The Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 received Royal Assent on 5 November 2019. The Act provides the legal framework for the establishment of the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board (the Board).
The Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees made an apology to the ‘Forgotten Australians’ on 19 September 2009. On 16 November 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology in the Federal Parliament to the ‘Forgotten Australians’. 500,000 people, including over 7000 former British child migrants were part of the apology, which acknowledged the many instances of neglect and abuse that was the result of their time in government institutions, church organisations, orphanages, homes or foster care. The plight of the ‘Forgotten Australians’ has been identified in three Senate committee inquiries, with each making unanimous calls for an apology.
FAIRBRIDGE FARM SCHOOL, MOLONG
The NSW Migration Heritage Centre supported the Fairbridge Heritage Association Inc.’s heritage project to record the experiences of former British child migrants at the Fairbridge Farm School, Molong, which documents a chapter of Australian migration and settlement history.
The Fairbridge organisation operated child migration schemes for underprivileged British children in Canada, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Australia from 1912 until 1980. Parents were persuaded to sign over legal guardianship of their children, on the promise of a better life in these Commonwealth countries.
The isolated, rural Fairbridge Farm School near Molong in New South Wales operated from 1938 until 1974 during which time about 1000 boys and girls passed through the school and were trained to be “farmers and farmers’ wives”.
Many of those children, now aged in their 60s and 70s, are now talking for the first time about their experiences. Loneliness was rife. Food was often inedible. The standard of education was limited. Disturbingly, more than half of the 39 oral histories recorded by the Fairbridge Heritage Association Inc. document physical and sexual abuse. All the oral histories have been lodged with State Library of NSW and are accessible for research purposes.
The oral histories were subsequently incorporated in David Hill’s book The Forgotten Children and some of the accounts also appear in a documentary entitled The Long Journey Home screened on ABC Television on 17 November 2009.
The transcripts will be accessible at the State Library of NSW »
Read Fairbridge memories and view personal mementos and photographs in our Belongings exhibition »
Read a selection of 10 oral histories recorded by the Fairbridge Heritage Association Inc.
Vincent McMullen came as a 7½ year old from Dumbarton in Scotland to Fairbridge in February 1961. He came to Australia as part of a later Fairbridge ‘Family’ scheme, with his mother and father, four brothers and two sisters and spent a total of 4 ½ years at Fairbridge. This interview was recorded in Vincent’s home in Sydney on February 6, 2006.
Download transcript (pdf)
Stewart Lee came as a 4 year old from Manchester to Fairbridge with his three brothers, 11 year old Syd, 9 year old Graham and 8 year old Ian Bayliff, arriving in Sydney in March 1955. Stewart was to stay at Fairbridge for 13 years. This interview was recorded in Gloucester House at Fairbridge Farm Molong on
February 9, 2006.
Download transcript (pdf)
Eddie Baker came as a 10 year old from Winchester to Fairbridge arriving in Sydney in May 1948. He stayed 6 years at Fairbridge. This interview was recorded in Eddie’s house in regional New South Wales February 8, 2006.
Download transcript (pdf)
Malcolm Field came as a 10 year old from England to Fairbridge with his 14 year old brother Laurie, arriving in Sydney in December 1952. His younger brother Keith, aged 6 and sister Jane, aged 5, were already at Fairbridge having been sent out in 1951. Malcolm was to stay at Fairbridge for 7 years. This interview was recorded in Malcolm’s home in regional New South Wales on February 17, 2006.
Download transcript (pdf)
Margaret Watt left England for Fairbridge as a 10 year old with her 12 year old twin sisters Joy and June and 13 year old sister Rosemary in 1940. With the outbreak of the Second World War the party of 30 children sailed via Canada and was to be the last group of child migrants to Fairbridge for another seven years. Margaret left Fairbridge after 6 years in 1946 to be with her mother who had followed the children out to Australia. This interview was recorded in Margaret’s home in Sydney on January 31, 2006.
