Before we get started 😊 —Let’s be clear on the meaning of various words.


Siblings are identified as full siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, foster siblings, cousins, and anyone who lives with or is an integral part of the family of origin.  


Abuse is defined as cruel or violent treatment.


WHO’s (World Health Organization) definition of Violence-

“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either result in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”


Some things about memories – 

    1. Each family member will have their own memories from childhood. This blog is based on mine.
    2. Neuroscience shows that specific memories of traumatic events stay with the individual; they are static – they do not morph over time, nor are they influenced like other memories. 
  • Traumatic memories are not only in pictures; sometimes, they manifest as emotional flashbacks held in the nervous system. [Peter Levine, Traumatic Memory; Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score]


This blog aims to affirm how common sibling abuse is (easily mislabeled as sibling rivalry) so that others who’ve experienced similar things can identify what happened to them and appreciate they are not alone. It is not about finger-pointing or shaming certain individuals. (If reading this is upsetting or triggering, then perhaps take some time to look inward and find out what’s going on inside – what’s behind it and reach out for mental health or emotional support.)


It is important to appreciate that what is considered harmful, traumatic, etc., must come from the one who received the action, not the perpetrator of them. It’s the receiver who has been severely impacted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, not the other way around. Neither the perpetrator nor anyone else has the right to define what is abusive or causes trauma. 


Nobody wants to believe that what they went through is called “abuse” or that it came from their own flesh and blood, nor that they were complicit or participated in it. It is a very hard pill to swallow. No one wants to believe “this” happened in their family. No one wants to see themselves as an abusive person. In some families, the behaviour that caused trauma may not have been intentional or malicious. Regardless, there was an intent to make the action, and the receiver was greatly wounded. And this is what the focus must be on.


From birth onward, children need plenty of emotional support so they can return to homeostasis – the feeling of safety and security — following (a) terrifying event(s). Incidents or circumstances become traumatic when sufficient comfort and consolation are not provided. Babies, toddlers, and young children cannot comfort themselves healthfully without being taught or shown how. This emotional neglect, while perhaps unintentional, causes further wounding. It contributes to the formation of Developmental and or Complex Trauma.


Some Traumatizing Experiences 

I endured life-changing events by the time I was seven years old. I was physically hurt (pushed, resulting in a broken foot, lye blown into my eyes), terrorized (hung upside down out a 2nd story window), sexually abused, and objectified – by “siblings”, individuals living under the same roof. 


We all know that kids “pick on each other and name-call” from time to time. But when there is a request for the mistreatment to stop, and it doesn’t – it becomes abusive; when there is a sense of power over another – it becomes abusive. I was nicknamed after a dog for years, and my request that it stop wasn’t respected; it was purposely demeaning. I was punched in the arms until they went limp. Again, my requests were ignored. I was told I was making a big deal out of nothing. Clearly, my feelings didn’t matter. Growing up and living in a disrespectful and “unsafe” environment made living too painful. I hated my life. No wonder I attempted to end it when I was 15! Life sucked!


Jumping ahead about 13/14 years, D. and I confronted the sibling who sexually assaulted me. He said he remembered. He looked at me and said, I can’t believe you’re still upset over this. Then he went on to tell me about hanging me outside a second-story window. (I would have been around 2-3 years old when he did that) There are no words for such ignorant callousness. The other sibling who sexually abused me has since passed away.


Were these acts intentional? Yes, each sibling made a choice to initiate. Were they intended to cause harm? I don’t know, and does it really matter? What I know is that what I experienced caused indescribable suffering and undeserving  harm. These behaviours weren’t a joke. None of this was harmless fun, or painless. They all caused trauma. To this day, I suffer ill effects from them.


A few years back (2018), the abuser-brother (window, sexual) out of the blue asked me if I had been talking to people about what he did to me. He then started to religiously (using misapplied scripture to guilt-trip and control) abuse. He wanted me to be silent and to control the narrative (aka post-abuse grooming). Interestingly, he didn’t deny…. then.


