THE ORANGE ON THE TABLE!
One of Webster’s definitions for the word “secret” is something “concealed” or “hidden.” Yet, in the context of friendships or families, secrets are neither concealed nor hidden. More often than not, they are incidents, experiences, or feelings that when not talked about and not validated result in pretenses for what is real, pretenses which inevitably lead to confusion or betrayal of trust at best and madness at worst.
Imagine a child seeing an orange on a table proudly announcing to whoever is present that there is an orange on the table. Yet, instead of affirming his observation and being told that there is, in fact, an orange on the table, he is told that there is no orange at all.
Is such a simple example that different from a denial of any person’s reality or perception of reality? Is the potential wounding any less painful or damaging when a husband or wife holds secrets in a marriage or when a boss opts not to make those he employs aware of all that should be known about his “business,” or when parents keep secrets from children in a misguided attempt to protect them?
Wherever and whatever the context, when one perceives something is wrong, ominous or merely mysterious and lacks the necessary affirmation from those closest to him, there is erosive damage to the psyche.
What, for example, goes through the mind of a child who one day observes an alcoholic parent falling down the stairs in a drunken stupor when only the day before that same parent seemed to be perfectly healthy? And what is that child to believe when he questions: “What is happening?” and is then told: “Nothing is happening. Everything is fine.”
The point here is that years ago we were not educated about the lasting scars of deception. We didn’t understand that even young children are aware of much more than we credit them with knowing and that they deserve to be treated accordingly. It is not best – as was once believed – to remain silent, to say nothing in an attempt to protect them from sad or even dangerous situations. We now know that keeping such secrets does just the opposite of offering protection. It merely impedes their ability to trust what they are seeing and hearing.
This is as true for adults as it is for children, but with children, the judgment call is to know what is age-appropriate to tell and what is not. Yet, the key word is “tell.” For tell we must, if the next generation and the one that follows is to have the capacity to trust what they see and what they hear. Only then will they be far less likely to make poor choices and act out in destructive ways.
As I see it, if we wish our children to value themselves as much as we value them, we must not foster the keeping of secrets, since we know that secrets inevitably color, erase or corrode any experience.
It is our responsibility as spouses, parents, teachers, or preachers to affirm what any individual expresses his reality to be. If the person does not reflect a dysfunction within his environment but the dysfunction is instead a result of his own internal life gone awry, then trained therapists should know how to diagnose and treat such a person. However, it is more likely that when we deceive others by keeping secrets and thereby lose their trust, emotional scars will form, reactions will be triggered, and negative behaviors will become the new norm. That is not a norm any of us should strive to create!
Nurturing trust is essential to maintain healthy relationships, and to be nurturing is to acknowledge the orange on the table!
*For examples of what I am addressing here, please read my memoir FOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness or follow this Blog, A Psychotherapist’s Journey at beyondatrauma.blogspot.com.
Have a great week and please check in again next Sunday!