Sibling Abuse in ACOTAR
I am writing this post to deal with the misconceptions about what constitutes sibling abuse in the ACOTAR fandom. When replying to this post, it is very important to keep the discussion polite and respectful. Please also consider that the trivializing and belittling of this subject can have a negative impact on survivors of this abuse who are reading your comments. I would also request that we leave other characters out of these discussions, especially if they have no bearing on the topic. When using information from one of my sources, I will use a number that I assigned to that source. A separate post with information from different articles will be posted and tagged “sibling abuse sources”, and labeled by the same numbers. I will also be using direct quotes from ACOTAR. I am writing this post in between different school and regular work, so I did not have time to detail the parental abuse (mostly in the form of neglect) also found in ACOTAR. I will only touch on it and its tie to the sibling abuse. If needed, I will do a post on other familial abuse later. I am a survivor of familial abuse – both parental and sibling. Unlike Feyre, the abuse I suffered was physical as well. When reading this post remember that I have a lot of experience with this topic, and that others who read it and your comments may too.
Family violence is awful in all its forms, but is usually depicted inaccurately with men as just perpetrators and women solely as victims of abusive family acts. This study’s findings indicate that there are no gender differences related to surviving sibling abuse or perpetrating emotional and physical abuse among siblings (3). There are three factors to consider when defining sibling abuse - perception, intent, and severity. Perception refers to how each sibling sees the interaction. If one sibling involved in the sibling relationship views the behavior as abusive, there is a dynamic beyond normal sibling rivalry (3). Intent refers to what a sibling hoped to accomplish through an action or behavior. When sibling abuse is present, the intent of the perpetrating sibling is primarily to cause harm. Severity is related to the duration and intensity of the sibling behavior. As severity increases there is greater chance that the sibling relationship is abusive. Perception, intent, and severity exist within three primary categories of sibling abuse: psychological, physical, and sexual (3). Psychological abuse is typically not recognized by parents and is often dismissed as normal sibling rivalry. This type of abuse includes belittling, intimidation, provocation, destroying possessions, and torturing/killing pets. Psychological abuse is different from “normal” behavior based on consistency and intensity. Examples would include words and actions expressing degradation and contempt that have an impact on the sense of well-being (insecurity and self-esteem) of a sibling, such as daily harassing statements like, “No one in this family cares about you and we would all be happier if you were dead” (3).
The most prominent perpetrator of sibling abuse in ACOTAR is Nesta. There are numerous words and actions found in the beginning of ACOTAR that support this statement. One of the most prominent instances, was this exchange between the sisters, “What do you know?” Nesta breathed. “You’re just a half-wild beast with the nerve to bark orders at all hours of the day and night. Keep it up, and someday—someday, Feyre, you’ll have no one left to remember you, or to care that you ever existed.” She stormed off, Elain darting after her, cooing her sympathy. They slammed the door to the bedroom hard enough to rattle the dishes. I’d heard the words before—and knew she only repeated them because I’d flinched that first time she spat them. They still burned anyway.” The last insult she told Feyre is almost identical to the example given by Source 3, “No one in this family cares about you and we would all be happier if you were dead”. The text shows that Nesta had said similar hurtful statements before, and said them knowing that they emotionally hurt Feyre. By analyzing this exchange with the three aspects of sibling abuse in mind, this exchange is clearly psychologically abusive. Feyre clearly perceives this as a verbal/emotional attack, and the words Nesta use greatly wounds Feyre emotionally. Nesta’s intent in this situation is also clear – she is seeking to hurt Feyre. Nesta is looking to wound Feyre for her disapproving of Nesta’s possible marriage proposal. Nesta uses this specific phrase because she has used it in the past and knew it had hurt Feyre’s feelings. The last aspect of sibling abuse, severity, is also evidenced by this exchange. Nesta has used almost those exact words to hurt Feyre before, and she actively looks for ways to wound Feyre emotionally, as evidenced by more quotes found from the book.
