Family Secrets

I recently read an excellent novel called The Memory Keeper's Daughter. This novel describes a tragic incident that leads to a secret being kept and that has even more tragic consequences later in the lives of all the characters who are unable to communicate with each other because of the existence of the secret.

Did you grow up in a family where secrets were kept from family members? Were secrets kept from you? Were these secrets really hidden or did everyone know or suspect something was being hidden?

During my years of experience working with families, I have come across situations where the most unbelievable types of information were kept hidden from someone.

Some examples of family secrets:

1) A child is not told that he is not the biological son of his father who actually adopted him when he was born. However, he appears in a photograph with his parents on the day they were married.

2) A young woman is raped when she is in college. She keeps this a secret from her family, friends, and the police. This secret stays with her for ten years before she finally reveals it to her therapist.

3) A father of young children has a dark secret known by no one but his wife. He wears women's underwear under his clothes. He hides this when he is out of the house but the underwear shows when he is at home. He and his wife deny the fact that everyone in the family probably suspects what he is doing.

4) Two sons are raised by their mother after she divorces their father. A curtain of secrecy is kept by the mother about so that the two boys never learn much about their father or his family. Later in life, the older of the boys, now men, meets the father and his family, never telling his younger brother or his mother.

5) A woman knows she is adopted but her parents fail to tell her that her biological mother is alive and has made inquiries about her because she wanted to meet her.

6) A woman has alternated between two men who she dated for many years: the man she finally married and the former boyfriend who she couldn't give up. Although the two men know each other, the husband is unaware that his wife meets the other man at least twice per week. She cannot bear the thought of giving up either man.

7) A wife has good reason to believe that her family is financially secure because her husband is a very successful businessman. What she does not know is that he has a gambling addiction and they are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the enormous gambling debts he has accumulated.

One of the most toxic problems confronting many families is the existence of secrets that prevent open communication and ultimately lead to serious health and mental health problems for family members. In the end, some families are unable to maintain their cohesiveness because of family secrets. Yet, there is little written about family secrets and their impact on marriages, children, and kinship relationships. In this essay we will explore why people keep secrets, how they affect relationships and the types of problems that emerge as a result of secrecy.

It is important to stress that it is sometimes better to not reveal a secret - if it will cause undue and unnecessary damage with no benefit. However, it is the belief of this therapist that most secrets are better brought out into the open.

Motivations for Secrecy in Families:

Shame is a powerful motive for keeping secrets.

Some of the categories of things about which people feel shame:

A) Divorce: When I was a child divorce was rare compared with today. For most people it was embarrassing to admit to divorce. It was not unusual to attempt to hide a divorce from the community. My parents were divorced when I was 3 years old. When I became school age, I was instructed by my family to say that my father had died if asked by the teacher.

B) Mental Illness: Even today, when the public knows more than ever about mental illness, many families continue to maintain a shroud of secrecy around a relative who suffers from one of the psychoses, such as schizophrenia. Years ago these feelings of shame were so powerful that schizophrenic family members were permanently locked away in mental institutions where they were never seen or heard from. Other families locked their mentally ill relative in a room and maintained isolation and secrecy about this person.

C) Rape: I have a number of female patients who were raped either during their early adolescence, late adolescence or adulthood, and who kept the crime a complete secret. These survivors of violent rape attacks blamed themselves for the rape and continued to feel guilty well into late adulthood.

D) Women: Sexual issues and various types of sexually transmitted diseases are sources of extreme shame and embarrassment for women because they fear that they will be judged as promiscuous if they admit to a boyfriend that they have an STD. In this case, I am referring to the less deadly types of STD's such as Chlamydia and herpes, rather than the more serious diseases such as HIV, which has this as well as other issues surrounding it. I have seen many cases in which a woman is reluctant to begin a relationship because she fears rejection if she admits to having an STD.

E) Adoption: Even today, some families treat adoption as something to be ashamed of. Perhaps this has to do with the fear that they will be judged by others for not being able to have their own children. In addition, there are those parents who fear that if their children learn that they are adopted, they will want to find their biological parents and turn away from their adopted ones. As a result, there are those unfortunate families who keep the adoption a secret from their children.

F) Alcoholism or Drug Addiction: Some attempt to hide their drug addiction for fear of losing their jobs and others fear the loss of their loved ones if they admit to their addiction. The fear of judgment is a powerful motivator for secrecy because people find it difficult to admit, even to themselves, that they have an addiction. Yet, the possibility of recovery dictates that the addict recognize the addiction and find help.

