Telling the Family: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
Even after men start talking about their sexual assault, most of them face one formidable obstacle: Telling their family of origin. I’m no different. For three years, I had been able to talk to most people about my childhood. I had gotten past the place of tearing up.
“How do I tell my siblings?” I asked myself many times. My parents were both dead, but I had five siblings.
As I struggled and talked to others, I realized that families have unspoken taboos about discussing certain topics, especially those dealing with sex. As a child, neither of my parents even used the word pregnant. They would say, “She’s that way again.”
Even as a child, I understood what that meant. And that’s how most of us absorb the safe and unsafe topics. Quite early, we know whether it’s permissible to bring up such matters. Only in retrospect did I realize that I felt unsafe in talking about my sexual assault—because that was taboo.
Until I had some understanding of the dynamics of my own family, I faced increased trauma because of my inability to articulate my pain to my family. That inability brought more shame and isolation.
Deep inside I sensed I had to tell my siblings and I didn’t know how, or what they would say. Even though I hadn’t lived near any of them since I graduated from high school, they represented my past—and something of a shared past. I hear similar stories from many men, and it has nothing to do with whether they’re in regular contact with their families. It has to do with breaking the silence of molestation in the family. Sometimes there was only one child who suffered sexual assault. Often there are others.
About two years after I began to face my childhood, I finally told my two younger brothers, whom I suspected had also been molested by the same female relative. Neither denied it but neither wanted to talk about it. Their negative reaction was so strong it made me even more reluctant to talk to my three older sisters.
When I analyzed the situation, it seemed silly to be afraid. “Either they accept my experiences or they don’t,” I told myself. I tried to reason my emotions into conforming. It didn’t work.
I’ve since heard many men speak about the trauma of telling their families of origin. And some men never mention it to them. But I knew I would never be fully healed from my molestation unless I told them.
One day the pressure became so intense, I spoke to one sister on the phone and said, “I have to tell you something.” Without giving her a chance to respond, I told her the facts.
“I didn’t know that,” she said, “but I’m not surprised.” She went on to tell me that the female relative had been sexually assaulted by her father for nearly four years—from the time of his first wife’s death until he remarried.
The relief was immense. I visited my hometown a month later and told my other two sisters. One of them said, “We didn’t know about things like that when we were kids.” And to my surprise, both were supportive.
For a time afterward, I chided myself on being so fearful, but then I realized I had done more than break the family silence, I had taken a major step in my own recovery.
Of all the conversations I have had about my sexual assault, nothing was as painful as talking to the family. But no single event has been so liberating. Because I could (finally) tell my siblings, I can tell anyone. I have broken all the barriers to secrecy. Now I continue to move forward in my own healing journey.
By Cecil Murphey
Cecil Murphey wrote, When a Man You Love Was Abused and Not Quite Healed with survivor Gary Roe. Murphey is the author or coauthor of more than 130 books including international best-sellers, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story.