CBC Radio Special

Family secrets: Why we have them and what happens when they're revealed

This CBC Radio special investigates how and why secrets take hold in families. Why do we decide not to share truths with those closest to us? What are the long-term effects of keeping secrets on families? And what happens when those secrets are revealed?
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A look at how and why secrets take hold in families. Why do we decide not to share truths with those closest to us? What are the long-term effects of keeping secrets on families? And what happens when those secrets are revealed? 43:35

Every family has its secrets. The question is, why? To protect our children? To create boundaries? To escape shame?

This CBC Radio special investigates how and why secrets take hold in families. Why do we decide not to share truths with those closest to us? What are the long-term effects of keeping secrets on families? And what happens when those secrets are revealed?

Host Diane Flacks and producer Rosie Fernandez delve into Flacks' own family secrets to find out.

Host Diane Flacks. (CBC)

Diane Flacks is a playwright, writer and actor and mom of two boys. Here's how she describes this program:



Like many parents, I hope to pass good qualities on to my kids. I know there are things I unconsciously pass on to them, like saying "oy" when getting out of a low chair, or overusing the word "vaguely". But recently, I became conscious of another tendency that I really hope I have not passed on: keeping secrets. I didn't realize I was a secret keeper. It was a secret, even from me. I wondered, where did this tendency come from?

Kerry Egan, chaplain and author. (Courtesy Kerry Egan)

And then I discovered that my mother, 77, who was born in Siberia during the Holocaust, has been telling tales from her family's experiences to my son. Secrets that she hadn't told me. I speak with her to find out why she was more comfortable telling secrets to her grandchildren than to her children. And in so doing, I hear intimate stories and insights I had never known before.

Offering both personal and professional insight into secrets is chaplain and author Kerry Egan. In her book On Living, Egan shares the stories of some of her terminally ill patients. Egan found that many people aren't ready to reveal their most burdensome secrets until they face the prospect of dying, and saw what she calls "the psychic cost" of carrying secrets. Despite this first-hand knowledge, Kerry kept a secret of her own, and shares what happened when her young son confronted her about it. Egan has written for The New York Times, Washington Post and studied at Harvard Divinity School.

Robert T Muller, professor and author. (CBC)

I also speak to clinical psychologist, professor and author Robert T. Muller, a professor at York University. Similar to me, his mother was a child during the Holocaust, but unlike me, nothing from this time in her life was kept a secret from him. His latest book Trauma and the Struggle to Open Up:  From Avoidance to Recovery and Growth, delves into fascinating accounts of secrets and the effects of intergenerational trauma on families.

Finally, I'll ask my children and my parents about the secrets that my family has kept over the years, to find out how we can break the cycle.

Hopefully this special, which investigates the legacy of secrecy in my family, will help you explore it in yours.

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