From Dr. Jane's Notebook
The Truth About Secrets
Fibs, little white lies, family secrets, and family skeletons are deadly germs that
effect people every day. Whereas family secrets were once thought of as "ties that
bind", we have learned in recent years that those same secrets are often "the
stuff" of which mental and physical illnesses are made.
The Rock Opera "Tommy" by the Who, portrayed the vast psychological damage
done to a young boy when he was suddenly told that 'he didn't hear what he had heard;
didn't see what he had seen; and didn't know what he knew'. His only option was to become
deaf, dumb and blind.
In my practice, the "Tommy's" go by different names and may react in
different ways, but you can be sure that the pain of secrecy is the same.
- Adult Children of Alcoholics are those who grew up in families where because of
alcoholism, they may have been forced to take on adult roles in their early years. It is
not only painful for children to lose confidence in their "role models", but
they are often abused psychologically and physically in the process. "Can they tell
the neighbors? No!!! Shhhh! It's a secret."
- Adult survivors of Incest and Abuse were often sexually molested on a nightly basis for
years, perhaps throughout their entire childhood. As shown so dramatically in Barbara
Steisand's movie, Nuts, abuse is often disbelieved, ignored, or rationalized as
being "within normal limits". Sadly, it is rare when a child will risk all that
they have, in order to seek help.
- Extramarital Affairs or even single episodes of sexual indiscretion can create large
gaps in a couple's ability to communicate. Once there is a secret to hide, it becomes
"unsafe" to speak about a number of topics. When there is a lack of intimacy and
rapport between members of the couple, much trust can be lost, unless a re-establishment
of communication and understanding is achieved.
- Being an outsider who is entrusted with secrets can also be a plague. Often we feel
privileged to learn of other people's secrets, but this, too, is a process which can
backfire. Once we know of problems, we are no longer innocent. If we feel compelled to
help, we may be forced to break confidences. If we refuse to break confidences, we become
part of the cover-up.
Secrets and lies create pathology and distance in families; and they create distance
between families and outsiders. When we "share" secrets with our children or
refuse them the opportunity to disclose their own secrets, they are left with great
burdens. Pat Conroy, in his book and forthcoming movie, The Prince of Tides, illustrates
this point extremely well. To keep our children healthy, we must be healthy ourselves.
Children are truly the reflection of their parents!
ęCopyright, 1990, 1995, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated August 30, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon, Ph.D.