I can’t do it. Because if you already have a lot of shame, then you add up to the fact that, I mean, I tried again and I failed again. It’s really easy if you don’t have that support, just go into your own shame spiral again. But when you have someone there like you just did, is like, it’s a lot to go through that on the first time. You’re not going to get it right the first time. That doesn’t mean we quit, means we just try again, right?

[00:37:18] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s very often when we’re failing, we’re used to people giving up on us or getting annoyed or frustrated or that they feel defeated. And now we feel defeated, and so we’re just both defeated together. So you don’t want to do that.

You want to get curious with them about what’s happening.

[00:37:37] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, love it. Good. I hope that there are a lot of people listening out there who, you know, even if it’s not necessarily about sexual abuse, but see the benefit of having a therapist or a coach or any kind of professional work through these things, walk them through some of these more difficult scenarios. Right?

[00:37:54] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. I mean, sometimes I think, you know, because I do my ongoing work, of course, with this job and just, you know, I want to be more aware and get better. And I still have tons of growth to endless things to learn.

I think a lot about the progress I’ve made in therapy, but I also think about the pitfalls or, like, the lows that I haven’t gone into because I do therapy, like, because I have this practice in my life. I have a lot of. I have several practices in my life to sustain my mental health. It’s not just about my growth, but it’s also about where would I be without all these things. Like I probably would suffer a lot more and I have a lot more lows and, you know, a lot of other stress that would come up for me.

[00:38:37] Michael Diiorio: So, yeah, this resilience is what I would call it. Yeah, right. Like, it doesn’t mean that challenging things don’t happen, doesn’t mean you don’t face adversity. It just means that you feel a little bit better equipped when they do come up because it’s inevitable that these things are going to come up. Right?

[00:38:50] Michael Pezzullo: Yes. Yeah. I think sometimes people go to therapy, like, to fix something and be done with it, and I’ve done that, too. I get that. But I really see, the more that I, I do this work, but also my own work, I really see the value of the maintenance that when I hit a. Like, when I stumble, I feel like I don’t stumble as much or I don’t think. I know I don’t stumble as much.

[00:39:12] Michael Diiorio: Yeah, yeah. I feel. I feel you on that. And, I mean, therapists have therapists, coaches have coaches. And it doesn’t mean that, like, we have it all figured out by any means. I have yet to meet anyone who works in this field that has it all figured out.

[00:39:24] Michael Pezzullo: Or if you meet someone who tells you they have it all figured out, run for your life.

[00:39:28] Michael Diiorio: Right.

[00:39:29] Michael Pezzullo: Run away.

[00:39:30] Michael Diiorio: Yeah. And where can people find you if they do want to find you?

[00:39:34] Michael Pezzullo: Yeah. Yeah. So, um. So I practice in person in West Hollywood, where my office is, but I’m licensed in California, so I work with people remotely throughout the state. Some people live, you know, people in the Bay area or some people aren’t. You know, if you’re. If you’re in a major city, you can find a gay therapist pretty easily, like New York, lA, whatever. But if you’re in a smaller town, there’s very few to be had. So. So, um, anyway, so remotely throughout California. Um, and then, um, yeah, I got my website, which is my name, and I have a very unusual last name. So if you look me up, you’re going to find me. Say it for us, Huzzulo.

[00:40:10] Michael Diiorio: And I said in the Italian way.

[00:40:12] Michael Pezzullo: Yours. Yours is the right way?

[00:40:14] Michael Diiorio: Yes. Yes. And mine’s Diiorio. So we’re both Michaels and we’re both Italian, so. And we’re both.

[00:40:18] Michael Pezzullo: And you’re. You’re, uh, Neapolitan too, right? Or Sicilian.

[00:40:22] Michael Diiorio: No. Pulez and Abruzzes.

[00:40:25] Michael Pezzullo: Okay. Okay. That’s what I’m Neapolitan and Sicilian. I just assumed you were too South. South.

[00:40:30] Michael Diiorio: The general South. Okay, Michael, any last words before we wrap this up for our audience?

[00:40:38] Michael Pezzullo: You know, I guess just the last thing I would say is that anyone who has gone through us or is unsure about seeking help, that, you know, it’s okay. It’s okay to do that. And also to choose your moment. If now is not your moment to dig in, that’s okay, too. You can wait until you’re. Until you’re ready.

[00:40:56] Michael Diiorio: When we’ve had these episodes, I’ve done episodes on spiritual abuse, religious trauma, other sexual trauma, the feedback that we get is always like, I listened to it once. I stopped it five minutes in because it was too uncomfortable. I listened to it again a few weeks later, and then I listened to again four months later. And then eventually, like I said, that little silent or that little quiet voice within, they said, okay, something needs to be done. I contacted my doctor, I contacted the therapist, whatever that is, you know, and.

[00:41:24] Michael Pezzullo: I think, too, back when I. When I was 18 and I first started to struggle with mental health and, you know, drinking and stuff, and I was curious about help, and I had no clue what that was, that podcasts were not like they are now. But the. These things are so valuable because it’s such a big step to call a therapist to do those things, but to listen to a podcast, it’s a much more passive way to get curious. I think it’s so valuable.

[00:41:50] Michael Diiorio: All right, Michael, well, thank you for being on the episode today. Thank you for the topic idea. This was Michael’s idea, and I’m really happy that we got a chance to talk about this, and I do hope that our viewers and listeners out there got something out of it. I’m sure they did. If you want to contact Michael, I will put his information in the show notes. And please do give him an email or visit his website.

Are you also on Instagram, Michael?

[00:42:18] Michael Pezzullo: I am, but the website’s better.

[00:42:20] Michael Diiorio: Website. Okay. Find him on his website. Yeah. All right, everyone, and we’ll see you next Thursday. Bye.