Family Secrets, Stories and Family
A few years ago, a client came to therapy in a state of continuous anxiety, experiencing an unexplained sadness and feeling that life had no meaning. She wanted a new relationship but she was afraid she would fail at it again due to her very low sexual appetite (actually later in therapy she would say she felt rejection towards sex). From the very first sessions I saw that Jolie was dominated by a state of mental confusion (during her psychotherapy sessions) that made the dialogue quite difficult. Jolie was 40 years old, she had a 16-year-old daughter, had been divorced for 2 years, and was working as a prosecutor. Jolie had a family history loaded with secrets. Her grandfather and great-grandfather had fought in World War II and there were family rumors that, although the two were part of the liberation troops in Bulgaria against the Germans, they stole from and looted the families from the villages they passed through. They returned with a lot of goods (the people in their village were talking about the golden necklaces stolen from the families they had looted from) which helped them leave a considerable fortune to their children. Also in the village of the grandparents (as more people from that village had been part of the same battalion) it was rumored that the two not only looted, but also raped women during their passage through Bulgaria.
It is a brief illustration of how the “power” of the secret reaches the third generation and how it influences the offspring.
How did the third generation ʺpay”? Low sexual appetite, rejection of sex. It is interesting that the job as a prosecutor that she chose was nothing else than a symbolic way to right the family history, as she daily contributed to punishing those who were guilty. In another article you will find more about making things right.
What is a secret?
For a secret to be considered a secret, it must meet three main conditions: there is something that has been unsaid, there is an interdiction to know and the information is related to a painful event.
An 8-year-old boy was bothering his teachers in class and had violent reactions towards his colleagues. Although he had had good results in school until then, he suddenly began to say that he did not understand anything his teacher would teach in class. All symptoms started at the same time. One interesting thing is that every time, after a few minutes of doing a task, he stopped putting any energy into his answers until he was altogether absent (“lost in thought”). His behavior showed no change after more than 5 weeks. After almost a year, his father became my patient due to other circumstances. I learned that he had been without a job for a long time (he lost his job some time before his son began showing the symptoms that got him to therapy) and had not yet told his family; he made money through some arrangements with different people, but he was living in a permanent state of insecurity and fear that his wife will find out the truth. It seemed that this father and husband’s secret was the one that triggered a reaction materialized in everything his son was doing. Several more months passed and the father revealed the secret he had been keeping for so long: he had been molested by a colleague when he was 8 years old, the same age his son was when he started showing the symptoms.
A secret, two secrets. All felt by his son and manifested as described above.
“A person is ultimately using his / her own body to build for themselves a representation of what they are experiencing, and that is why the body represents the privileged space of enacting the unsaid.” (Serge Tisseron, Les secrets de famille, 1996, Paris , Marabout).