The Power of Family Secrets

By Jayne Schooler
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Family secrets can destroy the love and trust the family has fought so hard to build.

Secrets are powerful tools often used to hide a family’s potentially embarrassing or shameful event. But when discovered, family secrets can destroy the love and trust the family has fought so hard to build. What else can secrets do?

Secrets Alter Reality

Katie was adopted as an infant and everyone knew that except Katie. One afternoon, when she was 11 years old, a friend at school asked her a casual question: “Do you know your birth mother’s name?” Katie didn’t know what to say.

“Birthmother? What are you talking about?” Her friend went on to tell her that her mother had said Katie was adopted and had another mother somewhere. Katie didn’t know how to answer. But she did know how she felt — shocked and scared. Her world had changed. She did not know what to do with her feelings and this new reality. Secrets not only alter reality but they can create exclusion and division.

Secrets Create Exclusion and Division

Keeping a secret can divide family members — those who know the secret and those who do not. To keep a secret, according to Harriet Webster in Family Secrets, the secret-keeper must carefully guard all communication with others close to him. This defense mode often leads to distance, anxiety and awkwardness in relationships with others.Harriet Webster, Family Secrets: How Telling and Not Telling Affects Our Children, Our Relationships and Our Lives, (Reading: Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1991), 11. When there is exclusion from the truth, there will be division. Where there is division the probability of mutual caring, mutual understanding, and mutual honesty is diminished.Betsy Keefer and Jayne Schooler, Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child, (Westport, CT: Begin and Garvey Publishers, 2000), 10.

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Bonus content originally excerpted from Handbook on Thriving as an Adoptive Family, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., © 2008 by Sanford Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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