The Age of Family Secrets
Secrets still are a fascinating topic in psychotherapy. Family secrets – forbidden territory and stirred up curiosity, they are a constant source of anxiety and fascination for everyone. Look at someone’s expression after you say: “Let me tell you a secret”! Time stops and emotions begin to flow throughout the body.
Family secrets are rooms which have been well locked by those who wanted to protect themselves or protect others from the consequences of their actions. As authors, accomplices or witnesses of those events, the owners of the secret in our family keep control of the information as if it were a treasure or a ticking time bomb. A relationship of complicity is developed among all those who “guard” the secret that can easily be felt by those around them. They are the “masters of secrets”.
A source of fear, shame, or heavy pain, the secret is what becomes of the information experienced by someone who can not cope or manage the truth or the reality they live in. Pregnancies outside marriages, babies born out of wedlock, forbidden love, murder, theft, rape, drugs, suicide, these are just some of the reasons for which we choose (or our ancestors chose) to keep a secret.
The first generation secret has the most energy and acts upon family members, whether they are the “masters of secrets” or not. Those who keep it experience a strong tension related to the struggle between the desire / responsibility to keep the secret and the need to say it, to “get it out”. The behavior of the “master of secrets” is also modified in order to “cover” anything that could lead to the discovery of the secret. Their behavior show tension, restlessness, suspicion, interpretation, which could all lead to quite complex somatizations.
The second family generation takes over the secret in the form of experiences and reactions to certain stimuli that recall the content of the family secret. In the second generation, the children (of those who have the secret) are fraught with both the desire to understand their parents and the fear of causing them pain (a pain they can sense).
From the experience of working with family secrets, the story continues with the third generation. “When the price of the secret is not paid by the second generation, it becomes a debt for the third, which is all the more serious as no one can now relate to the initial secret,” Serge Tisseron said in his book Les secrets de famille. The third generation receives most of the time only the manifestation in the form of a symptom, while the initial secret has been lost in time.
Looking for the secrets in your own family is a task that must be undertaken with a lot of respect and understanding towards all your ancestors. Asking relatives who could have some pieces of information is a duty to find out the truth you come from. At the same time, you have to respect the boundaries that some of your family members will set. They are protecting the memory of the person who has locked the story into a secret. They are afraid of being judged, shamed, misunderstood. That’s why I’ll say that respecting the secret, your ancestors and their intimacy is the only honorable way you can reach a healthy outcome.