Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Family Secrets

Several situations lately have started me thinking in the direction of family secrets again. I had studied the topic several years ago, taught some lessons, and acquired a level of healing. Recent events have pointed me in that direction again.

I re-read parts of John Bradshaw's Family Secrets: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You. He expounds on the three laws of a disfunctional family (with secrets): Don't Talk; Don't Trust; Don't Feel.

Children raised in abusive or alcoholic families, families with hidden crimes or addictions, just to name a few of the potential "secrets," grow up believing there is something wrong with themselves. They have feelings that are allowed no expression, or outlet. Adults in the family are unreliable, not trustworthy, yet nothing is ever said or done about it. The situation is not even discussed. This kind of secrecy is toxic. (There are healthy secrets as well: children should not be pulled into marriage discord or adult sexual issues.)

One particular case study involved the young father of a family who had lost his job but didn't want to let his wife or children know. He kept his regular routine and left for work every morning, but his family began to fall apart. Even though his wife and children were unaware of the specific problem, they were reacting to their sense that something was very wrong.

Recently at a family reunion, some younger members of the family had the courage to speak about a family secret, in this case alcoholism, and the generational reaction and subsequent isolation. As a result of breaking the silence, new connections with family and a support system is evolving. But the story is far from over. Alcoholism doesn't evolve in a vacuum, and deeper secrets may need to be revealed. It's much like the peeling of an onion. But understanding and empathy are gained by following the trail and discovering generations of hurting humans who reacted in the only way they could tolerate.

Around me, some family systems are deteriorating in inexplicable ways. Could it be that a family secret is at the center of the crumbling foundation of human relationships? Family secrets leave wounded souls, broken hearts, may lead to a skewed power base, disrupted relationships, and unhealthy decision-making.

Yet, the answer is not the ever-popular reveal-all talk shows in which participants drop these bombs like B-52's coming in for the kill. There is a time, a place and a manner in which to address such issues.

In an interview with Randy Peyser, John Bradshaw, who is one of the foremost authors and recognized experts
particularly in the fields of family systems, co-dependency, and addictions and recovery, talks about the process of discovering the roots of family disfunctions. "Suddenly, all these problems that you think are your own are seen in this larger light. It's hard to blame anybody for it. You see that your mother had it and your grandmother had it and then, god knows, how many generations before that had it. It makes us realize that we're up against something very profound."

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