Is sexual abuse by a sibling possible?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: Thanks for reading my question. I didn’t find any other questions precisely like this one.
I am 38 and single. I am afraid something bad may have happened to me when I was younger. My brother beat me and was emotionally cruel, but I am afraid that he might have done more than that.

For several years, I have been having nightmares about being raped. Sometimes in my dreams my brother is raping me; sometimes a stranger is raping me; sometimes I am pregnant by my brother. I also dream a lot about hiding in my room and locking the door, but he always manages to get through the locks and I fear being I don’t have any defense from him. My dreams are not “recurring” because they are not identical, but the themes are recurring. Does this have any significance?

I am so scared of the gynecologist that I avoid talking about it or going; my heart beats out of my chest, I hyperventilate, and I feel like I”m being raped. I also feel scared of men, especially if they are close to my age. I have had problems with anxiety. I also have weird thought or “auditory memories” of being tied up, of being degraded sexually; and of animals i loved being threatened by my brother. I have almost no memory of my childhood adolescence and young adulthood. I do remember some particular violent episodes with my brother when I was fifteen and he was seventeen, times when I feared he would seriously harm me. And I think the threats to animals, the ones in my head, happened at about the same time. Also his voice saying “you’re so ugly, this is the only way you’ll ever get it.”

Do these thoughts and feelings mean something? Could I have been sexually abused? Also, is it possible for a sibling, only two years older, to abuse another child? People tell stories about being raped or abused by parents or teachers or much older siblings, but not one so close in age.

I am a successful professional, and happy with my life, but every now and then, usually when my parents are harassing me, or I have the nightmares, I wonder what it is all about and if I am just crazy for even thinking it.

I have a therapist, but I am afraid to ask her if I might have been sexually abused. I don’t talk about these feelings because I can’t prove anything, or change the past. I don’t want to overreact, but I really do wonder if my history and my nightmares and my odd fears add up to anything at all. Should I try to forget it all and “move on”?

A; If you could “move on” or forget about it all on your own, you would have done so already. By not sharing, you aren’t being fair to your therapist who is trying to help you and you aren’t being fair to yourself when you clearly need the help.

The short answer to your question, is that, sadly, yes, siblings sometimes abuse siblings. But the answer is really more complicated than that. The mind hates a vacuum. If your mind can’t come up with an reason for how you feel, you could decide something is true because it at least gives a reasonable explanation.

It could be your brother sexually abused you. It’s also possible that someone else did and your memories merged so that you think the brother who already did you so much harm hurt you that way too. Or it could be that the physical abuse was so horrific that you are indeed traumatized by that experience and you keep reminding yourself of it because you haven’t come to terms with it. That’s only for starters. Memories are very unreliable for lots of reasons. What we know for sure is true is that you are in emotional pain and you need to resolve it so that you can go to an OB-GYN doctor without anxiety and so that you can be intimate with a partner without triggering fear.

Therapy can often help a person sort things out. But you can’t sort out what isn’t on the table. I know this is a hard, hard topic. I know it’s very difficult to share things you’d just as soon not talk about at all. I understand completely why you’d like to think it will go away on its own. But I also think you have suffered long enough. If you trust your therapist, I encourage you ask her to help you move gently into this area of your life. If you don’t trust her enough, I encourage you to find a therapist you do trust so that you can get to these very important issues. The past doesn’t have to overshadow your present and your future.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Aug 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Is sexual abuse by a sibling possible?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/08/10/is-sexual-abuse-by-a-sibling-possible/