Do I have to have contact with my brother?
April 30, 2017 2:49 AM   Subscribe

My family is urging me to have contact with my brother, whom I cut contact with 2 years ago, after disclosing to my family that he had sexually abused me when he was 14/15 and I was 11/12. My parents believe that enough time has passed that I should be able to reconnect with my brother, this makes me feel sick to my stomach. Advice on how to respectfully discuss this with my family and reassurance that I'm not a terrible person would be greatly appreciated.

Yes, I am in therapy. My psychologist is wonderful and everything I need but I won't be able to see her for a while due to her busy calendar and I can't get this question out of my mind.

I disclosed to my parents (who live 4 hours away from me) that my brother sexually abused me on an ongoing basis when I was 11/12 and he was 14/15, approximately 2 years ago. I am now in my mid 20's. It took me 14 years to disclose the abuse to them as I didn't want to hurt or upset them. We grew up as a very close-knit family that didn't have any secrets or big issues, unknowing to my parents I was being molested by my brother every night in the bedroom we shared together and each day my parents left me in my brother's care when they were at work.

I work as a counsellor but not directly in sexual abuse cases. When I confronted my brother (before disclosing to my parents) that I remembered the abuse and that it was not OK, I had also developed a safety plan for him, assessed whether the confrontation led to him feeling suicidal, whether he abused me because someone had abused him (answer was no) and whether he had done this to anyone else (answer again was no) . When I disclosed to my parents, they were also concerned about my brother's well being and asked me how they should discuss this matter with him. I wrote down a list of questions they could ask him and services he and they could talk to if they wanted to, which I greatly encouraged as I did not want to be the main support for them given that I am also the victim.

In the six months following the disclosure, the questions and concerns my parents had become unbearable for me and I asked them to see a counsellor so they could gain an understanding of why I wanted to limit my contact with my brother and why I did not tell them sooner (one of the things they were particularly hurt about). The counselling session which I also attended did not go well and I have not asked them to return to this. It was a re-traumatizing experience that led to me making a complaint about the specific counsellor and the counsellor being removed from the abuse database she was referred from. We have not talked about the abuse and my parents have not pushed me to reconnect with my brother since. Until now.

Things have been going good for me. I have entered into a relationship for the first time in my life (something that I never thought I would be able to do due to the sexual abuse). My partner makes me feel strong, respected and worthy of love. Since my parents have found out that I am dating someone they are now pushing for me to reconnect with my brother as they believe that being with boyfriend has helped me move on from the trauma. This is not the case.

My sister (older than me and my brother) advised me this week that my parents feel like our family is broken since the disclosure and that they are waiting to hear from me on when I would like to talk to brother again so everything can go back to normal. I tried to advise her that I've felt like our family is broken since I was 11 years old and that their normal involved a heartbreaking amount of hidden pain and suffering on my part but she didn't seem to understand, she advised that she didn't know what side to be on. I don't believe that there needs to be sides.

Metafilter, I would really like some guidance. I carry profound guilt everyday that I've hurt my family by disclosing and this has led to them feeling "broken" but as the victim I cannot carry the responsibility of this. I have gotten to the point where I've become so exasperated at trying to communicate and justify my wanting of boundaries that I'm beginning to consider that it may just be easier to suck it up and have contact with him if it makes my family happy. I am desperately seeking advice and support from those who have gone through or helped people in similar situations who can reassure me that I can put boundaries in place and still be a good person.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't been in your situation, and have no special expertise, but I wanted to say how terrible it is that your family believe you should "make them happy" by destroying your boundaries - boundaries you have built with so much care and difficulty and thought, over so much time, and in order to protect your mental and emotional survival. I think there is a serious ethical problem with families guilting or attacking a person into abandoning any boundary she sincerely believes she needs for her own well-being. Wanting you to cross this particular boundary is dreadful. It's bad enough when parents try things like "we think your gluten intolerance isn't such a big deal, you can eat this one muffin we prepared with so much love". Telling you to interact with your abuser, at the possible cost of your mental and emotional health, so that your parents can feel better about their family (and I guess deal with their own guilt about what they failed to prevent) is an incredible failure in basic empathy. I don't think you should countenance it for a second.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:18 AM on April 30, 2017 [78 favorites]

No, you don't have to see your brother again. Not now, and not ever, if you don't want to. I haven't seen my mother for over 20 years and I'm nearly 40 now. The reasons are different than yours, but the gist is the same - being around her makes me feel unhappy and physically uncomfortable. She's quite old and ill now, and probably not capable of the same sort of mental and emotional manipulation and abuse that led to this situation, but I still choose not to see or speak to her. I won't go to her funeral.