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Scottish Margaret McLauchlan left Northumberland and came to Australia as 5 year old with her 6 year old brother Frank in 1938. Originally they were sent to the Northcotte children’s home in Victoria but were moved during the Second World War with 38 other children to the Fairbridge Farm School at Molong in 1944. Margaret left Fairbridge as a 17 year old in 1949. This interview was recorded in Margaret’s Sydney home on February 8, 2006.
Download transcript (pdf).
Gwen Miller came as a 10 year old from Grimsby to Fairbridge with her 7 year old sister Kath and her 4 year old brother Reg and 9 year old Doug, arriving in Sydney in June 1952. An older brother, 14 year old Hughie, joined them at Fairbridge in July the following year. Gwen stayed at Fairbridge for 7 years. This interview was recorded in Gloucester House at Fairbridge Farm School Molong on February 9, 2006.
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Peter Bennett came from Suffolk to Fairbridge as a 6 year old in 1940 with his 9 year old sister Marie. With the outbreak of the Second World War Peter and Marie sailed with 28 other children via Canada in what was to be the last group of child migrants to Fairbridge for another seven years. Peter was to stay at Fairbridge for 10 years. This interview was recorded in Peter’s home in Sydney on February 15, 2006.
Download transcript (pdf)
Joyce Drury came to Fairbridge as a 10 year old from Birkdale, Lancashire arriving in Sydney in June 1938. She was to stay at Fairbridge for 7 years. This interview was recorded with Tony Myers at Joyce’s home in regional New South Wales on February 21, 2006.
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Dennis Piercy came to Fairbridge as an 8 year old with his 5 year old brother Barnie, arriving in Sydney in May 1955. Dennis stayed at Fairbridge for 9 years. This interview was recorded at Gloucester House, Fairbridge Farm School, on March 3, 2006.
Download transcript (pdf)
BLUE KNOT FOUNDATION FACT SHEET FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED CHILDHOOD TRAUMA (INCLUDING ABUSE)
1 Childhood trauma stems from overwhelming negative experiences in early life. It can take many forms (eg. sexual,emotional,physicalabuseandneglect).Itcanalso occur without abuse if early caregivers were unable
to meet your emotional needs (e.g. because they had unresolved trauma histories themselves).
2 Unresolved childhood trauma negatively impacts 8 health and well-being in adulthood. It affects both emotional and physical health (the whole person’)
and the full impacts may not become apparent until
3 It is possible to heal from childhood trauma. Research shows that with the right support, even severe early life trauma can be resolved. It also shows that when an adult has resolved their childhood trauma, it benefits their children or the children they may later have.
Children develop coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of childhood trauma. It is normal to want to feel better, and if you were traumatised as a child the need to
escape’ feelings can be intense.
4 Effects of childhood trauma include anxiety, depression, health problems (emotional and physical), disconnection, isolation, confusion, being ‘spaced out’, and fear of intimacy and new experiences. There 10 is no
one size fits all’, but reduced quality of life is a constant.
5 Survivors are often on ‘high alert’. Even minor stress can trigger
‘out of proportion’ responses. Your body continues to react as if you are still in danger, and this can be explained in terms of unresolved prior experience.
6 Survivors often struggle with shame and self-blame. But childhood trauma and its established effects are NOT your fault, even though you may feel otherwise (often because this is what you were encouraged to believe as a child when you were vulnerable and still developing).
7 Self-blame can be especially strong if you experienced any positive physical sensations (which is not an uncommon body response) in relation to abuse you have undergone. Physical reaction to sexual abuse does NOT mean desire for, or agreement to, it. Children cannot consent to, much less
‘cause’, sexual or other forms of abuse.
8 Children develop coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of childhood trauma. It is normal to want to feel better, and if you were traumatised as a child the need to `escape’ feelings can be intense.
9 Coping mechanisms develop for a reason, serve a purpose, and can be highly effective in the short term. But some methods of coping (e.g. excessive alcohol use) can be risky in themselves. Addictions (to food, sex, drugs), avoidance of contact with others (which reinforces isolation) and compulsive behaviours of various kinds (in attempts to run from the underlying problem which, because it is unaddressed, doesn’t go away) are all ways people try to cope.
