Could you keep a secret? Forever?

“Secrets erect barriers that shut other people out… holding out on undesirable, embarrassing information can turn you into a kind of undercover agent, someone who must be on guard constantly lest the dangerous truths about your character and history emerge….. the secret is your closest companion.” (“Secrets, Lies, Betrayals” by Maggie Scarf)

Deeply held secrets are usually a result of shame about who we are, or fear of rejection or abandonment. Some secrets are kept for love, to protect the dignity or reputation of a loved one.

Many years ago, while carrying out some genealogical research, I inadvertently discovered a family secret from over a century ago, a secret kept through shame, but also of loyalty and love, to protect someone from knowledge that would cause terrible pain. My great great grandmother, Mary Ann Gifford, aged 52, committed suicide: recorded on her death certificate as: “threw herself in the canal while the balance of her mind was disturbed.” I could find no living family member who knew of this tragedy; though many family stories showed it’s impact: not least the alcoholic rages of one of her sons.

In Honor’s Shadow Madalena has a secret….. one she wanted to keep forever, to protect herself and her way of life. It turns out that somebody suspects, and she becomes hostage to her secret; if she can’t find out who is threatening her the life of comfort and luxury that she loves could be destroyed.

Honor also has a secret, one that weighs heavily on her, but shame keeps her silent. She would love to unburden herself, but her inability to do so allows a well of shame to flourish in the dark shadow side of her nature, until something happens to overwhelm her. As a psychotherapist, she daily sees the depth of the relief that her patients and clients experience as they are able to speak for the first time of a moment of shame, or of fear, or of searing grief.

“Driving to work, sadness wound itself around Honor like a shawl. She shivered, and thought, If I could only do for myself what I do for my clients. They tell me their secret selves and then they’re free.

No wonder she could provide relief, she knew just what it felt like to carry that burden. She envied her own patients.”

Both Madalena and Honor fight fiercely to keep their secrets. Finally, they can hold on no longer, their secrets are revealed, and they are liberated.

4 thoughts on “Could you keep a secret? Forever?

  1. Voula, Great post – secrets and the threat of exposure are such good fuel for a narrative, especially when the reader is kept guessing, about both the nature of the secret and what the consequences of exposure will be, as that lets their own imagination fill in lots of alternative scenaria. I do wonder though sometimes in real life, if it’s not best to leave some shameful things in the past, as to talk about them risks giving them a renewed life and energy.

  2. Thanks Rowena. It’s a tough one isn’t it? I agree with you – some secrets should be kept. The question is, which ones?!

  3. How interesting. It strikes me as intriguing that families become the places where the most secrets are kept, and yet they ought to be the places of most honesty and openness. Unless it was considered a protective act to keep knowledge from children, and that desire to protect outstays all natural boundaries… Thank you! You made me think about this in a new light.

  4. Yes you’re right… the family, the place where you might expect to feel most comfortable and open. It’s rather sad…. Thank you for your comment.

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