So you have my permission to do what you feel is best for yourself. No one else can make that decision - not your parents, not your sister, not your therapists. But you do need to be aware of how it can play out. In my case, it really upset - and still upsets - my grandparents, who mostly raised me and with whom I was very, very close. They thought I was an especially sweet and kind-hearted child, and while they still love me, they now see me as sort of cruel and cold. I think they feel sorry for me, even though I'm a (mostly) happy and successful adult. Certainly more stable and successful than most people in my family.

Their view of me has become self-fulfilling over the years, I live very far away from them now and don't call them as much as I should because I feel guilty, not for not seeing my mother, but for making them sad because I don't see my mother. They don't mention it anymore but that's only after years of training - basically, "I will put down the phone/leave the room/leave the house/fly back home immediately if this is mentioned again." They are allowed to talk about her, but not to ask me if/when I am going to see her or if I want to just this once send her a birthday card or whatever. The answer is no, it will always be no, and it's not a discussion I am willing to have.

My other family members - aunts, cousins, etc. also see me as cold. I don't think they like me very much, with a few exceptions. I think they sort of understood when I was younger and they could see what she was doing to me, but now that she's in a care home and so many years have passed, they don't understand why I don't "forgive" her. What they don't understand is that I worked very very hard to emotionally extricate myself, and while I no longer feel angry at her, I also don't feel love or duty or anything else. The bond was cut, and that's that.

So - the short version is, there is a high price to pay. It will affect you in ways that may surprise you. The price will be different depending on how you handle it - are you OK being in the same house with him at holidays? At family weddings or funerals? What about when you have children? You will have to work hard to fight your corner, and you will also need to accept that he is still your parents' child and your siblings' sibling and they will always love him as much as they love you. It's hard for them, too. That will probably end up being the hardest part of the entire situation.
posted by cilantro at 3:24 AM on April 30, 2017 [41 favorites]

I carry profound guilt everyday that I've hurt my family by disclosing and this has led to them feeling "broken"
Oh, honey, NO, your family feeling "broken" is not on you. A terrible, terrible thing happened to you and it is unspeakably cruel of your parents (and sister?) to expect you to suck it up and deal so their feelings aren't hurt.

You are under no obligation to remain in contact with your abuser (and yes, he might be your brother, but the fact that he abused you will always be more important than the blood relation) or to let go of the boundaries and progress you've fought so hard to make. Your family are dipshits for expecting you to and are likely attempting to assuage their own guilt and / or convince themselves you weren't REALLY hurt.

Others will have better advice for you, but if you want this internet stranger's permission to tell your family to shove it: you absolutely have it. And hugs, if you want them. You are so brave.
posted by Tamanna at 3:27 AM on April 30, 2017 [38 favorites]

What a difficult situation to be in.

I am going to guess, by the way they've handled the situation, that your parents are unfamiliar with sexual abuse, dynamics in families as a result, what it's like to be the perpetrator and what it's like to be the victim. So, as I read your story, one of the things I assume to be true is that this whole experience is new to them and they are learning as they go along about this subject.

I focus on that because, in your telling of the story, you write far more about care taking of your brother (both you taking care of him when you confronted him, and you focusing on him and his care when you spoke with your parents) than you do about how you yourself feel, were affected, are affected on an ongoing basis.

It may be that, in putting the attention on your brother, it's taken the attention off of your own experience as the victim. If you haven't spoken to them about the difficulties you are experiencing as a result, they may simply not know or be able to imagine your part.

I am not trying to blame the victim here. I think it's very common (understandable, human) for vulnerable people to shield their vulnerability by focusing on other people and their issues. I think if it wasn't safe for you to share your vulnerability in the past, maybe bringing the issue to light was a way of testing the waters to see if now it was safe to share your vulnerability--and it appears it may not be.

To answer your question, no , I don't think you should sweep things under the rug because your parents want to play happy family. But I also think that they may be clueless as much as anything. Trying to figure out how to assert your need for understanding, compassion, care is hard in this situation but I think it's important for you to do.

That dynamic of being the counselor/guide to your family's own dysfunction, while desperately wanting care from them, is a very complicated one. I wonder if maybe it would be possible to give them a glimpse into your experience, and some guidance in the right way to handle these situations, in a little big less direct and personal way. Like, if you know a good book about sexual abuse in families and the dynamics, give it to them (highlighted?) with a letter that says, "It's been so hard for me to talk about the depth of my pain. Chapter 4 in this book resonates with my experience and it would mean so much for me for you to understand. I also notice XYZ dynamic and wish you would read the parts on pages ...." It's not a guarantee that they'll get it, but it offers them an opportunity to get it, be confronted with their part, do a better job, without you having to face them directly.

