"In search of a tale they can live with": about loss, family secrets, and selective disclosure

J Marital Fam Ther. 2012 Jul;38(3):529-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00237.x. Epub 2011 Jul 27.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Death
  • Confidentiality*
  • Family Relations*
  • Female
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Motion Pictures*
  • Self Concept
  • Truth Disclosure*