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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Child Molestation

Q. I confronted my father nearly 6 months ago about molesting me and my brother. I'm nearly 30 now, but I felt I had to get it out in the open for my own sanity. Father insisted it wasn't true, but had a very guilty look on his face (even my brother noticed it). He wavers between having contact with my brother and I and avoiding us. My brother has also noticed that he has suddenly thrown himself into work and is smoking (cigarettes) like a chimney. My brother thinks in some way he is trying to send himself to an early grave because of his conscience.

Just recently, he and my brother got together and said he thought I was trying to turn my brother against him and he asked if my brother really believed what I had said. The problem is, my brother was under 2 and I was about 4 at the time. I only remember bits and pieces, but I know what he did. My brother doesn't necessarily remember anything concrete, but strongly feels it is true. I don't know if I can continue to be around him like this and I don't know that I even want to.

I still have a lot of anger and resentment because I feel like he took a big, important part of me away. I cannot trust people or let myself be loved. I don't want my father to drive a wedge between my brother and I either. Is there any chance that he will ever admit what he has done or get help?

A. You are clearly dealing with a very complicated and painful situation, and are searching for the right way to deal with it. That takes courage. Without being flippant, I must say that I haven't a clue as to whether your father will or won't admit what he has done - much depends on what he believes he actually did; how much remorse he may feel; his fears about confessing, etc.

But, frankly, I would encourage you to ask a different kind of question. Rather than focusing on whether, or to what extent, your father will change, I would encourage you to look at your own need to move beyond where you are, emotionally. You say, quite honestly, that "I cannot trust people or let myself be loved." This is a serious problem that is very unlikely to change, in my view, no matter what your father does, unless you address it yourself.

Thus, the question I would encourage you to ask is, "How can I get myself unstuck from this position of mistrust and lack of intimacy with others?" If you are not already in therapy, I would strongly encourage you to seek out a mental health professional with expertise in the area of sexual abuse and posttraumatic disorders. You may need to ask specifically whether the therapist has experience in this area - an inexperienced therapist can often make matters worse. A good referral could be obtained by contacting your local chapter of either the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association - or, try calling 1-800-638-8799 (National Association of Social Workers Referral Line). Your family doctor might also know some appropriate therapists.

In addition to individual therapy, you might benefit from a support group aimed specifically at survivors of actual or suspected childhood abuse - provided that it is run by an experienced professional. After you are involved in therapy, you might also discuss the use of some appropriate books on the topic of healing, such as "Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse", by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis; or, "Beyond Survival: A Writing Journey for Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse", by Maureen Brady. (I would suggest exploring the whole issue of your feelings toward your father in therapy, before trying to use these guidebooks on your own).

Remember, you can't control what your father will do, or feel, or admit. You can get control back of your own life, and - with time--move on. I hope you succeed.

January, 2001

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