“Secrets are never kept. Everything eventually becomes known.”

These words, coming from an old friend, surprised me. I’d been describing the plight of a family I’m close to, in which secrets are eroding the relationship of mother, father, and adult daughter.

The couple were ending their unhappy marriage. They had told their adult children, and although disheartened, they were buoyed by the caring, respectful, even loving way their parents were making plans to keep the family well connected. While the parents were moving on to separate lives, they voiced no recrimination and placed no blame. Protective of their privacy, they simply told friends and family: “We’ve just grown apart.”

Late one evening the husband wrote an e-mail to his wife detailing his distress about her infidelities over the years, which they had kept a secret just between themselves. His message contained no rancor, just disappointment and sadness, as he remembered things about their past that he continued to value.

She sent a reply e-mail, expressing remorse for having hurt him and told of her sadness.

Some days later their out-of-town daughter arrived for a visit. Before leaving the house to pick up some groceries, her mother asked her to access a neighbor’s recipe sent by e-mail that morning. Opening her mother’s computer, the daughter found not only the recipe but the e-mail messages her parents had exchanged days before. The secret was out. But later, rejoining her mother, she said nothing about her breach of her trust.

That evening she told her father about her discovery and made known her anger and disillusionment with her mother. But fearing her mother’s reaction, and adamant that her new knowledge not be divulged, she made him promise to keep her confidence.

Already in a delicate balance, the family now seemed poised for disaster. Privacy boundaries had been crossed, and their previously presumed open communication with each other shut down. A hidden bond between two family members excludes and distances others. And in order to maintain secrecy, the truth has to be distorted.

Did the husband, simply by writing the initial e-mail, display some intent to reveal the previously undisclosed reason for the divorce? When the wife sent the daughter to get the recipe on her computer, did she mean for her to find the e-mails about the adultery? My friend thought so, and to confirm his point said, “Secrets are for the telling.”

I questioned that judgment, as we went on to talk about what had been concealed in our own families. I told him that I often wrote in a journal, especially when I’m troubled. Writing helps me sort things out. But what I write is private, I insisted, with no covert plan for disclosure.

“Oh, really?” he said. “And then do you destroy or save what you have written?”

I save it, but never consciously thinking about future discovery.

High profile male politicians most visibly prove the point when they leave a letter to a new soul mate where a wife can find it, pay for furtive sex by check or with a traceable bank transfer, or meet for an assignation with the press hard on their heels. Do they believe themselves to be invincible, or are they inviting exposure?

We keep some secrets in the sincere belief that others will be hurt more than ourselves in the telling, to the benefit of no one. But by turning a truth into a secret, is it always a truth we wish could be known? Is it only if we are known fully, and our secrets accepted and forgiven, that we feel loved for who we really are, or were?

Do we hide, all the while wishing we could pop-out like a jack-in-the-box and be greeted with approval, no longer keeping the lid on?

So if the music box is wound, the music plays and the catch is released. Well, accidents happen. Right?

 

17 thoughts on “Secrets Are for Telling

  1. Interesting that you too keep secrets written down. Might they too be discovered? Or might you maybe want them to? Vivian

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  2. Good one Bea and food for thought. As you know I save journals too and now I wonder why. I thought they were just for me to review over time to see how my life has evolved but sometimes recording ones feelings, especially feelings of hurt and anger which is cathartic at the time, could be hurtful to others. Maybe it’s time to rid of them. Thanks for the nudge!

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    1. Charlene, we should talk about this one day. I think I have reached the opposite conclusion, to leave the old journals to be found. If my kids decide they want to read them, they will learn more about who their mother was. And even if they should come across something hurtful, they will also come across loving words on a different page, and come to terms with how complicated we humans are. Perhaps it will even give them permission to sometimes be angry, sometimes loving. At least that is my thought of the moment.

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  3. Bea, I’m so glad you’ve resumed your blog. Having just read this one, I’m not sure whether you’re advocating the revelation of secrets or wondering if sometimes it might be of value and other times it might be hurtful and destructive. I do agree that we (or most of us) want to be known fully and forgiven/accepted/loved for who we are. Yet that is very risky, which is why most of us keep secrets, even sometimes from ourselves. As a therapist, I recall making judgements (not necessarily accurate ones) about how much to press a patient to uncover the past, how much digging into one’s repressed memories to encourage. Some patients, I believe, just couldn’t handle (or refused to handle or didn’t feel safe enough to handle) those efforts. And the same thing applies to couples and families who keep secrets. It’s a real mine field that one needs to carefully tread through. Knowing the “truth” may not guarantee acceptance and love. Perhaps that was your point? One last thought: accidents do happen and I agree that they are rarely just “accidents.” Warm regards, as always, Bob

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. Bob,
      I appreciate your attention and especially your perspective as a caring psychiatrist. One friend responded that she would now likely go about destroying her old journals, sure that over the years she has said angry and hurtful things. Here is how I responded to her:

      “C, we should talk about this one day. I think I have reached the opposite conclusion, to leave the old journals to be found. If my kids decide they want to read them, they will learn more about who their mother was. And even if they should come across something hurtful, they will also come across loving words on a different page, and come to terms with how complicated we humans are. Perhaps it will even give them permission to sometimes be angry, sometimes loving. At least that is my thought of the moment.”

