You not only deserve happiness and forgiveness; you should be proud of emerging from a terrifying, squalid childhood and making something good out of your life. Children in situations such as yours sometimes end up doing far worse things—to themselves and others—than you ever did. You were a sad, desperate, elementary-school-age girl. You did something bad, realized it was wrong, and stopped. You never reoffended. Most importantly, you took responsibility for what you did and apologized. Honor the relationship you have with your brother by accepting his forgiveness. He knows more than anyone that your nightmarish childhood was something you all had to struggle to overcome. At your next session, tell your therapist. He or she will not be shocked. Therapy is a form of confession and is a privileged conversation. A good therapist will be able to guide you to seeing your younger self with compassion and letting go of the self-loathing you are hanging onto. You don't have to tell your husband—what happened long ago is not part of your life now. For your own healing, consider making a contribution to a charity for children in distress to help some little girl get the help you never did.
My wife and I were at our friend's house for brunch. They have a 4-year-old girl adopted from China. I asked about the adoption in front of the child. I was surprised when our friends reacted harshly and changed the topic. The next day I got an email from him saying that I was out of line in mentioning the adoption in front of their daughter, that his wife cried all night, and he wants me to apologize. I was unaware that they hadn't told the girl. They’re Caucasian, so it’s obvious. Should I apologize even though I don't feel I did anything wrong?
You haven’t characterized what you said, so I hope it wasn’t something that would be disturbing to a child or offensive to her parents. But even if your remarks were ill-considered, their reaction shows they’re going to have to work through the issue of talking about adoption, because adoptive parents will tell you it can come up frequently. If they are trying to hide that their daughter was adopted, they’ve got bigger problems than an errant remark by you. But it does no harm to you to say you’re sorry (try to sound more sincere than Rush Limbaugh), and doing so will help preserve your friendship.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“A View to a Thrill: Neighbor boys peep at my scantily clad daughters. Should I have them cover up?” Posted June 30, 2011.
“Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
“Fatherly Advice: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose wife fears he'll abandon the family in favor of his long-lost daughter—and other Father's Day advice seekers.” Posted June 16, 2011.
“Businessman on the Road to Ruin: My wife doesn't know I visit strip bars and porn theaters while away on business. But that's not cheating, right?” Posted June 9, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
“Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
“The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim's children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
“The Accused: A young neighbor's unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.