Secrets in a family or organization contribute to habitual behaviors continuing in the system. All of us learn to change through sharing about ourselves and hearing the responses about our behavior from others. Secrets prevent others from knowing the real self, which often is known as the recovered or authentic self.
Most families, organizations or individuals have issues they feel embarrassed, sad, concerned or afraid of and they revert to establishing a secret. Often the person who is told to keep the secret from others obtains a false sense of importance; helping perpetuate habitual behaviors in all persons concerned and helping no one. The healing way of approaching a dilemma, such as a painful event or experience, is to talk about the issue with others. Acceptance of self comes through sharing our painful events and coming to know ways to approach the situation with love and caring for ourselves and with the support of others. When two or more individuals collude to keep a secret no healing can take place. Unfortunately, the individuals, the family, and the organization suffer. No one learns from secrets and more pain occurs for all involved.
Isolation characterizes individuals who are involved in secrets. The following description from a story describes best the pain of dealing with secrets which lead to the habitual behaviors/addictions: “…I was alone, not because I loved solitude, but because I was too terrified of the pain of involvement with others to dare to get close to anyone or to let anyone get close to me. Fear dominated my life. Denial clouded my perception. I ignored reality because it hurt when I thought about it. When painful thoughts emerged, as they inevitably did, I quickly and anxiously shoved them away. It was as if my thoughts were my enemies, and as they approached, I turned and ran as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Instead of expending my energy on living my life, I focused almost exclusively on avoiding pain, stuffing disturbing feelings and keeping myself as numb as I could” (from How Al-Anon Works, pages 153-154). Many individuals have had similar experiences in life. The moment someone asks them to keep a secret the person triggers the old memories and pain and relapses into keeping the secret to avoid pain, real or imagined. In other words, each of us projects old pain from past secrets onto current events. If we knew how to and had processed the feelings from the past events then there would be no need to keep another secret.
In this organization, the individual is learning how to process feelings and thoughts. S/he is learning to see the organization in a different way. The organization is not the one from our past. The organization and individuals involved may only be in the beginning stages of knowing what their habitual behaviors are and how these behaviors affect others. The lack of consistency in change causes questions and mistrust of self and others. The members of the organization need to remember they seek progress not perfection and we ask of each other and ourselves as we change. Members of the organization need to consider the honest sharing that occurs when each trusts the other to own behavior and work toward solutions to challenge the old, negative ways of behaving, believing, thinking and feeling. The members of the organization can help each other address the demons of the past and in the process those demons get smaller and smaller. Guilt or other forms of pain can be washed away with new experiences. Each member needs the right to admit imperfections. Each member can have the courage to look at the truth, admit his or her error, appreciate growth, and apologize where the person might have harmed another. Courage is needed to step beyond what is comfortable, predictable, familiar, and known. Courage is a gift each member can find within themselves and through the support of others. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in one of his speeches: “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it.” Secrets do not lead to courageous acts and learning, they lead to collusion, deceit, fear and habitual behavior. Each of us has a choice when someone asks us to keep a secret. The easiest answer is no and how can I support you in bringing this up so we can learn from the event? Another answer may be: “I am unwilling to participate in a secret; the people in this organization work on being honest, open and direct with each other.” We have found we learn more and contribute to a healthier work environment by participating fully with each other.
Remember new people coming into the organization are not familiar with a culture which is healthier and encourages authenticity in self and others. They may practice old behaviors such as third-party communication, and dishonesty about self to others. They may be close-minded, judgmental and resistant to change. They have not had the benefit of seeing how much easier life can be if we eliminate old, habitual behaviors. The current member have the responsibility to encourage people to live by the values established by the organization and to support the change in habitual behaviors rather than the continued practice of destructive behaviors. We are here to share our organization. The new person does not belong until they accept the meaningful and healthier ways of being. The organization is a community of people who are helping each other to become whole human beings. Each of us is asked to exhibit behaviors which are respectful to each and every member, remembering the time, effort, and compassion members of the community offer to each other.