notes from your big sibling
“Unwanted sexual contact is assault. It is not ok that your stepbrother did this to you. I’m glad you are able to talk about it, because you would definitely benefit from talking this out with a professional. I believe you | It’s not your fault." - Alex
“Don’t create a hierarchy in your head about what’s “worse” - what he did to you isn’t “better” than anything else. It’s just bad. He assaulted you. Don’t worry about whether or not something could be worse, just worry about finding the help you need so that you can work through your hurt. If you’re not comfortable telling someone you know about it right now, it might help to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1.800.656.HOPE). Distance yourself from him as much as you can, find a therapist or a social worker who you can talk to on a regular basis, love yourself, and take care of YOU." - Rebecca
“I hope you are in a living situation where you no longer have to see your stepbrother. I hope you are safe from him. Please don’t mitigate your pain against what might have happened to other people. Your pain is your pain, and what happened to you was wrong and inexcusable on so many levels. Nobody has the right to tell you ‘to get over it’ or ‘what he did was not so bad.’ Don’t listen to anyone who says this. I don’t know what the situation is within your family, but you deserve to put yourself first and get the help you need by talking to a sympathetic ear—take care of yourself and get stronger first before you reveal this to your family, should you feel the need to. (If you don’t want to, that’s your choice, and that’s okay). Thank you for trusting us with your truth. You are brave, and you are loved here." - Melanie
“No one should ever be forced or coerced into participating in a sexual act. That is an assault and it is legitimately traumatizing.
You do not have to worry about whether it is enough of an assault to qualify. It is.
You were sexually assaulted by your stepbrother. I am genuinely sorry for the pain and trauma that has caused you.
Please use our resources page to find help in your area or seek out professional counseling. It’s okay to feel conflicted, confused, and to need help - even years later." - Jennifer
“First of all, please understand that these dreams are normal—even about your parents. When I was 14, I had a dream about a female classmate and thought that meant I was secretly a lesbian even though I was boy-crazy. I didn’t want to talk to this girl for weeks—I thought she would ‘know’ I wanted to sleep with her.
Here’s the good news: Psychologists say that dreams where you’re having sex with someone are often about the desire to be closer to that person. To be better friends with them, to be more loved by your parents. Sex is taboo in so many ways, and to have sex with someone you shouldn’t or wouldn’t is taking that last barrier to true intimacy out of the way. Doing something you shouldn’t is very arousing—that’s why there are so many Catholic schoolgirl porn movies, for example.
It’s also normal that you’re both turned on and repulsed by sex—when you had your very first wet dream about your friend, it probably freaked you out, understandably so if you’re heterosexual. When you’re 14, your body was growing and changing and all circuits were firing and misfiring. Puberty plays a lot of bad tricks on us, and that was the one you had to suffer. You had your subconscious driving the car, so to speak, by dreaming/working on your relationship with your friend. But your new libido carjacked the ride and turned it into a wet dream. Again, this happens all the time.
Understand that your body was firing on two different cylinders at the time of your dream. You are not a disgusting pervert. There is nothing wrong with you or your sexuality. Humans are biologically driven to fuck to continue the species. Forgive yourself. Second, your thoughts are private. There are a lot of things that people fantasize about that they never act on.
There’s a lot of “slash” fan fiction that rewrite famous books and TV show relationships—look at everyone Harry Potter hooks up with in these alternate universes: Harry/Ron, Harry/Hermione, Harry/Hagrid. Harry/Malfoy, Harry/Dumbledore. People fantasize about this stuff and write it down. You’re okay. You’re normal. The best advice I have is to try to stop worrying about it and get out there and start dating. Instructional sex books can help too, like The Guide to Getting It On or The Joy of Sex. Fantasizing about real people who like you will put those dreams in the trash. Get out there and date people and it will all take care of itself. Honest." - Melanie
“If you’ve been diagnosed by a doctor or therapist, they might have some good ideas about how to explain your diagnosis. Your dad would certainly be comforted to know that you’re in the care of a professional, that you have resources, and that you have a plan in case you find yourself in a bad spot. I do hope all of those are true, and if any of them is not, perhaps you could involve your dad by asking him to help you with a specific task?" - Stefanie
“It sounds like you’re taking care of yourself, if you sought a diagnosis. It doesn’t have to be a big deal! Let him know what your care plan is - both with doctors and on your own - and tell him what he can do to support you, if you can think of anything. In a way, it’s great that you’re worried that he’ll be worried, because it means you know he cares.
