Throughout my teen years and early adulthood I had a memory of a sexual experience from when I was around 4-5 yo, from a brother, and didn’t have the language to describe what happened. Once I learned the word – molestation – that is when my memory had a name. Later, when I was 29 I did a role play where I addressed my *dad* and asked him why he spent so much time focusing on stranger danger when he didn’t protect me from his own son, my brother. The danger was in our own home! Within a couple of weeks, I approached this abuser-brother about it. Asked if he remembered. He did apologize. Interestingly though he quickly went onto asking me if I remembered something else he had done to me. He asked me if I remembered [probably being around 2 ½ yo] that he had hung me upside down, outside an upstairs window. I had no visual memory of that incident, but decades later my nervous system would remind me.
I say his response is interesting because, while I didn’t see it at the time, he did not grasp the seriousness nor criminal implications of the sexual assault – he wasn’t understanding the damage it would have on my developing body, brain and nervous system. He didn’t understand the boundary-crossing, the personal violation of my very being and how devastating that would be. His apology then and his apology later reveal that he doesn’t *get it* because these are blended with excuses and explanations. There wasn’t any evidence of true remorse. So these apologies are useless. As his target, I do not want to hear excuses. I need to see genuine remorse and an effort to make amends. There is also a level of concern for him for he won’t ever heal from his own pain and deal with his own *demons* if he doesn’t fully admit and own what he’s done. Accountability is healing.
Now that I’m in my 50’s and after much education and therapy, I am attuned to the impact of some of the horrifying events that I suffered. I’ve learned to listen to my emotions and how I feel. I realize now that I have never…. Ever….felt safe. I learned at a noticeably young age that the world is not safe and there was no place safe in the home either.
How does a toddler and child navigate through life never feeling safe? Since then I’ve had quite the journey of many twists and turns, making poor, good, and sometimes stupid decisions, experiencing ups and downs, gathering more wounds while doing my best to make sense of my life, figuring out how to be a good person, a good mother and wife, and make my God happy.
Then July 2018 happened. I’ve spoken to this event in other blogs. The isolation I felt then, the invalidation and terror of feeling again, unworthy of protection and respect was overwhelming. My son came to hug me and support me and repeatedly said: “Mom, you did nothing wrong. You were trying to take your power back. You did nothing wrong.” This move by my son Zackarias has stayed with me to this day. From this incident I manifest PTSD symptoms. And shortly after this incidents emotional flashbacks of terror and feeling unsafe began to happen.
Sibling Abuse – all forms whether it is Sexual, Emotional or Physical – all have their unique damaging aftereffects that stay with the victim/survivor throughout life. Depending on how soon it began, the duration, and if the victim received healthy support – these factors impact the impact of the abuse. In my case, this SA brother is 8.5 years older than me. While still under 18, I have no doubt he knew he was doing something that he shouldn’t. I was 4. Did he know it was sexual assault? In 1968, probably not. Did he know what he was doing was wrong? Yes, because he locked the door. I’ve looked for answers for so long…. I have wondered constantly: Was he exposed to pornography then? Was he himself sexually abused? I have no idea. A couple of years afterwards a cousin came to live with us. She was a few years older than me and she sexually abused me too. I’ve come to learn how common sibling abuse really is.
Naturally I had to dissociate to carry on living in the same home with someone who was unpredictable and unsafe. My parents were not the huggy, kissy, warm and affectionate type and I understand why- it wasn’t their fault. There was not much available back then when it came to support for emotional injuries, mental health challenges, childhood trauma, etc. Therefore, there wasn’t the knowledge nor capability to create a sense of emotional safety. The ability to develop a personal connection and take a personal interest didn’t seem to be there. As a result of this unintentional emotional vacancy plus the physical and sexual abuse, I have never felt I belonged nor that I fit it throughout most of my life. I never felt 100% accepted for being me. And no doubt to some extent, I didn’t know better, so I too passed on my own trauma – unfortunately. That’s why I sarcastically label childhood trauma as *the gift that keeps on giving*.
Until I educated myself about childhood trauma and its impact on the developing body, brain and nervous system I just kept thinking there was something wrong with me. I struggled with learning certain math concepts at school [cognitive impairment can result from childhood trauma]. I still have to read things several times and I’ve noticed that sometimes I mishear things. I was very socially awkward and shy. I truly believed that I was unloved, and no one wanted to hang around with me. [classic lie that abuse teaches a child – unworthiness and unlovability]
Interpersonal trauma, what childhood abuse and neglect is, also causes social impairments and interpersonal difficulties. There are other challenges that I have and had but the overall elephant in the room is that I was sexually assaulted by one of my brothers and a cousin who lived with us, and it really damaged me in every way imaginable.