G) Job Loss: In our highly competitive society in which success is measured by the amount of money that you make, being laid off, downsized or fired from a job is experienced as extremely painful and leads to feelings of depression for many people. Men feel most stigmatized by losing their jobs because so much of their self worth is measured by their ability to earn a living for their families. There are actually cases in which a father has lied to his children about his work status, pretending to the child that he still has his old job. In one case, the particular father went to work driving a taxi cab, changed his clothes at the garage to fit that of a driver and tried to make a living in this way so that his children and neighbors would not know the truth.

H) Extramarital Affairs: In example number 6 above, the woman lived a double life. The lover knew of the husband and wanted her to leave the marriage and be with him. She didn't want to leave her husband because she did not believe the lover could maintain a serious relationship leading to marriage. In addition, she feared condemnation from everyone and maintained strict secrecy around everything she was doing. She admitted that the entire secret could be discovered by her husband one day but, in fact, she was in denial about this possibility. She was constantly plagued by feelings of guilt, yet, could not stop the affair or leave the marriage.

I) Homosexuality: When I was a young man, studying for my PhD, the head of my dissertation committee admitted to all of us, students and faculty alike, that he had left his marriage of 25 years and his adult daughters, in order to live in a homosexual relationship with his lover. He had kept his real sexual identity hidden from his wife, children, colleagues, and friends, out of feelings of shame and the fear of rejection. It was the era of increased sexual tolerance and greater public awareness that allowed him to "come out of the closet." At first shocked, his daughters later came to accept him and his wife had always suspected something was not quite right.

J) Gambling: Tragically, in case number 7 above, the wife did not learn the full extent of the dire financial situation for herself and the children until after her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. Learning the reality of the situation was disastrous for her and led to a complete life style change due to the seriousness of the debt.

This is not a complete list of all the reasons why families keep secrets. Criminal behavior, violations of the incest taboo, and suicide are additional examples of the many other factors leading to lies and secrets.

Consequences:

Secrets lead to lies and secrets and lies can have serious consequences. That is really the theme of the novel, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, in which one character's secret and lies lead to more secrets and lies committed by others in the family and community.

In the real world, I heard of another case in which a son was not told that his Dad is not his biological father. The father who raised him died of a heart attack caused by congenital heart disease. The son, believing that this was his natural father, assumed that he inherited the same gene for heart disease. He spent twenty years carefully limiting his diet and working out in order to delay the onset of what he predicted would be his own demise due to the same heart disease suffered by his father. Then, on her death bed, his mother admitted to him that his Dad had adopted him when he was a small child and neither one had ever told him the truth. The reason for the secrecy was the fact that the biological father was a convicted criminal. The parents feared that the only hope of having this boy lead a normal life was if he knew nothing of this biological father. Needless to say, it came as a tremendous shock to this man to learn first, that his Dad was not his biological father and also that he harbored no genes for heart disease.

In case number 2 above, the young woman finally felt enough trust in the therapist to summon up her courage and reveal the fact that she had been raped when she was in her very early twenties. For ten years she harbored this secret, feeling like she was damaged, believing she was at fault for the rape, fearful of telling her boyfriend for fear she would be judged promiscuous and rejected, and living with an enormous amount of rejection. Once she started to discuss the rape in therapy, including all of her beliefs and fears about its occurrence, and once she felt fully accepted by the therapist, she started to feel enormous relief and her depression started to lift.

Intimacy Made Difficult:

Family secrets have consequences beyond what the secret keepers ever imagined. For example, in case number 2, the young woman who had been raped avoided forming a permanent relationship with a man for fear that when he learned about her rape she would be rejected. However, her trust in her therapist and the safety of the therapy office allowed her to take the risk of revealing the secret. The therapist's sympathetic, warm, and assuring response was such that she found the courage to tell her boyfriend. His compassion, warmth, and total acceptance of her were the source of even more relief. Then, she decided to tell her mother about it and learned information that was enormously helpful to her in her recovery from depression.

When this young woman told her mother about the rape she was once again met with warmth, acceptance, and deep feelings of regret that her daughter had kept this secret for so many years. The question was why had the young woman elected to maintain secrecy?