It's a thought. Take care, and good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 3:44 AM on April 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

You are not a bad person, and you definitely do not have to be in contact with him. Your instincts are right. <3
posted by faustian slip at 3:45 AM on April 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

What? Fuck no. You don't have to be in contact with your abusive brother, and you don't have to be in contact with people who would sacrifice your mental health for the illusion of a happy family either. I am so, so, sorry you didn't get the family you deserve.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:49 AM on April 30, 2017 [59 favorites]

I've never been in your situation, although i have known people close to me who are abuse survivors. Anyway, i don't think you should listen to me, or your family; listen to yourself.

Your family wants you to be closer to your brother. That's nice, but they're not the victim here—you are. You need to do what's right for your own health and well-being, and other people's expectations do not come before this.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:52 AM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

Your care for your family in this post is obvious but please, no no no this is not on you to fix for them.

I'm going to be super blunt here: your parents are not just clueless. They are choosing to prioritize their feelings and desire to "be normal" over your feelings and well-being. There is no lack of information out there for them to read or listen to about the impact of abuse. They could choose to consult therapists about how to manage their feelings and support you. They could put your needs in this situation first and just...cope.

They aren't doing that because they don't and never did. They didn't pick up on what was going on. They haven't educated themselves. They are limited human beings who are still choosing to put their desire for a "happy" family over your experience. That is how they failed to protect you. They are still failing. This is not on you to fix, nor does it need to be fixed.

You told your sister that and that is great. Please stick to it. Also, ask her not to bring it up again until you do (which you don't have to) and advise her to look for other support.

There's a crazy book (stop reading before he gets into the devil parts) called People of the Lie. The first three case studies talk about the nature of this kind of cluelessness and it might be worth a read.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:22 AM on April 30, 2017 [59 favorites]

This is awful. Not only do you not need to see your brother ever again, you might also consider cutting all contact with your parents and sister, as I think you'll find any further family discussion about this futile, frustrating and triggering. Your family isn't broken because you disclosed abuse, it's broken because your brother abused you and because your parents are not good parents (I gather this from the present situation you have described). I advise you to continue with therapy and focus on your life away from them.
posted by frantumaglia at 4:28 AM on April 30, 2017 [22 favorites]

Nope. You have no obligation to ever be in contact with him again. I certainly wouldn't. FWIW, my wife has a friend in much the same situation and she has absolutely frozen-out her brother from her life, and is better for it. Yes, it makes for awkward/difficult family relations, but so be it. You didn't create the situation. Your brother did.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 AM on April 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

OP you have so much courage. I'm blown away by your resilience and determination to do what's right by you. But you don't have to discuss this with your family. Ever.

A thought for you, that I didn't see you mention: Have you considered that your family's concern for a rapprochement with your brother stems not only from desire for a reunited family, but also desire to erase their own guilt? Your refusal to engage with your brother is an ever-constant reminder of their own culpability in the situation, and being confronted with the unpleasant results of our own actions can be deeply discomfiting. When the implication (I ignored and abetted sexual abuse of a child in my care for years) is so strong, people will often go through incredible contortions to avoid this - and in many cases construct some pretty fucked up narratives that bear no resemblance to reality, the desire to get away from the guilt is so strong.

And when/if they can't get away from the guilt, they may target the wrong person, the person they feel is "making" them feel bad (just by existing!).

In this context, your family's desire to go back to "normal" is in actually a desire to erase the fact of abuse to you, a return to their uninformed happiness. But I imagine you don't feel you can erase this abuse, or pretend it didn't happen - not just because it did happen, but that it's a part of you, and you are literally different person because of it. So if you are thinking of giving an inch, this won't work because what they eally want is to pretend this never happened, and the psychological implications for you of doing this are, frankly, terrible.

You could, if you were feeling generous and wanted to take a burden you are in no way obligated to, explain this to your family: "When you ask me to "go back to normal", I feel like you want to ignore the years of abuse that happened to me, and that you're saying your own happiness is more important than the fact I was sexually abused. What I have to deal with as a result of this is much worse than what anyone else in the family has, so I need to look after my needs first. If the fact of this abuse makes you feel uncomfortable or guilty, consider how I feel living with it every day. For my own health, I am not talking with, about, or around my brother. I may never talk with him again, I don't know. But I need you to stop asking about it - it makes me feel alone and unsupported like I did back then. Please support me as your daughter/sister by supporting my needs in this, not your own."

