Power lies in secrets

“A family secret is like a white elephant sitting around the table for years. Everyone sees him - but nobody talks about him, and nobody dares to speak to him directly. But everyone feels the burden of the unspoken. ”This is a quote from the psychoanalyst Dr. Klaus Bengesser.

In every family there are such secrets and many are unproblematic, but some have an effect like creeping poison and have a high destructive potential. This can be sexual abuse, family violence, incest, but also the criminal past of a family member.

Mag. Sibylle Ihr-Gamperl, clinical psychologist, psychoanalytical psychotherapist from the sex counseling center in Salzburg adds: “Even taboo topics such as psychiatric illnesses, addictions, homosexuality, extramarital relationships or unemployment are often“ kept quiet ”in families for a long time. Double lives are maintained in this way, sometimes for years, and over the years they undermine all trust and the basis of the relationship. If these secrets are not revealed, they can even work and cause damage over generations.

Mostly it is shame and the fear of repercussions that do not allow them to be discussed within the family straight away. Ihr-Gamperl: “You think you can postpone the clarification until later. But with every day that passes, it becomes more difficult to talk about what one has been silent about for so long. ”But what has been hushed up remains alive and the denial of it not only binds psychological strength in the person who keeps the secret - also those who endure the secret have to wear themselves out.

The first victims are often children. You grow up in a room in which looking away and keeping silent are learned as key strategies for living together. In those cases where they themselves are the object of the secret - just think of the not so rare and often secretive cuckoo child constellation, even your own reason for life is uncertain! The counselor points out possible consequences: “In addition to psychosomatic symptoms, aggression from oneself or others are possible consequences. Lengthy diagnostic procedures and therapies remain unsuccessful until the active agent of a family secret is not taken into account. ”According to Ihr-Gamperl, relationship partners can also develop a wide variety of psychological and physical symptoms. Among other things, depression and cardiovascular diseases are often associated with permanent family stress.

“Probably the only means to counteract the destructive power of family secrets and their fatal effects is and remains the truth. Courage to be truthful is always an imposition - for yourself, but also for your family. Only through the truth do we become tangible for our caregivers, but also vulnerable ... ”, says the expert. "Anyone who fends off their own injuries for life or cannot find a suitable way to safely deal with them continues to allow power to be exercised over them - was it previously the secret, it is now the power of anger over years of lies."

Anyone who has been struggling with a family secret for a long time and cannot see a solution or possible dissolution on their own can turn to one of the numerous family advice centers. There you have an open ear and possibilities are presented that can be helpful.