As a side note: I was misdiagnosed with BPD several years ago because I have similarly intense emotional responses to people who have BPD. I’ve been treated with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy both for the BPD and in the process of treating PTSD and found it tremendously helpful. Maybe, once you’ve set yourself up with a therapist or social worker who you’ll see regularly, you might talk to them about whether that might be a helpful or appropriate treatment. All the best for you going forward!" - Rebecca
“In addition to Stefanie’s excellent advice, I think your attitude and tone will go a long way to helping your dad accept the situation the way you want. If you can stay calm and matter-of-fact and make it seem like it’s a thing you have, but something you can control, that might help. Also, understand that his worry isn’t just about you, but it’s also about him: if he’s moving away, he probably feels guilty as it is that he’s leaving and can’t do his fatherly duty and ‘protect you’ and do all the other Dad stuff like take you for pizza and a movie. If he’s going somewhere where you can stay in regular contact by phone or Skype, maybe you would suggest weekly calls to catch up and check in with each other. As he gets more comfortable, you could taper them down to less frequently." - Melanie
“Your work is to take care of you, especially now when you need the most care. I’m sure he doesn’t understand your responses and trauma, but really, you can’t do the work for him. I would urge him to find a support group for partners of rape survivors, if he is really committed to helping you. If he’s not or just can’t, he’s not really a good partner for you right now when you need patience, understanding, and loving communication. The work you have in front of you is big and you will change because of it. I’m so happy for you that you have reached out for counseling; that is HUGE. And so great. The work you have to do to understand, integrate, heal, and manage your own responses is big and surrounding yourself with support and love will be paramount. Be brave and clear about what you need and care for your self first and foremost." - JM
“It’s not really your job to help him right now. Yes. I don’t doubt that it’s difficult for him to deal with the fact that you have strong reactions to things that he does that may be triggering, but that’s not your fault, nor is it up to you to make your boyfriend ok with your trauma. Though conversation is usually helpful in resolving situations, it sounds like he needs to work through his issues with someone else. It sounds like he’s more concerned with his comfort than your pain, which is very troubling, but then again he just might not get it." - Hanif
“Hi darling. This is probably not what you want to hear, but you don’t need to worry about helping your boyfriend… at all. What you need to be focused on is yourself and your own recovery. Six months can feel like a long time and especially like you’ve invested a lot in a person, but dealing with triggers and abuse absolutely requires you to invest more in yourself. If your boyfriend doesn’t have the energy or desire to be there to support YOU, then my advice would be to end the relationship. I have personally spent a lot of time investing my energy and emotions into taking care of other people when I was the one who needed care. I would really strongly advise you to look for some support from friends or family members you trust right now. Having a boyfriend is wonderful and I know what a comfort it can bring, but your mental and emotional health is far more important. Please try to put yourself first, even if it means ending the relationship with this person." - Amelia
“The boyfriend seems to have some trouble separating your trauma from his actions. He doesn’t sound especially supportive, and I worry that you trying to support him right now will lead to a really one-sided relationship in the future — and will drain the emotional energy you need to take care of yourself." - Sarah
“The question ‘how can I help’ should be coming from him, not you. It sounds like your partner is being less than sensitive to your healing process. He is making excuses for his emotionally abusive behavior by using your trauma against you. Sometimes flashbacks can seem to come from out of nowhere, but from what you’ve said, he is doing something to trigger them. When you express your emotion, he lashes out and leaves, rather than trying to understand what you went through, and are currently mentally reliving? It sounds like perhaps he is not emotionally mature enough to be compassionate in your process. My suggestion is to focus on what you can be doing for yourself, not him." - Nikki
“This is really common, and it doesn’t mean something is ‘wrong’ with you. It means that your brain is saying, ‘we need to work through this, it’s time to address this trauma.’ It is a good thing that your body is speaking up. It sounds like you are ready.