10 Coping mechanisms develop for a reason, serve a purpose, and can be highly effective in the short term. But some methods of coping (e.g. excessive alcohol use) can be risky in themselves. Addictions (to food, sex, drugs), avoidance of contact with others (which reinforces isolation) and compulsive behaviours of various kinds (in attempts to run from the underlying problem which, because it is unaddressed, doesn’t go away) are all ways people try to cope.
11 Coping mechanisms develop for a reason, serve a purpose, and can be highly effective in the short term. But some methods of coping (e.g. excessive alcohol use) can be risky in themselves. Addictions (to food, sex, drugs), avoidance of contact with others (which reinforces isolation) and compulsive behaviours of various kinds (in attempts to run from the underlying problem which, because it is unaddressed, doesn’t go away) are all ways people try to cope.
The report ‘Getting the National Redress Scheme right: An overdue step towards justice’ suggested the Scheme should be measured against three core principles:
1 the Scheme must be survivor-focussed and trauma-informed;
2 the Redress process must proceed on the basis of ‘do no further harm’ to the survivor; and
3 amendments to the Scheme must be subject to proper consultation with key survivor groups.
(This is an extract from the Chair’s Foreword of First Interim Report of the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme (April 2020). A PDF of it should be made available in our Library + can be retrieved from https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/reportjnt/024473/toc_pdf/FirstInterimReportoftheJointSelectCommitteeonImplementationoftheNationalRedressSchemeApril2020.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf. For further explanation, the Introduction text is reposted as follows –
Background to the interim report
1.1The Joint Select Committee (Committee) was formed to inquire into the Australian Government policy, program and legal response to the redress related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including the establishment and operation of the Commonwealth Redress Scheme and ongoing support of survivors. 1.2The Committee is required to table its final report in May 2022.1.3Section 192 of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018 (the Act) provides that the relevant Minister must conduct a review of the National Redress Scheme (NRS) as soon as possible after the second anniversary of NRS operation. The Committee notes that the NRS commenced 1 July 2018, and as such, the review must commence prior to 30 June 2020. 1.4Early in its deliberations, the Committee resolved that its first priority should be to review the early experience of survivors with the NRS and use their evidence to identify priority issues that should be addressed by the second anniversary review. 1.5It is the Committee’s expectation that the Minister for Families and Social Services and the Department of Social Services (DSS) accept the findings in this interim report and ensure that the matters identified are incorporated into the terms of reference and design of the second anniversary review as a matter of priority.
Objectives and Scope1.6On 2 April 2020, the Committee announced that it would table an interim report into the implementation of the NRS to reflect the evidence received so far by the Committee.11.7It remains the Committee’s intention that this report will inform the work and priorities of the legislated second anniversary review of the NRS which is to commence after 30 June 2020.1.8The Committee has resolved to finalise a second interim report before tabling its final report in May 2022.
1.9On 13 February 2020, the Committee issued a media release announcing initial public hearing program. Due to matters associated with COVID-19 on 16 March 2020, a separate media release was published noting the hearing program would continue as advised via teleconference.1.10Since the establishment of the Committee, six public hearings have been held. Transcripts can be found on the Committee website and a list of witnesses that appeared is at Appendix A.1.11The Committee invited submissions to be received by 29 May 2020, noting that submissions could be received after that date. The Committee also informed people that confidential and name withheld submissions would also be received. To date the Committee has received 20 submissions, which are listed at Appendix B.