      Now, if I went back and reread what was written years ago, would I change my mind?

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  4. Thanks for this thoughtful and eloquent piece, Bea.

    On Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 1:24 PM Bea V. Larsen… wrote:

    > bealarsen posted: ““Secrets are never kept. Everything eventually becomes > known.” These words, coming from an old friend, surprised me. I’d been > describing the plight of a family I’m close to, in which secrets are > eroding the relationship of mother, father, and adult dau” >

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    1. Thank you, Mike. This gives me an opportunity to let you know how much I enjoy and admire the beautiful photos you post on FB. I am looking forward to the one I hope to receive as your Christmas card.

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  5. A few years ago, my husband and I went through old letters we had written to each other at the beginning of our new and growing relationship. We decided to destroy those letters, not because our feelings and thoughts were secret, but because we considered them to be private. Neither of us regret having destroyed most of those letters. There is one letter I wrote to him that I feel a little conflicted about. If we had saved it, our children would someday know that we had a sense of humor about ourselves even back then. On the other hand, it might be a bit too “spicy” for their sensibilities. Who knows? We do not. We know only that we cherish our love for one another and we cherish parts of our privacy.

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    1. Kathy, your point about privacy is a good one, but is there not a statute of limitations? And that you and JC believe your kids might be shocked by what you wrote all those years ago amazes me considering the sexually charged universe that surrounds us now. but perhaps that says more about my naivety than your salacious bravado.

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  6. Bea,

    I believe there is no statute of limitations when the secret is shielded by:
    1. the attorney-client privilege;
    2. the doctor-patient privilege;
    3. the mental health professional-client privilege; and
    4. decency when a spilled secret holds a substantial possibility of harm to a loved one and a low potential for lifting that person up.

    I have borne witness to bewilderment, sorrow, embarrassment, disgust, and hurt feelings of those left behind by deceased parents upon the discovery of the remnants of parental disclosures. I have foisted enough pain upon them while alive. I don’t wish to add anything in my death that may be detrimental to our children or grandchildren who, I assume, will already be saddened by my death.

    Enough of these morbid thoughts for today!

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  7. Good evening, Bea! Just returned from seeing RBG. What a powerful documentary-her impact as an advocate for equal protection and as a focused and informed voice on the SCOTUS makes her such a hero and trailblazer. Your post below hit home-for a number of reasons. Keep up the words of wisdom-

    Pam

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  8. Bea:

    Secrets make for a good topic of discussion. I really never thought about it but can see now that, having spent my career as an attorney, I am conditioned to keep secrets secret, whether in the legal setting or otherwise. But, in many instances in other settings, secrets turn out not to be secret after all. And, in other instances, secrets, in the guise of privacy issues, are given the protection of law under the U.S. Constitution. So secrets are a complex subject.

    From a personal standpoint, I recently came upon several old journals that I had kept from time to time over the years. Looking through these journal I found that the content was mostly drivel. I was a little embarrassed to tell the truth. I ended up simply throwing them away, coming to a different conclusion than you say you would come to for your old journals. I do remember feeling lighter and peaceful after disposing of the journals.

    I kept one journal, however, and your post raises an interesting question for me. This journal has about 40 pages cut out of it, which I did many years ago, and another entry is heavily marked out, what lawyers would call redaction. The other things in the journal are of marginal interest but nothing of real merit.

    I could have discarded this journal and wonder why I did not. It occurs to me that I don’t want to forget the events and things I wrote about long ago. According to my twisted thinking, throwing away the redacted journal would be akin to throwing away the memories. I don’t know what my children or grandchildren will make of this, if anything at all. All I know is that I don’t want to discard a redacted journal that says essentially nothing. Strange.

    In the case of your friend, it seems that the ex-wife/mother, at a subconscious level, wanted her daughter to know her secret hoping that disclosure would present an opportunity for healing and forgiveness, i.e., “secrets are for the telling.” From your description things are now worse in this family because of the disclosure, but forgiveness and healing may still come. My mother was fond of saying “time heals all wounds.”

    Thanks for an interesting post. I hope you are well.

    John

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    1. John,
      Thank you for your thoughtful response. Perhaps you would not be surprised that it is what you refer to as your “twisted” thinking that draws my attention, not wanting to throw away the troubling memories. Lessons learned to be recalled? New directions taken because of what happened? Forgiveness earned or offered? A mystery.
      Have you and Ginger moved far away?
      I wish you both the best, Bea

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  9. Hello Bea, I was trying to write you a note, however, the fuse net email address I had does not go thru. Hope everything is well for you.

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