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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Sibling Relationship

Q. I just made the decision not to speak to my father until he is willing to take responsibility for the sexual abuse he committed against myself and my brother when we were kids. Dad completely denies it ever happened. This has put a big strain on my brother's relationship with me.

You see, my brother has also had problems (he was convicted of lewd acts with a minor once and also for looking into a window at a young girl showering). He is trying his hardest never to re-offend...attending church, staying sober and fully complying with probation. I am proud of the progress he is making and don't compare him to my dad. (If anything, I blame my dad for twisting his mind when he was so young.) But, I have called my dad "a monster" in front of him. My brother and I aren't talking, and subconsciously, I think this is the reason he is angry with me, even if he won't admit it. (Perhaps he thinks that I feel he, too, is a monster?)

Now my brother spends lots of time with my dad. I feel like I am better off without my father in my life (he is a black cloud that makes me feel unhealthy), but how would you suggest I deal with my brother? I am terrified that this will somehow cause him to slip back into the problems he's had... it's so hard to care about someone who has molested children, especially when you not 100% sure it won't happen again. I love my brother... I am very afraid for him, but I'm just as afraid of what he is capable of.

A. This is clearly a painful problem for you, and I suspect there will be no quick and easy answers. Let's first start with some points of perspective. First, your brother is responsible for his behavior--you are not. There's nothing you can do, or not do, to guarantee that he will offend again. Second, your brother is in charge of his own anger. If he is angry because you called your father a monster in front of him, or because he (your brother) thinks you see him as a monster, too, that is not your doing. His anger is the creation of his own thinking. In other words, you can let yourself off the hook on matters that are not directly under your control.

So, what can you control? To start off, you can decide how much you want to let your emotional life revolve around your father and your brother. You have already made a decision to move your father away from the emotional center of your life. You can also choose to do so with your brother--or not. At this point, though, I am puzzled. You say, "my brother and I aren't talking." Well, it takes two people to stop talking. What keeps you from having your brother over for a cup of coffee, and speaking openly with him about your feelings? For example, making clear that you do not see him as a monster.

You indicate that you are afraid for your brother--are you also afraid of him, particularly of his anger? If so, perhaps you ought to listen to that feeling. Or, perhaps you ought to consult with a mental health professional to help you work out your feelings and concerns. In theory--if your brother were willing--the two of you might even consider seeing the same therapist together for a few sessions, in order to have an objective third-party to mediate some of the intense issues that are likely to come up. But keep in mind: your brother's feelings and behaviors are his own. You can't make him stop seeing your father, or having bad thoughts, or acting on them. All you can do is behave sensitively and decently, and give him the opportunity to talk about his feelings in a safe, accepting environment.

Meanwhile, you may want to explore some ways of moving beyond the traumas of your childhood, regardless of what your father and brother do or don't do. Families that have been through these problems often cope with very raw and painful feelings, and you have already shown courage in facing this issue. Now, individual counseling with someone experienced in this area might be worth considering.

October 2001

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