Allison Keating answers your questions about life and relationships.
Question: My sister has twin girls who are seven years old. They are absolutely adorable and very good looking girls. My sister has always been very good at using social media and she recently started an Instagram page featuring the girls. Most of the images are very cute, but a few border on the questionable in my opinion. They strike quite adult poses and I worry about how they might be viewed and possibly abused.
When I mentioned it to my sister, she went berserk and accused me of having a distorted view of men because I was molested by one of our uncles-in-law as a child. I can’t believe she threw this in my face and I feel compelled to protect my nieces from anything similar. How can I convince my sister that she needs to stop exposing her children to possible harm?
Allison replies: The pain is huge. First of all, I am very sorry about what happened to you. Were you a similar age when you were abused? Even if you weren’t, the sight of your two nieces must be hugely triggering as your protective instincts have sounded the alarm that must feel so extremely unsettling to you. It’s like your inner child is screaming to protect it and you can’t believe your sister can’t see it.
I hope you have been supported therapeutically – if you need support during this time, seek it with someone who can hold this important space with you. Gently check within yourself and watch almost from afar what this entails for you.
It can feel like a wound has been reopened. What people don’t understand about trauma is, as Bessel van der Kolk says, “the body does the math,” with others, even those closest to you, either consciously or unconsciously thinking that what happened in the Past lies – and yet your body remembers.
The effects of trauma do not disappear or fade away simply because time has passed. I liken it to myths surrounding healing in grief when it comes to time. Time doesn’t heal, it doesn’t change what happened, nor does it change the effect of it over time. Trauma is similar in that new situations that feel familiar can seem threatening, so a wound that you may have worked incredibly hard to heal continues to stab painfully.
What kind of relationship do you have with your sister? The dynamics of abuse within a family can be painfully complex, especially for the abused person. Does she understand the implications of what happened to you? When I say understand, do I mean is there empathy?
Brené Brown explains empathy in the most compassionate and practical way: “We need to dispel the myth that empathy means walking in someone else’s shoes. Instead of walking in your shoes, I need to learn to listen to and believe the story you tell about what it’s like to be in your shoes—even if it doesn’t match my experiences.”
This is empathy in action, and it’s a skill many haven’t learned. They didn’t see it as a model either, so how could it be practiced? Still, it leaves you with an exceptionally hurtful comment, and it’s kind of your own fault that you’re seeing men like this now. I understand people aren’t educated on trauma, but where’s the kindness, where’s the ability to imagine how it was for you?
Your sister’s defensive remarks may be because she felt offended. But not even considering your warning words reflects that she may know this but is uncomfortable admitting it, even to herself. Maybe you’re not the first person to tell her. It’s not your job to change your sister’s mind. You tried to convey your concerns to her.
Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that our brains haven’t had time to develop an emotional understanding of what we’re putting out there and the dangers we can’t see. We have a lot of catching up to do and are growing up technically. Interesting that it is called a net – it has caught so many, and like a predator it knows its prey. We consumers are the prey: apps are being developed to understand how our brain’s reward systems work.
Your sister might feel good about someone “liking” her girls. Imagining what lurks on the dark web is something she may not or will not allow herself to do. It’s easier to get distracted and lash out because you’ve pointed out the potential threats.
These are conversations we all need to have in an open and constructive way. But for you I would recommend that you take care of yourself as you need to protect yourself first. It would be worth setting clear boundaries with your sister and making it clear that the comments she made were not okay. Ask her to think about what it would be like if she had said that to her if she were in your place.
Express that you are uncomfortable with the nature of your girls’ adult poses and that you are concerned that it may be viewed as sexual or sexualized – and that your intention is only to protect her since you are really care about them.
The darkness was much closer in their common home. How did your family support you? It is with great sadness that I have found that the person who has been abused is often ostracized by the family. There are so many tentacles not only for the abuse, which is appalling in and of itself, but for how those closest to you could or could not handle it. My final thoughts are that you continue to get the support you need. And please take care.
Allison regrets that she cannot correspond. If you have a question that you would like addressed in this column, email email@example.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/ask-allison-im-worried-about-how-my-sister-portrays-my-nieces-on-instagram-how-can-i-get-her-to-listen-41998620.html Ask Allison: I’m concerned about how my sister is portraying my nieces on Instagram. How can I get them to listen?