If you were feeling uncharitable, you could just say: "I'm not talking to him now, I don't know when I will. When the family asks me to start talking with him, I feel like they want to ignore what happened to me and would rather have a fake smiling family than the real one where someone was sexually abused. If you bring it up again, I will need to stop engaging for my own health, as it feels to me like you're supporting my abuse".

Dig the knife in a little, OP, you've more than earned it. I feel for you. I've not experienced this, but went through a similar kind of journey with something that happened to me as a youngster. The recontextualisation, and the war between hurt, and knowledge the perpetrator was themselves was a different person back then (and had built their own, bullshit, narrative that they felt just as real as mine) really took me on a roller coaster for several years.

Some relationships were not ever the same, no. But my relationship with myself was better. Best of luck, I am thinking of you.
posted by smoke at 4:42 AM on April 30, 2017 [48 favorites]

Huh...their family IS broken. Has been for a long time. The fact that they can't acknowledge this and learn to live with the reality of it is not your fault. It is not your responsibility to fix this for them.

I am glad you are taking care of you. This is the right choice, and your instincts are good.

Establishing your peace and keeping it are so important, and the work you've done to get to this place is so difficult . . . Nobody has a right to have this surrendered so they'll be more comfortable.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 4:44 AM on April 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I feel your distress. Here's the thing- the family narrative is 'we are a close-knit, caring family' and to survive you had to play the role of good daughter/sister. To survive there was a part of you that bought into that narrative that every thing was normal and right and good. Now you have to grieve the 'normal close-knit family' because the veil of illusion has been (justly) stripped off. It's not that your family is incapable of learning how to be supportive of you and process their own guilt and shame around what happened, it's that it is EASIER for them if you just go back to being 'normal'.

I don't really speak to my mother except to facilitate her (rare) visits with my children. She has apologized (in a fairly superficial way) a few times for "not being a good mom". Understatement of the century, really. But she, like your family, wants me to act as if everything is hunky-dory and it's not and never will be. You have every right in the world to decide who you speak to and don't speak to. You don't owe them the illusion of a happy family.

Grieve your loss and keep working on making the life you love. When they do the work to meet you where you are then you can decide if you want to establish a new relationship with your parents and sister. You, of course, are never under any obligation to speak to your abuser again.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:55 AM on April 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

Ah- I meant to point out that dealing with family fallout is yet another phase of recovering from abuse. It suuucks because everyone says, "But s/he's your mother/father/brother and family is family". Nope. Nope. Nope. There IS a certain blood contract in place, but it's not unbreakable. There are things that no person should have to endure. In my family I am considered the oddball, black sheep, difficult child- fine. They can think that way alllll they want. Frankly, at this point in my recovery the thing I miss most about having an extended family is having built-in babysitters. I can hire a babysitter.

Best of luck to you. It gets better.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:05 AM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

I am so sorry. They are putting their comfort, and your brother's comfort, way before your needs. I have to suspect that this isn't the only area in which this has happened, because you've been so trained to accept it. Their gaslighting you, their dismissal of your suffering -- this is part of ongoing abuse. That they would even think to ask you to see your brother, or to think about him -- part of ongoing abuse.

There's a book called The Narcissistic Family. It's written by clinicians who started out specializing in cases of incestuous abuse, but they eventually expanded the scope to include all families where the emotional needs of the parents are put before those of a child. It may be another good tool to help you unwind some of these family dynamics. (And they may have written some other stuff more specifically applicable to your situation.)

Your parents are not innocent here. They've shown you that, at a minimum, they are not capable of dealing with this in a way that cares for you. Please take some time for yourself away from them and their demands. You deserve to be free from abuse, and you deserve a family that helps you feel loved and safe and strong.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:14 AM on April 30, 2017 [13 favorites]

You are working so hard to make things right for them, and you are incredible and gifted and emotionally intelligent and a badass. I really get the urge to make it right for them, but I think for now, you've done your part and more. I mean, you've gonr WAY beyond - you are actually so incredible for keeping it together for so long!!

It sounds like they all (your parents plus brother) are still in denial of what happened, and the impact it had on you. Maybe they have the capacity to understand the sexual abuse, maybe not. There are probably much larger dynamics at play here, and it's great you're in therapy. Comments above are also touching on what those family dynamics are.

6 months is not a very long time, at all, and you should definitely not be forced to reconcile with your brother, or your parents for that matter. Someone said your brother is responsible, but I would argue your parents are also responsible on some level for what happened. You have every right to be angry and set clear boundaries. You get to do this. This is your life.

