DEAR AMY: About 16 years ago, I decided to sever all contact with my two brothers. This decision was based on the fact that as a child, I was mentally, physically and sexually abused by both of them. Since that time, my sister and I have held separate holiday celebrations without including them. Four years ago my mother decided that I needed to get over this. She chose to invite these brothers to the family Christmas party without telling me. I walked in and was blindsided by the fact that they were there. I felt like I was being abused all over again. I had a nervous breakdown in front of all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. It took many months to recover. During this time I had very limited contact with my mother. However, I eventually resumed contact with her. It is now my mother’s turn to host an annual family party. My sister confided that my mother has invited these brothers and that they are coming. My mother has told me that I am never to tell the relatives what happened to me as a child. I am not allowed to tell them why I had a breakdown in front of them four years ago (she told everyone I had a sudden migraine and was leaving). I feel betrayed by her. I also feel that if she can so easily betray me, shouldn’t I have the right to tell whomever I want about what they did to me?
DEAR WOUNDED: Your mother is reacting in a way that parents and grandparents sometimes behave toward family abuse survivors — it’s like she’s watching the clock and has declared that it is time for you to get over something you obviously won’t be “getting over.”
Remember that these men are her sons, and she sees it as in her best interests to control the narrative.
Because she has declared this “over,” you should assume that she will continue to undermine your wishes and include them when she wants to.
Your mother does not get to control how you feel, how you act, who you see or who you tell about this abuse. She is eager to silence you, but using your voice will help to set you free.
You will tell your story in the way you choose, not to retaliate to your mother, but because it is your life.
Surviving, thriving and having healthy relationships is how you demonstrate that you have healed.
Your sister sounds supportive, but professional counseling is necessary for you.
A book that might help you is, “It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself From the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion” by Beverly Engel (2015, New Harbinger). Be aware that sometimes reading about trauma can trigger painful memories and reactions for survivors.
DEAR AMY: I recently went to a memorial service at a large modern Christian church. The deceased had owned a large company that employed many people of Christian background, as well as Jews, Muslims and people of no particular religious persuasion. The minister went on and on about how the dead man was saved because he was a Christian, saying that Christianity was the true religion, and if you did not subscribe to his belief system, you would not be “saved.” I found this very offensive. One man actually walked out in disgust! The last funeral I went to was like this too. We went to this service to give our respects to the dead, not to be told we were going to hell! Could you please tell ministers that funerals have many people that do not share their particular beliefs, and we would prefer not to be insulted?
DEAR INSULTED: At a Christian funeral, you can expect to hear Christian scripture, as well as talk of heaven, hell and being “saved.” (There is a difference between being offered salvation and being consigned to hell.)
What you should not hear are admonitions that those of different faiths are going to hell.
I hope clergy are paying attention.
DEAR AMY: “Heartbroken” was wondering why her parents were so hard on her boyfriend, who used to be drunk and abusive, but is now sober. People in volatile relationships like this need to realize how traumatic it is for parents to watch their children go back to someone who is abusive.
DEAR BEEN THERE: I agree. Sobriety is a daily walk, requiring many tender acts of making amends and receiving forgiveness.