Going forward since July 2018 I’ve let all the rest of siblings know who sexually assaulted me. Apparently even though he admitted it to me and told 2 of his 3 wives that he did something to me that he’s not very proud of…. He did the typical abuser denial dance, aka DARVO. It got back to me that he denied the sexual assault to some, he downplayed and minimized it to others. He has also tried to twist this around and make it I am trying to ruin his life. He wrote to me that ‘he should not have to pay for the rest of his life for one non-malicious act.’ Which again proves that he is NOT sorry, he does NOT grasp the damage he’s caused me and his FOO- things that we all must *pay* the rest of our lives for. All of us are reeling from this information. There has been a corruption of family relationships because of what he’s done. It is NOT because I disclosed. Unless I am destined to be the black sheep of the family – the scapegoat. 😊
And this is what it often comes out as – the truth-teller is shunned or left alone – abandoned. The Truth-teller is blamed or criticized for telling what happened – not the sexual offender/abuser. [to my knowledge, I wasn’t blamed for telling] The truth-teller is treated as the black sheep of the family and often becomes the scapegoat. The reality is that by Truth Telling this person sheds light on a dark part of the family dynamic that no one wants to admit is there. Victim-shaming language comes to the fore – trying to shame the truth-teller because others don’t want to feel their own shame. Sometimes there are even threats. Am I the betrayer here? The revealer of family secrets? It depends on what side of the coin you are looking at. Spending over 5 decades hiding the truth had created so much dysfunction and unhealthiness in my life that I could no longer walk this path that leads to self destruction and a life of denial and disconnection. I get it though. Isn’t it easier to not talk to the Truth-teller- to shun her – to take her Truth personal, as criticism, instead of trying to understand the pain she’s lived in for 99% of her life? Otherwise, there would need to be a self-reckoning of sorts – something that many try to avoid? Why? There is too much toxic shame, guilt, blame and sense of powerlessness – if one digs deep enough. I know – shame is so powerful – it takes over – we don’t like looking at ourselves and what we may have done even inadvertently that’s really hurt/damaged someone else. I know, I’m there now – needing to look, see, feel and acknowledge the pain I have caused others.
Immediately after I disclosed to FOO I received emails from sibs offering support and saying how upset and shocked they are and asked how to support me. My reply was the same to all – educate yourself on child abuse, on DARVO. I had hoped that with self enlightening, they’d have a better idea on how to support me in the way that works best. From what followed, I’ve gathered this hasn’t been the case.
I do know how my FOO behaves regarding unpleasant or shocking events: If we don’t talk about it long enough, it’ll solve itself, the tension will go away, and we can all go back to behaving like before. This avoidance tactic is unhealthy and *things* rarely get fully resolved. The refusal to talk about *it*, the refusal to *get involved* all creates a very toxic environment. It is a way to force the victim to be silent. And as this has gone on for decades, this unhealthy way of dealing with unpleasantness becomes the norm. Unfortunately, this unhealthy version of *normal* is not acknowledged. I’ve learned that it’s an easier choice to live in denial than face the facts. I did that for several decades.
Actions speak louder than words. By the time an offer to listen was extended, the feeling of abandonment was too great to overlook. This person now needed to do some damage repair first before I could trust the offer. This sib never replied after I asked what they’d be willing to do to help me feel safe.
A few years have gone by since July 2018. There has been a couple of sibs reach out, yet it still is evident that empathy and compassion seem to be lacking. Compassion means: to suffer with. There is not enough evidence of this yet. As a result, I do not trust. My nervous system still does not feel safe regarding FOO. I remember oodles of times where I have been gaslit, dismissed, mistreated and disrespected in the growing up years. This along with the assaults inflicted by the SA offenders – it is enough to keep me guarded and needing to keep my distance until I see ample, consistent and convincing evidence that members of the FOO are psychologically safe – that they have true empathy and compassion – that they truly *get it*. The elephant in the room needs to be addressed first before any relationship can evolve.
