Last year, I wrote an article entitled, “What Does It Mean To Be The Keeper Of The Secrets?” (see below). I loved writing my thoughts about this role and watching my ideas come to life. I realize now, however, that I have more to say on the subject of secrets.
With attempted humor I often quip when I am late, “Everyone has a story. You do not need to hear mine.” Usually, a smile or a chuckle is elicited which is my intention. Truly, however, everyone does have a story, and as a therapist, I am often the recipient of a person’s unique narrative. At times as their story unfolds layers at a time, a secret is revealed. Although we live in an exhibitionistic, no-hold-back culture, most people are reluctant to divulge their sacred secrets with just about anyone, including me.
People seek therapy for different reasons, but it is usually under the umbrella of “having a problem.” Frequently, this problem is a crisis, loss or recognition that the time has arrived to address an issue which may have been long-standing. Thus, the setting is often ripe for a heavy secret to emerge.
The unburdening of the secret within a confidential and safe atmosphere can allow the world to seem brighter and lighter even temporarily.
My clients know if a secret is imparted to me that the only place it will reside is within the deep recesses of my mind. I do not even write it down. Why? Because less is more, and as much as confidentiality is promised, there are times when the law can supersede this agreement.
For some, going to therapy is a secret in itself. I ensure that my clients are not exposed to a point where I once acted unconventionally. Many years ago, I had been seeing a teacher for weekly individual therapy. One day, an adolescent came for an initial appointment, and unbeknownst to me, she happened to be in the same school as this teacher. When she mentioned that she recognized her, I told her that I occasionally consult with a variety of professionals in different fields. She accepted the answer. I informed the teacher of what I did, and she thanked me. When I shared this with my colleagues, they kindly reprimanded me and said that I should have remained silent. I looked at them and with much politeness respectfully disagreed. I told them that I did what I needed to do to preserve this woman’s privacy. If such a situation arose again, I would do the same.
Secrets are there for a reason. For some, the secret is released and will go no further than the confines of my office. For others, they feel it would be therapeutic to go beyond this initial disclosure.
Many years ago, I ran a group for women who had suffered from trauma. Within the first two sessions, one woman who shared her secret of being abused made it clear she intended to confront her offending brother. He was on leave from his job in another part of the country, and to her, time was of the essence. The group encouraged this woman to slow down, but she would have none of it. This particular woman was ready and determined to reveal this secret to her brother and other family members. From what I recall, the brother was devastated and claimed he had no recollection of this heinous act which occurred when they were children. My client maintained she felt vindicated, relieved and left the group shortly thereafter. Her experience was that she needed to be free of this secret above all else, and as was hoping, healing began the moment she divulged the secret.
Not everyone sharing a secret beyond the therapy office is guaranteed positive results. For some, it can be detrimental. If this appears to be the case, I caution my clients to think carefully about their purpose and the possible ramifications which could ensue. No matter how much they mull this over, as they know and as they will do, the choice is ultimately theirs. Some realize that more harm than good will occur with disclosure and refrain from taking it to others.
As my aforementioned client indicated, keeping the secret buried had far more negative consequences than bringing it to light. For her, the alternative was no longer acceptable. Many people share her sentiment while others, depending on the nature of the secret and the players involved, choose otherwise.
My mother’s own family of origin shielded many secrets. As an adult, we discovered an aunt was actually a great aunt. It had no bearing on me but caused much strife for others. Secrets around my mother’s own parentage were also unearthed. Because of divided loyalties and shame from long ago, my mother avoided any discussion about the circumstances around this information. Sadly, to find out recently, she was deprived of relationships with a number of loving relatives.
Being the Keeper of Secrets and learning of those within my own family origin, I understand the reason people grapple with the decision around shedding a secret. To keep a secret for many people is a heavy burden while others believe the release can cause irredeemable damage. Either way, as the Keeper of Secrets, I will maintain those who have entrusted me with theirs throughout this life and the next.