Disclosing trauma to loved ones and confronting abusers, how did it go?
March 15, 2015 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Looking for people's experiences of disclosing trauma to loved ones and confronting abusers. (trigger warning)

I would like to hear from people who have experienced trauma and their experiences in confronting the perpetrators and disclosing this to relevant parties.

I was sexually abused by my brother on an ongoing basis when I was a child. I am now in my mid 20’s. I am in the process of preparing to confront my brother about this and am also discussing with my therapist as to whether or not I will choose to disclose this to our parents as well.

I have had a range of feelings around this - I am currently dealing with the feeling that it's selfish for me to disclose this to our parents purely for my own recognition. This experience has caused me a great deal of pain and there is a big part of me that doesn’t feel it necessary to place this on my parents. On the other hand, my brother is a perpetrator and I believe this needs to be recognised, not just between myself and him.

My parents are not bad people, they are kind and supportive, but I can see potential that they will not hold this information well as they not only have to come to terms with their daughter being sexual abused but their son committing this act as well. I am terrified that I am going to lose my relationship with my parents (which has been wonderful up until now) if they were to not believe me, disregard it, or just really drop the ball.

I would like to hear from any MeFi's that have gone on this journey, regardless of whether this went well or badly, how did you get the courage to disclose and confront, whether this experience hindered your recovery process and if you had the chance to go back, would you choose to not disclose?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Aside from wondering whether or not it is "selfish" and how disclosure might affect your relationship with your parents, I would suggest asking yourself if you are, at this point, prepared to field responses that might very well fall under the category of victim-blaming, even from people who clearly care about you and do not mean to say hurtful things.

When I told dear friends and family of the incident I had been grappling with, sometimes their responses were very off-handed and hurtful ("so why were you alone with a man again?"). They didn't mean to be hurtful, but abuse is something that not everybody fully understands, and that will oftentimes be reflected in their response.

posted by gemutlichkeit at 5:20 PM on March 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

My experience was not the same as yours but similar.

It did got go "well" but I did not ever regret the disclosure. Not for one second.

You did not deserve this, but you will survive it. Take care.
posted by pantarei70 at 5:32 PM on March 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I disclosed a chunk of abuse at 20, by my grandfather, to my parents. Bear in mind that my family was dysfunctional anyway. My parents believed me and reassured me that nothing was my fault and then, being who they were, a season of grand family drama of confrontation and weeping began where a lot of my feelings were completely ignored.

My abuser admitted to the abuse right away. Of course he also said it was really no big deal and that he had done much worse in his life, which just resulted in my feeling triply awful at the time...but it is helpful to have that knowledge. That said, it's very unusual.

I never had control over sharing my narrative with the extended family -- something to think about. I have told numerous friends, colleagues from time to time and I have very, very briefly and matter-of-factly disclosed in writing under my real name. I don't regret any of those really, although the older I get the less I feel like I need to.

I think the biggest thing I learned is that, in my family anyway, there was a long-term stunning lack of attention and care about it, which was part of what let it happen in the first place. I still end up (again: dysfunctional) dealing with people sharing their fond memories of Christmases during which I was getting raped, or putting antiques in their home from that house or even giving them to me, or sending me letters of fond memories of my abuser, or just plain basically ignoring the information.

Sometimes it's meant me being treated like a broken person by people who just don't really know me. One set of relatives expressed concern about me babysitting their kids 10 years later (which, you know, is okay and their right and yay protecting their kids but it made me feel pretty ugh. They did change their minds.)

And sometimes it's meant that when I've expressed something hard in my life, I've gotten weird reactions like it's all a sign I Haven't Gotten Over IT, and you know, it is both true I haven't and yeah actually I have because really a lot of the time I'm fine and loving my life.

I never fully lost a relationship with my parents but I think it is important to have support and a plan just in case...I don't want to write epics about my story just give you information points, but there have been times where it was possible. I don't accept money or support from them that I cannot afford to lose.

All that said, I can't really see how not telling would have been any better. The whole thing is problematic and disclosing just results in a different set of issues, but for me, I would rather rest my issues on truth and reality. But it really, really didn't fix anything in a grand way.

Now my grandfather was already starting to decline, so there were a lot of issues I didn't have to deal with like fear he was abusing more kids or holidays. I did visit him in his home one more time before he died, but by that time he had been impacted by cancer and wasn't that coherent.