More exchanges that reek of abuse found in ACOTAR include, “… so you can have enough time to paint your glorious masterpieces.” She sneered at the pillar of foxglove I’d painted along the edge of the table…” In this quote from Nesta, she is knowingly and purposefully mocking the only activity Feyre enjoys – painting. Her sneering at Feyre’s work also highlights just how sarcastic Nesta’s words are when she called Feyre’s painting masterpieces. Sarcasm on its own is not abuse, but when paired with Nesta’s actions (like trying to hurt Feyre’s self-esteem and pride of her artwork) shows that Nesta has the intent to emotionally wound Feyre. And Nesta succeeds in her attempt to belittle Feyre’s art, “I drowned the urge to cover up the painting with my hand. Maybe tomorrow I’d just scrape it off the table altogether.” Nesta’s next psychological abuse tactic is to humiliate Feyre in front of their father and other sister by exposing Feyre’s sexual activity and trying to use it to shame her. “She added with a small smile, “At least I don’t have to resort to rutting in the hay with Isaac Hale like an animal.” My father let out an embarrassed cough, looking to his cot by the fire. He’d never said a word against Nesta, from either fear or guilt, and apparently, he wasn’t going to start now, even if this was the first he was hearing of Isaac.” The role their father plays in allowing and propagating the abuse will be discussed later, but is seen in this quote. It is also interesting his potential “fear” of Nesta. This is an example of an abuser humiliating their victim to elicit shame in the target of their attacks. As will be discussed later, lowering a victim’s self-worth and increasing their shame is a tactic to gain power over them. Sex shaming an individual on its own, while hurtful, is not only abusive. But when the other factors of the situation are considered, it adds to the narrative of daily abuse Nesta bestows on Feyre. When analyzing this situation with the three sibling abuse factors, perception, intent, and severity, it is easy to see that Nesta is being abusive again in the text.
Siblings who resort to bullying view it as a means to exert power, often in response to the fact that they have been victimized by parents, older siblings, or someone outside the family (1). The aggression of the perpetrators can be a means of getting back at a favored child and releasing the anger stemming from their own abuse or an attempt to claim a sense of mastery over the trauma of their own abuse or situation. The aggression can also be a form of mimicry that is reinforced by other aggressors in the family (1).
The whole power dynamic of Feyre’s family is entirely turned upside down. The father no longer has control or power over his children, and they are left to grapple for it between each other. His lack of control is seen not only in how he never tells his children what to do or reprimands them for their treatment of each other, but also in the ways Nesta looks to use his painfully injured leg against him, “His simply carved cane was propped up against his chair—a cane he’d made for himself … and that Nesta was sometimes prone to leaving far out of his reach.” Nesta is malicious in her behavior towards him, and while it is understandable for her to be angry and hurt by his negligence, it does not give her the right to lash out at him and Feyre. No human is perfect, so occasional outbursts would be understood, but her consistent and calculated actions against the members of her family show that the situation they have grown up in has affected her enough to use abuse tactics to try to regain power in the situation. The following quote from the book is another instance of her seeking to claim power from the others, “From beside my father, Nesta snorted. Not surprising. Any bit of praise for anyone—me, Elain, other villagers—usually resulted in her dismissal. And any word from our father usually resulted in her ridicule as well.” Anything that could help lift Feyre’s sense of self-esteem is instantly destroyed by Nesta. Nesta is almost certainly in pain, and she is looking to make sure everyone not only stays that way – but hurts more than her. Some might argue that Feyre is the one with the most power in the family, since she is the only provider and source of food and money. There might be credence to this, if it weren’t for two things. First, Feyre would never withhold food, or money for survival necessities, from her family in order to control them. Second, it is possible that one of the reasons Nesta resents Feyre is because she is the sole provider (Nesta could change this by trying to help support the family, but doesn’t) and used psychological means of taking any power that Feyre might have. An example of this can be seen in the following exchange between the sisters, “Nesta picked at her long, neat nails. “I hate chopping wood. I always get splinters.” She glanced up from beneath her dark lashes. Of all of us, Nesta looked the most like our mother—especially when she wanted something. “Besides, Feyre,” she said with a pout, “you’re so much better at it! It takes you half the time it takes me. Your hands are suited for it—they’re already so rough.”” Nesta will eventually chop the wood, but she did not do it prior to the book starting when Feyre originally asked her to, and most likely only does it to try to curry some favor with Feyre before they head to the market, which will be addressed later. In this exchange, Nesta is using what, at first glance, looks to be a compliment, but is really intended to insult Feyre. First, Nesta offered an excuse not to contribute to the family’s survival, then she compliments Feyre’s ability to chop wood, and followed it up with a compliment that Feyre had an affinity for wood chopping – since her hands were rough. This is, of course, an insult since Nesta believes that manual labor which impacts the hands is a task only poor people – people lesser than her – should do. Her belief is evidenced by the perfectly kept state of her own hands and fingers. Feyre, the provider, theoretically should be able to demand help from her family. But she at most offers empty threats, since she promised her mother that she would care for them no matter what. If Nesta did not chop the wood, Feyre would have eventually done it. This is a fact that Nesta knows and exploits. That is why Feyre does more than the bulk of the work needed for the family’s survival. These, along with other exchanges in the book, show that Nesta is using psychological abuse to claim power from her family.