The answer to the above question was that the young woman was raised in a family culture of secrecy. After she and her mom talked about the rape (a very emotional discussion) her mother revealed all types of family secrets that had been kept from the children for years. The most important secret was that there was a long history of schizophrenia running through both sides of the family for many past generations. Keeping secrets became the norm of family functioning. Thus, it was natural for the young woman to hold a personal secret for so many years. Family members, extremely ashamed of mental illness running in the family, developed a culture of non communication and secrecy to protect themselves from the truth and to prevent any embarrassing information from becoming available to outsiders. The young woman's reaction to all of this was huge relief at no longer having to live with secrets, even though she did not know many of these pieces of information.

The relationship between this young woman and her boyfriend has grown deeper and closer as a result of her having divulged the awful truth of what happened to her many years ago.

Distrust and Anger:

Maintaining family secrets provides an opportunity for some family members to form a bond between one another. However, the involvement in maintaining a secret means that other family members are excluded. For example, two relatives may join together to keep a secret that may not involve a third member except to guard the secret from him/her. Therefore, this third individual is excluded. In order to continue to keep the secret, lies often have to be told and truth distorted. If the excluded member makes an observation that is perceived as coming too close to the secret, then the observation has to be refuted. In case number one, I was the younger child who, upon entering elementary school, was coached by the family to state that my father was dead. I was so young that the “untruth” became “true” in my mind. I simply came to assume he was dead. Decades later, when the truth emerged and I had the opportunity to meet my father, I felt alienated from my older brother who knew the truth and kept it from me.

Children and Learning Problems:

Learning and education are made possible by human curiosity. However, there is plentiful evidence that maintaining family secrets deeply affects children's ability to learn. The nature of secrets is that no one knows about their existence. However, children are intuitive and are quick to sense changes in tone of voice, facial expressions, and other non verbal communications indicating that there is a secret. If they have reason to fear asking for information because of parental anger, it has a dampening effect on their education. There are simply too many case studies in the literature that illustrate the fact that once a therapist helps a family to disclose and discuss a secret, the learning difficulties of the child vanish. Peggy Papp, family psychotherapist, writes about a case in which a ten-year-old girl has math problems until she is helped by her therapist to understand something in her parent's wedding picture that made no sense to her. Together, they added the months between her parents wedding and when she was born and she discovered that she was 15 months-old by the time they married. Her parents then admitted that she was adopted. Her math problems in school vanished.

Somatic Symptoms, the Body Speaks:

We human beings are metaphorical in nature. It has been my experience that after suffering a "broken heart" over a tragedy, a person has a heart attack. Some examples of the relationship between physical or somatic symptoms and secrecy are:

1) Bulimia Nervosa: The bulimic person keeps their binging and purging a strict secret out of feelings of shame and self disgust.

2) Anorexia Nervosa: The anorectic patient keeps self starvation a secret from herself. This is referred to as denial. I have seen families in which parents, as well as the anorectic individual, are in denial about the illness.

Conclusion:

I have also known of many cases where children are raised in an atmosphere of dark secrecy about both the matriarchal and patriarchal parts of their families. They grow up with a sense that something must be wrong but fear discussing this with their parents. In this type of family, once secrecy becomes the norm, there is no end to the ways in which information is blocked from flowing. In these situations, children keep secrets from parents, and parents keep secrets from children and from one another. This carries over into generations as the children marry and keep secrets from their spouses. None of this is benign since the individuals from these families who become patients, experience depression and physical or somatic symptoms.

There are studies that show that secrecy results in feelings of powerlessness. One study demonstrated that in families where secrecy was a major issue, especially with regard to sexual offenses, vulnerable youth were at greater risk of becoming sexual offenders themselves. When they committed the act of rape, they ordered their victims to behave in certain ways. The research concluded that the rape was a way to overcome the helpless and victimized feelings they had experienced in the family. Of course, the rape itself had to be kept secret, perpetuating the cycle of maintaining secrets. The study concluded that for these young people, family secrecy and deception established and maintained a disregard for the truth and for the customs of society. However, this does not mean that family secrets of and by themselves create sex offenders. Rather, it is the situations in which youth may have conduct disorders and other anti social features to their personalities, combined with family secrecy, and deception that can lead to acts of sexual abuse and rape.

I have always maintained that there are few secrets that are so dangerous that they cannot stand being brought out into the open, where they suddenly lose the evil and dark air that once surrounded them. What was once said in reference to war is true about secrets and the decision to reveal them: "There is nothing to fear but fear itself."

