When Siblings Become Swords: Trista’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Trista” is a pseudonym.

I grew up in patriarchy. The seeds of powerlessness and fear were sown in me from my earliest years. Having a voice or power in my family was not easy, in fact, it was a constant struggle. However, this system and hierarchy created and maintained by my parents allowed the rivalry and teasing typical of siblings to grow into unhealthy imbalances of power.

There was a distinct hierarchy in my family. Masculinity and age determined your respect within the family unit. My position as a girl and the youngest member of 7 children meant I was the lowest of the low. My position was to toe the family line, get along and agree with those who were ‘above’ me.

There was one sibling I did get along with very well. She (Anne) was two years my senior, and we were joined at the hip since I can remember. In many ways she faced the same trials I did, however, her sweet and caring demeanor made her a more naturally lovable person.

I was told that I should ‘submissively endure suffering as Christ did.’

I was regularly told I was inept, stupid, crazy and extreme. When I was mercilessly teased or abused to the point of tears, my mother would reprimand me for not loving my brothers. She told me stories of how much she desired brothers. It “shocked” her that I could not “endure a little teasing.” She would have traded most anything to have brothers. Teasing was normal and I was “weak,” “like a little girl” to be offended by the rudeness of my siblings.

On several occasions my mother told me the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, saying he loved his enemies and died for Christ. She asked me how he could be so holy and I was complaining about teasing? “Isn’t that silly?”

Minor errors or failures on my part were magnified and viewed as my identity. Once, one of my sisters, roughly 10 years my senior, told me, “You are inept, and incompetent. I know a five year old who knows how to use a key. No wonder mom and dad don’t let you do anything.” This rant was delivered after I accidentally broke her key to the house by turning it the wrong direction in the keyhole. At the time, I was 13 years old I was already insecure. The verbal attacks against my character only made me more angry, hurt and hateful towards myself and those around me.

As a girl it was my duty to ‘support the men’

Although an imbalance of power existed between me and all of my siblings, this imbalance was larger when the sibling was male. As a child I was expected to serve my older brothers without question. If they requested something I was ‘unloving’ if I did not do as I was told. Anne and I were often required to make food for them, clean up after them and in other ways serve them. When they were in college, we were required to make food for guests they had come over and prepare for parties that they were hosting.

My brothers were also heavily involved in sports. My sister and I were told, “You need to support and love your brothers.” When we begged to be involved in activities, sports or anything social, we were told that such things would conflict with our brothers and we “need to love your brothers. Why do you not want to support them?”

Under the patriarchy, it was clear girls did not matter. Our development, desires and needs were entirely subservient to males, because men act, while women are acted upon.

These things caused more anger in my heart. I hated being told I was useless, what I wanted didn’t matter. I would cry out in anger to God, “Why did you make me a woman?? I can’t do anything because I’m a girl and girls are useless.”

I felt a need to punish myself for being crazy

As a child I did not know how to cope with the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, hate and anger. I turned to self-harm at the age of 12 as a means of coping with how horrible I felt about my identity. Being homeschooled posed problems to self-harm. I was constantly watched, and my parents openly mocked the idea of therapy and mental health. They portrayed mental illness as a weakness, something attention seeking individuals contrived to gain pity.

I would find creative ways of hurting myself. I would chew my nails and fingers until they bled. Often my fingers would be raw from excessive chewing and peeling layers of skin off. I would scratch myself, especially my stomach, until I bled. I would ‘cut myself while shaving,’ craving the release I felt when my legs bled. Hiding in my closet I would bang my hands against a pole until they became swollen. One time I even purposefully beat my head against a wall in an effort to give myself a head injury.

I craved affection. I wanted to experience love.

I sincerely believed no one in my family cared about me. Part of the self-harm narrative was an effort on my behalf to gain the love of my family. In my mind I would rationalize, “If I am hurt very badly they won’t be mean to you. They would want to help you, right? See, they really do love you. You need to try harder to really hurt yourself.”

Often I would ponder dark thoughts, sure no one would notice if I were dead. I thought perhaps people would be happy to have the ‘crazy’ girl gone. I wanted to die, but was not sure how. It was something I constantly thought about. I would day dream of being murdered, mutilated and beaten to death. These imaginations served as a mental outlet for my pain.

I was careful not to display my pain to others. Instead, I developed a dual identity. I hated my siblings, but I desperately craved their affection. They were the only people on the planet I interacted with. If they did not love me, I believed myself beyond the love of anyone. In my world, friends were not allowed. Thus, if my own family did not love me, who on God’s green earth would ever see anything lovable in me?

On the outside, I was confident, defiant, strongly defending myself, rebelling in any way I could, actively antagonizing others in an attempt to exact revenge. This was the way my anger reacted.

