In my last several blogs, I have asked you and your partner to reflect on your family histories, and the ways each of your upbringings have manifested themselves in your current relationship. The last topic I want you to discuss as part of this exercise is secrecy.
There can certainly be secrets about any of the topics covered so far. Families often act like nothing is wrong amid problems, even very serious ones. Your family may have taught you to turn a blind eye on problems or that appearances matter so much that you can’t acknowledge problems. Secrets may have been used to manipulate you, to put you in positions of power or powerlessness. You may have been encouraged to keep secrets or to break them. All of this has an impact on whether you deal with things directly or whether you prefer to hide. Explore how secrecy played out in your family:
- Were there secrets in your family? How do you know? What were you told and what did you infer?
- Were there money issues? Were these spoken about? How did the family navigate around the topic?
- Was there infidelity? By whom? How do you know or come to suspect? How did your various family members treat that?
- Were there other things left unspoken?
- What were you expected to do? What did you do?
- What did you learn about honesty versus secrecy? How do you handle secrecy now?
- What are your tendencies toward dealing openly with issues versus hiding them?
In talking about your family and its experience with love, power, conflict, secrets, substance abuse, mental illness, and more, you can probably see how you ended up with the baggage that you have. Most of your baggage was packed for you; you didn’t get to choose your experiences, your training, or your beliefs.
Regardless of what type of home you were raised in, you were raised in a way that gave you messages about how you should behave and what’s expected of you—and what you learned is not the same as everyone else. Your experience (and theirs) is unique and impactful.
Growing up, you learn what earns you praise, what gets you punished, and how to be left alone. If you have never examined this before, it can be hard to see it at first—it’s like the water you swim in—but you grew up in different water from other families. It’s common to assume everyone grew up with the same influences, but it’s important to realize that your family was unique, and in fact, your experience is different than those of any siblings you have, too. There is nothing absolute about how things need to be now, in your relationships as an adult. You need to see that your patterns are adaptations to your environment—and recognize you can change them, too. You don’t have to keep everything that is packed in your baggage!