How long can you keep quiet about a personal secret – an hour, hour and a half, maybe two, a day or two, a week? Don’t you feel the need to share your own personal secret with a confidant, a person you respect, trust and are completely comfortable with, someone who will understand you and be there for you without being judgmental? How long can you keep a secret about someone else, someone that you are not duty bound by the laws of confidentiality to stay silent about? What if the secret is both about you and about someone else and it is a painful secret? How dark a secret is it that you are willing or unwilling to share? What are the parameters that you use to decide what you can discuss and what must remain hidden? How long can you keep a secret?
In the few days since I posted the article “For Tamar, a Brave Survivor” I have received a number of phone calls telling me to thank Tamar and also telling me that because of her these individuals have decided to break their own silence about the abuse that they received from family members, neighbors or others that they knew. One woman said “For twenty years I was married to the most wonderful man. I trust him for everything and we love one another dearly but it took me twenty years of marriage to tell him that my uncle, who is only 11 years older than me abused me sexually when I was between nine and 12 years old. It was a secret I could not share with anyone, even the people who meant the most to me. I now realize that I was afraid that if I spoke about it my uncle might hurt me or my family. I felt that I needed to wait until I was in my forties and I read what Tamar said until I could open up and allow myself to admit that it happened, he did it to me and I should not be afraid to say so. I think it is time for me to allow myself to heal.”
Another woman who has cigarette burns on her abdomen told her husband that they were not burns but birthmarks. She went on to tell me that her tutor threatened to burn her entire body if she did not submit to him sexually. She did submit to him for two years once a week and told no one. She is now in her mid twenties. She told her husband and her parents just this week, a decade after the abuse began. She prefaced her new found voice by asking her husband and her parents to read the article that contained Tamar’s story. Her parents are incredulous but more importantly, her husband hugged her and cried with her and is supportive of her.
A sixteen year old girl called me to say that a friend asked her to read Tamar’s words. She did and decided to call me. She wants to remain anonymous but wants to find a way to tell her parents that her seventeen year old brother is abusing her younger sister. “I can’t keep this a secret anymore. I am afraid for my sister and even for my brother.”
Why do people who are abused keep their secrets? There is only one reason – fear. A fear of not being believed if they tell, a fear of being hurt by the abuser because many abusers groom their victims into believing that they will hurt them and their relatives if they utter anything about their abuse, and a fear that they themselves, despite having been victimized, will be shunned or accused of some wrong doing and thereby be further victimized.
Secrets are painful, especially fearsome, hurtful secrets. They are like a cancer that envelops emotions. They can metastasize from a person’s emotions to the core of their personality and can change the character of the individual who, because of the fear, holds on too tightly to their secrets. One can heal only if they push themselves to confront their fears and overcome them. They can heal only if they find a way to take the pain of their abuse and put it in its correct place – on the cause of the pain – the person who hurt them and what the abuser did.
To heal you must admit that you have been hurt. To protect yourself you must acknowledge who has hurt you. To protect yourself and others you must speak about the pain and the abuser who caused it. If not for yourself then for the others that the abuser may be targeting. There should be no more secrets when it comes to abuse.