Your parents sound like they have a lot of work to do. And your brother. I feel angry just reading this. Empathy and understanding of what our children go through and protecting their emotional and physical well being is... pretty essential. (we can't control everything that happens, but it sounds like they show little empathy or take any responsibility for your well-being. Why are they protecting your brother and not YOU?? Why are they more concerned for him than for you? This makes me so angry and sick to my stomach.)

You don't have to justify the boundaries, as you've so stated. I know it's so hard, but for awhile, I would try limited/no contact as you continue your own healing and build other relationships and support systems. That will be essential, and sounds like you are already finding your way.

Find other avenues of support and build from that point- your therapist, your relationship, your sister if she's that person, friends, etc. This will be your new starting point, and after awhile, you can choose whether and how you relate to your brother and parents. If you even want to do that.

Anyway, I'm so sorry about all this. It's sounds like you have a tremendous capacity as a human being, and I want to validate that in every way. They have to deal with their demons now. You've done enough.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:23 AM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

I carry profound guilt everyday that I've hurt my family....

This is totally, absolutely not true: you weren't the one who hurt your family, you're the one who was hurt, and your brother is the only guilty party here. You cut him off because he abused you, and you were totally correct to do so: you do not owe your parents a lifetime of your continual pain just to make them and that abuser happy.

You have done more than enough by trying to provide them with all the counseling information and assistance that you have already given them; please, continue to hold fast to maintaining zero contact with your brother unless and until you, and only you, wish to resume that contact --- and if that's 'never, no contact whatsoever ever again", then fine: that's your decision to make, no one else's.

If they bring this subject up in a phone call, say goodbye and get off the phone. Delete and ignore any texts, emails, or anything else from them about him. Ditto any discussions of how/where do they find their own therapy or counselors: you've already told them, it's not your duty to talk them through it. If you haven't already, tell your parents and sister one last time that not only do you want no contact with your brother, the subject isn't open for discussion, and any attempt on their part to continue insisting on such discussions might force you to cut off contact with them, too.
posted by easily confused at 6:30 AM on April 30, 2017 [13 favorites]

I've been where you are. My abuse took place thirty years ago and my abuser is dead. I spent 15 years in therapy to put the abuse itself and the family dynamic that enabled it in perspective. You deserve a medal for all the work you've put into healing yourself, and another one for trying so hard to enable your family members to heal themselves, too.

You have my permission to stop doing all that now.

Ask yourself a question - if you didn't break all this pain and fear and sorrow down into manageable parts like counseling and resources and approaches for the other members of your family on how to engage with their guilt, what would your life look like?

How relieved would you feel if you never had to feel that pit of dread open up in your stomach when you try to have a conversation about something with your family as equals, as healthy adults? If you could rely on your parents, if you could trust them to have an appropriate emotional response to something? If you could rely on them to see you as the wronged party here, and feel all appropriate emotional responses to your having endured this awful thing, the response that you imagine parents would have to someone violating their child in this way? The appropriate amount of disgust and disappointment and anger at your brother? The appropriate response of desire to protect their wronged child, and the appropriate response of requiring your brother seek counseling and make whatever amends possible, while still understanding that reconciliation may not be possible?

How would it feel to finally be a separate, autonomous person, free of this Gordian knot of shame and control and fear and deep, deep disappointment in how your parents failed you?

I can tell you, it will feel like you lived the first part of your life at the bottom of the ocean with an anchor around your neck.

You have done your part. You gave at the office. You are done now. You are done being pushed around and manipulated so that other people don't have to feel things. You are right and right in perpetuity on this issue. The question now is when do YOU get to feel better?

Your parents have no right to ask this of you.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:17 AM on April 30, 2017 [28 favorites]

No. You don't have to have contact with someone who repeatedly molested you so that your parents can feel normal and sweep it under the rug.

I am infuriated on your behalf. I'm furious that you were put in a situation by your parents that resulted in your abuse. (I assumed that you were preteen female who had to share a room with her teen brother, which is also infuriating if true, but on reread realised that might not be the case. If you were both boys, I'm upset that you didn't feel able to tell them while it was happening and be protected).

I'm furious that confronting this with your family seemed to revolve around protecting and caring for your abuser's & parents well being, not protecting and caring for you.

I'm furious that your parents display more concern with seeming "normal" than protecting you. This kind of attitude is what allows abusive dynamics to fester and implicitly condones abuse.

I'm furious that you feel guilty for "damaging the family" by disclosing the abuse. The person who did the damage was the one who committed the abuse. You aren't the one who did something wrong here.

I'm furious that you are being pressured to connect with someone who molested you while you were a child.

I'm furious that you are being placed in the role of problem-solver and fixer for this.

And I am so, so sorry that you are going through this.

Your boundaries are reasonable, healthy and to me, *incredibly lenient*.

