In listening to the coverage of the pandemic metrics, I was reminded of my days managing quality and customer satisfaction in a large corporation. One day a colleague jokingly said to me, “if you want to improve customer satisfaction, get rid of the non-satisfied customers”. If I seriously considered that suggestion, it would have meant bidding those dissatisfied customers good-bye or finding a way to exclude them from the measurement. In the end, the company would have either had a lot less customers or a meaningless measure of customer satisfaction.
In other words, those dissatisfied customers would be excluded from the business system, making them a systemic secret.
I frequently discover the impact of “systemic secrets” when using the technique of systemic family constellations with my clients. I find it intriguing the number of individuals who will say things like “I forgot to mention that” or “our family never talked about that”. Forgotten/excluded elements have ranged from a miscarriage to a second, unacknowledged family. In some instances, the secret is consciously forgotten, in other instances, it is out of the person’s conscious awareness, and the secrets are only alluded to – but never revealed. In every case, the secret has been key to uncovering the pattern that kept them stuck or resulted in their carrying the burden through physical or emotional pain.
Whether we realize it directly or not, secrets or excluded truths ripple through our lives with many different impacts. My own personal example was an event that happened when I was in grade school; one where I was backed up against a wall by a group of students. I processed that event as a trauma, one that created a subconscious dilemma but I buried it for decades. However, as secrets do it popped up at different times. In hindsight, I see how glimpses of it surfaced in the intensity of my communication style especially when I felt “backed up against a wall”. Eventually, the secret came to light and with it the ability to understand the source of my behavior and thus my ability to change it.
The way we create secrets or excluded truths can take many forms. Some examples:
- Manipulate numbers to make the results look better (i.e. Ponzi schemes, shell games)
- Buy peoples’ silence to prevent the truth from coming out
- Bury a trauma or shame-filled event because it is too painful to process when it takes place
- Stay silent to keep future generations from discovering the truth (we take it to the grave)
- Keep employees in the dark when someone is fired and immediately escorted out
- Avoid conversations to keep from sharing hurtful family truths
- Violate code of ethics by manipulating transactions for hidden personal gain
What are the results of these secrets?
- Undue financial hardship when the truth is revealed
- Addictions form to manage the painful truth we are unable to process
- “Burdened positions” are formed and create productivity and performance gaps
- Families are broken apart and we disconnect from our ancestry
- Sacrifice of lives and livelihoods one employee secretly embezzles or exploits
In the simplest context, systemic secrets and excluded truths keep us from being our true self and finding our place in our families and the world. So what things do you avoid talking about? How are you jumping through hoops to keep information hidden? What is the worst thing that would happen if you revealed the truth? If you are ready to look at hidden patterns that are keeping you from revealing your best self, please contact me for a complimentary coaching conversation.
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