updated 27 Feb 2009, 15:24
    Powered by
user id password
Tue, Feb 24, 2009
The Sunday Times
EmailPrintDecrease text sizeIncrease text size
Scarred by sexual abuse
by Anthony Yeo

I think I was sexually abused by my brother more than 20 years ago, when I was seven and he was about 10. This memory came back to me recently when I was reading a book about abuse, and I became very angry for no apparent reason. I started blaming myself and also my parents for not being there for me. I have been feeling depressed since and also realise that my relationships with people have been bad since childhood. Could my struggles in life be linked to what happened? In fact, I feel ashamed and fearful thinking about it. How can I be relieved of this nightmare?


It is not always easy to deal with abuse of any kind, most of all, sexual abuse. I do agree that abuse victims tend to be withdrawn and depressed, often fighting shy of relationships.

Your experience tells me that past abuse may not be obliterated from one's memory. In fact, if there is no healing, it can return to traumatise the victim again. What is confined to the deeper recesses of our consciousness does not go away.

Your memory of the abuse suggests that it does help to be aware of abuse in our lives. Awareness, rather than denial, is an important step towards dealing with it.

Again, this is difficult as one tends to be told that it did not happen the way one remembers it. You may even be told you have done something to deserve the abuse.

This is especially difficult when you are abused by family members. They are supposed to protect you, yet they end up hurting you. This ambiguous relationship leaves you in a bind. There is hardly any room for confronting the family member or disclosing the incident for fear that no one will believe you.

If it is difficult to disclose it to anyone, I trust you will acknowledge it to yourself and be prepared to hold your brother responsible for what you believe happened. You may want to say to yourself: 'I have been sexually abused by you (and mention your brother by name). I hold you responsible for what happened to me and it was not my fault that it happened.'

It is imperative that a victim should not feel guilty or take responsibility for what happened. Instead, it helps to come to terms with the reality that you need not continue to suffer the ignominy of being a victim.

Talk to someone you can trust about this matter. It helps to seek professional help as confidentiality is assured for a safe space to deal with this experience.

A competent mental health professional can offer you a safe relationship to recall the experience, explore feelings associated with it, deal with the trauma and seek to restore psychological safety and stability.

The opportunity to talk about the incident can be cathartic. It would be helpful if you could get your brother to apologise for what he did. Since this is not always possible, you may wish to confront him mentally.

In therapy, you will be led to forgive the abuser and release the incident and the abuser from your mind.

This action does not amount to forgetting, as it is impossible to forget. However, you can learn to reconcile with the past, leaving it behind and moving on.

I trust you will seek healing for your experience and continue to value your life and people dear to you. There is no reason for past traumatic experiences to haunt or incapacitate you in any way.

Anthony Yeo, a consultant therapist at the Counselling and Care Centre, will answer questions from readers every fortnight. Write to [email protected] with 'Life Lines' in the subject line.

This article was first published in The Sunday Times.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2009 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.