Dealing with trauma after abuse
If your disabled brother or sister has experienced abuse or neglect, this will have had a major impact on them. It may also have had an impact on you. As an adult sibling you may be a key support for your brother or sister through this very difficult time and it is important that you look after yourself too. As one sibling told us, “[The abuse] was like an explosion that rippled outwards – it affected us all”.
First, make sure that what has happened has been reported and that your brother or sister is getting the support they need. Read more about what to do if you think your brother or sister is being abused before reading further with this page.
“There’s so much anger, sadness and frustration in my brother that he doesn’t have any support with. He speaks to me about it – I’ve become his trauma support and that’s hard. He also talks to Mum and then I become her support too. It’s a difficult thing to manage.” – Adult sibling
Accept how you feel
Some siblings feel that only their brother or sister has a right to feel traumatised, as it was them that was abused. But abuse hurts everyone. No one is more or less important regardless of who they are in the family. Acknowledging that this is hard for you too, does not deny that it was hard for your brother or sister. In fact, acknowledging your own feelings and seeking support can only help the situation, as you will be in a better position to support others if you want and need to.
It’s normal for you to feel:
- Angry about the poor treatment, abuse, neglect and lack of respect that your brother or sister has received
- Upset and tearful at the thought of what your brother or sister has been through
- Shocked that the abuse has happened
- Betrayed, especially if the abuser was someone you knew and trusted such as a family member
- Selfish that the abuse has affected you, even though it wasn’t you who was abused
- Guilty that that the abuse has happened to them and not to you
- Guilty about time you have or haven’t spent with your brother or sister
- Guilty about negative things you may have said or done as a child
- A sense of heightened responsibility, as if you have let your brother or sister down in some way by not preventing the abuse
- Frustrated at the lack of support or understanding from service providers during the aftermath
- Worried and afraid of this happening to your brother or sister again
- Stressed from having to support multiple people at this difficult time, such as your brother or sister, parents, and other siblings
- Overwhelmed from dealing with managers and lawyers in order to seek justice on your brother or sister’s behalf, whilst trying to continue with your usual work and life
- As if you are re-experiencing the situation when there are reminders about abuse e.g. similar news articles
“There’s a lot of guilt attached to what my brother went through. I feel like I let him down by allowing him to be in a situation where abuse could happen. And whilst I know in my head I couldn’t have done anything to change that, I also know in my heart that it hurts.” – Adult sibling
Read more about dealing with worry, guilt and anger.
Supporting your brother or sister
- You may feel able to, and want to, support your brother or sister emotionally through this time and talk about what has happened. However, it’s OK if you don’t or can’t. The abuse has affected you too, and you both need to process it in your own way
- If possible, keep doing the day-to-day things you would usually do with your brother or sister. It can help you both to have some normality and stability during difficult times
- Getting more support for your brother or sister during this time can help you too. It can help you to know that you’re doing whatever you can to make life better for them and to make a traumatic situation less painful
- Your brother or sister’s GP may be able to refer them for counselling or they may be able to self-refer depending on what is available in their area
- If your brother or sister has a learning disability or mental health team they may be able to suggest a service they could be referred to or if necessary, bring in some expert therapeutic support from outside the area
- The charity Respond supports adults with learning disabilities who have experienced abuse or trauma
Talk about how you feel
Talking to other people about how you feel can really help. It doesn’t change what has happened, but it may change how resilient you are in the aftermath.