1.12Chapter 1 details the scope of the activities conducted to undertake the interim report and includes discussion of the Committees aims for the interim report. 1.13Chapter 2 provides a background to the development of the NRS, and discusses how the government has implemented the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Consideration of previous parliamentary committee findings is also included in this section. 1.14Chapter 3 examines the NRS application process. The three components of an offer of redress including monetary payment, counselling services and direct personal responses are also examined.1.15Chapter 4 considers NRS participation and examines factors that may be influencing a survivor’s decision on whether to apply for redress through the NRS. The number and rate of institutions joining the NRS is also discussed. 1.16Chapter 5 discusses the appropriateness of funder of last resort provisions within the Act.1.17Chapter 6 outlines areas that the Committee believe need to be examined in order to maximise the opportunities of the second anniversary review to deliver improved survivor experiences and outcomes from the NRS.1.18Throughout the interim report the Committee has included quotes that refer to the NRS as the scheme or redress scheme. The Committee has not amended these references.1.19Two appendices accompany this report and provide details on submissions received and a list of witnesses who appeared before the Committee. 1.20A copy of this report, transcripts of hearings and submissions received are available on the Committee’s website at www.aph.gov.au/redress.
- 1All Committee media releases are available at: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/National_Redress_Scheme/NationalRedressScheme/Media_Releases
While I have often felt obliged to ‘tell the truth’, I was drawn to reading through the latest ‘Blogging for Dummies’ (7th Ed., 2019). Jumping straight to a section of Blogging Ethically, titled ‘Telling the truth’ (pp.39-41) contains the following options:
- Blogging anonymously
- Blogging about products and services (/product or service provider)
- Blogging as a fictional character
Expectedly, QLD : .. Who is mandated to make a notification? “The groups of people mandated to notify cases of suspected child abuse and neglect range from persons in a limited number of occupations (e.g., Qld)” (AIFS CFCA 2017). Does this start to give reasons why our GPS may have been ‘a hunting ground for pedophiles’? We’ve recently seen how Catholicism, George Pell + High Court have grabbed International exposure. How far away, will BBC + various other GPS schools appear in their documentaries?
Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2017). Child Family Community Australia Resource Sheet— September 2017. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/mandatory-reporting-child-abuse-and-neglect April 2020.
Ferguson, Sarah. (2020). Revelation Documentary. Retrieved from https://iview.abc.net.au/show/revelation.
Lupold Bair, Amy. (2019). Blogging For Dummies (Computer/Tech) 7th Ed.
© & ™ Tony Anstatt, 2020. All Rights Reserved.
The former financial controller of the Vatican and most senior Catholic Church official to be found guilty of child sexual assault, Cardinal George Pell, will be released from prison and have his conviction overturned. He has served more than 400 days in isolation behind bars.
In December 2018, a Melbourne jury unanimously convicted Pell of five charges relating to child sexual abuse dating back to a Sunday service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.
However, on the 7th of April 2020, the High Court said there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.
The bench also said the jury should have entertained a doubt around Pell’s guilt with respect to each of the individual offences. Because there was reasonable doubt, the High Court quashed all of Pell’s convictions and ordered verdicts of acquittal be entered in its place.
It was not enough that the jurors found the complainant and witnesses to be believable, credible and honest.
Pell’s legal team, led by Bret Walker SC (Senior Counsel), argued it was “literally impossible” for the complainant to have been abused on the day in question and claimed a “formidable list” of factors and events providing Pell with an alibi.
Pell’s first appeal was shot down on a majority of two to one. This ‘botched decision’ by Victoria’s highest court left Pell in prison for an additional seven months for crimes he never committed.
Walker SC argued on behalf of Pell before a full bench of seven High Court judges in Canberra. Walker SC claimed that just because the complainant was believable, it shouldn’t discount other evidence placing Pell’s conviction in doubt.
The High Court decision does not deny the validity of the complainant, a former choir boy who testified he and a friend were sexually assaulted by Pell. Walker SC and Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd QC, agreed the choirboy was a credible, believable witness.
However, all seven High Court judges, Australia’s finest legal minds, decided in Pell’s favour.
Pell learned of his success from inside his isolated cell at Barwon Prison, home to some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals.
Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.
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If you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation call 000. If you wish to report a child protection matter, contact the department responsible for child protection in your state or territory.
Child abuse is any behaviour that harms or could harm a child or young person, either physically or emotionally. It does not matter whether the behaviour is intentional or unintentional.
There are different types of child abuse, and many children experience more than one type:
- Physical abuse: using physical force to deliberately hurt a child.
- Emotional abuse: using inappropriate words or symbolic acts to hurt a child over time.
