In some families, there are pacts of silence – agreements that family members make to the effect that everyone will be silent about a particular issue. Most of the time, such pacts of silence are made because, talking about the particular issue may be too painful for one of the family members, or will have other grave consequences, sometimes even legal. Even though such issues are never openly dealt with, stories about them will circulate, often being passed down from generation to generation.
Skeletons in the closet
Some issues around which pacts of silence are made are issues that have brought shame to the family in the past, such as a pregnancy out of wedlock. It could also be problems created by one of the senior family members about whom everyone else is in such awe that it is difficult to talk about it. Many times these issues are sexual in nature precisely because matters of such nature are taboo in many cultures. Sometimes, it is crimes that one of the family members had committed. Another common issue is the ill treatment of the elderly.
The effects of a pact of silence
- Lack of closeness
As long as family members are unwilling to admit the existence of the elephant in the room, there will be a lack of real closeness between the members. Happiness in a family is the result of open communication and free interaction. Silence weighs heavily in the hearts of the family members if there are issues about which they are compelled to be silent.
- Physical or psychiatric illnesses
Sometimes, pacts of silence results in real physical or psychiatric illnesses. When there is no healthy outlet of expression of something important or painful, the result is trauma. This is most true of experiences that one has had as a child, and dares not talk about. Very often, children do not talk about traumatic experiences because they love their parents so much that they would not want to hurt them. In any case, often such trauma results in illnesses on the part of the affected person.
- Distortion of truth
Often, even though there is no open communication about an issue, stories about it will still exist. Since the original people who were involved in the issue do not talk about it, all that people know is hearsay, and it gets distorted as time passes. Therefore, there are secrets existing in families that may or may not have been true. Such distortion of truth is an unnecessary burden on the family members.
If an individual in the family holds a secret, the rest of the family may sense something is off, without being able to pinpoint the problem. The secret holder will have tremendous anxiety about being found out, and the uneasiness will affect the whole family. If the secret holder holds a prominent position in the family, the effect is multi-fold.
Needless to say, any kinds of suppression of the truth is unhealthy. Family counselling is a very effective option for families that are traumatized by their secrets that weigh them down.