Does your family keep secrets? It’s a surprisingly common behavior among families. Secrets can be small and harmless – such as planning a surprise birthday party – or extremely traumatic, as in the case of physical and sexual abuse. The latter type of secrets can potentially sever familial bonds and impact an entire family’s well-being for decades.
Why Families Keep Secrets
In general, families tend to keep secrets as a method of coping with shame, or if family members feel that revealing certain things will disrupt the family balance or have widespread effects in the community in which they live. Some common examples of family secrets include:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Substance abuse
- Money problems
- Marital problems
- Political opinions
According to our family therapy experts, honesty is generally the best policy when dealing with family secrets. The more honest we can be with our family members, the more effectively we can lessen the shame and stigma associated with secrets.
If you choose to open up about tough topics in an effort to preserve family relationships, here are a few tips to start the conversation.
- Choose the right time to discuss the secret. Rather than dropping a bombshell at a family gathering, such as a wedding or graduation, choose a less stressful time when family members can better handle the emotion of the secret.
- Many issues that once were accompanied by stigma, such as divorce, adoption and LGBT sexuality, are now widely accepted. Talking about these issues with family members openly and honestly sends the message that their experiences are valid rather than shameful.
- In situations where family members with otherwise good relationships kept a secret to protect someone – such as not telling a child they were adopted – it’s important to acknowledge their feelings on the subject before explaining the intention behind the secret. This can help the family member be more empathic to the reason for the secret that was most likely motivated by love.
- In cases of violence and abuse, it’s important to convey that the victim is never responsible for what happened and it is their decision whether to come forward especially if they are not comfortable doing so.
Innovative Counseling From the Heart
It’s very possible to heal both as an individual and as a family following the revelation of a big family secret. A licensed therapist can often help facilitate difficult conversations and while promoting an atmosphere of honesty. Professional counseling services are an excellent way to deal with a family secret in a caring and productive way. If you would like to move forward, please call Sound Mind Therapy at (314) 499-9144 or complete our online appointment request. We serve residents of Town and Country, Ladue and many other St. Louis suburbs.