A painful clarity emerged for me recently, and it’s been too hard to write about it. The strange thing is that some part of me has known this truth for a long time, but I’ve been fighting against it. I get so angry about all the denial in my family, but I realise now that I’ve been a part of that too.
For those who don’t know the back story; as a child I was sexually abused by my 16 year old brother. The abuse started when I was 10. Thankfully, it didn’t go on for a long time before my parents discovered what had been happening. My mum actually witnessed it, so there was never any denying that it happened.
However, there was a lot of ignoring and denying the consequences. Social services and the police were involved but did pretty much nothing. My brother carried on living in our house for 5 more years. I had to see him, talk to him, be frightened of him, every day for all those years, while pretending that nothing was wrong. Bigger than my fear of him was my fear of our family being torn apart.
Reflecting on it now, that shouldn’t have ever been my concern. I clearly picked that up from what my parents said and did (or didn’t do). My safety and wellbeing should have been their priority. But instead, they chose to make their own needs more important. They needed us all to be together. They needed to carry on as normal, so they could avoid facing up to the reality that their son had violated and traumatised their daughter. It was all kept secret from my younger sister, who only found out when I opened up to her about it a few years ago.
In the decades after the abuse, I worked incredibly hard to maintain a relationship with my brother – because that’s what my parents wanted from me. I should never have been expected to do that. He deserved none of it, and was not grateful or remorseful. He was always a selfish sh*t.
When I finally chose to cut him out of my life, I explained to my family the full extent of the abuse and its impact. I wanted them to understand why.
More than that, I wanted them to take my side for once. I thought that if they could just see how horrific it was, they would hate him too. I tried everything to make them understand; including severe self-harm and multiple overdoses. Talking to them didn’t work, so I resorted to showing them.
But their denial was and is too strong. And because of that, I have felt abandoned, rejected, invalidated, angry and deeply sad. But I have managed to keep pushing all that disappointment and rage aside. Because simultaneously they are loving and kind towards me. I’ve kept telling myself, ‘they’re just doing what they can manage’, or ‘they’re doing what they think is best’.
I am now calling bullsh*t on that.
I read something on the ‘Broken yet Cherished’ blog recently that just suddenly brought this truth into view for me. It’s a quote from Judith Herman on ‘bystanders’.
“It is morally impossible to remain neutral for those that bear witness to conflict between the victim and the perpetrator. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil.
The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden or pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.”
(From ‘Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence’)
Reading this, I felt for the first time like my anger towards my family for ‘remaining neutral’ was justified. Because there is no such thing. There is no impartiality. They chose him. They chose to protect him and keep his secrets and allow him to stay within the family. They chose not to take my side – therefore they took his. And they did that because it was and is easier for them. It is as simple as that.
Although it’s simple – and most likely glaringly obvious to anyone who isn’t me, it is agonisingly painful. It’s like all of a sudden I have lost what I thought my family was, as well as what I hoped they would be one day.
I am devastated. The grief feels huge and unbearable. I keep breaking down in tears. Or flying into a rage at trivial things. I know this clarity is important, and in time it will be useful, but right now it is so painful I feel like I can’t survive it.
All of this isn’t helped by the fact that my sister is due to have her first baby in a few weeks. This means it’s hard for me to keep out of contact with her and my parents. And I have no idea how I am going to feel when the little one arrives. I want to be excited, I want to share in their happiness, but at the same time I don’t want to ever see or hear from them again.
There is so much conflict whirling around inside my head at the moment. I can’t focus on anything. I just want to numb myself or cut myself to distract from what I’m feeling. I am so tired of it all.
I really wish I could escape from myself.
Photo: Sharat Ganapati, Creative Commons.
7 Comments Add yours
I am very sorry that you not only went through this, but it feels like you went through it alone. A family has a form of hold on us that is not that easy to cut off. I realized that my family is my biggest triggers and after one major breakdown, I accepted that it was safer for me to minimize that connection. It is not easy, and I can imagine in your case where there is betrayal too, it is harder than hard. But there are people out here, in the outside world that can give us the connection we seek with family and the emotional support without the emotional trauma. I have met a few of them. So I am hopeful you can too. Put yourself first now. Your family has for so long not put you first, and maybe it was their way of dealing with a horrible situation. But time has passed. Your needs have to come first now. Anger isn’t the best thing for depressed people like us, so trying to go back into the fold for the warmth you miss will probably end up a very aggravating experience for you.
Hang in there. And reach out to the world.
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Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I am slowly coming to realise that I need to stop trying to get my needs met by them. And I have got some excellent friends I can rely on to be there for me. It’s just hard to let go of wanting that from my family. Laura
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I’d love to escape from myself, too.
I’m sorry you understand that feeling too. It’s tough.
That kind of betrayal runs so deep. I am so so sorry that they remained neutral. How can a family that sees, knows, live in that kind of denial of validating you and standing by you and instead stand by him! It is disgusting and wrong and just…infuriating! How dare them not send him packing and never speak to him again! I am just so sorry
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I don’t think it will ever make sense to me. And you’re right, it feels like a huge betrayal. It’s all the more confusing when they act lovingly towards me at the same time. I can’t figure it out.
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I’m sad to know your story. Why do some people so unfair? 😒 😢
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