Other tips although YMMV:

- with your closest family it obvious has to be a big deal, with time set aside to really talk about it and an escape plan for you. With extended family and friends, it can help if you just say matter-of-factly hey here is what is up with me and then either cry or don't but don't treat it like it is the one truest thing about you they will ever know...because you are a whole person and they do know you. If you want.
- have support for if things go wrong, both now and at times like Christmas, etc.
- don't expect that initial support means the same thing in a few months, or that initial skepticism means forever...people's responses do change over time.
- have as your goal telling your truth, living your life the way you want, saying what you want to say, behaving the way you want to behave, establishing and defending your boundaries. Don't have a goal that anyone else will do what you want them to do.

As for hurting your parents, your brother did that, not you.

Memail me if you think there's anything I can share that would help as you go through this.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:50 PM on March 15, 2015 [20 favorites]

If it were me, I'd have to tell them - because otherwise I'd be waiting on the day he told them about my "accusations", framing it to make me look like a liar and him look like the victim.
posted by stormyteal at 6:38 PM on March 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Faking happy relationships will literally kill you from the inside out, so you kinda have to tell...

When you are ready. It sounds like you are pushing yourself a little. Take your time. I can tell you from experience that a better time to confront and disclose is when you are feeling stable and the range of reactions don't feel so "high stakes" to you. You have to feel like you'll be OK, whatever the outcome and results. Then you are ready.
posted by jbenben at 6:43 PM on March 15, 2015

Mod note: This is an answer from an anonymous commenter.
Some things to consider about this:
It is unlikely (not impossible, but unlikely) that abuse in your family originated with your brother. Especially if he was abusive while you were both children, it is very likely that he was being abused by someone else. It is possible that he is mentally ill, and was never abused, but it is probably a good idea to be prepared for your disclosure to trigger further disclosures.

It is also unlikely that you are the only person abused by your brother.

When I disclosed my stepfather's inappropriate behavior (I have a hard time characterizing it as abuse, because while it was clearly over the line, it was not as bad as I know other people have experienced), my mother just asked me to not tell anyone. I was in my late teens, out of the home, more or less independent and I complied. We haven't talked about it since, and I won't bring it up now (I'm now almost 40, reasonably successful and happy, and she's divorced from him and struggling). I received no support - just a request not to disclose further because "it would be bad for the family." I found out later that my younger sister had experienced the same thing (ongoing at the time I disclosed), and while he has never disclosed any abuse, my half-brother has spent his adult life self-medicating so hard that I would not be surprised to learn that he endured something much worse. My quiet disclosure changed nothing, for me or anyone else. I have no relationship with my stepfather, despite his attempts to find me and contact me. I would have preferred to receive more support and validation, and I had some shit to work through because of it, but at this point it my life, it doesn't really matter. I just celebrated my 15th wedding anniversary, I have a great pre-teen daughter, I'm successful in my career, I have the family relationships that matter to me - I have moved on.

In contrast, when my husband's brother disclosed the sexual abuse he was enduring (and there is no other word for what he experienced) at the hands of his stepfather, his mother took it seriously. Stepfather fled to Mexico, they divorced, and she set about the difficult task of raising four boys alone, without reliable child support. The disclosure was very disruptive to their family, but I think was ultimately beneficial for everyone.

I have thought about this a lot, and I think the response you will get as an abuse survivor from your family has a lot to do with their character. My mother is a little flighty and flaky, very smart but also odd and generally thinks she is smarter than others. My mother-in-law is mercurial and struggles with a mood disorder, but is also very principled, ethical, and generally humble and self-deprecating. My mother has always had a very weak supporting network, with very loose ties to family and transient friends. My mother-in-law has very strong ties to her siblings and a strong emotional support network.

All of this is to illustrate that it can be hard to predict how people will react, that things will likely not go the way you expect, and although disclosure is often a part of the healing process as an abuse victim, it will probably not be a satisfying or uncomplicated experience.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:31 PM on March 15, 2015 [12 favorites]

I was forced into confronting my abuser 16 years ago because of a property dispute within the family.

I often wonder if I would ever have confronted him had I not been backed into a corner. Honestly? Probably not. At that point in my life, I knew enough to understand that he was completely deluded and dishonest, and that he was not capable of taking in the real responsibility of having taken something precious and irretrievable away from me. I saw who he was at core and knew I wouldn't be able to change that. I was right.

