Family Secrets

What the hell’s wrong with the GOP?

Throughout my first career as a therapist, I worked with family secrets. Sometimes the secrets had to do with an individual, with a family interaction, with a traumatic event, with a failure. Sometimes the secrets involved sexual misconduct or abuse, a one-time incident or ongoing. 

Always, the secret involved humiliation, embarrassment, shame. Always, the secret clashed against the way the family and the individuals wished to define themselves. Always, someone’s wellbeing — mental and/or physical — was sacrificed to maintain secrecy. If someone spilled the secret, the speaker (instead of the secret) was immediately labelled “the problem.” The person who blew the whistle was treated as a traitor. In an eye blink, the accuser became the accused.  

In 2011, I closed my psychotherapy office and began my second career as a writer. Fast-forward from then to now.  

In several conversations over the past few days, I’ve talked to friends about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. They’ve all asked the same question: “What the hell’s wrong with the GOP?” Even as I write this essay, more accusations are surfacing. Still, many members of the GOP are determined to plow forward with Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. 

Some of my friends suggested that the Republican members of the House and the Senate might have lived charmed lives, untouched by sexual misconduct. Further, they wondered if this charmed existence stretched to include friends and families of the GOP. They were searching for ways to explain how so many people could be disturbingly, infuriatingly, incomprehensibly lacking in basic empathy and decency toward survivors. 

Considering the number of Kavanaugh supporters — plus their extended communities — I’m talking about a gigantic number of untouched, unscathed, charmed folks. Statistically that’s highly unlikely. Sexual misconduct has reached epidemic proportions. The volume of reported and unreported incidents makes it impossible to believe that the entire posse of Kavanaugh supporters drew the long straw, exempt status from any and every act of sexual misconduct. So again, what the hell’s wrong with the GOP?

The answer: The secret’s out.

Several members of the House and the Senate, as well as the administration, are reacting to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations in the same way I’ve seen in my therapeutic work with families. They’re treating Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser as a traitor. In an eye blink, the accuser has become the accused. The GOP is losing track of protecting the survivor, and instead is angry that the secret itself wasn’t protected.

For too long, the prevalence of sexual misconduct has been our country’s dirty secret — within individuals and families, between and among friends, laced into the fabric of subcultures, interwoven with the tenets of conduct in our country. Recently, that’s changed. People in the entertainment industry blew their cover. And gymnasts. And the Catholic Church. And more. The #MeToo movement skyrocketed. People of all genders, all religions, all racial heritages, spanning the full range of economic circumstances, in a myriad of professions — together they raised their voices. The secret is out. 

Decades ago, I watched Anita Hill eviscerated in similar proceedings during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. If the people in power had respected Professor Hill back then…we’ll never know how many might have been protected from carrying their secrets in painful silence, how many might have been spared sexual assault. The way Professor Anita Hill was treated enabled the rape culture to continue. 

Today we stand at a crossroads. People can no longer say “I had no idea” or “I didn’t realize.” Although we may wish to turn away from the ugly reality, we can’t un-know what we know. We The People have to deal with the explicit, implicit, complicit sexual misconduct that permeates every corner of our homeland.

Every person of every gender has the right to choose if and when and how to tell their story.

For survivors who choose to keep their experiences private — you have my respect and support. Private is a choice; secret is a problem. The key is choice, and the responses of the GOP to Professor Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford clarify how choices are taken away from survivors. Nobody has the right to take down the next survivor as a way of avoiding their own issues, or as a strategy for hiding a damaging secret. 

Through my years as a therapist, friends often asked how I dealt with the pain my patients brought to their treatments. I always answered that therapy isn’t just about dealing with pain; it’s about dealing with pain in order to heal. When secrets were revealed, people felt sad, frightened, vulnerable, uncertain how to go forward. But they also felt relief. Even though they still carried the weight of the experience, they no longer carried the weight of the secret. My goal was never to erase the painful experience; that would have been an example of trying not to know what you know, not to feel what you feel. However, people’s relationships to their own experiences can evolve, and that process can loosen the emotional shackles.

Today, although I’m (deeply) saddened and (batshit) furious, I also hold tremendous hope. As my patients showed me, once we own what we know, respect our own emotions, hold ourselves and others accountable — then our capacity to heal is astonishing. 

The United States of America had an opportunity to heal with Anita Hill. Then, my country blew it. Christine Blasey Ford gave my country another chance. My country blew it again.

It’s time to do better.


1 Comment

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One response to “Family Secrets

  1. Linda

    Knowing, acknowledging, then acting. Well said.

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