Full of hate–About childhood sexual abuse
I have a problem with hate. I hate my older brother. He molested me when I was young, and now I'm nineteen and I still have to live in the same house as him. My parents know what happened, but they just don't talk about it. I understand that it's hard to deal with. However, I never talk to my brother, and when I move out of my house, I don't plan on ever talking to him again. I don't think this is healthy, but there is nothing that I can do about my hate.
— Full of hate
Dear Full of hate,
It’s great that you recognize how you’re feeling and reaching out for support. Having someone to talk to and work with to help you understand and resolve your feelings can help you on your healing journey. Perhaps it may help to find someone, such as a trusted mental health professional, friend or peer, who can assist with your plans to move out or other measures to help you feel safe. It’s clear that you’re angry, hurt, and, perhaps, fearful; it’s understandable that you feel hateful, since your feelings are most likely the direct result of your molestation. You may also be feeling this way due to the lack of support you've received from your family. You're completely justified in your feelings, and how you choose to move forward once you move out is up to you—even if that means never speaking to your brother or parents again. However, as you currently live with them, you may find it useful to incorporate some coping mechanisms until the day arrives when you no longer have to share a living space. These feelings of hatred may be more harmful and destructive to you than your perpetrator, so it might be worth seeking out support to help you heal and overcome these feelings of hate.
Unfortunately, childhood sexual abuse is common, with estimates of up to 18 percent of men and 30 percent of women report experiencing it (these are likely underestimates). Childhood sexual abuse is difficult to define and measure because it encompasses a range of short or long-term acts from manipulation to physical violence. Fundamentally though, it involves the exploitation of a child by an older child or adult who uses their power to force participation in sexual acts. Often, as you have described, childhood sexual abuse has lasting impacts, especially in the event that the abuse is committed by a family member. The long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse vary significantly from person to person and may depend on the type and duration of abuse experienced, along with other personal factors like age and gender. The most commonly reported psychological effects include the development of depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, or eating disorders. Children who face sexual abuse also may struggle to form relationships with or trust other people.
Not all children who experience sexual abuse have long-term impacts. While the exact relationship between abuse and mental health is still being explored, researchers believe that some factors, such as having strong support from family or peers, may offer a level of protection against these negative outcomes. In your case, you’ve described that your parents aren’t supportive of you and may have enabled your abuser by choosing not to intervene on your behalf. Those who enable abuse understand the harm being committed but may not feel able to prevent it. However, by not responding, your parents have (perhaps unknowingly) contributed to an unsafe environment at home. There may be others that can support you through your healing aside from your parents. The National Sexual Assault Hotline, available 24 hours a day, could be a good place to start. They have resources available online or by phone, for survivors to speak with someone about their experiences.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse aren’t monolithic and might employ any number of coping strategies, ranging from seeking support from peers or therapists, or using drugs or alcohol to suppress negative emotions. There are two general types of coping methods, effective and ineffective methods. Effective methods involve directly addressing the negative emotions associated with abuse and trauma, while ineffective methods involve avoidance or suppression of such emotions. Despite this naming system, survivors are less likely to experience long-term distress when they're adaptive, or responsive to their own needs. This means that sometimes avoiding emotions may actually be the most helpful to an individual at certain times, though they may later require a more direct approach. Adaptive coping is a process—one that can span many years and may involve a variety of coping methods. Ultimately, individuals who find themselves well-adjusted typically rely on just one or two coping strategies at a time, while those still struggling to respond to their emotions are more likely to employ many at once.
It may seem like a herculean effort to heal, especially when there is no single way to cope with childhood sexual abuse. Coping strategies could include reaching out to friends or other family members outside of your household, speaking with a therapist or health professional, or moving out. Seeking professional help may be helpful in processing emotions, including hate, and developing coping strategies that are healthy for you. Psychotherapy can be helpful in developing trust in others, building healthy relationships, and gaining confidence. It can also be useful in delving into the causes of trauma. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy, focuses particularly on responses to trauma and how to change patterns of thought that cause anxiety, stress or other negative feelings. Your feelings are completely valid and may be exacerbated because you're still living under the same roof. Hopefully, with time and support you’ll find ways to take care of yourself that work for you. Wishing you peace and healing from your hatred.
Originally published Nov 01, 1996
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