Resilience is about the capacity for people to overcome adversity. Sibling abuse is a traumatic event – or series of events – in one’s life. Although there are long-term repercussions of abusive victimization, particularly at the hands of a sibling, there is evidence to suggest that survivors have the ability to mitigate the negative effects of adversity.
An important factor regarding an individual’s resilience is the availability of emotional support, particularly during childhood and early adulthood. Although most survivors of sibling abuse receive limited emotional support from their families while growing up and develop little social capital outside of the home during childhood, others develop resources that provide them with support and hope. Those children who are able to cultivate supportive relationships outside of their homes with peers, mentors, extended family members, or parents of friends, are able to experience a sense of safety and self-value absent in their home environment.
Some survivors find relief, hope, and a sense of worth through relationships with extended family members. Adults who show interest in a victim’s life experiences are reparative. Comfort is found in experiencing genuine love and interest and part of a family in a way that was not available in survivors’ own home.
Ideally, a child should feel that he or she is a member of a cohesive family that is able to provide support in the face of life’s challenges. Victims of sibling abuse lack not only support in the home, they also generally are not involved in meaningful experiences outside of the home that help them develop a sense of competence, mastery, and importance. Children raised in abusive home environments are generally not involved in activities that promote self-confidence, and this promotes a sense of isolation. However, those who do engage in extra-familial outlets report that the social and creative activities support resilience. These outlets – art, music, sports - not only provide emotional release but also help survivors establish a sense of community and receive much needed attention.
Resilience should be achievable at any point in life. Survivors of sibling abuse do not escape pain or long-lasting problems because of their experiences. Yet, many exposed to high risk because of sibling abuse are able to attain competence, build community, and achieve success and generativity in adulthood.
The most important single survival factor for resiliency in abused children is the presence of at least one person who provided unconditional positive regard. For survivors of sibling abuse, this person proved to be their therapist. When parents take victims of sibling abuse to therapy during childhood, victims interpret the problem lying within them. However, when the choice is made as an independent adult to seek therapy, survivors experience the therapist as the only nonjudgmental and accepting adult who validated the sibling abuse. Therapists promote resilience by helping survivors develop the capacity to make decisions, engage in other relationships, and detach emotionally from the abusive sibling. Although therapy could constitute a protective factor, the choice survivors make to capitalize on this resource is a manifestation of their resiliency.
Children who are abusive during childhood may remain abusive throughout the adult sibling relationship. Some survivors choose to cut ties with their siblings or parents in an effort to achieve self-protection. This decision is complex, because these adults sacrifice their connection to their families in order to avoid the abusive sibling. Cutting off can include creating geographic distance from one’s family of origin, rarely visiting with family, or staying in physical contact with family but avoiding emotionally close relationships. Devastated by the loss, survivors still identify cutting off as promoting a sense of safety and an aspect of moving forward. While emotional distance from trauma and the traumatizing participants allows for reparation, recovery also requires a mourning process: mourning of an “ideal” sibling relationship; mourning the quality of relationships with caregivers -- mourning for what could have been; mourning for what should have been. There is hope for overcoming traumatic experiences such as sibling abuse. Supportive relationships and building one’s ego do contribute to resilience. In order to find, seek, or accept supportive relationships, it often begins with a relationship to a therapist. Therapy can be quite curative, and begins with feeling entitled to unconditional positive regard.
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