We all have secrets. Things we keep hidden away, either out of shame or fear. Some of them are small, like the time we cheated on a test in school. Others are much bigger, like an affair or a crime. No matter their size, secrets and the shame we feel about them can have a profound and lasting impact on our lives.
What happens when those secrets start to eat away at our family and relationships, corroding the very foundation that holds us together?
In this blog post, I will explore the impact of family secrets on the individual and the family unit as a whole. I will also discuss ways to end the shame that often comes with them.
Secrets can be toxic, but by facing them head-on, we can begin to heal the damage they have caused.
Secrets versus Boundaries
It’s important to distinguish between secrets and boundaries. Keeping certain things to ourselves is healthy and normal. We all have a right to privacy, and there are some things we simply don’t want to share with others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the biggest differences between secrets and simply keeping something to oneself is the shame that comes with them. Shame is a powerful emotion that can cause us to feel unworthy, unlovable, and exposed. It’s no wonder then that we go to great lengths to keep our secrets hidden away.
But Secrets have a way of coming out, whether we want them or not. And when they do, the fallout can be devastating. Families can be torn apart, relationships destroyed. The secret-keeper may feel relief at finally being able to tell the truth, but that doesn’t negate the damage that’s been done.
When Secrets become poison
Problems arise, however, when we start to use secrets as a way to control or manipulate others. That’s when they become toxic.
Family secrets are some of the most damaging because they involve the people we are supposed to be closest to. The very people we should be able to rely on for love and support.
When a family has a secret, it’s like there is this big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. The secret-keeper may feel like they are shouldering the burden alone, and that can be incredibly isolating.
The situation is even worse if the secret is related to abuse or trauma. In these cases, the secret-keeper may feel like they are to blame, that they deserve the abuse. This is especially true if the abuser is a family member. The secret-keeper is manipulated to believe that they are betraying their family by speaking out.
This kind of thinking is incredibly destructive, and it can have a lasting impact on the victim’s mental and emotional health. It’s important to remember that abuse is never the victim’s fault. No one deserves to be hurt, no matter what.
The impact of family secrets can be far-reaching and long-lasting. They can cause individuals to doubt their worth, feel unloved and undeserving of happiness. Secrets can also tear families apart, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and resentment.
If you have a family secret, it’s important to understand the impact it may be having on your life and your relationships. Only then can you start to work through the pain and begin to heal.
Keeping a secret from your partner
If you’re in a relationship, it’s important to be honest with your partner about the things that are going on in your life. That doesn’t mean you have to share everything, but if there is something that is impacting your relationship, you need to be open about it.
For example, if you have suffered abuse and trauma, you may not want to share that with your partner right away. But if it’s something that is affecting your relationship, you need to be honest about it. Your partner can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on.
Trauma will invariably reveal itself when you are triggered, especially if you are struggling with PTSD or CPTSD. It’s important to be prepared for these moments and to have a plan in place. Your partner needs to know what triggers you and how they can help you to manage your reactions.
If you’re keeping a secret from your partner, ask yourself why. Is it something that would hurt them? If the answer is yes to either of those questions, then it’s probably best to keep the secret to yourself. Unloading yourself and telling them about it might feel liberating , but it’s not fair to put that burden on them.
But if you’re keeping a secret because you’re ashamed or embarrassed, then it’s time to have a conversation. These are the kinds of secrets that can eat away at you and cause problems in your relationship.
Your partner should be someone you can rely on, someone who loves and supports you. If you’re not sure if they can handle your secret, it’s best to wait until you’re sure before you tell them.
Ending the Secrets and Shame
One of the hardest things about having a secret is the shame that comes with it. Shame is such a powerful emotion, and it can cause us to feel like we are unworthy, unlovable, and exposed.
The first step in ending the shame is to understand that you are not alone. Secrets are common, and they do not make you a bad person. You are worthy of love and happiness, no matter what you may have done in the past.
The second step is to talk about the secret. This can be incredibly difficult, but it’s essential for healing. Find someone you trust—a friend, therapist, or family member—and tell them what happened.
The final step is to forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself is not about condoning your actions, it’s about giving yourself the compassion and understanding that you deserve. You are not perfect, and that’s okay.
Final Thoughts on Secrets and Shame
Family secrets are damaging, but by facing them head-on, we can start to heal the damage they have caused.
Secrets between partners are also corrosive, and can damage the trust and intimacy in a relationship.
Shame is a powerful emotion, but we can learn to overcome it by talking about our secrets and forgiving ourselves. In doing so, we can begin to create healthier, happier lives for ourselves and our families.
For Further Reading
You might also want to check out the following posts about narcissistic families and the impact of childhood trauma:
- SoNM (Sons of Narcissistic Mothers)
- SoNF (Sons of Narcissistic Fathers)
- DoNF (Daughters of Narcissistic Fathers)
- DoNM (Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers)
- ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists)
- Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers: What You Need to Know
- The Narcissistic Family Golden Child
- The Narcissistic Family Scapegoat
- The Narcissistic Parent and the Enabler
- Narcissistic Family Roles: The Complicated Dynamics of Narcissistic Families
- Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Family Abuse
- Emotional Abuse as a Child Linked to Adult Chronic Pain
- CAPDR – Child affected by parental relationship distress
- Adverse Childhood Experiences and PTSD: What’s the Connection?
- The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Puberty
- Learning how to Trust and Love after Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Parentification: The Role of the Parentified Child in Narcissistic Families
- What is Codependency and how to overcome it
- Resilience – the ability to bounce back after adversity
- Is the Golden Child destined to become a Narcissist?
- Secrets and Shame: The Corrosive Impact of Family Secrets
- How to Deal with a Narcissistic Sibling: Tips for Navigating Family Drama
- Going through the stages of grief for my lost childhood
And finally, this is my story. I was the scapegoat daughter of a narcissistic father.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you use one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me. At no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission, which helps me run this blog and keep my in-depth content free of charge for all my readers.