Once again: no, you are absolutely not obligated to pal around with someone who abused you.
posted by windykites at 8:00 AM on April 30, 2017 [24 favorites]

I always had this fantasy that if I told my family they would rush to comfort me, and love me and finally protect me. I never disclosed because my head knows that they would just push the one big happy family story on me again. The one big happy family story was what kept the abuse going. Don't let that story keep ruling your life. Grieve it and let it go - it's an illusion, not just for your family but for every family.
You decide for you what you want today and let others manage their own feelings. You are not a bad person for letting them manage their own feelings.
posted by SyraCarol at 8:08 AM on April 30, 2017 [13 favorites]

Your boundaries are reasonable, healthy and to me, *incredibly lenient*.

I agree.

I'm a mouthy person. And I'm even more pot valiant on the internet. So with that in mind, I could imagine telling your parents this about joint participation in family events -- "When you die, I won't try to stop him from coming to your funeral. I'll tolerate that. Anything before that, maybe not."

I'm also guessing that your parents might squirm when people ask them why you aren't at a particular holiday event. (just an example.)

Please don't feel guilty. My close nuclear family fractured when I was 9 because my parents were incompatible (and also wanted to bang other people). I'm sure they felt guilty for awhile, but they certainly didn't let me insist that they pretend to love each other so that I could have things stay the way they were.
posted by puddledork at 8:50 AM on April 30, 2017

I'm beginning to consider that it may just be easier to suck it up and have contact with him if it makes my family happy.

You might also consider that it may just be easier to not have contact with any of them until they can stop minimizing this and pressuring you to forget about it. And tell them you're considering that. And then follow through with it.

One more voice saying you're not the wrong or crazy one here, OP. They are. There's not actually any law saying families are supposed to be close and enjoy each other's company, or have contact, or any of that. Some people enjoy that. Some don't. So for whatever it's worth, I think it's perfectly acceptable to not want any contact with your brother - you don't even need the very good reason you have.
posted by ctmf at 9:07 AM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

"Do I have to have contact with my brother?"

No you don't. Easy answer. If the thing had not happened, the answer would still be "no, you don't".
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:41 AM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

One more Internet stranger chiming in to say: no, you don't have to see your brother ever again if you don't want to, and no, you didn't do anything to feel guilty over.

Please, take care of yourself. Those people never will.
posted by praemunire at 10:00 AM on April 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

He was abusing you before. They are emotionally abusing you now. I think it will be very hard to heal from any of this while you're still in contact with any of them. I'm very sorry, but I would walk away from all of them. I think you will be shocked by the relief you'll feel.
posted by Jubey at 12:15 PM on April 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

You went above and beyond in trying to make sure you were caring, supportive and considerate of your brother. None of your family has even met the minimum standard wrt to you. You have this internet stranger's permission to tell the lot of them to go to hell, go straight go hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

The guilt you feel is the abusive bullshit of the entire family. They did not protect you. They did not empower you to seek their protection. They colluded in his abuse of you. They are part of the problem. The incredibly, insanely shitty response you are getting since the disclosure is just more proof of that.

Just, no. Do not, under any circumstance, let these assholes bully you into reestablishing contact with him.

I was molested by a relative. For many years, this relative absented himself from family get togethers on polite excuses so I could comfortably attend them when I was in town.

Sometimes, people mess up. When called on their shit, how they handle the fallout is incredibly telling. The reaction of your entire family is incredibly damning. Something is super, extremely rotten here. And it isn't you.
posted by Michele in California at 1:27 PM on April 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

"Do I have to have contact with my brother?"
NOPE. Assuming he matured out of sociopathy, he feels terrible about the suffering he caused, doesn't want to cause more, and would therefore rather be out of contact if that's what you want, even if the estrangement hurts. If he is a decent person, now, he is in agony whenever he remembers what he did. The kindest thing you can do is be honest with him, just as you have been, and cut him off if that feels best.

As for the parents, to hell with these parents. The parents have washed their hands of this from the beginning when it was actually their responsibility. Let them worry about the optics now that it's decades too late. (You may detect a hint of rage. It is because I have these exact parents. I've had 'em for 50 years! Believe me when I say they do not reward effort, though they endlessly, endlessly invite it. Who has time for these clowns?)
posted by Don Pepino at 1:32 PM on April 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Your parents seem to be prioritizing normal family dynamics over your well-being. I'd suggest that unless they get their priorities straight about who should be doing the bending here, you shouldn't feel guilty about rebuffing their attempts to get you to reconnect with your brother.
posted by Aleyn at 2:48 PM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

You've done an incredible amount of emotional labor for your family in general and your brother in specific - putting together a crisis plan for your abuser is way above and beyond the call of duty. What your parents want here is to pretend that everything is okay, and they're focusing on you for speaking out rather than your brother for abusing you.

