(Un)Harden my Heart


Randy Ellison

Consultant, speaker, writer, and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child sexual abuse victim’s advocate and an activist promoting legislative and cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. As one of Oprah’s 200 Men, Randy was one of the first men in the country to come out publicly as a survivor of child sex abuse. He is the author of over 180 articles on child sex abuse and is the subject of several documentaries, including Pursuit of Truth.

Randy co-founded the first survivor-based non-profit in the nation working to eliminate child sex abuse. He is the former co-coordinator of We Will Speak Out Oregon, Faith Communities Uniting to End Sexual Violence. He is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force on Legislative and Public Policy. Randy also maintains a website for survivors Boys Don’t Tell

Randy resides in Ashland, Oregon with his wife Helen of 45 years.


(Un)Harden my Heart

Many years ago friends of mine had a big hit with the song Harden My Heart. The song is about ending a relationship that turns bad. The connection to abuse is palpable.

Cryin’ on the corner, waitin’ in the rain

I swear I’ll never, ever wait [trust] again

You gave me your word but words for you are lies

I’m gonna harden my heart

I’m gonna swallow my tears

Those words are exactly how I entered adulthood and I suspect they are the unconscious mantra of many survivors of long-term child sex abuse. That level of betrayal and personal violence for most of us came from someone we knew and trusted, and for many, someone we actually loved. For me, this was probably the most destructive outcome of my abuse. How am I supposed to learn to let anyone else in when the boundary between love and abuse was not just walked over, it was shattered. If love equals being abused, then I guess I must live with both, or give up on love.

I’m gonna harden my heartboundary shattered

I’m gonna swallow my tears

We have a lot of science now to help understanding people living with severe trauma. Our brains are short-circuited and rewired so when we feel a threat, imagined or real, instead of processing through the reason centers of our brain, we move to fight, flight, or freeze in a split second.

Everyone falls into one of those three reactions. Some are fighters. You can tell by the anger that is kept at the ready. Others take flight. I’m outta here! And a third group freezes. They often fall back into a victim mode and risk repeating abusive relationships.

As a child, I froze. Then I did a lot of fighting back as an angry young man. Flight is the best description of me now. Once I feel crossed, it is over. No discussion. No explanations. I am gone and you are out of my life. Period. I am a pro at pushing people away. I have often said that I am as tough as nails, which is an inaccurate description. My soft heart is protected by almost impenetrable steel.

Cryin’ on the corner, waitin’ in the rain

I swear I’ll never, ever wait [trust] again

Harden my heart, harden my heart

Living most of my life not having the slightest awareness of all of this, you can imagine I have a trail of people and relationships left in my wake. It also means that there are very, very few that actually know much about the man behind the tough bravado (except through my advocacy work).

The relationships that have survived are ones that never threatened me or my secret. The family who was there before and after revealing are probably the most challenging. My learned patterns are that of a PTSD survivor, and that is entirely different from me as a survivor on a healing path. What happens in many conflicts within that circle is that I get frustrated trying to express my feelings, and I walk away feeling hurt, angry, and judged. I believe my reaction is actually based on fear of not being able to say no or defend myself. So instead of showing who I am, I run to the safety of my fortress, alone.

I’ve been waiting for a feeling [of safety] that never, ever came

It feels so close, but always disappears

Now I find myself at a crossroads. I no longer wish to be in relationships that I do not feel fully safe to be myself. The feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness has grown old along with me. I desperately want to learn to sit in a room with others and be able to express how I feel, without my protective walls going up.

It makes me start to sweat just thinking about that. How scary for that little boy in me that was so horrifically violated to imagine coming out into the light without protection. It is something I have rarely done one on one, and I’m honestly not sure I can, but if I am to give and receive the love and affection my heart longs for, I must.

(Un)Harden my heart, (un)harden my heart

Randy EllisonVisit post

A special thanks to Marv and Rindy Ross, not only for their amazing music but their commitment to support others as they walk a healing path. Harden My Heart Written by Marvin Ross, Marvin Webster Ross • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Randy, thank you for your commitment to being there for so many boys and men. Your articles will continue to help others who are suffering and feel they have no-where to turn and no one who cares.

Permission to print- Randy gives permission to post his story. To know more about Randy Ellison and Boys Don’t Tell visit his website Boys Don’t Tell.