- Neglect: failing to provide the child with conditions needed for their physical and emotional development and wellbeing.
- Sexual abuse: using a child for sexual gratification.
- Exposure to family violence: when a child hears or sees a parent or sibling being subjected to any type of abuse, or can see the damage caused to a person or property by a family member’s violent behaviour.
Children are most often abused or neglected by their parents or carers of either sex. Sexual abuse is usually by a man known to the child — a family member, a friend or a member of the school or church community.
Child abuse can affect a child’s physical, psychological, emotional, behavioural and social development through to adulthood.
Recognising the signs of child abuse is important. There may be physical, emotional or behavioural signs such as:
- broken bones or unexplained bruising, burns or welts
- not wanting to go home
- creating stories, poems or artwork about abuse
- being hungry and begging, stealing or hoarding food
You should report suspected child abuse to the relevant authority in your state or territory, even if you are not certain it’s happening. This is called a notification.
Child protection systems vary depending on which state and territory you live in. This includes definitions of when a child requires protection and when authorities will intervene.
Some occupations are legally required to report suspected cases of child abuse to government authorities. The laws are different between states and territories but the most common occupations are teachers, doctors, nurses and police.
If you have hurt your child, or feel like you might hurt them, call Lifeline on 131 114.
If you are a child, teen or young adult who needs help and support, call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
For more information on child abuse visit the Australian Institute of Family Studies website.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare(Child protection), ReachOut.com(What is child abuse?), Kids Helpline(Homepage), Queensland Government(About child abuse), Australian Institute of Families(Reporting child abuse and neglect: Information for service providers), Blue Knot Foundation(For survivors of childhood trauma and abuse), Australian Institute of Families(What is child abuse and neglect?)
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Last reviewed: November 2018
They divide people. They deter new relationships. And they freeze the development on individuals.
By Evan Imber-Black, published July 1, 1998 – last reviewed on June 9, 2016
There’s no question that family secrets are destructive. But it matters mightily when and how you reveal them. Resist the temptation to handle them at transition times such as weddings, graduations, and new beginnings.
As a family therapist, I’m a professional secret-keeper. I’m often ~the very first person with whom someone risks telling a longheld secret. Several decades of guiding people struggling with secrets have taught me that they have an awesome if paradoxical power to unite people–and to divide them.
From government conspiracies to couples having affairs, secrets permeate every level of society. Secrets have existed throughout time, but the nature of secrets has recently changed in our society. Today’s families face special dilemmas about secrecy, privacy, silence, and openness.
We live in a culture whose messages about secrecy are truly confounding. If cultural norms once made shameful secrets out of too many events in human life, we are now struggling with the reverse: the assumption that telling secrets–no matter how, when, or to whom–is morally superior to keeping them and that it is automatically healing. My own experience, however, has shown me that telling secrets in the wrong way or at the wrong time can be remarkably painful–and destructive.
The questions we need to concern ourselves with are: When should I keep a secret? How do I tell a secret without hurting anyone? How do I know the time is right? I’ve learned the answers as I’ve witnessed–sometimes with terror, more often with joy, and always with deep respect–families making the courageous journey from secrecy to openness.
Secrets are kept or opened for many complex motives, from self-serving abuses of power to altruistic protection of others. Understanding the best ways and situations in which to reveal a family secret can help you decide when and how to do so.
HOW SECRETS SABOTAGE
Although we encounter secrets in every area of life, they are perhaps most destructive when kept in the home. Families are support systems; our identity and ability to form close relationships with others depend upon the trust and communication we feel with loved ones. If family members keep secrets from each other–or from the outside world–the emotional fallout can last a lifetime.
There are four main ways that family secrets shape and scar us:
o they can divide family members, permanently estranging them;
o they can discourage individuals from sharing information with anyone outside the family, inhibiting formation of intimate relationships;
o they can freeze development at crucial points in life, preventing the growth of self and identity;
o they can lead to painful miscommunication within a family, causing unnecessary guilt and doubt.
o they can lead to painful miscommunication within a family, causing unnecessary guilt and doubt.