You did not break the family. Your brother did that. He abused you. He didn't try to reach out for help to stop himself. He didn't remove himself from the situation. That's on him.

Your parents didn't realize when it was happening or since, and it sounds like they don't want to know or want to pretend that nothing happened. That's on them.

It's good that you're setting boundaries and taking care of yourself. You are doing the right thing by doing that. You don't ever, for any reason, have to interact with your brother again. You are allowed to take space from your parents and sister until they decide to respect your boundaries and that you've been through a really intense trauma. The fact that they're pressuring you to forgive him rather than prioritizing your feelings is awful, regardless of their intentions.

Don't see your brother unless you decide that you want to. Set limits with your other family members and stick to them - don't move the goalposts, and don't compromise. Take care of yourself first: it's time someone prioritized your happiness over an artificial peace.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

they are waiting to hear from me on when I would like to talk to brother again so everything can go back to normal.

Oh, no. No, no, no no.

(1) Your parents and your sister need to understand that in this case, there simply is no "normal" to "go back" to. The way you answered your sister is both powerful and clear: The family they thought they were part of was a lie, and that lie was sustained by your childhood suffering, shame, silence, and pain. And now, because you are strong, because you have worked hard, and because you care about yourself and your own truth, that big, rotten, central lie and all the things that relied on it, are now over. No one has the right to ask you to go back to living with silence and pain. Quite frankly, I am horrified that they would even try.

(2) Your family is acting like you are the one who controls whether things can be "normal" -- but you don't. You couldn't control that even if you wanted to. Years ago, your brother (and not you) made the decision to permanently destroy the family's normalcy. And now, that violent and unconscionable disruption is a concrete, cold fact. You can't make it un-happen any more than you can make the 2016 U. S. presidential election un-happen. It is real. It is written in stone. Nobody can wish or lie it away.

So given that, it seems to me that your family now has a choice: If they want an honest and geniuine relationship with you, they need to collaborate with you on building a brand-new normal, in which the abuse you endured is thoroughly acknowledged, and your boundaries are fully respected. Or, if they prefer it, they can choose to live amid the old normal's broken pieces.

But that decision is on them. It's not on you. None of this is on you, and it is grotesquely unfair and awful that they're acting like it is.

You were a child when the abuse happened. It was your parents' job to protect you, and for whatever reason, that didn't happen. Now, rather than having your back, they seem to be asking you to protect them from the reality of what you experienced.

Needless to say, they have absolutely no right to expect that from you.

You, on the other hand, have a right to listen to yourself, and to do whatever feels correct, true, solid, and safe. You have the right to treat yourself with love and respect. And you have the absolute, unquestionable right to prioritize your own health and well-being over their comfort.

Luck and strength to you, anonymous. I'm rooting for you.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:18 PM on April 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

Another voice for 'no, you don't have to', and some reasons:
The work you've done has been so you can survive and thrive, and the support of your boyfriend has been for that, too. None of it has been done so that your parents can avoid experiencing hard emotions.
'Enough time has passed' - again, time may (hopefully) be helping you to feel less keenly the horrible things you've been through. But there's no amount of time that, absent anything else changing, means you should 'reconnect' with your abuser. That's not inevitable.

Parents in this situation are facing something incredibly hard. But you've navigated a thoughtful way forwards: you're willing to have a relationship with your parents, and are not asking them to cut contact with your brother. I think this is a very generous and considerate position, but they're pushing for more. Your necessary boundary is being treated as an opening bargaining position.

I'm in a slightly similar but much milder situation, and when I doubt myself, I sometimes think: what if anyone else had done this, rather than another family member? What if it had been a stranger - what punishments would my parents have wanted them to experience? Would my parents ever expect me to see them again? (Although I know that parents can behave in bizarre and unhelpful ways when faced by stranger abuse, also.)
These thoughts helps me to recalibrate my sense of the range of possible responses. I don't think your position is unreasonable or extreme. I think it's on the generous end of that wide spectrum.
posted by Socksmith at 5:15 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your parents and maybe your sister are delusional. They think they used to have a perfect tightknit loving family. They did not. Any family that is blind to the great suffering of one of its members, suffering caused by another of its members, is not in any way a tightknit family. Maybe the family was ok before the abuse started but probably not.

You say your brother was not abused, but clearly there was something wrong with him and it's still there. Is he a born sociopath? Was he abused at such a young age that he cannot remember it? You don't mention any attempts your brother has made to apologize or to show remorse to you for what he did. And even if he did, you have no obligation to accept or believe his apology.

