In several episodes of This is Us we see Randall impacted by the secrets Rebecca kept from him about his birth father, William. We see him ask difficult questions about where he came from, desire to spend time with other black families, and then in his teenage years put out an add in the newspaper trying to find either of his birth parents. I have to wonder if these unanswered questions played into the anxiety that we watch Randall struggle with throughout his life.
Rebecca’s secret seems to impact Randall the most when he finally meets William and without searching, stumbles across a letter from Rebecca in William’s apartment. This is when the lie takes shape for Randall. He doesn’t know who to trust or what is real. These heroes of parents he had looked up to his entire life were now connected to a lie that kept him from answering burning questions about his origin. In trying to keep Randall close to her, Rebecca’s lie resulting in Randall pulling away from her for several months.
This is the way family secret often work. Whether it’s a birth story, an affair, a crime, or an addiction, family secrets impact the family even if the family members don’t know the secret. Emotions are wrapped up in all of the scenarios and as humans we aren’t able to successfully ignore our emotions. Without fully knowing it, the family members who are in the dark experience the guilt, sadness, anger, hurt surrounding the secret. Either they come up with their own reason these emotions are present in their family or they go searching for answers. The point is, secrets end up hurting the family. In an effort to protect and move forward families often find themselves in a bigger mess trying to keep the secrets. While coming clean and telling secrets is often painful at first it usually comes with better results than the secret coming to the surface on it’s own.
Obviously this doesn’t mean that EVERYONE knows EVERYTHING. There is an appropriate amount of information for children to know and not everyone needs to know all the details of everyone else’s life. The problem occurs when rituals form surrounding keeping secrets and unknowing family members get wrapped up in these rituals. If you have to tell a lie to avoid sharing a secret this is most likely a red flag signaling work needs to be done here.
If Rebecca would have been honest with Randall from the beginning they still would have had to had some tough conversations. Randall still may have been upset that Rebecca made the decision to keep him disconnected from his birth father. But, trust would still be there. He wouldn’t see this information as something he uncovered on his own that was kept from him on purpose. He would have been able to process this information out in the open with help from his parents. I believe things would have been really different for Randall has this conversation happened early on in life.
Some Things to Consider:
1. Are there any family secrets that exist in your family? What steps could you take to share that secret with a safe family member?
2. Are there family secrets you’ve discovered that you have been hurt by? What might you need to do in order to process this new information?