You might find it useful to:
- Talk to other family members or close friends who have also been affected by the trauma – if they are able to and if this is helpful for you both
- Talk to friends who aren’t involved in the trauma
- Talk to other siblings of people with lifelong disabilities at one of our support groups or on our private facebook community
- Contact the Challenging Behaviour Foundation family support service. This is the charity for people with severe learning disabilities whose behaviour challenges
- Talk to local organisations or charities that relate to your brother or sister’s diagnosis, as many offer support for families
- Contact the Respond family support service. Respond is a charity aiming to lessen the effect of trauma and abuse on people with learning disabilities their families and supporters
- Read our advice on How to find a counsellor
- If your brother or sister has experienced institutional abuse, you may be able to connect with other siblings also affected by the same incident – although this may be difficult and triggering at times too. Consider this alongside other sources of support too
“Earlier this year, I made the decision to have Talking Therapies CBT as well as counselling to enable me to process the traumatic memories I have relating to my brother’s mistreatment in the first ever residential placement he ever lived in (he lived at home until he was 39 years old). I found both the CBT and counselling very helpful. Each day now, I practise worry time regarding any practical and hypothetical worries I have for my brother.” – Adult sibling
You will have questions about what happened to your brother or sister, such as ‘Why did this happen?’, ‘How has this happened?’ and ‘When and how many times has this happened?’. Having this information can help you to understand the incident(s) and process your feelings. Having information can help you to feel more confident and empowered, particularly if you are in the process of seeking justice on behalf of your brother or sister. You deserve answers to your questions.
- You should be kept up to date about investigations and included in meetings if you want to be – your opinion as a sibling matters
- Social care and NHS providers have a duty of candour to let you know about any incidents that happen in their care. ‘Duty of Candour’ means a responsibility to be honest and open
- Talking to other siblings and families who have been through similar formal complaints procedures or legal procedures, can help you to know what to expect
If you have not sought legal action at the start and now wish to, contact a human rights lawyer to explore this option. Search The Law Society England and Wales, The Law Society Scotland or The Law Society Northern Ireland
Look after yourself
There will be times when you need to let yourself feel your feelings, to cry when you need to, and to have some space. There will also be times when you need to give yourself a mental break and distract yourself. It can be difficult to think of anything else but the abuse, and it’s exhausting for your mind. It’s important not to let this take over – keeping usual routines in your life can help maintain a level of normality. It will be healthier for you in the long run.
- Take some time off if you need to. Then try and keep going with your day-to-day life, alongside receiving additional support if this is helpful for you
- Make sure your usual self-care is still a priority e.g. sleep, balanced meals, exercise
- Spend time with friends – it can help to have other conversations that aren’t focused around what has happened
- Plan activities that you enjoy and will look forward to with your friends, partner or children e.g. going to the cinema
- Wherever possible, keep spending time with your brother or sister as you normally would – do activities together that you both enjoy
- Take time out for yourself too, even if all you have is small amounts of time – have a bubble bath, go for a walk by yourself, read a book
Looking after yourself and recovering from trauma takes time, and there are no quick fixes.
“You will look back on this and realise that had you spent more time on you, you would have given yourself the opportunity to heal more. Don’t get consumed by everything – take time to process it yourself.” – Adult sibling
Do something proactive
If you want to – and if you feel ready to – it can help to get involved with organisations, charities and campaigns that help others also affected by similar things to your brother or sister.
Here are some ideas:
- Donate to or fundraise for charities that have helped you
- Contribute to online social media campaigns
- Write letters or meet with your brother or sister’s local MP
- Lobby people that make decisions that affect your brother or sister’s care and support
- Give awareness talks to health and social care organisations
- Provide peer support to others
“It’s hard for me to see the affect the abuse has had on my brother. Campaigning is an outlet for this pain – I don’t want others to go through what he did” – Adult sibling
“I felt it was selfish at times to talk about how I felt because it wasn’t me abused at the end of the day. But it’s not selfish. It’s really important that you talk about this. Even if the abuse hasn’t happened to you, you will feel the impact.” – Adult sibling
I need urgent help
You are not alone – reach out for support:
- To talk about anything that is troubling you, call Samaritans on 116 123 any time of day or night or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Prefer to text? Use the ‘Give us a shout’ text service. Text ‘Shout’ to 85258 to talk about your feelings, at any time of day or night
- CALM (for men). Phone line 0800 58 58 58, open 5pm – midnight. Webchat service here
Sibs would like to thank the adult siblings who shared their lived experiences and collaborated with us to develop this page, and the adult siblings on our reader panel who have helped us to review the page. Interested in joining our reader panel? Click here to find out more.