Secrets acting as a poison

Two blogs that I read regularly have talked about secrets recently – Secrets over at Kerro’s Korner and Amy in a password protected entry in Waiting my turn in the queue.  Both wrote about being how the seemingly poisonous, insidious way that secrets can eat away at you.  Kerro describes the toxic relationship that can be formed with secrets.  My comment on Amy’s blog was to share five secrets that I have.  Two of these secrets aren’t really secrets at all, namely –

  1. I’m sure I’m faking this whole abuse history and mental health stuff – I’m such a drama queen.
  2. I hurt myself every day and I don’t really care – I deserve it.

Anyone who even half knows me, knows that I believe these two things about myself.  The other three secrets are a not things that I can comfortably share here – yes, secrets have a grip over me.

Part of my abuse was a fairly typical threat about keeping secrets.  But, as a child I was incredibly bad at keeping secrets.  There is a family story that I told the mother that she wouldn’t find the watch she was getting for her birthday in that drawer, it was in the bedside table.  This story has always encouraged me to doubt my abuse history – surely if I was this bad at keeping secrets, I would have told someone what was going on.  But the session a couple of weeks ago with Jo gave a clue as to why this was possible, apparently the young ones within the system have a hierarchy of secrets.  Some secrets weren’t really secret, so you could let the little girl know about those ones – gift location for the mother was amongst that level of secret.  But the other secrets were held by the younger ones created from the abuse, these were the real secrets.  These young ones knew about the importance of secrets, they had been told what would happen if those secrets were told.  They lived with those threats and kept the secrets well hidden.

Insert from Management: The incident with the mother’s watch also taught them how to keep secrets, they learned it was bad to tell.

But how much can those secrets hurt me now, if told?  Jessica Hagy has provided one potential answer in Indexed with her entry about Physics and emotions.  Jessica looked at the relationship between time, distance or pain and the speed or trouble caused.  But for us, this formula doesn’t quite fit.  Our abuse secrets seem to have a different timeframe – I’ve always thought that if you don’t tell about the abuse straight away, then it becomes exponentially more difficult to tell someone as time goes on.  Then there is a breaking point – the coping mechanisms are overwhelmed and the self-destructive pattern reaches a crisis.  This is where in some regards, the ACC system had the benefit of forcing me to tell about some events in order to get coverage for the mental injury.  The problem was that we weren’t ready to share those events, it became more traumatic to talk about it.  We’re still not ready.  The secrets that we have shared with the mother and therapists have always been believed, but this actually scares us more.  Why do people believe us?  It makes no sense.  Sorry the denial comes forward so strongly at times, it all becomes a jumbled mess.

I’m not sure when the grip that the secrets hold over me will ease.  I live in fear of that day, what will it mean for myself and those around me to know what happened?  What possible benefit will come from telling the mother that this is what happened to her little girl?  I don’t plan on pressing charges against anyone.  I’ve already decided that telling the mother everything isn’t an option, she isn’t healthy enough to be able to support me.  So the only benefit is to lance the festering wound that sits in my brain.  One day I will have to convince the young ones that this will help, that we and they are worthy of telling their truth…

—————-
Now playing: Missy Higgins – Where I stood
via FoxyTunes

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16 Responses to “Secrets acting as a poison”


  1. 1 kate1975 July 28, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Secrets are an awful poison. Lancing the wounds and draining the poison is for the person who is traying to heal. Sometimes you get a good reaction, you get support, but those are not the best part of telling secrets. Telling is for the secret holder. The best part is the healing inside of you and the lessening of fear.

    I have told things and been rejected, received more shunning and more emotional abuse. I have learned that in my own life that the telling is healing, no matter how good or bad the reaction. Maybe that’s just me.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.

    Kate

    • 2 castorgirl July 28, 2009 at 12:05 pm

      Hi Kate,

      I agree that telling the secrets is for the person who is trying to heal, but the person you tell also becomes part of the equation. Their responses influence how you feel – whether you want it to or not.

      Part of the issue is that my cousin once told my grandfather that he was a useless grandfather. He turned up on our families doorstep with his suitcase in his hand looking shattered. My grandfather had narcissistic traits and was hard to get on with, but I will always remember the look on his face. My cousin telling her feelings and truth became more about herself than the damage caused to those around her. I suppose my quandary is, when does the secret keeping cause less harm than speaking your truth?

      I don’t have the strength to take on more abuse. I don’t have the strength to carry a negative reaction from someone else about what occurred to me. This is my personal choice at the moment. I don’t want to stop anyone else speaking out. I’ve seen that it can help. I guess I’m just too scared and I don’t really believe it to start with.

      Take care.

