Patricia Redlich

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Brother Made Sexual Advances


I have a terrible secret from my childhood that causes me a lot of distress at times. I have never gone to a counsellor about it because I feel, deep down, that I was to blame to some extent. And I'm afraid that it would not be considered serious enough to require counselling.

I was in boarding school from the age of 12 and when I came home on my first break, my brother, who was three years older, started to try and engage me in sexual behaviour. He came into my bedroom many times in the middle of the night. Apart from the first time, when I didn't know what was happening, I never let him do anything again. I used to dread going home until I eventually made it very clear that I would tell our parents if he continued - even though I dreaded my parents finding out. After that he was quite horrible and mean to me for years, and made it clear that he hated me. He was a very awkward teenager, withdrawn and not good with people.

Now I'm in my mid-forties. I have had a couple of good relationships, though none of them led to marriage. Ironically, I am the only sibling who has any contact with this brother - even though he still can't look me in the eye. I stay in contact because I am fond of his children, and because I feel sorry for him. He has fallen out with the rest of the family, for various reasons.

I blocked out much of this for many years, but now that there is so much talk of sexual abuse in the media, it became impossible not to think about it. Why did my brother do this to me? How can I put it behind me once and for all? I think I have forgiven him, but, if so, why does it still distress me so much? I would find it very difficult to talk to someone face to face about this. And this is the first time I have ever written it down.

This notion of 'forgiving' just gets in the way, to be frank. It hinders clarity of thought. I'm not saying that it's irrelevant. I just think the whole concept of forgiveness belongs in a sort of parallel universe, psychologically speaking. So we'll leave it to one side for the moment, if that's OK with you.

The reality is that you and your brother have unfinished business. And while I'm sure you are fond of his children, that's not the whole reason that you're still involved in his daily life. You're in there because you're seeking some kind of solution, some form of emotional clearing-out, a sort of day of reckoning. Listen to what you're saying. He can't look you in the eye. You are still distressed. You two have an unresolved past. And both of you are dancing around it, dodging any conversation, yet failing to disengage either. You are both waiting.

It's understandable that you would find it difficult to talk to someone about the past. It's complicated. Something happened which you clearly saw as wrong. And from a simple standpoint it was abuse. No 15 year-old boy should attempt to be sexually intimate with his 12-year- old sister. It's just that sometimes these situations get emotionally muddled. Family intimacy has to be carefully monitored. Which is why parental alertness is so necessary. Maybe you were a lonely little thing at boarding school. Maybe you felt a bit isolated from the family, which was part of the reason you were afraid to tell your parents. So you attempted to micro-manage the situation.

And maybe your brother wasn't a terrible villain either. Maybe he was a lost soul, wrongly seeking solace by approaching you sexually. Certainly he was exploiting the situation. But maybe you somehow undertood - or at least felt - that he was doing it from a position of lonely weakness, rather than out-and-out badness. He was your brother, and perhaps felt you were kindred spirits. Or at a very simple level, distant parents terrified you into thinking you had to handle this yourself.

Either way, in your attempt to protect yourself, the unhappy and unsavoury and unacceptable situation lasted for a while. Sadly, that led to you feeling somehow guilty, reinforced the tendency of all abuse victims to feel it is somehow their fault - even though it isn't. You are guilty of nothing. You were 12 years old. And you perceived your parents as distant.

I think you should see a counsellor and talk this through. Yes, like I said, it will be difficult. It will also be infinitely rewarding once you get going. Putting words on a past hurt, in the presence of a professional who can make us feel safe, works like a kind of magic. The burden lifts. After that, you can consider whether to open the discussion with your brother, or not. You may even simply decide to disengage from him. Or just lay the past to rest, in your own head, and in the process change the dynamic between the two of you. With time you'll learn what is the wisest route for you to take. But do take your courage in your hands and seek someone to confide in.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design