Many of us grew up in families which were honest, loving and supportive. But it is rare to find a family that does not have a secret or two stashed away. Some of them have lost their power over the years but others are still so strong that they affect family dynamics.
When a secret is buried, no matter how hard we try to function as normal, there will always be times when we will be put on the spot. Children are very good at picking up a sense that something is not quite right, so they become naturally curious and start to ask awkward questions. When parents try to avoid answering, young imaginative minds will set about filling in the blanks for themselves which could result in children blaming themselves for wrongs. If parents address questions, they are may be laden with lies.
Keeping a secret is a very difficult thing to do as it affects our every waking moment and there are times when a person will feel weighed down with the burden. Without being aware, we give away tell-tale signs in our body language, facial expression and evasiveness. For example, in a family where a child is being raised by a father who is unaware that the child is not his, conversations regarding whom the child resembles will often be avoided.
The most destructive secrets are those which affect families as these are the people who bind us. They act as our support network and are the nucleus from which we have moulded our identity. Our family has taught us the meaning of closeness. If a secret is bubbling, that closeness becomes torn apart. Certain family members may become estranged and chatter with other members may be discouraged.
Why do we mask the truth?
There are many reasons why people choose to keep a secret. In many instances, it is a way of preserving family honour. Some children have been brought up with high values placed upon them. If something has happened which will taint those expectations, a secret is born because it would be far too risky to reveal all.
Should we tell?
This is a personal matter of choice and circumstance. In general, if a secret is a result of infidelity, children may be better off knowing. Having said that, there is little need to go into great detail and facts can be kept to a minimum. Parents can also help to smooth over the cracks by explaining that adults can sometimes do silly things and hurt those that they love. When a child’s curiosity is satisfied, it is likely that those deeper more invasive questions will not be broached and all of those feelings of “something not being quite right” should dissipate. Sometimes we need to use our own discretion to decide whether revealing a family secret is necessary.
In other instances, therapy can help a family to overcome fixed views or beliefs. For example, in religious sectors where arranged marriages are the norm, councelling may be a way for parents to understand that it would be unfair to expect their son or daughter to live a lifetime of unhappiness with someone that they do not love. With a lot of support and guidance, parents may come to the conclusion that having their children in their lives is something that they would like to hold on to.
If you wonder whether revealing a secret would cause long term damage, the best person to talk to is a therapist. This willl provide an opportunity for you to offload your burden with someone away from the family who is unbiased and trustworthy. Talking things through is often the easiest way to help dissipate shame and this sort of environment could even be used as a virtual setting for exploring the consequences of revealing a secret.
It may take a lot of nerve to actually speak to a therapist but finding the courage could be your very first steps to healing and connecting with those whom you have kept at bay for such a long time.