The Danger of Family Secrets
“Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.” Paul Tournier (1898-1986), pastoral counselor
My family doesn’t keep secrets.
Surprises, yes. Secrets, no.
What’s the difference? you ask.
A surprise is something fun, like the birthday party my four children and I planned for my husband last year. Weeks of covert e-mails with my son and three daughters—deciding who would contact guests, planning the location, the decorations, the menu—all culminated in a fun celebration. And yes, the ultimate satisfaction was that my husband hadn’t suspected a thing!
A secret? That’s an I-know-something-you-don’t-know-but-it’s-something-you-should-know ticking time bomb within a family. All seems well on the surface. But listen closely and you can hear the tick-tick-tick truth set to go off and affect the relationships between parents and children, as well as between each sibling.
Why are family secrets so dangerous?
A family secret alters the dynamics of a family. When one family member hides something from everyone else, they often distance themselves from their parents and siblings. This is what happens with Payton Thatcher, the main character in my novel Things I Never Told You. Payton’s harbored a secret for ten years. Over time, she’s pulled away from her mother, her father, and her two sisters. If she stays close to them, there’s always the possibility—the threat— she’ll open up and tell them the very thing she wants to keep hidden.
Paul Tournier’s statement about secrets creating loneliness rings true in Payton Thatcher’s fictional life, but this reaction is also true in real life. Secrets separate us from others—and the family is the very place that should foster closeness and safety, not secrecy and the need to hide from one another.
Keeping a family secret is exhausting. I spent many years of my life keeping a family secret—and I also spoke up and told the family secret. Hiding the secret was as if I had shoved the truth into a closet, slammed the door closed, turned my back, and tried to walk away. But like an imaginary childhood monster come to life, the secret grew bigger and banged louder on the door I tried to keep shut. Let me out. Tell the truth.
Choosing to reveal a secret has its own dangers. If you reveal a secret, it’s usually not just your secret—and it’s usually not something good. When someone says, “Can you keep a secret?” they’re often inviting you into a situation they’re ashamed of or one where they’re at risk. If the secret is wrapped in the words “Don’t tell anyone,” there is often a threat involved: Don’t tell anyone what I did to you . . . or else. Don’t tell anyone
- what someone else did to me
- what happened
- the truth
Secrets often conceal the truth—and this is the fundamental danger of secrets. Yes, uncovering the truth can be painful. Revealing the truth can be life-changing—at times, even devastating—when it involves facing the reality of the choices people make that cause harm to themselves or to others. Think abuse. Think self-harm. Think struggles with mental illness. Think secrets passed down from one generation to another within a family.
But these kinds of “don’t tell” secrets are relational abscesses—emotional infections that build up over time and poison the health of a family with anger, insecurity, and fear. Painful to touch, but even more painful to keep hidden. The only way to deal with the issue is to lance it, which means the secret must be told.
Healing can come when a secret is replaced with truth. Each family member must choose whether to support the one who speaks up and shatters the secret. Learning to live with the truth takes time, patience, and prayer . . . and even more love and forgiveness.
About the Author
Beth K. Vogt is a nonfiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Now Beth believes God’s best often waits behind doors marked Never. Things I Never Told You, releasing May 2018, is Beth’s first novel in her women’s fiction series for Tyndale House Publishers.
Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, a 2016 ACFW Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RITA Award finalist. Her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. Having authored nine contemporary romance novels or novellas, Beth believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.
An established magazine writer and former editor of the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth blogs for Novel Rocket and also enjoys speaking to writers’ groups and mentoring other writers. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Rob, who has adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own stories. Connect with Beth at bethvogt.com.
Things I Never Told You by Beth K. Vogt
ISBNs: 978-1-4964-2723-6 & 978-1-4964-2724-3
Hardcover: $24.99 & Softcover: $15.99