Other times, my desire for affection would win and I would berate myself and say, I matter and I’m going to earn their respect. When my efforts failed I would oscillate back to hating my siblings and the pain they caused in my life.

Today, I am in my early twenties, a senior in college and headed towards a successful career. Yet when I am around my siblings, I feel like that hopeless, unloved child again. I never felt loved by my siblings. It is hard to feel love from people who hurt me so badly for so long. I still acutely feel the pain inflicted from childhood. It is impossible to negate years of being dismissed as a silly, crazy little girl.

The patriarchy damages its victims in many ways. In my case, it removed the joy of having those I call family.

9 comments

  • Trista, I am so sorry for what you went through. The way you were treated was very wrong, and I am so sorry that you have this extra burden to carry. Life is already hard, even for people who do not grow up in abusive and neglectful families and without access to others and to many of the ordinary resources of being a human being (larger community, perhaps foremost).

    You have a long road ahead, but you are strong and you will be able to live your life, your very own, precious and beautiful life, and find people who are kind and loving to you. I hope that, if you aren’t doing this, you are seeing a professional counselor that you feel you can work with. I found that immensely helpful when dealing with similar issues, but it took several tries to get a counselor that I felt comfortable working with.

    Love and hugs to you!

  • Trista, your childhood was so sad. I am very sorry. I love you:)

    I was taught to be a slave for males, that how they felt and what they wanted mattered, but how I felt and what I want does not matter. My mother was my fathers self-hating/little-girl-slave, he did not give a tiny damn about her.

    I was sexually abused by a Christian man as a little girl, the church going, bible loving, bible verse quoting men in my family always mocked, belittled and dismissed rape and any feelings women and girls had. My own father informed me when I was a young teenager that rape is not that big of a deal. My father informed me that he was the boss of my mother, what kind of a loser has to tell a child he is the boss of a woman? Patriarchy M E N!

    “It is hard to feel love from people who hurt me so badly for so long.”
    It is not your job to feel bad, to make your family feel good. They should be sick and ashamed for how they treated you and made you feel. Your brothers should be ashamed for needing and wanting bottom kissing female slaves, your mother should be sick and ashamed for trying to mock and bully her little girl to be their little female slave.

    Maybe you could go to a therapist, I have heard they really help people.

    I really am very sorry, it is horrible growing up with a mother who does not care about your pain. My mother did not want me telling any one about my sexual abuse.

    What I learned in patriarchy is it feels really good for men to enslave, demean, and hurt women and little girls. It is our jobs to be sick and feel bad to make men feel good. My father told me the pain my mother had when she gave birth to me pleasured and amused him.

    I do not go around the people I grew up with, my family, they are not nice people. They do not deserve my kissing up to them after all the gross things they did, said, and put me through.

    Your story made me very sad for you, and all the other little girls who are being abused by males and enslaved for males.

    You should be mad, you have every right to be. People will try to mock and bully you to not be hurt and mad, these people are just afraid they will some day have to pay for the hell they put their children through.

    In that world children should always pay, parents never should.

    Trista, I Love You;) I hope I did not say anything that hurt, and I did say things that made you feel better.

    • I am so sorry to hear about what you went through, wonderful anonymous commentator, and I am sending you lots of good thoughts and love.

      I just wanted to say that I so appreciated your comments here, especially this paragraph:

      “You should be mad, you have every right to be. People will try to mock and bully you to not be hurt and mad, these people are just afraid they will some day have to pay for the hell they put their children through.”

      Well said.

  • Your story sounds similar to my own in very sad ways. I wasn’t homeschooled and it was never about patriarchy, but I was still mercilessly abused at the hands of my brothers while my parents did nothing. It’s really difficult to explain that it was your siblings, not your parents, that were the main issue. People don’t think it’s a big deal, and that hurts.

  • Jacqueline Johns

    I wonder why servitude is pushed always at the weakest s members of the family, the daughters, when it is Christ’s decree that the least among us shall be the greatest of all in the Kingdom of God. The parents, the ‘authority figures’ are expected to serve and provide for the children, and uplift them. I wonder if your parents ever actually read the Bible? Even if they did, it sounds like they got to pick and choose which parts they would apply literally, so much for biblical literalism. It’s positively hypocritical, on the part of many(or most) of these fundamentalists, that they choose to devote themselves to these lesser requirements, while practically pretending that the other verses, the ones that matter most of all, do not exist.

  • this definitely resonates for me–i was everybody’s “whipping boy”(girl) too—as a result i have a complete lack of feeling for most of my family members—i am learning that i can have a better life without my crazy family

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