Comments
  • Annon

    I am twenty nine years and turning 30 in November. I am from a normal and perfect family and that was until yesterday. Whils engaging in a conversation with one of my aunts she told me some disturbing family secret that has been kept for years. Apparently whilst my dad was working far away, my mother got pregnant and somehow that baby was given away and that was just it- and that was never even the slightest mention of that baby boy. And my mother passed away five years ago so it died with her. So I cried and cried and I am still crying and was told that I cannot tell anyone because it will come out that she is the source. I now feel that I am part of this long kept secret. Apparently most of my other 5 siblings do not know about this, I am the baby by the way. All I can say is that I have been living a lie all this time. I had a lovely mother whom I thought that nothing like that would be in her name and strangely I feel so sorry for her I wish she was still here I would sympathise with her and I actually am so angry with my day because I feel he was responsible. I don't think one can ever be happy if your child is taken away from you.

  • STACEY

    I am forty and found out from my aunt (while my mother was still alive) that she had an affair and had a daughter. My grandmother adopted her and all this time I thought she was my aunt. I knew and told my sisters they did not believe me. My mother passed in 2001 I never mentioned it to her because of the hurt she had went through to give that child up. My aunt filled me in and it hurt me knowing what she went through. At my cousins funeral "that daughter" showed up and we all sat down and my aunt had proceeded to tell my sisters while she was present. Now my sisters hate her and we don't keep in touch at all. With your mother being deceased I don't see why it should matter. If you want to know and get in touch with your brother i think you should know. If you don't want anything to do with the brother than leave it alone.

  • rebecca

    I have something to add - I am almost 35 however when I was 16 My sister decided to say that my brother had sexually abused her for 6 years, between the ages of 9 and 15. This was very hard to take in - obviously! I had just sat my GCSE exams, and had been partying all weekend, then got home - I could tell my parents were strange, so pumped them for info - I remember the moment i was told. I have never been quite the same since then. My mum has never told my brother what he has been accused of (which has turned out to be the biggest sticking point, for me....as in - he doesnt even know! He thinks it was some silly row they had, where he pushed her...). My sister has never been close to the family since. I want to cry about this all the time and have alway hidden it from everyone. I have told my partner, who I want to marry, about it however it is a massive issue for everything, from weddings, to funerals, to just speaking about the other members of the familly.....Any ideas xxxx

  • sakamato

    My daughter committed suicide but no-ne took the trouble tell me. I found out on my own about 8 1/2 years after the fact. And the problems this secret has caused everyone is unbelievanle.

    Full details can be found by going to Bloglines and searching on me (sakamato). Blog is Unresolved Inner Conflicts - A Barrier to Inner Peace.

  • Allan

    Editor: don't post my e-mail address! Please say what you will do with the e-mail address in the "Add a comment" page so people will know, OK? And thanks for the helpful site.

    Editor's Note: We really don't do much with them. At some point the plan is to put in a hard-to-spam way to print them so that other commenters could reach people who put emails up. For now they sit in the database undisplayed. Since you are concerned, I've deleted your email entirely.

    I'm 48 and grew up never knowing anything about my mothers parents or family. It was never discussed. When I was in college, the question of "no, not your grandparents on your father's side, your grandparents on your mother's side" came up. I didn't know I had these grandparents. But I realized my mother had to have parents. I was very confused. I later asked my mother and father who Mom's parents were: silence. No answer. Doing some geneology, I found she was born out of wedlock and rasied by her mother's mother. I still don't really know who some of the relatives I grew up with really are--their relationship in the family.

    The culture of secrecy has led to many other secrets and we rarely speak to each other now. I've a brother I spoken to on the phone only a few times in 25 years. He physically abused me and I've never gotten over it, having nightmares still. I've never met his 18 y.o. daughter. I was sexually abused. I'm gay and have a partner of 16 years. None of this is ever spoken of. I've never told them of any of it.

    I've found a lot of help and people to talk to since, but not my family. Secrets so creep my out. I don't keep anyone's secrets anymore.

  • Leanne

    When I was around seven, my mom and dad and my older sister left for Canada. I did not want to go because my sister and I were put in the back of an old camper during long travels. It was not a fun place to be, because you could not stand all the way up and it was dark and uncomfortable. I did not want to go on this long trip. So, my mom had me stay with a couple that had 2 young small boys who lived down the street from us. In the middle of the night, Andy, the father of the boys forced oral sex on me and then picked me up and while he was standing, rubbed his penis against my private area. The next day, I felt different and I knew what he did was wrong. He never threatened me, but I was too ashamed to share this with my folks until years later. My parent's were sick about it, but this is something I still think about. But what I remember is Andy moving me into the livingroom and I think he had molested one of his boys after he was done with me. I wish I would have been brave enough to tell my parent's about this aweful experience. I am now 39 years old and have 2 children of my own. I refuse to use childcare in any form, because I fear the same thing will happen to them.

