Concealing and Revealing a Secret [Part-2]

Part 2 (or return to Part 1)

After years of research Dr. Evan Imber-Black, Director of Program Development and Senior Faculty member at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York, offers you a step-by-step guide to help you more fully understand the dilemma of secrets.

1. Is the secret being kept because of intimidation?

Many secrets are kept out of fear or threats.

  • If you feel overwhelmed with fear about opening a secret, seek reliable support.
  • Examine how another person is misusing power to coerce secrecy.
  • If opening the secret will put you in danger, create a plan for safety, including police protection and a place to go.

2. Is the secret being maintained because of overwhelming shame?

Deciding to open a secret often involves facing painful and debilitating shame.

  • We try to avoid shame through secret keeping, but shame and secrets often exist in an escalating dance with each other- the more shame the more secrecy, the more secrecy the more shame.
  • The first step may be to enter an empathetic, witnessing relationship with a therapist in order to dissolve the shame underpinning the secret.

3. Is anger the primary motive to opening a secret?

Some secrets are opened in anger.

  • Revealing a secret can be a weapon to get even.
  • Use caution if you’re planning to open a secret as the next step in a cycle of escalating conflict, or with a desire for revenge.

4. Is self-righteousness the primary motive to open a secret?

  • If you’re thinking of opening a secret because you believe this “is for someone else’s good” regardless of the consequences, it’s best to slow down.

5. Will opening the secret contribute to a sense of integrity for self and relationships?

Secrets may be intricately connected to lies that can erode our sense of self and our capacity for authentic relationships.

  • Restoring the experience of oneself as honest, sincere and genuine may require opening a secret.
  • Regaining integrity includes the recognition that opening the secret is only the beginning. The real work comes with the willingness to listen to the impact of both concealing and revealing.

If you’re considering opening a secret, keep in mind:

  • Risks and benefits to each person and each relationship.
  • Authentic telling is not a talk show. Healing will occur over time and not by the next commercial break.
  • Open secrets in regular time, not ritual time. Major holidays, weddings, graduation are not the time to open secrets.
  • Relationships are a delicate ecology–when information previously hidden is revealed, the balance will be upset. Over time a new equilibrium will emerge.

Suggested Reading:

  • The Secret Life of Families: Truth Telling, Privacy and Reconciliation in a Tell-All Society. Bantam 1998.
  • Secrets in Families and Family Therapy. W.W. Norton, 1993.

One Comment

  1. You poor thing living like that! Thanks for the tip about senittg the alarm clock for 45 minutes or so. I am definitely going to try that. I work well under pressure so if I set a timer, I will feel pressured to finish whatever I’m working on by then. I bet I’ll get a lot more work done.Lisa McLellan

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