Nov 20 2011

Damage of Secrets: Research Shows Secrets Clang (my word) Around Inside Our Brains

How do you spell relief? D-I-S-C-L-O-S-U-R-E

Therapists and clients alike understand the relief provided by the disclosure of sad, angry, fearful memories. Therapy is a place where people should feel safe enough to disclose anything they choose, significant or insignificant.

In dysfunctional families or organizations, people are often exposed to behavior which shocks

their sensibilities, whether an alcoholic parent, domestic violence, or more subtle manipulations of people’s inner drama being acted out sideways.

The pressure to keep secrets often results from this dysfunction. A child may witness horrible rage or domestic abuse in their home, then awaken the next day fearful of what may happen. They feel pressured to pretend there was no violence the night before causing a split in their sense of reality.

In order for them to survive, they pretend their parents are safe, while simultaneously dissociating from the obvious danger of their own parents. They keep their knowledge of their parent’s violence “secret” and live in a pretend world where damaging and often illegal behavior is ignored.

Whether I have explained this clearly enough, my meaning is obvious. Adults who grow up in dysfunctional families are high risk targets of others who are willing to see how far their abusive actions can go. The abusers learn quickly who can be trapped in secrets, used, exploited and spit out later when they are not needed.

In her 1998 Psychology Today article, “The Power of Secrets”, Evan Imber Black writes:

“There are four main ways that family secrets shape and scar us:

1. they can divide family members, permanently estranging them;

2. they can discourage individuals from sharing information with anyone outside the family, inhibiting formation of intimate relationships;

3. they can freeze development at crucial points in life, preventing the growth of self and identity;

4. they can lead to painful miscommunication within a family, causing unnecessary guilt and doubt.”

Ember-Black states further, “A person who seeks to undo the damage caused by family secrets must accept that revealing a secret is not a betrayal but a necessity Luckily, as you’ll see, it’s never too late to do so.”

Fortunately, there is excellent research available to help us understand the damage of secrets, and the physical and mental health benefits of disclosure.

In his article, “The Science Behind Secrets”, Eric Jaffe presents many of the significant research studies which support the physical and mental health damage of keeping secrets, and the benefits of disclosing those secrets.

What does the research show?

When feels compelled to keep a secret, the secret tends to clang (my word) around inside our brains.
The secret is trying to get out, but we feel compelled to keep it in. The clanging around creates all sorts of havoc, including obsessive attempts to distract ourselves and attempts to self-medicate.

To read more about this important topic, click here, here and here.

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