My first advice would be to not add any pressure of feeling like you have to always want sex to this. Right now might be a good time to take a break from that while you work through this. Sex should always be comfortable and pleasurable, and if it isn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with abstaining until it is.
My second advice would be to find a professional to talk to. Even if it’s just a helpline, but preferably a counselor. This sounds like a common form of PTSD that many abuse survivors experience and it is treatable. You will get your life back.
I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. It isn’t right, and it isn’t fair. But I believe in you, I know you are made of strong stuff. With the right help you will reclaim all that you thought was lost." - Ijeoma
behind me, all in the past where it needs to stay buried.
And again, logically I know if I can figure out how to forgive him I can heal, I can finally fully heal. I know it’s what I should do, but how? Just saying the words isn’t enough, unless I feel it.
There are other words I need to say to myself, but I can’t ever seem to say them out loud to myself. I need to learn to say “I believe myself.” And I need to say “it wasn’t my fault.” And yet when I think back to it, I see all the same things over again. I was 13 I could have told him to stop, could have told someone who could do something about it. And yet it took me 7 years to leave that house.
I remember getting a pamphlet from school about sexual abuse. I remember how light headed I felt, how immediately I made excuses for my abuser, convincing myself it wasn’t rape, it wasn’t abuse, it was how he showed his love for me, his girlfriends teenaged daughter. How could I think that? How can I forgive myself for not seeing it all sooner, for not making it all stop?
I’m 28 now, 8 years removed from that situation. And while I was able to forgive my mother, who married that man anyway, knowing what he did, I struggle with forgiving myself and forgiving my abuser.
I wish I could go back, tell myself how strong I am and how strong I could be if I broke free. I have a letter tucked away from my younger self to my older self. I reminded myself there would be time to cry later. But at 16 I couldn’t tell myself when that time would be. At 28 I still don’t know if it’s safe to cry.
"My contribution to this blog was about not speaking up. Being a child is scary enough, speaking up about abuse is terrifying. You weren’t weak, you weren’t complicit. You were surviving.
Forgiveness is tricky. I don’t even really like the term. You don’t ever have to say to your abuser, ‘it’s okay,’ ‘it doesn’t matter anymore,’ ‘I’m not hurt anymore.’ I think that anger can be a form of a relationship, and the closest I can get to ‘forgiveness’ when it comes to abuse, is to say, ‘I’m ending this anger relationship, and I’m focusing on me.’
The person who abused me - I haven’t ‘forgiven’ him, but I’ve ended my anger relationship with him. He has been released from my brain to go live his life while I focus on someone much more important - myself. It doesn’t mean that the hurt doesn’t exist anymore. It doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally rage at what happened to me. It means that I am putting my own personal well-being first by cutting focusing on myself. It is as close to peace as I’ve been able to get.” - Ijeoma
“Sometimes forgiveness is difficult because we think saying ‘I forgive you’ means ‘What you did doesn’t matter anymore’ or ‘I’m not hurt by this anymore’ or ‘What you did is ok’ or ‘I like/trust you now.’ It’s not really any of those things.
Forgiveness isn’t about them. It’s about you. It’s not forgetting that something happened, it’s acknowledging that it happened and that it hurt and that you are going to go on living anyway. Forgiving does not mean forgetting.
Guilt, shame and regret can be like giant heavy stones that hinder. Forgiveness is just setting them down so they can be milestones instead of burdens." - Hanif
“Forgiveness can be a thorny thing. Many people think that if forgiveness can just be achieved then automatic healing takes place. That’s fundamentally untrue and how some of those forgiveness memes that roll around social media can actually do more harm than good. In my experience, forgiveness - when it comes - comes after I have forgiven myself, given myself the benefit of grace, and find my own sense of peace. Not the other way around. Forgiveness is hard work. Forgiveness is not mandatory. Forgiveness is not a sign of strength or of a lack of strength. It’s an intensely personal process that may or may not always be possible. And that’s okay." - Jennifer
“I was in this marriage. A marriage where you walk around with that pit in your stomach. Knowing that anything you do can set off a fit of rage, but not knowing exactly WHAT that thing will be. It affected my health, my mental well-being, and eventually took a very scary and disastrous toll on our son.