  2. 3 gracie July 28, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    you do not need to tell anyone other than your therapist, should you choose to. i do believe telling one person everything is extremely liberating. i tell my psychiatrist. i have told my husband only a fraction of what happened. my sister knows some. my mother knows almost nothing. i an never tell her. it would break her heart and one broken heartin my family is more than enough. pressing charges would solve nothing for me, it would worsen everything because then other people would know and would see me differently and i absolutely hate being seen let alone being the centre of any attention, even if only for a short while. you can always tell me if you want to. i do not even really know how much you know about what happened to you. i little ones must be very very good at holding onto their secrets. also, why do you not believe them ? maybe your denial is forcing them to hold onto their remaining secrets tightly, in case they risk telling you only to be disbelieved by you. they have no reason to lie. trust them. they saved your life. love from gracie and everyone.

  3. 4 castorgirl July 28, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you so much Gracie and everyone. You describe the problem we have with secrets as well. I think our big issue is that we need to tell the secrets within the system. We need to stop hiding from, and amongst ourselves.

    I think part of our fear is the question of whether will we believe those young ones. Do we have the strength to accept what they will say? I rarely question the truth of others, but I always question our own truth. It was interesting on Monday with Liz, we told her about an incident that occurred which is detailed on our ACC forms – it’s no longer a secret so we can discuss it clinically. We’ve always doubted that this event occurred, even though we’ve had constant memory for it. Liz asked some basic questions – how did you explain the bruises? We’d been to the park, so we said we fell off the jungle gym. How did you clean up the blood without your mother noticing? We cleaned the clothes ourselves so no one would see anything. These were the immediate answers from SO and W, no hesitation. We know what they said is the truth, but it’s too horrible to contemplate. How could anyone do that to a little girl?

    I wonder if we need to tell Liz some more to get a more impartial perspective on it all? I don’t want to hurt you by telling you. I know we’ve shared a little bit with you because you experienced something very similar. It makes us feel less crazy knowing how close you are to us and that you experienced something similar. We truly are survivors aren’t we…

    Take care and with much love
    B, Sophie and everyone here

  4. 5 castorgirl July 28, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    We started to write this from a very dispassionate viewpoint. I don’t think we realised how badly we’re affected by the concept of secrets and what they mean in the context of our life. A good way to shake us out of the false calm/numb feeling we’ve had for the last few days.

  5. 6 kate1975 July 28, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Hi,

    I understand what you are saying. Deciding what to say, when to say, and who to say it to are all a part of healing and finding good boundaries.

    I don’t think that telling someone they are a bad grandparent is a secret, so I guess I wuuld put what she said as personal empowerment or assertion, and not secret telling and intentionally meant to harm the other person. Though I understand what you are saying about it wounding him, even though he was narcisstic.

    I do agree that who you tell can bring a lot of healing, like a therapy. It can also build more trust and a stronger connection.

    I believe that each person deserves to make their own decision on telling their secrets. I did not tell many people for some years and when I did it brought a huge change in my life. However I told when it was the rigth time for me, when I felt safe and far enough along in my healing. Some of my secrets are still secrets.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.

    Kate

  6. 7 castorgirl July 28, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Hi Kate,

    Our grandfather was psychologically abusive and controlling. Everyone in the family knew this, but the actions of that cousin on that day ripped apart the larger family. I find it hard to differentiate between her actions which were quite possibly about empowerment, and the final result which was to destroy the family dynamics. Why confront an old man who was never going to change, and in-fact just enabled his manipulation?

    I have no concept of boundaries – I know this. I also know that I trust very few people. This means that at the moment I don’t have the strength, courage or necessary knowledge to tell anyone my secrets. At the moment, the benefits of telling anyone don’t outweigh the risks for me. Saying that, I admire those who can. I admire those who can look the doubters in the eye. I admire those who can tell their truth in a court of law.

    I’m glad you found the right time for you. Despite the negative reactions, it sounds like it was a positive step in your healing.

    Take care

  7. 8 kerro July 29, 2009 at 12:51 am

    CG

    The secrets are poisonous. They really are a festering sore, eating us up from the inside. You don’t have to tell anyone, not even your therapist, if you’re not ready. I have found it helpful, though. It’s reduced the power of the secrets; reduced their all consuming hold over my life. That’s not to say the telling was easy – and times it was more unsettling than it was helpful. It’s only now, some 9 months after I started telling, that I’m starting to realise that it’s been helpful for me. I really pushed myself to tell, which was probably more damaging in the short term, even if it helped in the longer term.

    There’s no magic to making it work. If I was to offer advice, I would say go slowly. Trust yourself to know when you are ready, but do challenge yourself, within safe limits.

    Take care, CG.

  8. 9 castorgirl July 29, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Thank you so much Kerro… been a really rough day and needed to hear that so much :)

  9. 10 kate1975 July 29, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Hi,

    I wanted to echo what Kerro said about going slow. I think that there is too much of an emphasis on confrontation and telling. I don’t find that as helpful as personal healing and empowerment, increasing self-esteem, and learning your own limites and establishing boundaries.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.

