The Pretense of “Both Sides” When You’re The One Being Abused

When I was 9 years old I broke down crying and confessed to my sister how much my older brother had been abusing me on a daily basis since she went away, she said to me “C’mon Caden, I’ve seen you punch Jake before, I know you can do it…” So her solution was to shame, tell me that it was my fault when all along I could just punch him and he would stop. I wonder today, would she also suggest that if I just punched my parents or the members of their pedophile ring, the rest of the abuse would have ended too? But those rare times when I would try to really retaliate against my brother (though not with fists because I couldn’t hurt him that way), there was no support from her or anyone else, and there was no one there to protect me when inevitably it only made the physical, sexual, and emotional torture even worse. But I see today that the illusion of my childhood power was very valuable to them in making me feel powerless and blaming it all on me, using whatever real or imaginary revenge actions I had carried out as ‘evidence’ for how my bigger, stronger and malicious older brother was actually not really at fault, but ‘both sides’ were.

When my mother was leaving me alone with my brother yet again she would always make throwaway comments to both of us like ‘no fighting,’ drilling into me the idea that the abuse was also my fault. Simply by being abused I could be accused of ‘fighting’ and disobeying her orders. How I could not ‘fight’ was to hide on the bathroom floor or out in the woods all day in the summer, on weekends or days after school, and if I was lucky, he wouldn’t come find me anyway. When my parents left us alone to go on their private vacations my mother would say I could call them if there was any trouble. Yet when I dialed the number to tell them about what he was doing to me, they ignored my messages. My brother invited kids who bullied me at school to his big, raucous parties, and allowed his friends to play sadistic sexual games with my body and rape me. I was never left at peace in my own home, but to the very bitter end all I heard from my parents was the same tired phrases and lies, ‘no fighting’ ‘stay out of his room and he’ll stay out of yours,’ ‘he wouldn’t do that!’ ‘you’re always making up stories,’ ‘you’re just too sensitive…’

My childhood was one long series of abandonments. some I was able to numb myself to, while others such as this one blared in my face and made it impossible not to recognize what the whole truth of our family was. It makes me sick to see that lines like “as a parent you can’t protect him forever…” are so often used as an excuse for parents of young boys to neglect their responsibility to protect during the crucial but short years of childhood, which doesn’t even come close to “forever.” Being protected and nurtured in early life does make for healthier, more resilient and well-adjusted adults in the long run, while abandonment does not. I know that my childhood home should not have been ruled over by some ‘law of the jungle’ where I had to win my right to exist via violence, and nor should my elementary school have been that way either. If as is so often the case, a boy is bullied and beaten at school but the only solution offered is not to call the police, the school principal, or start anti-bullying programs but to “teach the boy how to fight!” then the cycle of violence is being perpetuated, not broken.

It is not anyone’s place to make the extremely insulting claim that I didn’t resist the abuse to my full capacity as a child, because I most certainly did. I was never empowered by ridiculous stereotypes about what my physical strength should be, which is of course completely irrelevant when it comes to abuse and the legacy of disempowerment that it brings. I know that boys are not at a lower risk for physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, but that our vulnerability is systematically denied and we are subject to sick stereotypes about “needing” more physical punishment and most often left on our own. I know that ultimately I wasn’t interested in fighting with my brother or punching people, I just wanted and fully deserved a safe and comfortable home environment ruled by mutual respect. But my abusive parents destroyed any chance for that, and they were able to do it because as a child I was not capable of fixing the entire situation on my own.

The facade of impartiality they adopted in response to my brother abusing me was of course very shallow in the end. They took his stories (about how yes, he assaulted me and though I was the only one bruised or with my bedroom door torn down, it was really my fault because I made him do it) as the final word without even asking me, and always viewed me as a burden for having complaints. The truth is there are two sides between the abuser and the abused, but the ‘side’ of the abuser is so petty and repulsive that it doesn’t bear sympathy. My brother’s side was that he hated me for just existing, and supposedly ‘being’ the long list of insults he regularly threw at me. But the victimization and abuse only went one way. While he may still hate the ground I walk on and everything that I say/think, that is really irrelevant. He still doesn’t have a valid side when it comes to our relationship.

Listening to the advice of my family, that the abuse was normal and I should just ‘let it go’ would have left me eternally at the whim of my abusers. Giving them permission to wake up every day and decide whether they will continue abusing me or not, while I would have to wake up every day wondering if I will be abused again, and not able to voice that concern, that question because it could be seen as provocative. That is not a life I want to live, it is not a life at all. Sadly too many family therapists act like it is their job to enter into families with histories of abuse and level everything in order to be fair to both parties. But there is nothing fair about being abused, and you can never make it fair by edict long after the fact.

When does a relationship with a history of severe abuse driven by power and age differentials from childhood become a situation where both sides are equally at fault and equally responsible? Never, I would say. Survivors do not have an obligation to put aside our need for validation and our genuine feelings in favor of maintaining a sick status quo. There is no comparison between an adult rightfully not liking or trusting another adult as a result of past events, and the agony of a child being abused and crushed by someone bigger and stronger then themselves. Both sides is B.S. when people want to sit on the sidelines and apportion equal blame to victims.

Despite what abuse implies, the victim of violence is not less then their attacker, and violence is still a crime no matter what; it is not “fair” because the victim was unable to “win a fight” or said something that the other person didn’t like. I don’t wish there was someone around to teach me how to fight as a child, I wish we had a community that really took care of and protected children from violence. I wish that when my older sister went away to college, she reported our parents to the police instead of making these insensitive comments to me. I know that, sadly, children who desperately fight back against their abusive parents or older siblings and kill them in the process are rarely spared from lengthy, if not life-long prison sentences here in the United States. Child abuse is not about what the child should have done, it’s about what other people should do to protect children, but all to often don’t.