I’m not saying this to scare you. I just want to be clear that verbal abuse is just as harmful as any other form of abuse. You have a right to be safe.
I don’t believe that my (now ex) husband is a bad person. I do still believe that he loved me and loves our son dearly. But he has serious issues that need to be addressed and he was not willing to address them while we were married. I had to leave.
If your husband is willing to get help for his anger issues, and you want to stay with him, there is a good chance that he can get better. But he will never get better unless HE WANTS TO. It is not a reflection on his love for you, it is not a reflection on your marriage. These are his personal issues manifesting themselves into abuse. You need to protect yourself. If you want to stay, then he needs to know that under no circumstances will you stay if he doesn’t get help. If he doesn’t get help, please leave. Once you are away, you’ll be amazed at how much easier you can breathe.
Now all that being said, you don’t have to do anything. If you don’t ask him to get help, if you don’t leave, it doesn’t mean that you deserve to be treated like this. You are not ever complicit in your abuse and I will never judge whatever you have to do (or not do) to survive. Please at least accept my love and solidarity and support in whatever you decide." - Ijeoma
“This is not about you. There is nothing you are doing wrong to make him unhappy, and there is nothing that you need to change about yourself to make him happy. A marriage is about accepting the person you are with for who they are. Someone who hurls bile at you is not doing that. Have you tried mediation or couples’ counseling. It may be helpful for a third party to call him out and validate what you’re experiencing. I would not try to have this conversation with him by yourself - abusive people are very good at making themselves the victim. Don’t give him the opportunity to corner you or make you feel small. You are beautiful and lovely, and don’t let him make you think otherwise.” - Amelia
“It’s not up to you to make your husband happy. It’s not up to you to always do things just right. You can try to do just the right things and only the right things every day and it will never be enough. Because it’s not about you.
It’s about him and only about him.
There are lots of different things you can do. You can try to talk to him about it. You can start individual counseling to help you deal with it (which I recommend no matter what you ultimately decide to do in your marriage). You can try to go to marriage counseling together. You can try to get your husband to go to independent counseling.
Sometimes, being verbally abusive is evidence of having poor coping skills or other underlying mental illness. Regardless, it’s not your job to fix your husband’s issues. It’s his job to fix his issues.
When people get married, they enter into a partnership. If your partner is no longer a partner to you, then it’s up to you how to proceed. You never deserve to be abused in any way and I hope that you are able to live a life free from abuse very soon." - Jennifer
with him in December, and he initially blamed me for the end of the relationship. He then continued to flirt with me and promise to come visit me at school, which he never did. In June, he told me he “loved me with everything in him” and shortly after told me he was still hung up on his ex. He now spends all of his time with her, and if he isn’t ignoring me, I feel like he thinks I’m being unreasonable for being hurt. He minimizes what happened or acts like nothing ever did. He was the first person I really loved and made me feel loved after being abused by other boys and my parents all of my life. I trusted him, and then he did this to me, and it makes me feel like I’m crazy or a monster. And like I need to make things right with him. But he doesn’t even want to speak to me unless it’s about him, and I can’t believe him when he tells me he cares about me. I’m just very lost and perpetually anxious. I do miss him, and when he tells me something nice I’m unsure
“Dear heart, I’ve been in your situation. Straight up unvarnished truth: this guy is abusive in another way. He likes stringing you along to feel wanted. He likes the drama. You said it yourself: he only cares to discuss himself. He likes knowing he doesn’t have to invest anything in your well-being beyond a text or two to know that he could have you at any moment if he just said the (loving) word. He is never going to be there for you in the way you’ve fantasized. You can do better than him. Block his sorry ass from your life. Do not engage with him. You’ll stop missing him when you take him out of your life. Something I wish I’d known when I was younger: Don’t make someone a priority when they’re only keeping you around as an option. Cutting him out of your life will hurt, but you will feel SO much better. You don’t need this jerk. I believe in you and that you are strong enough to do this." - Melanie