  • FEARLESS

    Well the short of the long is I was sexually assaulted by my bio-father when I was 12. I was ostracized from the family of course, having been made the scape goat until my father's recent dealth 10/06. I was allowed back into his life of course at his dealth request. But when it was time for him to be buried, I was asked if I could speak nor was I invited to sit with the family. I finally confronted my step-mother, her only explanation was "nobody new what happened" and "no one knew I exsisted so therefore that was that happened! I have siblings that also do not know.........so once again I responsible for holding the family secrets! And yeah, I am now 45, so it has taken a long time before I was "allowed" back into the graces of his secret family life.

  • Will

    My dad murdered someone when I was 6 months old. Although I knew about this throughtout childhood, I have never discussed it with my own children, as I thought it is best to be left a family secret.

    I am going to tell my teenager the story tonight, reluctantly. He overheard someone in family discussing something yesterday and is curious. I hope I am doing the right thing by talking with him about his grandfather, who is now deceased.

    Shame is most likely the reason I have not ever mentioned it, even though I did nothing wrong, 40 years later, I still feel shameful about what my dad did.

  • Tracy

    Few problems. I am in my early 20's, and dont know how to handle these situations. Any insight would be great.

    1st: my mom has a son that I, along with my siblings never knew about. I found, then a few months later, my mom told me after her parents past away. I speak with him regularly now. The problem is, is that he was taken away when I was little because of some bruises that were found that my dad may have put on him (not sure). Dad doesn't want me, or my siblings knowing about him. The second problem, is that I am keeping this secret from my siblings, and dad because my mom said she would tell my siblings when the time is right, and she doesn't want dad to know that I know. My mom asked me not to say anything and I am not out of respect.

    2nd: my dad is horrible around holidays, and it is making it very difficult to have holidays around him. My mom is too afriad to stand up, and speak her mind. This whole situation makes it difficult on my boyfriend who I have been with for a while, and seeing my brother and sister around the holidays. I try to find out what they are doing for the holidays, and she wont even speak about it in front of dad. She wont say a whole lot past "hows the weather" when he is near while she is talking to me on the phone.

    However, when she is away from him, she has no problem talking to me, and seems to relax a bit. At some points, mom seems to get tired of the whole situation too. Unfortuanatly she isn't very open, and I can't change that.

    I am really tired of all the secrets, and mom not being able to talk in front of dad. I am tired of dad not talking to me. He doesn't even call to say happy birthday, or want to say hi when I call. He ignors his phone when I call, and doesn't want to be around for the holidays while I am in town. He doesn't want to come out to visit me, I have asked him several times, and have offered to pay for his travel here and back.

    Going home all the time is really hard. I am in the military and am called up to orders, so I cant make it home a lot

    Thanks for reading, and any responses.

  • Jason

    I was molested on a trip with my grandfather. Nobody ever knew until I told my mom. She didn't want me to say anything because she was afraid his name would be ruined. I went camping with my grandfather when I was 12 years old. He had me share a sleeping bag with him and slept naked. He wanted me to sleep naked with him but I kept my underwear on. Before I even got in the sleeping back he wrestled my underwear off and held me close. I felt his erection against my body. A few minutes of cuddling turned into my grandfather stroking my penis to orgasm. I off course had to do the same to him. Then oral sex was used and by the end of the night he had sodomized me. It hurt so much, but I was trapped that night with my grandfather without anyone else around. I didn't want to tell anyone thinking people would think I am gay. Only my mom and dad know what my grandfather did to me that night.

  • Yacovella

    Very difficult to get over, these family secrets. My mom died 9 yrs ago, dad "dissed" me,right after she died. "disowned me, disinherited me and disinfranchised me". And I was the good girl growing up. Brother glad about it cause he's left with the inheritance when dad dies. Found out why I was "dissed"... I wasn't his daughter. Seems mom had an affair in 1943 when dad off to boot camp. I questioned "dad" as so who was my real father. He gave me the name of a guy he hung out with. After all, as he said: "Guys know whose wife who is laying" I did tons of research over 3 years and found out the guy whose name he gave me was deceased, but I contacted his daughters and we had DNA done and seems I am not their sister and that man is not my father. They were so nice, almost disappointed I wasn't their sister. So, I was back to square one with a name. I asked my mother's sisters and they gave me a first name but no last name of a man my mother was possibly involved with. Long story...but still no luck in finding a man who I only have a first name of. Kinda dead ended on the search. Harold No Last Name. He worked at the American Stove Company in Cleveland.

