Are you keeping secrets?
Do you wnat a better understanding of why your child is keeping secrets?
You are not alone if you have been keeping a few secrets.
Michael Slepian of Columbia University says that most people have at least one secret. On average, people have about 13 secrets.
There is so much secrecy in addiction. And it can be harmful.
According to Slepian, “Research has linked secrecy to increased anxiety, depression, symptoms of poor health, and even the more rapid progression of disease. There is a seemingly obvious explanation for these harms: Hiding secrets is hard work. You have to watch what you say. If asked about something related to the secret, you must be careful not to slip up. This could require evasion or even deception. Constant vigilance and concealment can be exhausting.”
Susan, for example, is a mom who has a concern about her 22-year son. He is in recovery but has relapsed. A common problem that is frustrating her is the secrets he keeps. He doesn’t always tell the truth or hides things that he doesn’t want her to know. She has a hard time understanding the “Why” behind all his secretive behavior.
Lying about addiction or hiding a consequence, such as losing a job, or failing a test, is not uncommon. So, if your child is experiencing shame or fear, he may want to keep what is happening in his life secret.
According to clinical psychologist Nando Pelusi, “In the case of hiding an addiction or compulsive behavior, the underlying premise might be a sense of powerlessness: Since I can’t help this, I can’t share
my secret because others will find out how weak I am. Or, I can’t do without this habit. Or, I can’t enjoy my life if others know about it. These beliefs can delimit you to the point of paralysis. But looking closely and objectively at a secret allows you to reframe it. You start to see it in a larger context. You don’t dismiss it. But it’s no longer a source of shame or hurt or a way to avoid connecting with people.”
Yet, if your struggling child does disclose their secret, they must first acknowledge they have a drug or alcohol problem. They then have to look at what is behind the pain that they weren’t willing to admit to themselves.
As parents, we also have secrets. Hiding our children’s drug or alcohol use or other problems can be one of our biggest secrets.
So here are some thoughts about how keeping secrets can affect you.
The toll secrets take.
Among the other tolls that addiction can take, there is a price to pay for both you and your child when you keep secrets.
Secrets are things that you do not want other people to know. You actively keep your secret action from people. As long as it’s unknown by someone, it’s a secret.
Secrets can be around mental health as well as many other topics.
It’s not the moment when you have to conceal the secret that is the most stressful.
The time you spend thinking about your secret is what can weigh you down. It is less about the moment of hiding the secret, than it is living alone with it.
In Carline Flora’s article, How Secrets Can Destroy a Relationship, “A litany of studies has shown a link between secret-keeping and health: Secret keepers are more likely to suffer from headaches, nausea, and back pain than others, for instance, and more cases of hypertension, flu, and cancer occur among those hiding trauma.”
Studies show that as a person thinks about his secret, even if he is not concealing it. It causes stress and feels like a burden. You think about your secret and your own mind is your only outlet. You will not be as successful at working through your secret if you choose to do it alone. It’s less healthy than if you brought someone else into the conversation.
Shame and Guilt
When we keep a secret, what often comes up is shame and guilt. There is a benefit in knowing the difference. People who feel shame think of themselves as bad. There is no easy way for someone to change their mindset from feeling bad to feeling like a good person. Since it’s hard to know how to change that perception, you can feel hopeless and powerless. As Brené Brown says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
When you feel guilt, you realize your action is wrong rather than believing you are a bad person. You can do something different next time and still feel good about yourself. Guilt is a healthier outlook. You feel confident that you have a path forward.
Whether you feel shame or guilt, people never feel like their true selves when they keep a secret from the people around them.
Secrets cause pain.
People never feel like their true selves when they keep a secret from those around them.
At the same time, you may feel that secrets you are holding on to will cause other family members pain. For example, some parents don’t go into many details about what they are going through with their own parents. The burden of knowing what is happening with their grandchild may be too much for them.
Some parents hold off talking about difficult family problems the issue with younger children. They think it may be confusing or traumatic. It is helpful, though, to have age-appropriate discussions.
For our kids, keeping secrets is a way for them to continue their substance use.
Yet, another reason is they see that you are suffering and don’t want to cause you any more pain. There may be other things that they don’t feel comfortable confiding in you as well. But if your child is struggling with addiction, keeping that a secret is usually a number one priority.
What can you do?
It can be helpful to think about how to create an environment where your son or daughter feels comfortable confiding in you. Your child needs to feel safe to do that.
Model opening up to your child. That will help your child be more willing to open up to you. Also, not keeping secrets yourself can help. If you want your child to be open and honest with you, be the same for them.
Unfortunately, there are structures in place that encourage us to keep secrets.
As your child enters early recovery, they may still not feel comfortable sharing their history with people they don’t know. Many people in recovery don’t open up about their past?
Your child may feel that they need to keep their former life a secret from their employers, new friends, or certain family members. That creates underlying stress.
You can help your son or daughter to feel more comfortable talking with you about their recovery or their feelings about their addiction if they can’t talk to others.
Get help with your secret.
What causes harm is not hiding the secret but being alone with it. Keeping secrets can hold you back from meaningful change.
Sometimes you may not feel comfortable sharing your secrets with family members or friends. Yet, it is helpful to talk through the problem with a third party, such as a counselor, coach, or a support group.
If needed, an outside source can help you deal with any secret you have in a better way. The goal can be to bring secrets into everyday conversations. Get help from other people. Have someone you can talk to who will help you move forward.
You will feel more at ease and happier when you are not holding onto secrets.
Most of us know that reaching out to others is a better option, but people often don’t reach out. They try to handle the problem themselves.
Yet, an outside source will help you sort through the next best steps and help you move forward.
Talk to someone you trust.
The person you choose to talk to about your secrets matters quite a bit. People will be more likely to confide in someone that they see as compassionate, caring, kind, and warm. Also, someone who can help you take action after they understand the problem can help. As long as the person is supportive, it is better to confide in others than keep the secret.
Look for someone who will be helpful, but also someone with who you can trust. Slepian’s studies show “that even a lukewarm response can be seen as helpful and makes people feel better. ” Look for someone who will have that helpful conversation with you, be discreet, and help you feel better after sharing your secret.
Confiding in someone about your secret is an act of trust. Most people appreciate being that person who can be helpful. It feels good.
Difficult conversations are never easy, but they don’t get easier by putting them off. They only get more complicated. Find someone who can help you create a game plan for the best way forward.
Other people can be excellent resources. Talking with someone with whom you can share your concerns feels like a weight has been lifted.
You can find healthier alternatives to keeping your problems a secret. Have conversations with someone you trust. It can lessen your burden.