Sometimes we do things we aren’t proud of. Maybe things happen to us that embarrass us or cause us shame. For some of us, there are things about our identity that we just know will make others hate us. Occasionally, we take those things and we turn them into secrets.
I used to think a secret was this thing we bury inside of ourselves that we want to protect from others. Lately I have been noticing something different. It seems that secrets aren’t things that we lock away in a cage somewhere, but things that lock us in cages.
Here’s the pattern I have been seeing. There’s a thing, a thing that causes us some shame and we have ourselves a secret. We go to great lengths to protect our secret. We lie, we evade, we deny, you know the drill. Sometimes we might think about just confessing the secret. We might even feel the words creeping up into our throats when around people we care about. We practice the words when we are alone.
“I cheated on you.”
“I take things.”
“I was abused as a kid.”
“I’m in a lot of debt you don’t know about.”
“I throw up on purpose.”
We imagine what might happen if the secret crosses our lips and the image is almost always horrific. We envision people throwing things, telling others or walking away. It’s better if we don’t talk about it, ever. Things are good now, it’s not a good time. It would be selfish of me to confess this, I would only be doing it to relieve my own conscience.
Unfortunately, the longer it stays inside of us the worse things get. You might start to think that everyone knows and you look stupid. Or you start to tell yourself that if the people in your life knew, they wouldn’t be in your life. Then over time, every display of affection toward you gets immediately discounted. Someone says, “Wow, you are so awesome, I just love you.” And you hear a voice inside of you say, “If you really knew me you wouldn’t.”
At some point the little secret you kept in a cage deep inside has become the warden at the jail in which you are the only captive. And bizarrely enough, you are the only one who holds the key.
What a twisted mess.
So, what do you do? Well, sorry friend, I can’t tell you. That sucks, huh? The trouble with this mess is, there is no suitable one size fits all answer.
This is what I will tell you. As someone who was a chronic secret keeper, finally unlocking my own prison was the most magical thing I ever did for myself. Depending on the secret there were different ramifications. Some I was welcomed to pleasant surprises of support and affirmation and some left me with some bruised relationships that required work and healing. I also have some pals who have recently started living openly and vulnerably with people around them. For all of us, once the dust settles we find a fresh wind of confidence, strength and self acceptance that is worth far more than anything we might have been protecting ourselves from by keeping it inside.
I’ll leave you with this. There is officially no advice in this post, just an observation. If you think there are secrets compromising your relationships and you want help uncovering them, that might be an excellent reason to find a local therapist. We are good at that kind of thing.