Twenty years ago when I first disclosed to my family that I had been sexually abused by my brother as a child, I never would have guessed it would mark the beginning of a long, confusing struggle that would leave me feeling misunderstood, dismissed and even punished for choosing to address my abuse and its effects.
The response from my family did not start out this way. Initially, my mother said the words I needed to hear: she believed me, she was pained for both her children, and she was sorry. My brother acknowledged the truth and even apologized. But as I continued to heal and explore the abuse further, my family members began to push back in ways that hurt me deeply, and only became worse as the years went on.
Disclosure of sexual abuse can be the beginning of a whole second set of problems for survivors, when family members respond in ways that add new pain to old wounds. Healing from past abuse is made more difficult when one is emotionally injured again in the present, repeatedly, and with no guarantee that things will improve. Adding to this pain, family members’ responses often mirror aspects of the abuse itself, leading survivors to feel overpowered, silenced, blamed and shamed. And they may carry this pain alone, unaware that their situation is tragically common
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