    Kate

  10. 11 Paul July 29, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Secrets do have a place. We all have to strike a balance between disclosure and privacy.

    Unfortunately, the complexity you have in your system about hierarchy of secrets is something similar in the real world outside of your head. Certain people will need to know certain things about you, all decided by you, all of you.

    If you let nobody in, then I agree with others that secrets are poisonous.

    It may be that you can only let your therapist know. It may be someone else. It may be some combination.

    But telling the secrets ends up validating which ends up healing. If you keep them secret, you will have that secret little pact inside that can deny their truth.

    I could say more, but you get the gist I hope.

    Paul

  11. 12 castorgirl July 29, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Yes, we got the gist of what you were saying Paul, thank you.

    Take care,
    Michelle

  12. 13 Ivory July 30, 2009 at 1:43 am

    I understand your hesitance in telling the secrets (and in hearing the secrets.)

    Several years ago, I needed some information from my family members – just to help me form a better time line. It was making me crazy to keep trying to put everything in its proper place and knowing I couldn’t because I was often drugged by my abuser.

    Mr.S warned me that my “secret” may not be a secret but rather something just never spoken of. I will never know. I dared to ask my mother about just one day of one summer because my older sister told me to “go away” with my problems. I am no longer a member of my family.

    I didn’t even share a big secret – only one that told that it was a family friend. I don’t have any advice here for you. Because of the healing effect it had on me, I think I would do it again, but I cannot weigh it against losing my entire family – including my husband. I will never know if keeping that secret would have been better in that respect – it certainly wasn’t better for them.

    If you have a caring and loving family, they may be just what you need. My family is so dysfunctional they act like dingo dogs: when someone needs help, instead of giving that help, they attack and kill so as not to put the strength of the pack at risk.

    I feel so sorry that you are at this particular juncture – it will be difficult, at best to work thru. I wish you many blessings along your way.

  13. 14 castorgirl July 30, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Ivory. I’m so sorry that your desire to seek the truth and share a little of your past caused such a fall out. I come from a similar family dynamic, so can identify with the problems you would have encountered.

    I’m glad that you’ve also managed to get a sense of healing from telling. I don’t want to deter anyone from speaking out at all. I’m still very early in my healing in many ways, so this was written from the perspective of having no self-confidence, no self-worth and the idea that my needs and wants in relation to those of anyone else aren’t important or don’t exist.

    Take care
    Michelle

  14. 15 davidrochester July 30, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Such a hard and painful issue, CG.

    Someone in my brain is prompting me to say something here that I’m not convinced is useful, but … let’s see whether it is.

    The strange thing about secrets is that they are highly specific to the person who has them. I think that sometimes people are afraid to tell their secrets because they’re afraid of hurting the person they’re telling, even when that person is a therapist; they think that the information itself is somehow toxic or damaging once it gets out in the open.

    But it’s not … it can’t be, because some people’s secrets are other people’s completely easy disclosures.

    For example, in my own case, I have never made it a secret that I was sexually assaulted in college. It was a terrible event with a lot of potential shame and stigma attached to it, but for whatever reason, it didn’t become one of my secrets.

    Conversely, I recently disclosed to Debbie a comparatively innocent piece of information that felt like a huge secret to me.

    I am trying to wrap my brain around the fact that secrets are what we make of them, and what other people force us to make them … there is nothing that is, in and of itself, inherently a secret. There may be consequences to speaking the truth, and those consequences can be both internal and external, so it’s wise to take some care about examining the secrets we hold.

    The benefit to telling those secrets is to ease the burden of those who hold them. It is terrible suffering to guard a secret, and the parts who do that job deserve to be liberated, when the time is right.

  15. 16 castorgirl July 30, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Your comments have helped clarify another area that we struggle with David. During childhood, we’d sometimes be having a normal conversation at school and something that we think of as usual or typical would make everyone stop and stare at us as if we’re crazy. Behaviours, beliefs and things that we considered as usual, apparently weren’t all that usual for the rest of our classmates. These were not secrets, but they showed a glimpse into our home life. We soon learned to say very little about home. This also meant that we started to form what I described as a hierarchy of secrets – with normal life being part of that hierarchy. So I can understand what you mean about people viewing the same information with a totally different attitude.

    I remember that I once told something very minor to Liz and she reacted with concern and caring. To me what had been said wasn’t a big deal, and I became concerned that she wouldn’t be able to handle the really mucky stuff if that caused a reaction. But I think what affected her was that is was such a blatant form of psychological abuse, yet we were numb to it’s effects. I think this is why good therapists more than earn their hourly rate. They must wade through the secrets and not look necessarily at the secret itself, but look at how keeping and telling the secret has affected you.

    I’m truly sorry that you were assaulted David. Because it isn’t a secret, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to have that experience and knowledge.

    Take care and with love
    CG


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