When You Tell Family Secrets

I believe we begin to love the life we’ve been given when we start to own the roles we have played, tell the truth about where we have wandered and what we have known, and stop apologizing for the voice we have uncovered in the process. There’s only one problem: what happens when you tell family secrets?

I Told the Truth. She Hated Me For It.

One time when I was a little girl I told the truth. Sitting in a classroom surrounded by people I trusted I had a grand epiphany. Well, at least it was a grand epiphany to my young heart and life. There amid friends and teachers I told the truth about a lie I had been told.

Here’s the thing I hadn’t realized it was a lie until that very second.

I cannot remember the topic of discussion or what sparked the words spilling out of my mouth, but the words flowed. In one tiny moment, I revealed a truth which picked apart a falsehood I hadn’t understood before. Like most truths, it spread quickly away from me. I couldn’t capture it back. I couldn’t tame it or hold it. It was gone.

Like most truths we tell when we aren’t thinking, or when we are too young to understand the consequences of truth-telling, or when we know the truth needs to be spoken anyways– it returned to the person who had lied. The tale was told. There was no taking it back now. Everyone knew.

I told the truth and she hated me for it.

Tell Family Secrets – Consequences & Rage

I remember feeling frightened as I watched her sob and flail telling on me because this was not a person you told the truth about. Better to be silent than to endure the torture of having spoken up. There were always rage-filled consequences.

I was confused because I had been taught by all these wise grownups that “we don’t keep secrets” and “we always tell the truth – no one will trust you if you don’t tell the truth.”

“God would want you to be honest. Lying is a sin.” Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

I learned a hard lesson about my voice that day – don’t tell secrets you should know are secrets. And really don’t speak up at all if you can help it. Be nice. Be as accommodating as possible. Don’t tell people when they are full of crap.

The only problem is I would then spend a huge portion of my early adult life trying to break the “nice girl” patterns I developed as a way of coping with my “too many, too loud, too honest of words” tendencies.

I would spend a decade trying to find my voice from beneath the muted and silenced layers.

Secrets vs. Keep in Confidence

What did I uncover from beneath all those layers? I hate secrets.

I do not keep secrets when there are no good reasons for secrets to be kept. Secrets love the dark. Telling the truth is the bright light we shine knocking the teeth out of the things we are hiding from ourselves and others.

Like my favorite DC Comics character, “You OWN that shit.” (Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad)

You Own It.

I have always felt if we could live as honestly as possible with one another we would grow the family we should have. The type of family which makes us better, more loving, compassionate, honest people. People who bring out the best in each other – who want the best for each other.

Healthy families and people do not need to hide, or lie or fake it with one another. Do they? They recognize shame, blame, guilt, competitive monsters, jealousy, and favoritism for what it is and they know how to let it go. Healthy families also know how to call out the bullying, competitive yuck in their midst.

They own it. They name it. Healthy families don’t require secrets or a common enemy to be OK.

Healthy people don’t punish you for telling the truth.

I learned I won’t keep secrets when the secrets harm someone else through exclusion and/or cliquish behavior.

I do believe there is a difference between keeping secrets (which are dark and have a negative connotation) vs. keeping in confidence… refusing to share private information you have been entrusted to protect.

When a secret is mine to tell, I speak it openly and honestly especially to my people. I have no reason to hide from them (there’s a whole other conversation we are missing here about WHEN we can’t be ourselves with our people and so we need to hide to be safe).

When I am asked to keep a confidence – and holding it tightly does not have an agenda meant to harm or unfairly exclude another person – I keep it.

I don’t keep secrets, not from my people. I’ve never been one to believe there is something healthy in secret keeping.

How Do I Live a Beautiful Life Anyways?

What I have learned about speaking up is that none of the “wise grownups” will applaud you for it. They will likely resent you for telling the family secrets. They go silent. Or worse yet, they’ll stick their long bony fingers towards your life and condemn, “Woe. Boo on you. That isn’t the way we see it.”

They’ll hate the truth you remember.

So, what does all this have to do with catching and living a life you love?

Speak the truth often even when it hurts.

Speak the truth lovingly, but boldly even when people get mad. Their anger is not going to harm you.

No one has the right to redact your story.

No one has the right to censor the truth you tell.

They don’t get to tell you what you felt or experienced was INVALID. You are valid.

No person has the right to downplay your pain or call you “too sensitive.”

No one gets to tell you it is wrong to confront lies.

You don’t have to play nice.

Be trustworthy with confidences, but untrustworthy with vicious, manipulative secrets.

If you find yourself among those who censor often and silence often, use anger or judgment to keep you timid, quiet, and afraid – find a way dear, to break free.


Need a safe group to share your thoughts and be real – no secrets? Join us on Facebook The Front Porch Group.

Looking for more to read on HOW to navigate family when it hurts? The Words We Allow is a good one.

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