What Happens In This House, Stays In This House: Examining the Power And Consequences of Secrets
All American families, whether they are Black, White, Asian or Hispanic, have one thing in common. They all have secrets. However, within Black families, the phrase, “What happens in this house, stays in this house” is a familiar colloquialism to contain family secrets within the household. In Black families, a parental or authoritative figure releases the warning with a stern or sharp tone of voice. The warning is not to air the family’s laundry, or you may reap the consequences of doing so. We were taught in our youth to be holders of the truth.
The magnitude of secrets can range from being small to detrimental. For example, a small secret would be if you knew about a surprise birthday party for your friend and a detrimental secret would be if you knew that your sister’s husband was cheating on her. Most of us are aware of the potential damage that revealing this information could cause within our families. So, in an attempt not to wreak havoc within our families, we hold onto those secrets. Additionally, we keep these secrets to ourselves to protect other family members and the family’s reputation. Depending on the secret, it has the power to destroy families, marriages, and other relationships. We understand the devastation releasing secrets can cause amongst families, but what level of damage does it cause to the individuals who are holding the secrets? Keeping them, especially those earth-shattering ones, are a burden to carry. Whether we are aware of it or not, carrying those secrets within our minds and bodies affects us mentally and physically.
How Does Keeping Secrets Affect You?
One of my favorite TV shows right now is Queen Sugar. During a recent new episode, one of the main characters, Nova Bordelon says, “My family has secrets and it is our secrets that are killing us.” Her statement contains so much truth. Carrying them affects our health in unprecedented ways. Often when we hold information about a detrimental secret, it stays at the forefront of our minds. When this occurs, we are thinking about it more than we would like.
We experience a poorer level of health when we constantly think about the secrets that we hold. Focusing on secrets causes a decrease in our level of happiness as well. Secrets lead to stress, which affects our mental, emotional, and physical health. When we are continually thinking of the secrets, we are less likely to focus on our tasks and complete them. So, essentially, what occurs in this body stays in this body.
We enter a perpetual cycle of hiding information from others. We keep all our mental, emotional, and physical health issues to ourselves. We fail ourselves when we do this because we are not practicing self-care. Keeping someone else’s secret is weighty enough, but carrying your own comes with an immeasurable amount of weight. Shame and guilt come as a package deal when we conceal our secrets. Carrying secrets creates issues in our brain, as well. It applies pressure to our cingulate cortex, which induces fear, anxiety, and stress. So we must find a way to reverse these negative effects on our minds and bodies.
Are There Any Benefits To Releasing Secrets?
Holding onto secrets means holding onto pain. It does not allow you to reveal what is hurting, so we hold onto our pain, thoughts, and emotions surrounding the event. You may be wondering how is telling the secret going to benefit you? We can experience freedom from the pain, fear, stress, and anxiety by writing them down or sharing the secrets with a professional counselor. By releasing the them through writing, one can experience a positive effect. The idea of receiving counseling can be hard to think about, let alone seek professional help.
You have learned over the years to keep a hold of all your secrets and the act of sharing them with a stranger can be overwhelming. Visiting a therapist to talk about these secrets can improve one’s mental and emotional state. One may experience feelings of happiness, satisfaction, and authenticity. A therapist can help you to unpack and process the emotions and consequences related to the secret.
What if we modified our behaviors so we would not have to keep secrets amongst the family? We must think about how our actions will affect our loved ones before we act. Families can incorporate a safe space for each other to share, so there are not any secrets dwelling within the family. We must throw away and be free from the ideology of “what happens in this house, stays in this house.” We cannot pass that ideology down to the next generation because we do not want them to encounter the same mental, emotional and physical consequences of keeping them. It should be our desire for the next generation to be free from secrecy.
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