The Truth May Not Set You Free, but Shame Definitely Won’t

Two women speak intimatelyMany families have secrets of one sort or another. When she was 80, my mom shared with her eight children, on an individual basis, a secret she had carried for over 60 years. She wanted to make sure we had this information before she passed away.

The secret was that she was pregnant before she married our dad. Then, while pregnant, she was in a car accident that caused her to lose the child. She felt at the time that this was God’s punishment for her and my father having sex before marriage.

Growing up in the Mennonite Church in those days all but required that individuals caught up in this or other “sins” stand in front of the congregation at church and confess. Their shame was both personal and public.

You may be wondering: why does this matter, it was so long ago! While growing up, I noticed certain attitudes and feelings coming from my mom that I didn’t understand. When she shared this secret, it brought clarity and understanding about Mom and our relationship that I didn’t have before. The second thing this secret revealed was that I was not number seven of eight children but in fact the eighth of nine. This truth brought connection—not shame—to us siblings.

People, especially children, generally keep secrets for self-protection, to keep family relationships intact, and to prevent conflict. They don’t want to be rejected, judged negatively, disappoint anyone, or have relationships ruined.

In the Bible, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The way to life is the way of truth. The way to healing is the way of truth. The truth will set you free.

Of course, there are times when, in telling the truth, the breaking of family secrets doesn’t seem freeing at all. After many years of being a foster parent and a Christian counselor, I have seen some consequences of telling the truth that were, sadly, hurtful to the individual doing so.

I remember talking to children who were being abused by a family member. These children reported the abuse, telling the truth of what was going on in their families. What happened? The kids were removed by social services and the perpetrators were able to stay in the home. I remember being asked, “Why is it when I tell the truth, I am the one who gets punished?”

Telling the truth really can be freeing, as long as either (1) those on the receiving end of that truth can handle it or (2) you can handle others not being able to handle it. In some cases, people who are not ready to hear the truth may become vengeful, hurtful, and respond with rejection.

People, especially children, generally keep secrets for self-protection, to keep family relationships intact, and to prevent conflict. They don’t want to be rejected, judged negatively, disappoint anyone, or have relationships ruined.

So in considering all of this, what is one to do? Here are some thoughts on dealing with secrets within one’s family (and oneself):

  1. Practice being honest and transparent with your immediate family. Acknowledge past and present failures and struggles. Our partners and children can sense when things are not right.
  2. When we are honest about our issues, it opens the door to our children and others to connect and find resolution to their own issues. If parents don’t learn to address and resolve their problems, they pass them on to their children. The issues of our fathers (and mothers) are passed down from generation to generation. Let us be the generation that says, “The lies stop here.”
  3. Remember that not everyone is ready for the truth. You can’t force others to be ready. Catering to other people’s fear and pain does not help you. Nor does it help you to hide the truth of your fear and pain.

If you have been quietly carrying a heavy and burdensome truth, be it recently or for several years, now is the time to let it go. See a therapist or counselor, let it out, and get the help you deserve. A mental health professional can help you navigate and process any potential fallout.

It is never too late to resolve past issues and find peace.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Don Short, LPC, LMFT

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Shannon

    May 25th, 2015 at 6:36 AM

    And telling the truth, getting all of that out which you carry on the inside, that is the best way to begin the process of healing and once again becoming free of that pain. Holding it all in is never the best solution. It may feel like it at the time, that you are holding back to protect yourself and others from that hurt, but then only real hurt that you are causing is inside of you.

  • Kenny

    May 25th, 2015 at 2:19 PM

    There is freedom with the truth, that can’t be denied

  • Creighton

    May 26th, 2015 at 7:46 AM

    I have the hardest time being honest and open with the people that I am closest to. I know that they will not judge me or shame me but I guess that I feel like I am letting them down so they are the ones that I always try to sugarcoat things with. I don’t like it, but I try to just maintain this stance of don’t rock the boat and I am afraid of what they would think of me if they knew everything beneath all the layers.

  • Barbara

    May 26th, 2015 at 2:50 PM

    Our children observe us very closely. If they see that we are someone who hides things then guess what they will start to do. I don’t think that this is the life lesson that you want to impart on them.

  • stanley

    May 27th, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    I don’t know that much about different church congregations but I would think that that whole thing about having to confess in public could be a very scary place to be for a child or as an adult. I am not sure that this would in any way make me feel any better, especially when I thought that there would be those people who are judging me for my actions.

  • Jayden

    May 28th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    You may have this need to let something out but the fear of what others will then think about you if you do becomes too much and keeps you from being truthful with everyone, including yourself.

  • barbiebarbie

    May 30th, 2015 at 7:20 AM

    It is terrible to learn something about your parents that you didn’t know before and there are some of us who will not just get upset with them but angry that they have withheld something like this from us in life. But thin for a minute about how they must have felt and how hard it has to have been fro them to live through this. Anyway the point that I am trying to make is that they have already felt them shame enough.. sometimes it has to be time to let it go and let them live their life.

  • Maya

    May 31st, 2015 at 5:46 AM

    I always have wondered why it is the kids who are seemingly punished.
    The adults do something wrong? well you take the kids out of the home. Why not take the one doing the crime out of the home and leave the children where they feel most comfortable?

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