    Well, then just 2 months ago, my "father" calls me. We hadn't talked since 2001. He feels his son has pretty much "used" him for financial reasons. Also, very lonely. So, I come back into the picture cause I hate to see him go to a nursing home broke. Offer to take him in, but bro acts quite rapidly and gets to him. Dad, once again, disses me. But, more new secrets I learned from him during our brief time of visiting. Seems like my mother's sister and dad had an affair and he has a daughter by her.

    So, my brother is my 1/2 brother cause we have the same mom. My cousin is my step-sister cause I was raised by "dad" who is really my "stepdad" and my same cousin is my brother's 1/2 sister cause they have the same father. Yikes, it's enough to make you crazy. And guess what, No one knows but me, "dad" and my slime brother. Dad's old and sociopath as ever, brother is greedy and sociopath as ever, my cousin will never know cause she has her own problems since she was raised by f man who she thought was her "dad" who wasn't really her "dad' and he sexually abused her all her young life. I can't tell her, don't have the heart to.

    I'm so tired of secrets. Why me?

  • Marie

    I was sexually abused by my father and sister from my earliest memory of 4 or 5 years old. I am now 47 years old. My father also sexually abused my 2 brothers and 2 sisters. I haven't had anything to do with my family in years because of my father and sisters abuse but they still stalk me in everything I do because they found out I have a daughter who they think it's their given birthright to abuse as well. They have repeadetly made false complaints to various police departments. They have made false complaints to various children service agencies in hope to gain custody so they will be able to abuse her as well. I have moved all over the country, changed my name, etc. but they still find me.

  • sv

    My mother preferred to party and put up with a man who was after us girls. She would dump us off regularly where ever she could. Later when I told her that my brothers had been sexually molested as little boys, she made a comment that they should get over it already. My brother's strange behaviors while growing up threatened her image of a wholesome woman. We never got counseling, so we acted up all of the time. My mother would complain to the whole world that we are ungrateful children and that we had bad blood like my biological father. She will never accept responsibility for her neglect and bad behavior toward us. My advise to people out there who have been neglected and abused is to divulge their abuse to everybody in the family. If you maintain the "secrets", your parents and relatives will do everything in their power to destroy you. Relatives will lie to protect the adults who were bad. The only thing that will protect you and your children is exposing the perverts and liars. The aggressors and enablers will try to chase after your kids in order turn them against you. It's best to tell your kids everything that happened and to keep a distance from your family forever. The ones who stay in the sick family will resent you for leaving. The best piece of advise I can give is that "having a good life is the best revenge". I learned that from my loving husband.

  • Anonymous

    I dated a man whose family has secrets. I learned from him that his mother used to go out for dinner with friends when he and his sisters were children. They knew it was more than dinner with female friends. On some level they knew their mother was cheating on their father, but they didn't know for sure. Their father was an emotionally closed off man who kept distance from everyone else in the family. I worked at the same organization as his mother and it was common knowledge that she'd had an affair with the manager. Wierdly, my manager confided in me that he'd had an affair with a woman (when both he and the woman were married) and that sometimes he'd be out with his wife and he would see his mistress out with yet another man (NOT her husband), so she was also cheating on her married lover (the manager).

    This woman (the mother of my "friend") finally divorced her husband after a man she was interested in was widowed and asked her out. The woman and the widower married and seem stable but the damage she did to her now adult children continues and has being passed onto her grandchildren who also keep secrets.

    The man (son of the cheating mother) keeps EVERYthing in his life secret, even mundane things like who he is friends with, where he keeps his boat, how he spends leisure time. He's incredibly moody and sometimes his dark moods last for months. This man is divorced about 5 years and he cannot have a normal relationship with a woman. He is able to be close physically and even emotionally but only if it's kept secret. Everything is hush-hush, kept separate from his other friends, from his sister (whom he is very close to), and from his children. So everything he does is a secret from everyone else in his life.

    There have been instances when I approached other areas of his life which in a normal relationship would be expected and even desirable. This man totally freaks out, becomes angry, withdraws, and shuts down. (note: he's not a child now he's 47 years old)

    He has never learned how to be open, honest, and now he is teaching his children how to keep secrets.