I also feared I'd lose my relationship with my parents, or at least be unable to relate to them in a new way, as it was the narcissistic dynamic in our family that led to me being easy prey in the first place. My brother was regarded as golden perfection personified and I was a mere goat. My step-grandfather saw this very clearly and swooped in to make me feel loved and treasured in his sick way.

I also feared, funnily enough, that my raging, unstable, histrionic father would fly into some kind of mad rage at hearing I'd been abused and physically attack my abuser. Now I realize that was a fantasy I had, that someone would value me enough to physically fight my abuser, maybe defend my honor, or something. Maybe feel outraged at his other, also precious child being violated.

Well, needless to say, my parents did nothing, my abuser denied everything and blamed my mother for "setting [me] against" him, and professed undying love while crying and begging me not to have him sent to jail.

Abuse happens a lot in families that are broken to begin with. This terrible fear you have of losing your parents? That's your brainwashed self trying to talk your nascent, self-loving, self-preservationist self into keeping the status quo. I don't know everything about surviving abuse but I know that you have to leave everybody else to fend for themselves emotionally. And that is a sad truth of broken families - most everybody is on their own.

You are extraordinarily brave and I wish I could hug you and impart strength and hope to your heart and soul as you go through this godawful thing. Make sure you're doing it so that you can grow and move on, not so that you can make your brother or parents or anyone else change.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:47 PM on March 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

I went through a similar-ish situation, disclosing abuse to my mother which had been perpetrated by my since-deceased father.

Every family is different and weird in it's own way. Luckily for me (?) my family life/childhood was bizarre and dysfunctional and as an unexpected result we are very close now, so it wasn't this one huge bombshell I was dropping on an otherwise happy existence. I also went into it presuming my mother already knew because of other information that had been floating around. Turns out she didn't but there were many times during our childhood she had firmly pitched her tent at Camp Denial. The point of this is it actually gave me more confidence in talking to her because I was going in knowing this was fact, and I was just reporting the facts and never ever did I entertain the idea she might question me. And she didn't, because she's my mother and she loves the crap out of me and knows I'm not the sort of person who would fabricate such an awful thing.

It was my brothers who gave me the confidence to talk to my mother. Because of said floating information, one of them carefully broached the subject with me one day and it just sort of came tumbling out. I asked him to pass on the information to my other brother. There was a LOT of other bullshit happening at the time which led to my disappearance from their lives, which concerned them. In any case, the collision of everything at once led me to realise it was time to confront it and take control, not just ignore it.

For me, I got acknowledgement and tearful apologies and an assurance that she had no idea. I went in with zero expectations, just with the idea that I needed her to know this. My father killed himself when I was still young so confronting him was never an option. I'll never regret disclosing it, ever. While the abuse certainly shaped my youth and resulted in some dysfunctional behaviours, I've made peace with it as well as I can at this point in my life plus untangled a lot of stuff in therapy. Disclosing it simply emphasised the love my family had for me, and their desire to see me happy and well. It definitely helped.

In regards to your fears about your parents - it's not your job to manage their emotions. I remember watching my mother cry as I talked to her, and I did feel bad for her but this was my grievance, my pain. Comforting her would have been ridiculous. You can control how you communicate this information but you cannot control how they receive and process it.

Good luck to you. You sound like a very intelligent, empathetic person who recognises her worth.
posted by BeeJiddy at 10:41 PM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think that you have to be prepared for reactiond that are more to do with them than with you.
My dad was in shock and kept coming up with hair brained schemes to force a confrontation. I didn't want to see my abusive grandfather ever again. My dad felt my silence and umwillingness to confront might lead the family to not believe me. I could tell it bothered him. He took the whole thing personally, said that his dad was once again destroying everything he loved. It was suddenly all about him, even though he did his best to be empathetic. Etc. I felt that once I had disclosed everything, it was suddenly out my hands and I couldn't control what happened with the information. People hurt me, put me in danger unwittingly, again.

So be preparedthat it will all be about them, not you, and you will end up having to manage their reactions a lot.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:34 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do not think you need to confront someone to get all the hurt they caused out of your life. None of us are in a position to tell you if you should or should not confront, but... weigh really carefully the possible worst case scenarios. Obviously, if he is in a position to cause harm to others, your responsibility may well be for more than just yourself... but otherwise, I'm kinda leery of the benefits these sorta confrontations may cause.
posted by Jacen at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2015

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