The first time my brother, five years my senior, exposed himself to me I was eight years old. He asked me to perform oral sex. I refused, but I allowed him to touch me inappropriately. I don’t remember a whole lot of what happened between us in the following years, except that he would occasionally take me aside while the other three siblings and my mom were in another room and rub himself against me. I was twelve or thirteen the last time it happened. He blackmailed me with a Sonic The Hedgehog videogame, reassured me keep I could keep my clothes on this time, and then he just stopped.
During the years of abuse, I would often wake up screaming or sleepwalk around the house. I hinted to my mother that something was wrong, telling her I tried to slit my wrists, but she slammed me for being selfish and overly emotional.
A few months ago, I told my younger sister what happened. She cried, told me to keep quiet for the sake of the family, and then never spoke about it again. I want to tell my best friend of fourteen years and my mother. I want them to know where this well of heartache comes from, but I would ruin so many lives in the process. My brother has a child, a job, a future better than his past. I’m afraid my increasing anxiety, weight gain, and recent return of insomnia are stemming from my inability to deal with this. What should I do?
A. Your story is a common one. There are many years separating the abuse from the present. If you had brought this up at the time that the abuse was taking place your family would most likely have been very supportive. Now many years have passed and the family has its present day relationship. Of course family members will be very reluctant to do anything that will endanger the stability of the current relationship.
This behavior pattern on the part of the family is very, very common. It is absolutely the norm. What your brother did to you was absolutely wrong. There is no need to protect him. He must be held accountable for all of his actions, just as we all are. I’m sure in all likelihood that he regrets what he’s done and when questioned about this he will bring in as his defense his youth at the time. And we must acknowledge the fact that he was young when he committed this abuse. There is also a strong likelihood that he as well as all sexual abusers, was abused as a child. Was he a victim who as a part of his trauma abused you? There are many questions here whose answer would help to identify your brother’s motives. It would be interesting to find these answers but it would do little to improve your situation.
There are several important things here. One would be to improve the quality of your life. A second would be to make sure that your brother did not engage in future sexual abuse with a child. There is no way to change what he has done to you. It is highly unlikely that any amount of punishment of your brother would help you.
One part of this which I believe is hurting you is the secrecy. This very important trauma in your life remains a secret. It’s something that you can’t talk about with family members, the very people who are supposed to love you and with which you are supposed to be able to share your most important feelings and thoughts. This is a problem that threatens your relationship with your family. Many of the problems which you’ve described I believe are coming from this secret that cannot be shared.
My recommendation is to find a therapist who is experienced with sexual abuse. I would discuss this entire situation with your therapist and share your desires and fears with him or her. If you were my client, I would suggest that very early in our counseling experience that your brother be brought into the sessions. Based on his willingness to participate we would determine the future actions. Ideally, in those counseling sessions I would also hope to involve your other family members. Of course every family is different and some members would be appropriate to involve and others would not. There are many variables here, each interacting with the other and I can’t possibly list all of the outcomes.
It might be very helpful for you to see that your brother was indeed sorry, truly sorry. It might be enough for you to discuss this with him during the counseling sessions. During this time we would decide if and how to involve other family members. Once the secret is revealed and everyone is aware of what has happened to you at the hands of your brother it would be time to deal solely with your issues.
The damage done to you must be corrected. Counseling is the ideal environment to perform this task. I hope my answer has been beneficial to you and I wish you the best of luck.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Jul 2009
Randle, K. (2009). Molestation Memories Hurting My Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 4, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/07/06/molestation-memories-hurting-my-relationships/