Do I tell him, don't I tell him, how do I tell him? The family secret

David Holt
Do I tell him, don't I tell him, how do I tell him? The family secret


  • Family secrets
  • How does a secret start?
  • Types of secrets
    • Pleasant secrets
    • Essential secrets
    • Harmful secrets
    • Dangerous secrets
  • Most common family secrets
  • Are there general rules for dealing with a secret?

Family secrets

Imber-Black states in her book The Secret Life of Families: "When the intimate chord of a family is touched, it is very possible that a secret will be found" According to the author, secrets can be kept from the spouse, siblings, parents, children, best friends, or you can have secrets shared with these same people. There are secrets that a whole family keeps to the outside world with the desire to protect themselves and the fear of being stigmatized. Secrets are kept from children in the illusory hope of sparing them pain. There are secrets that aim to maintain power over another person, and others that everyone knows - such as the alcoholism of one of the members - that prevent a family from crossing its own rigidly defended limits and from asking for the outside help it needs. There are secrets that the weak keep from the powerful in order to gain security.

There are secrets such as AIDS, addictions, homosexuality that are kept in the face of the real fear of losing family support, a job, etc..

A secret can pass silently and unconsciously from generation to generation as if it were a family heirloom that hides a booby trap..

For many people, secrets cause serious mental suffering.

How does a secret start?

Secrets are the shameful things for a certain culture, or perhaps for the subculture of a certain family, race, ethnic group, religious, social class or sex, whose socialization process makes certain things not talked about. There is always a context that contributes to the creation of a secret. If we look at history, there are topics that are secret at certain times and when the culture changes they stop being so. So people sometimes learn to talk about them, sometimes they don't, and new secrets emerge..

With the intention of protecting "family members" from the supposed anguish that knowledge of certain events, truths, facts, etc. can produce, the secret operates as a blanket of silence that anyway "remains in the air" and is transmitted in other ways. Communication is impaired and symptoms can emerge in response to these communication failures.

Secrets can affect our relationship with ourselves and with others.

Secrets are born, breathe, stay alive, explode or are resolved within the framework of our most significant relationships. They shape, facilitate and restrict our possibilities of bonding both within and outside the family..

Whatever their content, they work like magnets: they attract some members and reject others. Repeated family coalitions, closeness and distance, intimacy and estrangement, all derive from the presence of secrets. As they consolidate, the family is trapped even though they have the desire to break free.

Types of secrets

Pleasant secrets

They protect and expand our sense of self. They can produce the temporary displacement of relationships and create new ties. A girl can participate in a kind secret with her father, to surprise her mother with a surprise party.

Essential secrets

Many secrets promote the necessary boundaries that demarcate a relationship. Such secrets are essential for well-being. A family can have its own private language, including essential and dear words that foster and maintain closeness. Sometimes in working with couples secrets about vulnerability emerge: fears and insecurities. These secrets intensify the closeness of the couple, as they make a difference with the children, parents, etc. Essential secrets are part of the "contracts" in our relationships and breaking them can be an act of betrayal.

Harmful secrets

They are the ones who poison our relationships. It could have formed three generations ago or last month. In both cases, key family stories remain muted and inaccessible. These secrets decimate our relationships and disorient our identity. They also curtail our ability to make clear choices, to use resources effectively, and to participate in authentic relationships. Keeping these secrets often has chronic negative effects on problem solving skills, thematic repertoire of conversations, perceptions, and emotional well-being. This type of secret takes away energy, promotes anxiety, overwhelms those who know it, and confuses those who do not know it..

Living inside a harmful secret amplifies our doubts about how other people can respond. If I keep a secret with my partner, can I truly trust their love? Would I count on your appreciation if you knew what I am hiding? This is very common when it comes to past abortions..

Living excluded from a harmful secret clouds our vision. By sensing a secret but not having its confirmation, we begin to doubt our own perceptions. What are we seeing when we are told that we are not seeing what we think we see?

Since keeping a harmful secret does not always lead to acute crises, such secrets tend to drag out their existence for a long time, generating a feeling of confusion as to whether, to whom, and when to tell. How to determine if the adoption of a child, kept before the children when they were young, should be counted now that they are adults, as in the movie Secrets and Lies? If you are the custodian of a harmful secret, you should have time to consider it carefully and prepare to expose it..

Dangerous secrets

They place people at immediate risk or in such an emotional turmoil that their ability to function is threatened, for example, secrets about physical or sexual abuse of children, battered wives, disabling alcoholism or addiction, plans to commit suicide or harm others. another person. In many of the public orbits, discovering dangerous secrets requires action. Adults in positions of responsibility towards children should report situations in which there is suspicion of child abuse.

Intertwined with dangerous secrets come intimidation, fear, power over others, and submission. In a dangerous secret, the subject lives in a context of great physical and emotional threat and feels that if he reveals the secret, the damage could be greater. The person who has the power to cause harm and demand silence in dangerous secrets often invokes privacy. What happens in our house is our thing, obscuring the difference between the secret and the private.

Family secrets are usually something that appears in the family and can be passed on, from generation to generation, causing problems in it, which emerge in its members in different ways.

Most common family secrets

The main themes of family secrets are generally:

  • Sexual (rape, incest, adultery, homosexuality)
  • Semi-sexual (abortion, children out of wedlock, illegitimate, no name)
  • Violence (death, murder, torture)
  • Cheap (theft, fraud, inheritance)

In therapy, the secrets that matter most are the harmful secrets and the dangerous ones. One criterion that allows us to keep track of a family secret is the disproportion between an event and the emotional reaction it entails. The reaction seems exaggerated and we do not find the element in the life of the person that justifies it.

Another criterion is the irrational or compulsive nature of the reactions. People who have the impression of doing things in spite of themselves, of not being able to control their reactions, of being the toy of their emotions. All these automatisms, irresistible behaviors, attitudes of repeated failures in which the person comes into contact with an overflowing emotion, are indications that can guide us to a possible family inheritance.

Are there general rules for dealing with a secret?

It is important to go slowly, not air it out in the middle of a family celebration taking advantage of the fact that all your relatives are present, and it may seem faster and easier. It is better to think about who you want to inform and in what order; Try to anticipate people's reactions in the best and worst of circumstances, and think about how you will respond. If you think the family is going to be very upset over the issue, choose the people you think will be most supportive.

People have to think about whether they are prepared to face the long-term and short-term consequences of their disclosure. Well, if you are going to reveal a secret, you have to take responsibility for what is generated. Relationships are often restored, but it takes time and you have to be willing to be patient.

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