A person who seeks to undo the damage caused by family secrets must accept that revealing a secret is not a betrayal but a necessity Luckily, as you’ll see, it’s never too late to do so.
SHATTERING THE TRIANGLE
Not all secrets are destructive. Many are essential to establishing bonds between two people. When siblings keep secrets from their parents, for example, they attain a sense of independence and a feeling of closeness. But the creation of any secret between two people in a family actually forms a triangle: it always excludes–and therefore involves–another.
When family members suspect that important information is being withheld from them, they may pursue the content of the secret in ways that violate privacy. A mother reads her daughter’s diary. A husband rifles through his wife’s purse. Relationships corrode with suspicion. Conversely, family members may respond to a secret with silence and distance, which affect areas of life that have nothing to do with the secret.
Either way, the secret wedges a boulder between those who know it and those who don’t. To remove this obstacle, families must break the triangle formation.
Molly Bradley first called me during what should have been a joyous time. She had recently given birth. Her happiness, however, was bittersweet. Molly felt a deep need to surround herself with family but hadn’t spoken to her brother, Calvin, in six years. The reason, I discovered, reached back 30 years to a secret made by Molly’s mother.
When Molly, Calvin, and their youngest sister, Annie, were teenagers, their grandmother committed suicide. Molly and Annie were told she died from a heart attack. Only Calvin, the eldest, knew the truth. His mother made him promise not to tell. His sisters sensed a mystery, but if they asked about their grandmother, their mother switched topics.
Making secrets soon became the family’s modus vivendi. Their aunt committed suicide two years after their grandmother’s death. Calvin fathered a child out of wedlock. Each secret was kept from Molly and Annie, amplifying the family pattern of secrecy Calvin grew distant from his sisters, their relationship weakened by mistrust. Eventually, Molly guessed the truth of her grandmother’s death but, in her family’s style, told only Annie. Secrets between Calvin and his mother were matched by those between Molly and Annie, tightening family alliances.
From the outside, the family looked like two close pairs–Calvin and his mother, Molly and Annie. But the pairs were actually triangles; Calvin and his mother distanced themselves from the girls with their secret, forming one triangle, while Molly and Annie, keeping their own secrets from the rest of the family, formed another.
‘DON’T TELL ANYONE OUR BUSINESS’
Molly convinced her two siblings to enter therapy, but each felt that overcoming feelings of alienation was impossible. When I asked Annie if she’d ever considered confiding in Calvin as a child, she told me the thought had never occurred to her. If family members cannot even imagine a different way of interacting, then secrets have truly taken hold of their lives.
In order to bridge the distance between the Bradley children, I asked them to relive their memories of how it felt to keep–and be kept out of—secrets. Molly, Annie, and Calvin each acknowledged that their needs to connect with each other had gone painfully unmet. Calvin explained tearfully that being forced to keep information from his sisters left him unable to relate to them, causing him to withdraw into himself. Molly revealed that watching her infant son each day made her miss Calvin–and the relationship they’d never had more and more.
The siblings finally began to share long-held secrets, realizing that they were bound and supported by their desire for closeness. After the fourth session of therapy, they went to dinner together for the first time in years. “This was so different from any other family event,” Annie reported. “Things felt genuine for the first time.”
As a lifetime of confessions and hopes emerged into the open, the mangle of secrecy was replaced by one-toone relationships. When everyone in a family knows a secret, triangles cannot create barriers between members.
All families have some secrets from the outside world. Yours, no doubt, has shared jokes and stories told only within the family circle. You also have a zone of privacy that demarcates inside from outside, building your family’s sense of identity. But if a dangerous secret–one concerning an individual in immediate physical or emotional jeopardy–is held within your house, the boundaries between family and the rest of the world become rigid and impenetrable. Friends and relatives are not invited in, and family members’ forays out are limited. “Don’t tell anyone ourbusiness” becomes the family motto.
BREAKING FAMILY RULES
Some families create inviolable rules to keep information hidden, making it impossible for members to ask for assistance or to use needed resources in the outside world. Even problems that do not touch on the secret may go unresolved if resolution requires outside help.
