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This is one of a series of articles on evolving and
families (Lesson 5). The series exists because the wide range of current
problems suggests that
most families don't fill the primary needs of (nurture) their members very
well. That suggests the epidemic effects of the lethal [wounds +
proposed in this nonprofit, ad-free site .
Are there important secrets in your family? In your partner's and/or ex-mate's
family trees? If so, they may signify
fear-based ancestors and inherited psychological
wounds. This article
adults seem to come
from low-nurturance (dysfunctional) childhoods. So
did their parents and ancestors. In such dysfunctional family trees, secrets
are common - information about family members or events that someone feels should be
kids, in-laws, strangers, or everyone.
Family secrets are different than unawareness
of information about members and ancestors. They're conscious decisions to withhold
details of a shameful, scary, or illegal event or relationship (like a crime, abortion,
an affair, or desertion), or a shameful personal trait (like an addiction or perversion). Some family secrets stand alone.
Others are part of an inherited family distrust-policy that says "We don't tell
outsiders our family's business."
Pause and reflect: are there things your parents or relatives made
clear they didn't want disclosed to you, certain other people, or anyone?
Are you promoting
selective or general secrecy among family members about something?
Is your partner (if any)? Is there a "We don't talk about that."
rule among your family members?
of a Secret
Premise: you're a liar! I'll bet there have been times you've chosen to hide
the truth from someone about something. (Notice how different "lying"
feels compared to "keeping a secret.") At the least, most people
prefer to keep their sex lives, some fantasies, and (some) financial
from most others. I suspect you've (probably) chosen to lie at times because you
upsetting or harming someone
you cared about; and/or...
you wanted to cause someone discomfort (revenge); or...
to gain an advantage over a
competitor; or. to..
honor a pledge
of secrecy (avoid the shame of betrayal), or to
preserve intimacy or to keep something "special" ("Only
you and I know this."); or to...
gain someone's interest, respect, or
Can you think of other reasons we all "keep
Starting in early childhood,
we learn to lie to ourselves (e.g.
denials, repression, and distortions) and to others, when telling the full truth feels too
Do you agree? Would you rather be called "a liar" or "too scared to tell the
truth"? Did it feel safe to tell the truth in your childhood family? If not,
what made it unsafe?
Think of your favorite private information, and imagine what would happen if
you were honest about it with people who matter to you. See if your withholding fits
either of these two groups...
events, actions, or personal traits that your busy
Inner Critic (or someone
else's Critic) says are shameful (typical adjectives: immoral,
perverse, disgusting, horrifying, unethical,
dishonest, sinful, heinous, unspeakable,
Examples: our culture is slowly relaxing the
ancestral view that divorce was a sin, and deserved personal shame and
public disdain, scorn, and pity. We're slower to release the ancestral
that addiction is caused by a
shameful "weak will" - hence the "Anonymous" in current
12-step groups. Paradoxically, that label promotes shame and secrecy.
And adults and kids often withhold...
information that could cause the
loss of something valuable to
someone, like approval, acceptance, assets, physical comfort, a job
(i.e. security), opportunity, freedom, dignity, trust, hope, or respect.
Both groups of secrets exist because someone feared discomfort,
and saw no better way to avoid it than to withhold or distort the truth.
Paradoxically, that often causes discomfort:
shame, guilts, and anxiety
("What if 'they' find out?).
The Christian Bible
has been a solace and inspiration to millions of people around the world for
well over a thousand years. Church leaders have used it to preach love,
charity, and forgiveness - and also use
("sin") and fear (of "eternal damnation") to promote obedience to
"God's Word" and the church hierarchy. Has veneration of a
Holy Book and/or religious creed promoted secrets in your family?
In many cultures,
questioning or disobeying prevailing social or religious beliefs was and is heresy,
treason, and scandalous. Public or proclaimed
disagreement caused righteous social ridicule and rejection, religious
excommunication, and even death.
Premise - religious, political, and ethnic
(a) personal superiority
and (b) the value of judging each other's worth are psychologically and
socially harmful. Nourished by ignorance and unawareness, such beliefs
have fostered bequests of ancestral blame and shame, fear of truth-telling,
and related family secrets to many people living today. Has "inferiority"
and related shame, guilt, and fear significantly promoted secrecy among your
family members? How about fear of criminal prosecution, jail, and public
Take a moment to
think of social behaviors and traits that you and others regard with
contempt and/or pity, vs. compassion. How about these:
crying in public
hurting the Earth
did your parents and grandparents model and teach you about these? What are
you teaching your family's young people?
Family secrets and the beliefs and ignorances that spawn them may pass to the next generation
in several ways...
omission and example - "Mom
never talked about her childhood - specially her mother's father."; and...
intention - "I prefer
that you don't tell your friends / children / spouse... (because it might
embarrass or hurt me or someone else)"; and...
tradition - e.g. children
being taught to not ask questions in general, or about certain things or
family members - "Jackie, asking Aunt Maria questions about why she never
married makes her uncomfortable (so don't ask, or you're bad)."
Seeking approval, a naive child without adult guidance can generalize that
into "I'm bad if I ask older people personal questions."; and...
unawareness - parents and
"experts" not valuingor "seeing" secrets and their impacts on people
and relationships. Paradoxically, dispelling or avoiding toxic family secrets
requires your awareness of your
unawareness and its effects.
