Needless to say, all of our relationships are affected in some way by our abuse… especially family relationships. Recently in my SOSA support group, we talked about this. I used these examples…
- Renee, my best friend for decades – She has now been through so many things with me that I feel like a reoccurring train wreck. I recently joked that if she knew what she was getting into in high school when we became really good friends that she may have reconsider. It was meant as a joke, but I wasn’t really joking.
- My kids – I live on the edge with them… always ready to protect them. Always wanting to be close to them… they have been my life for over twenty years. I see them as a blessing that I cherish immensely because they are the only ones who haven’t left me or let me down.
- My ex-husband – I trusted him, but I still watched him with our kids because you never know who may destroy a child’s trust.
- My aunts and uncles – They are who I hold dear to my heart, but I’ll never be one of their own children. 😦
- My brothers… now here is my topic for today and it is mainly meant to address the siblings of survivors and how I think, as a survivor, you should treat your survivor sibling.
I know this is a touchy subject, but it is one that needs addressed and put on the table for discussion. One can assume that as a sibling of a survivor, you were put in a uniquely odd situation from the moment you became aware of the situation. In my case, the abusers were our parents… my dad and my mom knew. How does a sibling react to this? These are your parents. You love them. You try to honor and respect them. In your eyes, it is mind blowing that they are capable of such great horror. And then there is your sibling… is she crazy? Did this really happen? Is this true? You never knew her to lie… to make up unbelievable stories. You may have known there were other forms of abuse. You may have been the subject of other kinds of abuse as well… but this? Sexual abuse? Is she sure?
Well I am here to answer… YES, she is sure! You have no idea how much courage and strength it takes to even open her mouth to tell you. And usually there is a reason she is telling you. Generally, survivors do not just share their stories freely with anyone… and I mean anyone… not our best friends, not our husbands, not even our therapists… until we have to. There is ALWAYS a reason why the truth is ever finally told. The survivor, she, feels damaged, dirty, unworthy, ashamed, guilty, disgusting, embarrassed, lowly. She is AFRAID others won’t believe her and think she is crazy. She does NOT want to invite others into her personal hell. She is terrified her hell can be made even worse.
In any case where the abuser is a family member, I know you cherish any relationship that you may have with them. I know they are special to you and will not be around forever. I know they have done nice things for you. I know they may have taken care of you. I know this and your survivor sibling knows this. She has thought about it. She knows what you are struggling with. She has been there. This is her family member too. She wanted to have a relationship with them. She misses them. She loves them. BUT THEY COMMITTED THE MOST HEINOUS CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY. Your family member molested an innocent, trusting child. Your family member ripped away your sibling’s childhood. Your family member damaged your sibling for a lifetime.
So what do you do? (And this is the hard part and remember this is just my opinion.) You stand by your sibling. You believe her. You help her. You give her what family you can. If you have to make a choice between her and your family member, choose HER! She didn’t ask for this life. She didn’t do anything wrong. She wants your family to be there for her too, but they can’t be and why can’t they be? They are criminals! Literally criminals. What they did was against the law of this land and God’s law. If it was a neighbor, a friend, a stranger, what would you do? Choose your sibling, right? So why not now? Why not in this case? Because it will hurt you? Damn right (excuse my french), it will hurt you! It hurt her! She KNOWS how it feels. She has been there, time and time again. You can support each other as you mourn the loss of the relationship and the idea of an ideal family. And if you want to still have a relationship with your family member, do it. It’s fine. She will understand. But NEVER pick the abuser over the survivor. She should always come first. She was innocent. She was a child. She shouldn’t have to mourn over being the one left out of holidays, birthdays, etc. Remember, she did nothing wrong and didn’t ask for these cards in life.
Here is something to ponder… Have you watched the news coverage of the Larry Nassar’s trial? Did you listen to the testimony of the women that he assaulted? Do you think any of the victims’ loved-ones should be hanging out with Mr. Nassar? Do you think any of the victims will want to ever speak to or see Mr. Nassar again? Would you ask one of them to spend a holiday or birthday with Mr. Nassar? Would you ask them to take a picture with Mr. Nassar? Well, if all of those questions seem ridiculous to you, then EVER choosing the molester over your survivor sibling is just as hurtful and ridiculous as doing so to one of Mr. Nassar’s victims. The only difference, and granted it is a big one, is that this choice hurts you as well. And that hurt you would feel, (I’m sorry to say this.) is NOTHING compared to the hurt the molester did to your sibling. What you are feeling, she has felt and so, so much more.
So choose wisely. It will hurt. But you and your siblings will be closer and you will have another common bond. And NEVER blame her. This is the molester fault and no one else’s.
Footnote: This topic is an unfortunate common thread for many survivors of sexual abuse, whether it was a parent or another close relative. For some reason, relatives of survivors tend to think that the survivor should just be able to be around the abuser for the “sake of the family.” The irony is that they are appalled when they watch the news and hear a story of a child who has been molested, but far to many relatives cannot transfer that feeling to their own family member. The only reason I believe this to be true is because of the tremendous hurt it will cause themselves if they face it. It takes courage and strength to face. A courage and strength that many cannot muster. However as you struggle with your own courage and strength to deal with this tragic subject, please remember and take pause knowing your family member, the survivor, has already shown that much courage and strength EVERY DAY that she is breathing.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 34:1b-2