“In Search of a Tale They can Live With”: About Loss, Family Secrets, and Selective Disclosure

Authors


  • Peter Rober, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and family therapist at Context, UPC K.U. Leuven, Belgium, and professor at the Institute of Family and Sexuality Studies, University of Leuven, Belgium; Geertje Walravens, BA, is a family therapist at Context, UPC K.U. Leuven, Belgium, and trainer at the training institute IPRR, Belgium; Leen Versteynen, MA, is a clinical psychologist at the Institute of Family and Sexuality Studies, University of Leuven, Belgium.

  • We want to extend our sincere appreciation to Jaap van Hoewijk for his permission to study his film and for his generous cooperation in this project. We also want to thank Prof. Dr. Rosenblatt (University of Minnesota, USA) for his help in writing this article.

Address correspondence to Peter Rober, Context, UPC K.U. Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 33, 3000, Leuven, Belgium; E-mail: Peter.Rober@med.kuleuven.be

Abstract

Several authors have written about family secrets in the family therapy literature in interesting ways. According to these authors, the questions “who knows the secret?” and “who does not know the secret?” are central. In the present study, we have qualitatively analyzed the documentary film Familiegeheim (Family Secret) by the Dutch director Jaap van Hoewijk. The film shows van Hoewijk’s investigation into the death of his father in 1974 and tells the story of a family in which the suicide of the father is kept secret from the three children. Our analysis of the film highlights the complex ways in which families deal with sensitive issues like loss, grief, and suicide. The concept of family secrets seems to poorly capture this complexity, focusing one-sidedly on the destructive effects of withholding delicate information. The concept of selective disclosure is proposed as an alternative. Selective disclosure refers to the complex processes involved in dealing with the dialectic tension between sharing information and keeping it secret. The concept is not only focused on the destructiveness of secrecy but, in addition, also makes room for an appreciation of the caution with which family members deal with sensitive family issues.

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