About proudlysensitive

Gay male survivor of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
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17 Responses to The Pretense of “Both Sides” When You’re The One Being Abused

  1. says:

    Sensitive, but strong and gentle soul, thank you for expressing what many are experiencing and thinking. I cried and I understood because I went / am still going through something similar. I wish you to receive all the light, love and truth you need to aid you in your journey of healing.
    Bless you.

    • Thanks so much darkpowercat, I really appreciate your audience and support. I’m sorry that you’re going through a similar situation, I hope you can make it out too with your truth intact.
      take care,

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. This brings out such a rage in me. Thank god for blogging. I’m glad you have a forum where you can have a voice and maybe even empower others.

    Where are your parents and sibs now?

    • Thank you for reading and sending words of support, Julie. It is so vital to be able to share. My abusive family is estranged and many thousands of miles away from me now–both physically and emotionally, which is for the best, as no change was ever going to come from that direction. But I’m certainly not living in their static myself.

      take care,

  3. Sensitive Too says:

    “…what other people should do to protect children, but all to often don’t.” These words are so very, very true. Thank you so much for your blog and your courage and your honesty. I am just now learning to what extent my mother did know about my father molesting me, and it feels almost as shocking as when I first remembered what he did during my childhood – and tried to do when I was 24, married, and had my 1 year son with me visiting him. Now, that was some crazy shit that I never forgot. I believe it was the beginning of the repressed memories being able to surface, since they did in full force less than 2 years later.

    • Thank you Sensitive Too, for reading and sharing some of your story with me. It is really devastating to uncover the depths of that betrayal; I’m so sorry your mother knew but did nothing. It was one of the first things I realized too, that my family knew all along what was happening, but did nothing–they minimized it or blamed it on me or just didn’t care or were more interested in protecting themselves from how deep the abuse in our family actually went and how they were complicit in it. It is shocking, recovering and integrating these memories, to see how far and long things went on.

      take care,

  4. mandy says:

    Adult voices are louder, therefore, it’s easier to look the other way when a child is abused and cries out. It bothers me, as an adult survivor of childhood abuse, that its up to us to try to bring about change. Unless abuse touches someone, they don’t want to get involved. And also why the problem will exist forever. It is painful to know how many of us are estranged from our families because they don’t want to accept responsibility. Makes us feel disposable, huh? Thank you, Caden, for sharing more of your story. No matter how many times I read, I’ll always hurt so much for you.

    • Thank you Mandy, I appreciate your reading and your support. You’re right, adult voices are so much louder, yet abusive parents, teachers, etc. most often want to avoid their responsibilities and put everything on the child. It’s so wrong.

      thanks and take care,

  5. mandy says:

    Thinking of you and thought I’d check in, Caden. Hope things are going well for you. ♥

  6. Blue Rose says:

    Dear Caden,
    I am so sorry to hear that you had to go through all that in your life =(
    I find it hard to believe that there are mothers or/and parents/ families like that!

    I cannot have children due to health problems and I wonder why life couldn’t´t be fair even just sometimes….

    You are wonderful! Do not forget that!

    Happy New Year!

    • Thank you, Blue Rose, I appreciate your feedback and kind words! It is so sad that people take their children and the ability to have them for granted so often, and children suffer from being disregarded, abused, and exploited.

      take care, and happy new year to you too!

  7. t-money says:

    Thank you for this. I finally cut off contact with my 8 years older sister after a lifetime of abuse on her part. she always wants to point the finger at me, control me, belittle me, point out my faults, embarrass and shame me, make me carry the guilt that she doesn’t want to carry herself. The minute i set a boundary, she walks away and abandons our reltaionship as a tactic to make me fall back in line. Im an Empath, my sister is a Covert Narcissist. Ive been looking for anything that could have been my part of the abuse in our relationship and coming up short. i know my intentions are and were just to love her. she says i competed with her for selfish gain, but i was 8 years younger… even if i was 8 and she was 16 i wouldnt have been capable of manipulating her and competing with her the way she accuses me of- i know this is projection because she was the one manipulating, triangulating and double-binding me- constantly pitted against her abuse and my abusive parents by one party or the other because they used my genuine love for everyone as a weakness. I know i was the victim, i was the child, i was the one who actually felt emotions and compassion, they were not.
    she wants to make herself the victim of me, but she was much older,bigger, stronger, mean and i idolized her. I know the truth, thanks for the validation. Ive been reading your blog today and im loving how you can put your abuse into words so eloquently, it really resonates with me.
    i too struggle with questioning my truth when people try to tell me otherwise, but im getting better! I felt a shift a bit ago, it feels like the terror is over, i have finally healed enough to not attract all the trauma anymore…. its been 7 years of intense spiritual healing, flashbacks, PTSD etc. A long healing journey… I hope you are in a better place now and things are looking up for you! know that your blog is helping others and that you are strong, capable and WORTHY.

    • Thank you t-money, I really appreciate your supportive words and feedback. What you say is so true, my older brother was also convinced he was the victim of my behavior, and that it was somehow right to take out everything that our parents did to him, and every wounded feeling of jealousy or lack of love he felt on me. It’s so sick, and I’m sorry you had to live with that too. I also experienced with my 9 years older sister that she was very accustomed to taking advantage of our age difference to verbally bully and intimidate me in all of our conversations, and was not willing to give this up when I became an adult or admit that I could ever be her equal. Those abusive family “relationships” are so untenable, and I’m glad you were able to get out as well.

      take care,

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