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Dear Patricia: Childhood abuse by my brother has left me feeling tarnished

READING the recent letter from a girl whose brother abused her, I finally felt that someone knows what I am going through. But it's still so hard to write it down. It happened when I was around 10-13 years old and I am now 24.

What's made it even fresher in my mind, is that my brother died recently. I'm mourning him, because he was my brother and all my family are suffering. But I'm also glad that this secret is now gone with him to the grave and I can move on somewhat. He never apologised to me, or mentioned it again. I always wondered why me, and how could he have done that to me. It just stopped one day and that was that, like it had never happened.

I have never had a boyfriend and my friends joke that I'm fussy, but I'm not. No one seems to have any interest in me. I've met boys, kissed on a night out, but that's it. Nothing further. This is what gets me down now as I think I'm going to be on my own forever. My friends are starting to pair off, but I have never met anyone whom I liked enough. I don't think I have a problem with intimacy, the right one just hasn't come along. I don't know where I'm going wrong. Or am I tarnished for life?

I have a loving family and a job I like, so I have a lot to be thankful for. It's just that this secret is hanging over me. I can never tell my family. It would ruin them. It's bad enough losing a son without having to hear what he did. I suppose I should see a counsellor but I don't know if I could go as far as to talk about it. Plus, I can't really afford it. I suppose I just have to get on with my life.

Patricia replies:

AS you can see, the secret hasn't gone to the grave with your brother. You are carrying it around with you. You're thinking about it. And unconsciously you've undoubtedly erected barriers to any romantic involvement.

Of course you are not "tarnished". The fact that you were abused does not make you any less worthy of love and respect. You are blameless. Your heart and spirit are free to love.

I know I've said it before, but the worst part of sexual abuse is the lingering feeling the victims have about being bad, or dirty, or tarnished to use your word. It's hard to shake their conviction that they were somehow to blame.

Look at your question about why your brother chose to do it to you. Deep down you fear you have some fatal flaw. In reality he chose you because you were an easy target, for whatever reason. And that has to do with circumstances that were completely outside your control as a 10-year-old. Somehow, there was a failure within the family to ensure your safety. Maybe it was nobody's fault -- we're not playing the blame game here.

The point is, it certainly wasn't your fault. Your brother behaved very badly. We don't know his story. Nor do we need to. All you have to do is make sure you ditch these negative feelings about yourself.

I do strongly believe you should talk to a counsellor. This is familiar territory, as you can see from the recent letters on this page. You are not alone. You are very vulnerable right now, not least because you feel alienated from your family since your grief at your brother's death is, very understandably, mixed with relief. That kind of conflict brings real emotional distress. It's uncomfortable, painful, disorienting, but it's also an opportunity for psychological change. See, you've written to me. Take the next step and seek out a specialist counsellor. I promise you, the relief will be enormous.

And those unconscious barriers to romantic relationships will slowly but steadily break down too. That, by the way, is also a promise, not because I have some magic powers, but because that's the way the emotional world works.

Sunday Indo Living