How to Deal with Twisty Creepy Family Secrets
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
I was recently texting with a friend about how I was feeling following my fears of a family secret being confirmed. "Ugh yuck," she wrote back. "I hate twisty creepy family secrets. My own family has way to many of them and I hate that no one talks about it and everyone brushes it under the rug." How many of us can relate to her words? I know I felt less alone reading them.
Witnessing high profile survivors speaking their truth on the global stage in the #MeToo Movement has been inspiring. As much as we support breaking the silence about abuse and oppression on every level, family, it seems, remains the true "F word." When it comes to confronting sexual harassment and abuse in our families, things tend to feel a lot more foggy. This is because our very self view and relationship views have often been formed in its shadow
I've made it my mission to help trauma survivors find hope and healing, including survivors of violence against women such as sexual harassment and abuse. But--or, perhaps, because of this--when I found myself facing this information in my own family, I was floored. Not one to brush it under the rug, I researched, wrote, talked, and texted it out. (I'm also a client of therapy.)
What do we do with the knowledge of cringe worthy family secrets that we have been instructed to keep in order to “keep the peace” or to “protect” someone? Do we tell a difficult truth, come what may? Or, do we live a lie? How do we make peace with this difficult, complicated situation?
Here's what I found and where I am personally and professionally at this particular moment...
Keeping a secret does not make it any less real. Therefore, we need to protect ourselves and others involved from the related dangers. Sometimes the person or people who are being kept in the dark are facing unsafe situations that could be better avoided if they were equipped with more information. Indeed, it’s unethical and illegal for so-called mandatory reporters (such as therapists) to keep this type of information private. Is anyone currently hurt or in danger? What is needed for the people involved to have the best opportunity to be safe, happy, healthy, and loved?
The shame and consequences of exposing the truth can feel overwhelming. It’s tempting to believe that there could be some neutral option. An escape button, if you will. But, the truth is, people’s health and wellbeing is going to be impacted no matter what we decide to do.
Keeping the secret can cause emotional distress on our parts, which can lead to stress related medical problems and impact our relationships. This occurs when we "act as if" everything is okay when, in reality, we are not comfortable or okay. We can feel it in the form of bodily or emotional tension, including dread and disassociation, and fractured relationships.
Sometimes, the person or people we are trying to “protect” are in on the secret and our silence is merely denying us the opportunity to get through something together. There’s nothing worse than people suffering in silence, alone. Whereas, when we talk about stuff together, we can grow closer and come out stronger. Conversely, we might choose to end or change a relationship.
Where there is one secret there are often more. Abuse festers in silence. Are we comfortable being complicit in creating an atmosphere of silence, keeping certain subjects off limits? Or, is it more important to create an environment of openness, where trust and communication can grow? Alternatively, we might choose to walk away from settings where silence is demanded
Nothing is black and white. A nuanced approach might be to take things case by case, deciding who to tell one conversation at a time. This can help us find our way. Gradually. Together. Connecting each other with needed resources as we go. (Just talking can be a resource.)
It’s tough being alone with upsetting information. If you are in this position, finding a trusted therapist or friend (ideally, both) to help you sort things out can provide relief and answers. Many people find it difficult to open up about certain topics. In that case, talking with a trained therapist, first, can help. Here is an online search engine where many people find therapists.
The words "twisty" and "creepy" aptly describe a particular vein of family secrets. They capture the prickly fear of navigating uncertain uneasy situations in the dark. The light of our awareness can bring calm and order to the scene. When we take control of how we wish to respond.