Do you know what you don't know about ancestral
shames and fears?
In her useful book It Will Never Happen To Me, recovery pioneer Claudia Black observes that
low-nurturance ("dysfunctional") families are often taught in/directly "don't
feel, don't talk, and don't trust" - or you'll get
shamed and hurt. Were you raised in a family that inherited the belief that
"children should be seen and not heard"?
shame-based family rules like these often add a fourth
prohibition: "...and don'task."
The folk tale The Emperor's New
Clothes probably endures and delights each generation because it pokes fun at
our human foible of covertly agreeing to "not see"
and publicly discuss something shocking, shameful, or titillating, and an
innocent child's question shattering a mass deception.
As memories fade and social values evolve, the original reasons for secrecy
can get lost or distorted over several generations. Talking now about your
great-grandmother's "shocking" (shameful) illegitimate child is only taboo from habit,
tradition, and unawareness.
What's Wrong with
Depending on many factors, ancestral lies and withholdings can range
from hilarious and silly to tragic. In
low-nurturance families, secrets - and the beliefs and values that sustain them
These hinder personal
healing, and healthy
bonding with others
- which lower family-nurturance levels. This
has many harmful personal and social effects now and in the next generations.
These all contribute to psychological and legal divorce and family
personal and family
secrets held by any adult suggests significant psychological wounds, toxic (health-hindering) values,
and low family nurturance.
Major secrets add justification
Lesson 1 -
for such wounds, and guarding your descendents by committing to recover from
any you find. Reflect: would you be uneasy or reluctant (fearful) to show this article to any blood or legal
relative and/or discuss it with them? If so - why? Is your
true Self answering?
how can I / we tell if
our family has inherited any significant family secrets?
are our family adultspromoting
major secrets now?
if either of these are
true, who should do what about them?
Research Your Families
Help answer the first two questions
inviting each adult to draw a
family map. If you're in a
stepfamily, include all
three or more co-parents' family trees.
Then use the
maps to fill out this
family-tree checklist from
Lesson 1. Stay clear that your aim is not to blame or "expose" anyone. You're trying to
discover if someone's ancestors had to protect their safety and dignity by
camouflaging or hiding some shameful event or person from their
society and descendents.
the paradox: You're hunting for some family history or information that few or
none of your generation may have been told about. This implies that if you
fill out the worksheet and conclude "No, none of these items is true
in our case," that's not proof that the items
option is for your adults to study your genogram/s (maps) together and
discuss whether you were told, or you
have concluded, that some ancestor/s were "bad" people in some way.
You may want to ask other relatives or older family friends to add their
memories and perspective.
A variation is to notice with interest if one or
more relatives are "ghosts" - i.e. little is known about them. That's not
proof of secrets, but it is cause to wonder why no one passed on mementos
and memories about them.
option is to discuss this article with all your family adults and older
kids, and see
what "comes up." If you do, consider asking everyone to bring any family
photos, archives, and letters and pass them around. If any relatives are
notably resistant to this, ponder what that may mean...
interesting way to do some ancestral "research" is to invite family
members to play The
LifeStories. These safe, non-competitive
board games encourage
people of any age to think and talk about themselves in ways they may not have
Internet provides a powerful new way of unearthing information about our ancestors. To expand the options above,
search the Web on "ancestors," "family
tree," or "genealogy" and watch what happens! Another option is to
search on an ancestor's
As you research your family, notice the process.
Is anyone "embarrassed" or "uneasy" about focusing on ancestors' or current secrecy? Note that embarrassment
and humiliation are normal human reactions to having personal
shame made public.
In any family gathering, note
your option to ask questions like...
"Do we have any major family secrets or secret
who originated the secrets, and
- what were they guarding against?"
"Are we teaching our kids to
what are they,
who originated them,
"What is our family's unspoken "policy" about
disclosing family affairs to 'outsiders'? Who made this policy, when, and why?
Is it outdated, or relevant to us all now?"
"Is anyone among us promoting the 'don't
talk, don't trust, don't feel, and don't ask' rules?
If so, who and
"In your childhood home, what was the rule
about revealing family problems to other people? Who made and
rules, and how? What happened to people who broke them?"
"How does it feel to discuss these questions
Act on Your Findings
ideas above all aim to help you assess whether
you've inherited - and/or are generating - significant family secrets. Any secrets you discover are secondary.
The real target is to assess whether any of your family members are
significantly ruled by
and may be accidentally transmitting psychological
+ unawareness to your descendents like their
Premise: family secrets are usually (always?) signs of
ancestral shame, guilt, fear, ignorance, and unawareness. If you see it
differently, what's your view?
there are young people in your family, teach them what shame and guilt are,
and why people keep secrets. Help them learn and accept their
personal rights as worthy
individuals. One right us "I don't have to protect other people from their
shame, guilt, and fear by keeping secrets."
This article offers perspective on family secrets. It proposes why secrets
occur (shame, guilt, fear, and ignorance) and how they're transmitted down the generations.
suggests ways of identifying family secrets and why they exist. Doing this is part of
Lesson 5, which
focuses on building and enjoying high-nurturance family
relationships. The article closes with links to several resources.