Several studies over the past three decades found data which shows that sibling abuse is pandemic and can have fatal results. One study found that as many as 40% of children in the United States engage in physical aggression against siblings, and as many as 85% engage in verbal aggression against siblings on a regular basis (1). Many factors, such as the severity and intent of an act by one sibling and the emotional impact of that act on another sibling, is used when determining if an interaction is abusive. Negative sibling relationships are characterized by fear, shame, and hopelessness. Negative relationships indicate that some form of abuse is occurring (1). Examples include ridicule, which involves both words and actions that express contempt and degradation, which deprives the victim of a sense of self-worth. The sibling who can exacerbate fear gains control in the relationship through minimizing the other’s self-esteem (1). Emotional abuse includes numerous and often cruel forms of abuse, such as belittling, intimidation, scorn, provocation, destroying possessions, and torturing/killing pets.
As discussed earlier, Nesta is looking to gain control from the other family members through contempt, degradation, belittlement, scorn, and goading. This is evidenced yet again in the following excerpt, “My sisters had gone quiet, and I looked up in time to see Nesta crinkle her nose with a sniff. She picked at my cloak. “You stink like a pig covered in its own filth. Can’t you at least try to pretend that you’re not an ignorant peasant?” I didn’t let the sting and ache show. I’d been too young to learn more than the basics of manners and reading and writing when our family had fallen into misfortune, and she’d never let me forget it.” Nesta is belittling how Feyre provides for the family by insulting her appearance after hunting and bringing home food. She is also purposefully picking at Feyre’s insecurity – the fact that she was never able to learn to read and other skills the upper/middle class have in their society. Examining this interaction with the three factors of sibling abuse in mind, Nesta is yet again abusive. Perception – Feyre feels the “sting and ache” that Nesta’s words create in her. She is emotionally hurt by her sister yet again. Intent- Nesta is looking to undermine Feyre’s accomplishment in killing a deer and looking to use a known insecurity to hurt Feyre more. Severity – the text states that Nesta has used illiteracy, manual labor, and lack of education to mock Feyre before, and this is yet again another instance of her calculating what the best words to wound Feyre are in that situation. Yet another example of Nesta finding ways to exert control on her family members is seen here, ““Take those disgusting clothes off.” I took my time, swallowing the words I wanted to bark back at her.” Some might argue that Feyre is abusive as well, and while it is important to keep in mind that all interactions are seen from Feyre’s perspective and might be biased, Feyre’s intent is also very clear. After Nesta negatively orders her to disrobe, she feels the insult in the order, but tries to keep her anger inside her and not lash out. That is not a commonly found trait in abusers, and Nesta certainly doesn’t display it. When angered, Nesta instantly lashes out, and looks to find ways to severely hurt those who she is upset with.
The family environment is an important factor in sibling abuse because sibling abuse often is a reflection of behavior that has been witnessed or experienced within the family. The family is an interdependent unit, and the actions of one family member have an impact on all the other members. Conflict over the number of emotional and material resources available, and how parents handle it, heightens stress among siblings. Children are at greater risk of sibling abuse if their parents are unavailable to meet the children’s needs and are unable to help them to resolve sibling tensions (1). Experts on sibling abuse have proposed that maladaptive parental behavior and dysfunctional family structures play key roles in fueling sibling abuse. In a study conducted by Wiehe (1997), the normalization of abuse by parents was found to be a key factor in the severity and frequency of abuse between siblings (1). It’s been proved that an abused child may inflict abuse on a sibling because they are modeling the actions of their parents. Some victims of severe sibling abuse have reported that their family environments were toxic. Wiehe (2000) reported that some victims have “described the atmosphere in their home as a ‘battleground.’ A culture of violence developed for all family members living in this culture”. Raised in such an environment, children learn to survive through intimidation and cruelty. Families who live in chaos are at risk of sibling abuse. Chaotic and disorganized families move from crisis to crisis, and it seems that no one has control. Parental stress and overburdened caretakers are two factors that result in the assignment of parental responsibilities and tasks to children. It has been shown that there is a strong link between lack of parental supervision and the frequency and severity of sibling abuse (1).
The father in ACOTAR is neglectful to the point of abuse, which will be discussed in a different post in the future. His emotional unavailability, inability to / lack of trying to provide for the family, and refusal to protect the siblings from each other all display his neglectful abuse. The chaotic situations the family endures – losing their mother, losing their fortune, moving to a hovel, watching their father beat, living without parents who provide for them – all deeply impact the sisters. All of them are hurting, and this leads some of them to turn to abuse to deal with the issues. “But at least Nesta didn’t fill our heads with useless talk of regaining our wealth, like my father. No, she just spent whatever money I didn’t hide from her, and rarely bothered to acknowledge my father’s limping presence at all. Some days, I couldn’t tell which of us was the most wretched and bitter.” The losses this family has faced has brought them all low and filled them with pain, but it seems only Feyre is looking to actively improve their situation.
