Family Secrets Can Be Hard on Children

Family Secrets Can Be Hard on Children

I recall a young man coming into therapy with feelings of depression. His mother accompanied him to my office to sign the consent form because of his age. She joined us for the last few minutes of our meeting, with his permission, to share her impression of him. She cited concern with a smile on her face. Interesting.

When he returned for his second appointment, I asked background information about him, beginning with his family. He disclosed that his mother was emotionally abusive. He derived support from his father. He said he was very uncomfortable sharing this information. We talked about it, and by the end of the session, he felt relieved and said he no longer felt regretful about sharing it. It lifted a major burden he had been carrying for years and he felt validated about his feelings.

Disclosure about family issues is often hard for people. It usually does not occur as quickly as it did with this boy. It is not unusual to hear that a client was told that events that occurred in a family were not to be disclosed to anyone.

There are a few subjects that are difficult for many to share.

One is addiction. A person is not proud of this relative. Sometimes one is embarrassed. It can be alcohol, drugs, pornography, food or gambling. The addiction plays a role in the person’s life and development, but they have a hard time disclosing it.

The three types of abuse, physical, emotional, and sexual, are hard to reveal. Often the client believes that they are responsible for having been treated this way. The fact that abuse tends to pass on from one generation to another unless there is intervention is a concept most don’t realize.

Financial stress can be seen as a statement of inadequacy of one’s parents or partner. There can be humiliation in sharing how difficult life is in a family. I recall one teenager telling a reason she was not going to prom, which turned out to not be the truth. She could not afford a dress and felt embarrassed because no one knew how difficult it was for her to buy things.

Sexual identity can be discouraged from sharing. Members of a family may be upset and rejecting of the disclosure and do not want anyone to know. A person can keep their secret for a long time, regretfully.

Pregnancy can be kept a secret. I had one client sent away to have a baby that was immediately given up for adoption because of her parents’ views. Others have not disclosed abortions they have had because they are concerned about being judged.

When truths are finally disclosed in a family, it can be interesting to discover how many past generations have experienced the same thing and did not tell anyone. It is painful to keep a secret about who we are or how other members of our family may be.

We can pay an intense price.