Ghosts in the Therapy Room

Ghosts in the Therapy Room

The Systematic Impact of Family Secrets

By Evan Imber-Black

May/June 1993

In a large, loving, Midwestern family much given to storytelling, the waters of silence have closed over a baby girl, born with Down's syndrome, who was sent to an institution three decades ago and never mentioned again. In Boston, a professor who grew up in orphanages has pretended for 20 years that his wife's son from another marriage is his own. In New Jersey, a woman sits at the kitchen table with her 60-year-old mother, a survivor of Auschwitz, and learns that her father had another wife and three daughters, all murdered in Poland by the Nazis. At San Francisco General Hospital, a wife learns all at once that her husband is both bisexual and infected with the AIDS virus.

Such are the secrets that families carry—deeply entwined with what our culture defines as shameful. They can be handed down through the generations like booby-trapped heirlooms: A girl is molested by her uncle and tells nobody; 20 years later, a janitor rapes her daughter, and she also tells nobody. A Hollywood actor lies to his son and conceals three earlier marriages; the son finds out while reading back issues of the Los Angeles Times, becomes an investigative reporter and later has secret affairs of his own.

Touch a family deeply and you will find a secret—kept from the welfare department, the therapist, the boss, the neighbors, the children, the husband, or even from the secret-bearer him- or herself. There are secrets the whole family keeps from the outside world out of blurred…

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Topic: Families

Tags: families | Peggy Papp | secrets

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