Some families promote the development of alliances at the expense of other family members. When this happens, an unhealthy triangle develops in the family structure. Triangles are not always bad. However, when rigid rules and patterns are established in the triangle, problems may arise. When this type of triangle exists in a family, resolution of emotional problems is often prevented (1).
There is an unhealthy trio in the house – and Feyre got the short end of it. Nesta and Elain are the most bonded, and Nesta actively looks to undermine and cause Feyre pain. Instead of Elain trying to heal the rift between the other two sisters, she takes Nesta’s side – even though Nesta is predominantly cruel. This unhealthy partnership, the support of an abusive individual, and neglectfulness to the point of abuse along with the father, all show that Elain is not innocent when it comes to sibling abuse. Textual evidence of this will be provided and analyzed in a different post. Nesta also psychologically abuses Elain – but to a much lesser extent than Feyre. This again, will be covered in a different post. This post has grown too long, and so it will continue to mostly focus on the sibling dynamic between Nesta and Feyre.
According to the National Family Violence Survey, the rates of sibling abuse “make the high rates of other forms of family violence, such as parents abusing children or spouses abusing each other, seem modest by comparison”. Even with the high incident rates, sibling abuse is the least reported and researched form of abuse (4). Emotional abuse may include verbal intimidation or name calling, degradation, insults, and threatening or completing acts of violence (4). The differences between sibling violence and abuse are that violence showed reciprocal aggression between siblings, and abuse was a result of one sibling exerting power over the other. Capsi defined sibling abuse as, “unidirectional hostility where one sibling seeks to overpower the other via a reign of terror and intimidation and reflects an asymmetrical power arrangement” (4). When assessing psychological abuse, questions related to emotional aggression can be used. These include, “what is happening that hurts your feelings?” and intent “[insert example from student’s story], did this happen accidently or on purpose? What tells you that it was ‘on purpose’?” Questions such as these will likely elicit concrete descriptions of the behavior between children (4).
There is another source of power found within families – money and material items. Feyre is the provider of the family, the one who risks her life to hunt and bring back game. The animals can be used for a few purposes, for instance, some parts will be used for food, and other parts sold for money. Feyre, the main/only real source of income for the family should be able to decide how the money is spent. This right is undeserved and should be revoked if the provider is selfish and wasteful with the family’s funds. The book shows that Feyre is neither. Instead, her sisters are the selfish ones when it comes to money:
“I’d love a new cloak,” Elain said at last with a sigh, at the same moment Nesta rose and declared: “I need a new pair of boots.””
“I kept quiet, knowing better than to get in the middle of one of their arguments, but I glanced at Nesta’s still-shiny pair by the door. Beside hers, my too-small boots were falling apart at the seams, held together only by fraying laces.”
“She drew out the two syllables of my name—fay-ruh—into the most hideous whine I’d ever endured, and Nesta loudly clicked her tongue before ordering her to shut up.”
“I drowned them out as they began quarreling over who would get the money the hide would fetch tomorrow…”
Why should either Elain or Nesta be given the funds the hides would earn? Neither of them hunted the animals. If they weren’t being selfish, they would be discussing the ways to use the money to best provide for the family – every member. Instead, they bicker over which one of their unhelpful and lazy selves should spend the money for their own individual benefit. Clothing is of course a necessity, but Feyre’s clothes are in far worse a state than their own, partly due to her physical activities she performs to provide for them. Since she is the youngest, it is also likely, though not specifically stated, that she got the hand-me-downs over the years as many younger siblings do, especially in poor households. Yet the siblings who did not earn the money argue over how they will spend it. Many abusers are willfully ignorant of their selfish behavior and how it affects others. Other abusers, as is likely in Nesta’s case, also selfishly seek to use money they have or haven’t earned as a power ploy. Nesta, who constantly points out Feyre’s shabby and poor appearance, has no doubt noticed the differences between their apparel. She certainly knows that Feyre’s are in a worse state, but still seeks to better her own wardrobe at the cost of her sister. Though Feyre earned the money, Nesta is trying to take away Feyre’s power to use it.
