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We Are Just Not Going to Talk About It: Family Secrets

When I was growing up, there were some topics we just never spoke about. While I was a

child, my father’s illness and death is one subject that my family didn’t want to talk about. I

didn’t even realize he was sick until he’d passed, and then afterward, adults in the family just

didn’t want to dwell on my father’s death. “We need to move on because that’s what your

Daddy would want you to do,” was something I heard often as a 5-year-old little boy.

My experience is not unique. I have heard countless statements like this in sessions with


Going through this experience as a child and adolescent made it difficult for me to learn how

to express my emotions as I grew older, and it was only with a lot of conscious self-work that I

was able to move past this and realize it was okay to talk about how I felt. Having lived this, I

also understand what my clients are going through when they talk about their buried family


Sometimes, the secrets we have in our families don’t just harm us emotionally – they also

lead to physical harm. I’ve worked with many clients who experienced physical or sexual

abuse at the hands of a family member – but because it was a family secret, they were

discouraged from talking about it or getting help. Even if not actively involved in the abuse,

their parents or siblings didn’t want to take the secret outside the family.

There are all kinds of examples I could recount from my clients over the years:

● The wife who stayed in a marriage with her husband hit her because her parents were

more embarrassed by the thought of her divorce than the abuse.

● The parent whose alcoholism or drug addiction is an open secret – the kids and

spouse know about it, but because it’s a “family secret,” the addict isn’t encouraged

to get help.

● The kids who never learned they had half-siblings until they were adults – all because

their parents didn’t admit that one of them had an affair.

These aren’t pleasant topics. I understand the impulse to stick your head in the sand and

pretend everything is just fine. But that leads to lasting harm for everyone involved,

especially the kids – because they learn to model the same behavior as their parents,

passing that on to their children. I want us to get the skeletons out of the closet.

To start, consider your own family: what family secrets exist that everyone knows but no one

talks about? What steps can you take to bring those secrets more into the open?

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