When Sara Tompkins, 37, first came to see me, she spoke with great hesitation. “If my family knew I was speaking to you, they’d be very angry,” she confided. She told me about growing up in a family that completely revolved around her mothEr’s addiction to tranquilizers. “My father is a physician. To this day, he writes her prescriptions. No one was supposed to know. The worst part was, we were supposed to act like we didn’t know. Our family invented ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ long before the government ever thought of it.”
Even though Sara hadn’t lived with her family for 15 years, this was the first time she had ever broken the family rule against speaking about the secret. When Sara left home for college, she was surrounded with new and exciting faces, each seeking lifelong friends and stimulating late-night discussions. But Sara found herself unable to open up, ultimately finding few friends and fewer lovers. She found it difficult to reveal anything personal about herself to anyone, and even suspected others of withholding from her.
Secrets were how she had learned to process and handle incoming information. Sara finally sought therapy when she realized that she had never been able to sustain a romantic relationship past the second date.
When a family’s secret is an ongoing condition–such as drug addiction, physical abuse, an illness–then both family relationships and interactions with the outside world are profoundly affected. In families like Sara’s, members must organize their everyday lives around the needs of the secret while performing the breathtaking feat of pretending not to notice anything is out of the ordinary. Conversation is superficial, since what is truly important cannot be discussed. Members become paralyzed, unable to develop relationships with others or to deepen the relationships within the family.
Since individual well-being takes a backseat to group fidelity, being the family member who challenges internal secrets is difficult. Taking the risk of opening a long-held secret to friends and loved ones may seem like an act of betrayal. The anticipated catastrophe of exclusion from the family stops many people–often long after leaving home.
But breaking the rules of family secrecy is necessary to ensure the achievement of freedom and honesty crucial to making and sustaining authentic relation, ships. One of the best ways to ease into revealing long-hidden information is to tell an objective listener, like a therapist.
ROOM FOR REHEARSAL
Only rarely do my clients want their first and final telling to be with me. Making secrets with a professional helper is a double-edged sword. A client’s relationship with a therapist, minister, priest, or rabbi can be an excellent arena to dissolve shame, find acceptance and empathy, and seek new resources for support and strength.
At the same time, sharing secrets only with professionals may negatively affect marriage and other relationships. Important issues may be discussed more in therapy, for example, than at home. Instead of being a dress rehearsal for life, therapy becomes the show. Most often, I find that people want a receptive and erapathetic context in which to unpack a secret initially, room to explore the consequences of telling others, then the help to do it well.
Imagine if your sister made a secret with you on the eve of your wedding and told you that you must not tell your husband. Or you are dragged into a secret about your parents just when you are taking tentative steps into the outside world. If a secret is made at a key point in development, the natural unfolding of self and relationships may be frozen. The shifting of boundaries that ordinarily would occur is suspended, creating a developmental deep freeze.
Every family experiences developmental stages. These are most evident when someone enters the family by marriage or other committed relationship, birth, or adoption, and when someone exits the family by leaving home or through separation, divorce, or death. Such entrances and exits require that a family reinvent itself in order to accommodate new roles. The stages of development are not discrete events but rather processes that take place over time. When that process goes well, complex adjustments occur in every corner of the family. When a secret is made in the midst of this process, adjustment screeches to a halt.
Samuel Wheeler tried to leave home when he was 19, but his discovery of a central family secret pulled him back and short-circuited his young adulthood. When Sam came to see me, he was 34 and still struggling with the aftermath. Aimless, jobless, and depressed, Sam wondered why he had never really found his focus. As we explored his past, I realized that Sam’s life had frozen when his attempts to assert independence were squelched his first year of college.
Early in his first semester, Sam invited his mother to visit. “I was more than surprised when she arrived with a close friend of the family, Duncan,” said Sam. Each morning for three days, Mrs. Wheeler left Sam’s apartment at five A.M. and returned to have breakfast at eight o’clock. When Sam finally asked what was going on, his mother admitted that she and Duncan were having an affair. She also revealed that his younger sister had actually been fathered by Duncan.