A New Form of Abuse

Within days of that last incident, I went to the police to have what he did documented. (It was there that the constable said his behaviour was called Sexual Assault. Until then, I thought it was “molestation”). He didn’t deny it when the constable spoke with him, and he didn’t deny it in emails to me. Several months later, I disclosed the sexual assault to the rest of my biological family. Shortly after this, when they asked him about it, suddenly he couldn’t remember. Selective amnesia and denial became his new form of abuse and manipulation. The support I hoped for didn’t happen. Instead, there’s been lying, emotional abandonment, judgment, willful ignorance, and  DARVO behaviour. I have been told right to my face that what I feel is not true, that I am exaggerating, that I am twisting things around, and that I am blowing things out of proportion – all of which are gaslighting, deflection, and projection. I’ve been scapegoated. This sibling wrote in classic DARVO speak, why should I have to pay the rest of my life for one non-malicious act?   I think, really? There are no words. 


Sexual abuse alone is life-altering. Another layer of trauma is added when it’s from a sibling, causing deeper pain, confusion, and suffering. Boundaries are crossed. If the sexual abuse comes with physical and emotional abuse too, more psychological and emotional injuries result. Then, if/when the survivor tells what happened, and the abuser and those he’s influenced do the DARVO dance, there’s even further wounding. The amount of trauma generated is immeasurable, and it isn’t just the victim who suffers – the victim’s children and partner suffer too. 


The Impact 

Within weeks of the 2018 incident, the allostatic load of all this trauma and more led to a serious health crisis. Life as I knew it stopped. It became apparent my healing journey involves healing from Developmental Trauma, Complex Trauma, and PTSD. My children need healing and comfort too. They along with my husband have “paid” a great price.


In Conclusion:

Secrets are a devastating weight for a little girl to carry. For fifty years I carried it, protecting my family of origin from the truth. The thing is – these were never my secrets to keep. It was never my job to protect. I should have been the one protected, kept safe. Abuse teaches lies about who you are, the world, and your place in it. These then impact health and well-being, and relationships long-term. It takes years to recover. Make no mistake, the sibling sexual assault has ripple effects. The minute he touched me, the dysfunction was evident.


Today, I am not angry at those who caused trauma. I know they were minors too, kids. I don’t see most of them as abusive people – I can easily separate a person from behaviour. I’ve “let go” of the hurt sustained from the choices they made back then. However, as adults today, I look for emotional maturity – ownership and accountability, honesty, humility, compassion, remorse, and a willingness to have difficult conversations. Without these, there is a weak foundation for relationship repair. I will no longer pretend that traumatizing things didn’t happen to me so that others can stay living in “make-believe”.


Truth: Globally, one in twenty kids is sexually abused by a sibling – that’s one in every classroom. Minors sexually abusing minors is the most common form of sexual abuse. The numbers will only increase with access to porn at younger ages now, including sibling porn. Unfortunately, sibling abuse has been hidden or considered harmless “kids-will-be-kids” behaviour for far too long, and society is reaping what it has sown.


Truth: Siblings do abuse. 

Not talking about the elephant in the room keeps the toxic shame and disconnection alive. Secrets literally make you sick. Transparency heals.


If you or someone you know endured sibling sexual abuse or is a perpetrator, here are some online resources to explore,  5Waves  and  Sibling Sexual Trauma. These provide education, statistics, and support for all family members.


As a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach, I’m here too, offering support and a safe space. Your healing journey begins when you’re ready.


Lisa Hilton, CTRC-A


Lisa Hilton, CTRC-A, founder of Hilton Coaching & Consulting. I am a trauma coach; I educate, consult, and am a published author. I work with adult survivors of Childhood Trauma and those suffering from Complex PTSD so they can Transform their Travesty into Triumph, one step at a time.

Scroll to Top