    This man is handsome, intelligent, funny, smart. When he has his secrets under control and the areas of his life separate, he is a joy to be with. When a person from one area of his life comes close to interacting with people from other areas of his life, he becomes hostile, blaming, incredibly moody. He seems to have no idea that all of this is coming from within himself and that he can change it, so he continues to blame others for his pain.

    I feel sorry for him. His family secrets are destroying him. As it is now, he's a nightmare to be involved with, so it's over.

  • Fran

    My brother had an extramarital affair with a woman that lasted 14 months. When his wife found out about it she took him back with no counseling. I learned of the affair while it was going on and was asked to keep it a secret. Since then my brother has often asked me to not tell his wife this, or his wife that, and although he isn't in an affair anymore he continues with the secrets. My relationship with his wife isn't the same and I am so frustrated I don't care to have a relationship with my brother anymore if there has to always be these secrets. My parents and siblings want me to continue talking with my brother, but every conversation we have he has to tell his wife about it and they're are all these secrets. My family doesn't understand my frustration with my brother and his wife because it's a big secret.... It's so frustrating. I just don't want to be a part of all that dysfunction anymore.

  • Kay M.

    There have been and still are so many secrets in my family, that we are now pretty much fragmented, and occasionally keep in touch.

    I have found out over the years, that the best thing I can do for myself and my children, is to learn as much as possible about myself (my stengths and weaknesses) through counseling, research and consistently asking questions about my health, and a lot of praying.

    Always passing the knowledge onto my children and grandchildren.

    There have been many difficult months over the years, but now I can see my children and grandchildren continue to grow stronger mentally and spiritually.

    Life has so many challenges.

    I ask myself when I feel overwhelmed, what is it I need to do, that could make my life and my family's life better, in a positive and healthy way.

  • Anonymous-1

    Recently I realized I think my dad is not my father. I think its a family secret. And I am starting to wonder if my mom is my actual mother.

    My family treats me like garbage. They remind me of mean and hateful devils, but are very friendly to everyone, but me. They are experts at getting away with subtle abuse. I was very outgoing naturally yet have lived a very socially isolated life. In agony, that is when my family is happy, when I am hurting. Seeing me isolated and struggling to find social connections is like crack to my family.

    Thats all standard dysfunctional family stuff, but I think I was a mistake. A love child, if thats the term, i dont know.

    I do not think i look like either of my parents. Unfortunately the damage is done, i am financially and socially crippled. I cant believe it happen this way, because I had more promise then my entire family combined, but family destroyed me for being gifted.

    If I had money I would love to find a skilled therapist to help me realize more about myself.

    The isolation is the worst, it took me ages to even identify aspects of the abuse was even occuring. People have told me my parents are responsible but I never believed it until it was too late. Plus people have told me that i do not look like my parents, several people, I just never believed it because my parents repeatedly told me otherwise.

    Im surprised how nasty humans are. I have never experienced anything but lies. It has carried over into all aspects of my life.

    I think the reason my family members hate me so much is because I am the only emotionally mature one, or at least I prefer the truth Family has put an incredible amount of effort into hiding their lies at the expense of my life, because they were irresponsible liars. It is sick.

  • Anonymous-2

    I did not know about my brother having a grandchild till the toddler was about 14 months old himself and my parents kept it from me, i would still have not known but an old friend of my brother was told and my mother decided to tell me in case an outsider told me i feel terrible and all this big secret was caused becouse the girl was 15 years old and pregnant by my brothers son who also was 15/ 16 Don't keep secrets like this its not the stone age it's just sheer hurt to me a sister who was kept in the dark it just shows how much they care about me.

  • Anonymous-3

    I wish all secret revealing had happy endings, but sometimes the revealing leads to the much feared consequences. "Adopted children" rejected by grand-parents as "not really family," prejudice and exclusion, etc. The young woman with the dreadful rape secret, for instance, might be rejected by her boyfriend. Not an uncommon reaction, sad to say. A healthy reaction requires a healthy person--alas, many dysfunctional secret-keeping families have members who are not supportive, but critical, punitive, abusive. Please do give a little credit to the poor secret-keepers--sometimes the secret kept is less damaging that the fallout. My grandparents broke up my aunt's relationship with her fiance on the eve of their wedding when they learned that her fiance's mother was in a mental hospital. This is a good article, and helpful, but it would benefit from a little balance. People in a dyfunctional family can be very toxic and cruel. People keep secrets for a reason--sometimes very good ones. At least that's true in my family. Thanks for your article.