Your parents are wrong to think you should get back in touch with your brother. They're so wrong that you should really consider cutting them off too. Under their tightknit family veneer there is something twisted and sick. You made it out, don't go back.
posted by mareli at 5:36 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think that in the midst of all the upsetting things here, one of the things that upsets me the most is that your brother’s well-being is still being prioritized over yours.

Has he even apologized? Has he been going to therapy to come to terms with why he would do something so monstrous to his sibling? Is he offering to skip family events to make you feel comfortable? Is he telling your parents and your sister that you get to make your own decisions?

Because it sounds like he has done nothing, and wants everything to go back to normal, and wants all the costs of making that happen to be extracted from you and your mental health. It sounds like he wants to pretend it never happened, and he has drafted your whole family into playing along.

To be blunt, this is a continuation of the abuse he started when you were a child. He is encouraging your family to continue gaslighting you into pretending that none of it ever happened, and you are being punished when you decline to put up with the fantasy. I am furious that he is doing this to you, and furious that your family is going along with it.

Please do not for a moment believe that what your family is asking you to do is normal or fair or reasonable. They have spent their lives proving that you can’t trust them. Please don’t start now— they haven’t earned it, and they will not live up to it.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:29 AM on May 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am shocked at your family's behaviour. This is infuriating. How dare they attempt to justify asking you to make contact with this person, just so they can play happy families. For your own mental health and to maintain the work you have done on yourself over the years, you would be best cutting them all off, by the sounds of it. In fact, you should have demanded they cut him off. If he had a shred of decency in him, he would cut himself off. I actually cannot believe their attitude. It is so, so wrong! I haven't experienced what you have but I have cut off certain family members for their behaviour. Often, there is no "normal" to return to in the first place, it's just toxic, and you do not deserve this. I also noticed how you seem to be so much more considerate about him than your own mental health. Where is his guilt? Something is very, very wrong here. I am at least, familiar with the dynamic of playing "happy families" so people feel comfortable and can present the correct facade to the outside world. It's twisted. You do not have to do anything, and there is absolutely nothing for you to ever, ever feel guilty about!
posted by infj4 at 12:02 PM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I disclosed to my parents, they were also concerned about my brother's well being and asked me how they should discuss this matter with him. I wrote down a list of questions they could ask him and services he and they could talk to if they wanted to, which I greatly encouraged as I did not want to be the main support for them given that I am also the victim.

This had me reeling when I read it.

I have a relative who was sexually abused by her father. When she told me about it, asking about how to deal with her father was not even a question; in my mind the answer was obvious, I was never speaking to the man again. Although it is clearly different when you're a parent, it utterly boggles my mind that they would ask you how to handle your abuser. Their son. You are BOTH their children; you just... don't... ask your children how to handle your children! The way you wrote it makes it sound like they weren't even asking with regard to your feelings? As in, they weren't asking out of respect for your healing, but for themselves? That's just, damn.

Your reaction to your sister talking about "sides" is perfectly healthy. I'm a sister and a cousin to kids who grew up abused by my parents & aunts & uncles; there was no such thing as "sides" for me. There was protecting my beloved brother and cousins. Period. I never spoke to them about how I should handle their parents (omg wtf), I handled that myself. And I was a kid.

Do please (if you want to) feel free to bring this up in therapy. Your parents' reaction, your sister's reaction. It will give your therapist more insight into your family dynamics, which will, in the end, help you get a grasp on things. Do also know that it is perfectly normal that this take a long time. I cut off contact with my family nearly 20 years ago; this year I'll have been in therapy for 10 years. Yes. Ten. A few years ago I finally started getting what I felt was "healthy"; this year is the first that I'm fully realizing that I have my own life. No ifs, ands, or buts. A life whose childhood was mutilated, whose young adulthood was spent healing, and is now lived as a healed adult. Not a perfect adult, heh. "Healthy" covers many things; neither "normal" nor "perfect" are equivalents. For me, "healthy" means I accept myself, my life, and feel at peace with that. If I'm not at peace with something, being healthy means I trust myself to work it out. I no longer have any nagging questions about my family. It took years to reach that point. I'm glad it did; I am also at peace with how the healing went.

You're not responsible for your family. You're responsible for yourself. As such, boundaries are absolutely okay. It's also okay for you to feel weird and iffy about setting boundaries at first! You care about your family. One of the most delicate parts of handling this is reconciling your family with your feelings for them. That means you're an empathetic human being.
posted by fraula at 8:27 AM on May 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

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