“My mother had kept this secret for years,” Sam mused. “Why did she have: to put it in my face at that moment?” The ill-timed revelation kept Sam from proceeding with his new life and developing his own identity. While very bright, Sam did poorly his first year in college, dropped out, and went back home. He had subconsciously returned to play watchdog for the family’s relationships. His sister was only 15, and he was worried that she would discover the secret. He remained home until she left for college.
RESPECTING TRANSITION TIMES
Giving voice to the developmental deep freeze, Sam said, “Knowing these things about my mother’s life has kept me from changing my relationship with her and my dad in ways I would like. I wanted to get closer to my dad, but this secret is like a rock between us.”
Pulling Sam into a secret just as he and his family were moving apart also kept him from asserting independence. While there is no such thing as the perfect moment to open a secret, there are better occasions than a life-cycle ritual, such as a wedding or graduation. Because family relationships are already shifting, rituals may seem a perfect time to open a secret. The excitement of a major life change, however, will prevent resolution of the secret. Either the importance of the secret will be lost in the event, or the secret will diminish the importance of the ritual.
For family members to have the strength to handle a life-altering secret, it should be told during a normal time in everyday life. Otherwise, development linked to a life passage will stop in its tracks.
When secrets are as much a part of families as birthdays, it may seem impossible to extricate them from the daily routine. But I know it can be done. Each time I meet with a new client, I’m moved by the courage people bring to this endeavor, by the human desire to heal and to connect.
From the book The Secret Life of Families by Evan IrabetBlack, Ph.D. Copyright 1998 by Evan Imber-Black. Reprinted by permission of Bantam Books, New York, New York. All rights reserved.
RETRIEVED https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199807/the-power-secrets on 14 April 2020.
Although the MeetUp Group ‘Brisbane Abuse Survivours Network’, now seems to have closed – we’re experiencing larger + wider impacts with this RCbbc Blog. The growth, interaction + time required by these RCbbc Blog pages continue to outweigh any more time + costs taken by running a MeetUp Group as well.
We’ve now achieved at least 1,124 Subscribers, the ongoing impact + support is filling in a much-needed gap. Particularly direct families continue to be a cause of many surviving-victims not coming forth, I’m now in a position that I’ve recently had a 3rd body start guiding one of my parents through my CSA mess. It’s not a solution, yet it does feel relieving to have an unresolved misunderstanding taken off my shoulders. Please seek help, through a Counsellor!
Secrecy has-does-will have a power over our lives. It always will, yet we each have that same control over it. This is where Predators/Abusers/Facilitators have taken advantage of their assumed targets, typically manipulating their unawareness of their own rights (maturity, trust + secrecy). ‘The Power of Secrets’ in PsychologyToday begins by stating that Secrets can divide people. “They deter relationships. And they freeze development on individuals.”
Power of Secrets contains titles of: HOW SECRETS SABOTAGE, SHATTERING THE TRIANGLE, ‘DON’T TELL ANYONE OUR BUSINESS’, BREAKING FAMILY RULES, ROOM FOR REHEARSAL, FROZEN FAMILIES + RESPECTING TRANSITION TIMES. So enthralling are these, I’ll try to repost the entire page ASAP.
From the book The Secret Life of Families by Evan IrabetBlack, Ph.D. Copyright 1998 by Evan Imber-Black. Reprinted by permission of Bantam Books, New York, New York. All rights reserved. Amazon Springer kobo
PHOTO (COLOR): Secrets are kept or opened for many reasons, from self-serving abuses of power to the protection of others. (Unavailable, yet text provided)
PHOTOS (COLOR): Family secrets are destructive and all families have some secrets from the outside world. Resist the temptation to handle them at transition times such as weddings, graduations, and new beginnings. (Unavailable, yet text provided)
BY EVAN IMBER-BLACK
- Imber-Black, Evan. (1998). The Power of secrets. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199807/the-power-secrets
- Child Abuse Royal Commission. (2017). Contact & support. https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/contact