  • Lindsey

    My brother got married 3 years ago. i havent had any contact with my brother or my mother at all during that time. i called my mom and forgave her for lying to me in the past, and i asked her how things were in the family. she tells me my brother is getting a divorce from his wife, and he found another woman he's going to marry and she has 3 kids with 3 different men. My brother is asking her to marry him after knowing her for 3 friggen months. (Sigh) this is so weird. My mom asked me to keep it a secret, but if the family asks me how my brother is, am I suppost to lie? I don't think I can. And, I don't know what I'd do if my mom found out that I told my aunt and my cousin. It's wrong that I need to keep a secret from my family because I am alienating the rest of my family just because my mom is scared of what they will think. My parents should have told my brother to take it slow and make sure this is what he wants, instead they are all for it because my mom wants grand kids. It's crazy. Those kids already have grandparents. It's idk a mess. My mom never has time for me anymore, she puts those kids first. I mean I'm married and all, but I still need my mom ! For heavens sake.

  • becky h

    I was looking through my facebook email just a few days ago, i seen an email from some one i didnt know dated back from January. I read it, some one was wanting to know if my dad was living in a state long ago, and yes, i was 15 (im 50 now) when we moved from the north to down south. I lied to this girl, i wanted to ask my mother some things first, what it was is this girl was looking for her friends biological dad which was my dad!!! This girl was born one month after i was in 1963, i was in such schock...i was shaking so bad, thought i was going to have a heart attack. i call my mom, i told her some contacted me, telling me that her friend is looking for her dad that is my dad, my mom addmitted everything, she said i knew this day would come. I was in more schock! The innocent parents i had was so innocent. My dad has and will never claim this 50 year old daughter. My mom however is wanting me to call the girl and tell her my dad is dead, and that he was not her dad. I feel so torn up...i cannot lie! My heart breaks for this sister of mine. I want to tell her the truth, but if my mom ever found out shed disown me, that how i feel any how. I am simply heart broken...lies will keep one weighed down in bondage, this has only been a few days....im confused! I do however know this girl didnt ask to be born to such a man that would never claim her!

  • Anonymous-4

    Is there anyone out there that married into a family with the following type secret: My ex was a horrific cheater. I divorced him because of it. We were divorced over 11 years ago but his family still will not admit that he was a cheater but stands by every lie that he tells. His father parented four outside children in between 12 children by his mother. They never talk about it. But they have very little regard for me because I divorced their brother. In their head they say that I just Fuss too much. When I would bring the subject up while I was married, they would try very hard to change the subject, but behind my back they would bring up and magnify every personality fault that they thought that I had. They are constantly trying to find negatives about me and my adult children . They constantly talk about negatives about the next generation set of children if the children are not the children of the sisters but if you mention anything about their children they get really upset.

  • Anonymous-5

    In response, I've had a similar situation for nearly a decade my in-laws would criticize, judge, make fun of everything with regard to my family. Later I found out they had a deep dark secret, which you would think would make them compassionate, open-minded, and humble people. In fact they are the complete opposite. I heard recently that rude behavior stems from a place of fear and I think that is true. But I also think it is unfair that my in-laws has projected negative behavior onto other people to deflect what is really going on in their family and their deep dark secret. It has been a terrible experience to be on the receiving end (residual) part of their deep dark secret. Now, I understand the origins of it, but I didn't have to be subjected such a negative world and waste ten years entertaining these people in my life

  • Anonymous-6

    My mother, a nurse, had an affair with a physician which resulted in a child while she was married to my father. I was a teenager and knew of her affair and had begged her to stop from the time I was 12 to 18. To keep me from telling on her, she told numerous lies about me all over the small town, they were terrible things to say so that if I did reveal her secret, no one would believe me. I kept her secret until I was 18, when I told my dad, that his son wasnt his. My dad confirmed the truth and sent me to college in another state while he dealt with the situation with my mother. DNA tests were done. It turned out that my sister is probably not my dads either, according to my Dad. Apprantly her bio father was a different physician who ultimately committed suicide due to terminal illness. My mother had nothing to do with me after I told my dad about my brother at the age of 18 ( im now in my 40's). They did get a divorce. Years later, upon my dads passing, a social worker helping my dad revealed that I was my dads only child to my sister. My brother called me and asked if it was true and after I said yes its true ( and gave him the identity of his bio father, and numerous siblings he had never met) he then said