You know what also hurts? Being misjudged and the emotional abandonment – the emotional neglect that I suffered. Page 32 from Sibling Abuse Hidden Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Trauma states: “Emotional abuse, as the child abuse literature states, is more prevalent and potentially even more destructive than other forms of child abuse.” Emotional abuse and neglect lands as rejection of who one is, that one’s very existence is repulsive or undeserving. Neuroscience is now showing in MRI’s that the brain damage that results from emotional neglect is at least equal to child sexual abuse. Here
The little one inside has asked, where was my mother when all this was going on? Why didn’t she stick up for me, or my dad? Am I not good enough? Why didn’t anybody care? [as an healed adult I see things very differently now]. I will say that occasionally my mom did scold a brother or two. Unfortunately, this did not stop the emotional abuse. Clearly all of us kids were struggling with some level or kind of abuse/neglect. The emotional abandonment I felt sent the message that me, my pain, my hurts, my abuses don’t matter – that it’s ok to disrespect me. Do they think it is better to not talk about it with me? If so, I wonder, who are they protecting – themselves or me? It takes tremendous courage to look at self and be brutally honest. Self protection is a knee jerk reaction and so are the FFFFs of trauma responses. No one enjoys seeing flaws, mistakes, offences that one has made. Part of healing requires admitting to the pain one has caused. And I am thankful that I am at that stage now.
Here is a description for what it’s been like to do my recovery work:
Healing from the rawness of childhood trauma is like being in the ICU, in a body cast with several broken bones, a punctured lung, while dealing with life threatening infections that manifest sporadically. This is what it is like trying to heal from Complex PTSD and PTSD / Childhood / Developmental Trauma without a lot of FOO support. Am I exaggerating? Not. At. All. The healing has taken much longer than thought and the feelings of being unloved, unworthy, plus the isolation and devastation have taken their toll. The emotional pain that has come with CPTSD has resulted in moments of suicide ideation. Yes, healing from CPTSD can be life-threatening.
Time and time again trauma specialists say that the best way to heal from childhood trauma is to provide safe emotional connection.
With all this, I am healing. I am recovering from the traumas – the deep wounds. It takes years to do so and mistakes will be made along the way. I have grieved a lot, cried a lot, lived in toxic shame a lot, mourned a lot and prayed a lot. Yes, I’ve come a LONG way. I have learned to make peace with the fact that at this time, my FOO doesn’t appear capable of being the type of people that I’ve needed them to be. I’ve let that hope go. [I get it – I was raised in the same house. To feel free from the shackles of unwarranted/toxic shame, I chose to do the work to address the pain of childhood trauma. I pray that one day at least one of them will too] The cool thing is there are others who have been there for me through all this who have listened without judgement, validated, lent me their shoulder, have held me and supported me through it all. These ones have stuck with me through all my trials. These ones are my blessings. I believe they are a provision from God.
All along I kept on doing my best to shine while stumbling, falling and picking myself up along the way 😊. Now, there is enough healing that I no longer feel unworthy or unlovable. I have grappled these monsters and have had victory. I do not judge nor shame myself for the mistakes I’ve made nor carry blame for what happened to me nor any guilt for how others behave towards me. I accept that their behaviours are their choices – usually stemming from shame and guilt, and it has nothing to do with me. I’ve witnessed first-had what shame-propelled reactions look like. Ill-timed and hurtful comments stem from shame, guilt, ignorance and ignorance is a choice. Finger pointing and mud slinging is a GoTo for some. It’s easier sometimes to be upset with the Truth Teller than accepting accountability and do one’s own healing work.
Well… I will continue to share my trauma recovery journey. Telling and retelling what happened is a big part of healing. And…. I will continue to let my light shine! 😊
Because of my experiences, I want to be there for others and ensure that other survivors of childhood trauma and sibling abuse never feel alone, alone as I have. It wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone.
As part of my healing journey, I became Certified in Trauma Recovery Coaching and am doing what I can to support others navigate through the recovery process. It is such an honour to be part of this very sacred journey with another.
Each month, the last Monday, I facilitate a Sibling Abuse Support Group. Here one can come to a place that is safe, where there is inclusion, nonjudgement and where support and validation is freely given. It is imperative that childhood trauma survivors know they are not alone. Please go to the About Me page to find the link to join.
It’s never too late to start your own healing journey.
Thank you for sharing mine.
*Religious abuse is a type of abuse that uses scripture or doctrine to get an individual to comply or submit to a certain course of action. In my case, he was using misapplied scripture to Silence me – to ensure I stop talking about the sexual assault he committed. Religious abuse is like other types of abuse – a method used in gaining and ensuring Power and Control.