Physical and emotional sibling violence are one of the most common forms of violence against children and the consequences of physical and emotional sibling abuse can affect children and adults. Research has found children and adolescents who have experienced sibling violence to have experienced mental health, loneliness, psychological problems, and poor peer interaction and behavioral problems (2). Violence against a child, regardless of, is still violence against a child, unfortunately sibling violence has been mostly ignored in child welfare. Children and teenagers who had experienced sibling aggression reported higher mental health issues than children who had not experienced sibling abuse. Children who were victims, and perpetrators, of sibling abuse were found to be more likely to end up in abusive romantic relationships later in life (2). Both the victims and the perpetrators of emotional sibling abuse tend to have significantly lower levels of self-esteem as adults than do nonvictims (1).
The unhealthy dynamic that Feyre and Nesta grew up with was rife with the possibilities to become a selfish and psychologically unhealthy individual. Nesta had considered an engagement, which implies a prior attachment/relationship, with a man who would most likely be abusive. Feyre did end up in love with a romantically abusive partner, Tamlin. Tamlin was not just abusive towards her, but also arguably to Lucien. All sisters were unlucky enough to live in a situation that can create abusers, but only one sister did not show any indications of being abusive – Feyre. Unfortunately, she was romantically involved with an abuser, but thankfully got out and found someone who would not abuse her for the first time in her life.
Almost all interaction between Feyre and Nesta in the beginning of ACOTAR is Nesta trying to emotionally hurt Feyre and purposefully lower her self-esteem. When reading the book, it is important to remember that Nesta has been treating Feyre that way for years – not just the few days the readers see. Feyre has been living in a hostile environment, one that Nesta inflames, for years. She has suffered emotional and mental trauma at the hands of Nesta’s psychological abuse.
Abuse is abuse. Siblings are fully capable of abusing each other, and do so in ACOTAR. Nesta’s later actions in no way erase her abusive behavior. Future actions do not change past ones, but can begin to try to make up for it. Some abusers can and will look to protect their victims from outside threats and dangers besides themselves. Some abusers will love and care for their victims. Some abusers will do nice and kind things for their victims. Some abusers will even change their behavior. But none of it, none of it, will in any way lessen or erase their current or past abuse. Some readers don’t think Nesta did anything wrong. Some don’t want an apology from Nesta, and think it would be out of character, in that sense, they would be right. It is out of character for abusers to apologize for their behavior. But that does not mean the abusers don’t need to, or shouldn’t, apologize for their actions. Or be held accountable for them.
In order for an abuser to deserve forgiveness they need to recognize their actions as wrong. They then need to meaningfully apologize. Lastly, abusers would need to change their behavior and keep it that way. Then they would not fit the criteria for an abuser any longer. Simply stopping abusive actions do not undo abuse, erase it, or mean a person no longer deserved the title of abuser.
Nesta was an abusive sibling. The fact is that she actively sought out ways to hurt her sisters continually on a daily basis for years. The problem isn’t just that she wasn’t unconcerned with other’s feelings, it was that she calculated ways to hurt them. Whether she still is, or is not abusive is not what is being discussed in this post. Nesta’s character is an excellent opportunity for the author to show how an abuser can grow and change and be redeemed.
Personally, I will never enjoy reading about Nesta’s character. Many of her actions in ACOTAR are nearly identical to many of my brother’s. Her treatment of Feyre is very similar to some of the ways he treated me. I can’t read parts of the book with Nesta’s character and not be reminded of my brother. It is certainly possible for Nesta to grow and change, like my brother could, but even if they do, I would still not want to read about, or associate, with them. Many readers who have not suffered through sibling abuse will have no problem reading and enjoying Nesta’s character, and there is no problem with that. The problem is only when readers erase negative aspects of a character, and claim there were no misdeeds done by characters they like.
There is nothing wrong with liking a strong, willful, sarcastic, uncaring character. There is nothing wrong with liking a morally gray character. Or a villain. Many do, including myself. The situation only changes to being not okay when people refuse to acknowledge a character’s misdeeds and mistreatment of others. Everyone can have problematic faves, the only problem arises when fans refuse to acknowledge their fave’s problematic behavior. We are all capable of critical thinking and liking complex things. There is no reason to blindly pretend a character has no flaws, or that the flaws aren’t harmful to others. We can still love characters, flaws and all.
Again, I ask that only polite discussion takes place on the subjects of abuse in the fandom. There is no reason to write words that can be construed as hurtful to people who have suffered sibling, and other, abuse in the past. Please remember that survivors could be reading anything you post and say. I am tagging everyone who liked/reblogged a post I saw earlier stating there was no sibling abuse in ACOTAR. I am not looking to call anyone out, but only to shed light on a very prevalent and harmful form of abuse that has been swept under the rug far too many times.
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