“Sometimes when I’m having a hard time getting down to the nuts and bolts of a relationship, situation, or person, I do something horribly cliché: I make a pro/con list, or, I make a list of ‘wants’ and compare it to my reality. I hope you’ll indulge me while I make a list of my wants for you: honest, open love; a partner who is proud of you, and proud to be with you; a partner who loves to hear from and about you; someone who honors your feelings and does right by them; self-confidence in your worth as a person, friend, and partner; mutually beneficial relationships with people who make you better while you make them better; fun. I don’t see many of these things reflected in your description of this relationship or guy. My gut says you deserve better, and experience tells me the world is full of wonderful people who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated." - Stefanie
“It sounds like a damaging relationship, and it doesn’t sound like he acted in good faith. He manipulated you, and that is not your fault, regardless of how long the relationship went on. I’m so sorry that he treated you so poorly. The best way I can think of to get over a betrayal like that is to surround yourself with loved ones who would NEVER take advantage of or manipulate you. You deserve nothing less than respect and comfort." - Stefanie
“I don’t know that you “get over it,” per se, but you can learn from it as you move forward. This guy obviously made you feel uncomfortable, pressured, and compromised and wasn’t a friend to you. I suspect (and might be wrong) that what nags you about the situation is that you wish you had acted differently. Maybe either by shutting him down or not being in the relationship in the first place? Please don’t be too hard on yourself. We are all human and make decisions in an effort to help ourselves feel better. Sometimes those decisions aren’t our best ones. But the good news is we can learn from them and make different choices going forward. Be kind to yourself." - JM
“It’s important to give yourself time to both process and learn from relationships that leave you feeling conflicted and confused. It might be helpful to look into information about relationships based on manipulation, pressure, and emotional abuse. There’s a lot you can learn about your own self, your own processes, and your own choices by giving yourself time to think about the past before trying to create a new, future relationship. Doing so may help you make different choices in the future and avoid pitfalls that may have previously gone unnoticed. Taking a proactive role in your life can help you move on and be ready for whatever the future brings." - Jennifer
but it feels like my everything isn’t enough. I really wish I could do more for her, watching her go through this kills me. She’s even beginning to cut out close friends including myself.
“I’ve cut people out of my life when I felt unsafe. This happens. I’m so fortunate that I had a few very good friends who let me know that they would always be there when I was ready. Even when I shut everyone out, I still had that comfort in the back of my mind. And when I was ready to re-enter the world, they were there to help me pick up the pieces.
You sound like such a friend. It’s really important that your friend has people in her life that will allow her to pull away, without breaking that connection, and can check in to make sure that she doesn’t get into too dark of a space and can help get her resources if it comes to that.
Thank you for being such a good friend to this woman. She needs you, even if from a distance." - Ijeoma
“It always hurts to not be able to make someone’s pain go away. It hurts even more when a loved one’s retreat into safety includes retreat from those most willing to support them. Sometimes all there is is patience and love." - Hanif
“Being there as a supportive person is a lot, even if she isn’t ready to lean on you yet. Thank you for being that person." - Alex
“You sound like a true and concerned friend. I’m sorry for violence you’ve survived and for your friend’s experience also. Be good and kind to yourself! It sounds like your friend needs some time and space, and you need to take it easy on yourself. These essays can be hard on your heart to read individually let alone a lot at once when you’re already feeling blue." - Meredith
“The thing to do is just be there for her - let her know you are available without crowding her out, and make sure she can always get in touch. Make sure she knows you’re interested in her life even when she has gone quiet, but without overwhelming her. It is a narrow tightrope to walk, but that quiet ongoing supportive presence can be immensely helpful to a friend going through a difficult time." - Margaret
“If you’re able to, stay available to her. You sound like a solid, supportive friend, and even though she may not be able to let you in right at this moment, just knowing that you’ll still be there for her when she is ready might mean the world to her." - Nicole