What secrets do you keep? What information about yourself is buried so deep that you wouldn’t dream of sharing it with another? You may even pray when you meet someone new that they never find out and fear that if they did, they would never be able to love or accept you and would probably even leave you. On the other hand, you may hold to yourself some parts of your life that are not necessary for others to know about, or may reserve information about your life story for a time in a relationship or friendship when trust and rapport have strengthened enough to warrant sharing on a deeper level. Some things about your life (past or present) are appropriate to keep private, and do not need to be privy to all relationships in your life. So herein lies another contrasted discussion: how do you tell the difference between keeping a secret and maintaining privacy? Hint: The answer is contained in the motive.
Secrets are fueled by SHAME:
Shame is the belief that something is wrong with you. (This is different from guilt, which implies you did something wrong and need to make amends). Many times we shame ourselves, “How could I have done that? What is wrong with me that I act, feel, think, or believe that way? What is wrong with me that _____ happened?” When shame is experienced, it becomes difficult to accept yourself and there is a tendency to believe that others will not accept you if they were to hear about whatever is seemingly “wrong” with you.
Shame creates a foundation for secret keeping. Secrets are hidden facts about you that require protection in order to stay safely locked away. They may even prompt lying if someone treads too close. Secrets create a wall around you that prevents others from fully knowing you and serve as a block to true intimacy in relationships. Secrets require a lot of energy to maintain and may even get locked away so deeply that they are repressed and denied as part of your experience. This can lead to unconscious patterns of distraction, smoke-screening, and sabotage. You may unconsciously push people away or keep them at a safe distance in order to prevent them from knowing your full truth.
This desire to hide may become so engrained in your interactions that you don’t even hear the lies that you tell about yourself in order to cover up the truth. Here are a few examples of the kinds of secrets you may be holding on to (as usual, this is not exhaustive, but will give you a good idea of what constitutes a secret and may spark an awareness of your own):
- past abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or psychological)
- violence in your relationship or home
- DUI charges
- sexually transmitted diseases
- mental illness
- suicide attempts; family members that have committed suicide
- anything that would damage the “image of the family”
- time spent in prison/jail
- fear of abandonment
- thoughts that you will never be good enough; successful enough; etc.
Remember, for some of you, the above information may not feel like a secret and may even fit into the category of private information. Just ask yourself, “WHY do I feel the need to hold this information inside?” “Is there shame attached to this experience?” “Am I afraid of what others might think of me if they knew?” “What do I do in order to prevent others from finding out?”
Privacy maintains PERSONAL BOUNDARIES:
Privacy is all about personal boudaries. Private information about you, your relationships, your life, or your hopes, dreams, and wishes contains no shame. However, as mentioned above, there is appropriate timing for sharing deeper aspects of yourself. It depends on the context of a relationship, the level of trust established, the setting, the context within which someone asks for information, and the level of self-worth and value that you hold for yourself.
Privacy speaks to a decision that you personally make regarding who, what, when, where, and how you share information and aspects of your experience. Someone may not have yet earned a spot in your life to recieve your innermost details. Or someone may have lost the right to that information due to a violation or betrayal. Privacy comes from a much more empowered place within you, whereas secrets are disempowering.
Choosing to keep something about yourself private, respecting yourself, and choosing to share when you are ready, deepens the opportunity for intimacy with others. You are your own best advocate and you are in charge. You never have to share anything that you do not wish to share. But check in with yourself as to why you are not sharing. Is it because you value the information enough to reserve it for yourself or only for those who earn the right to hear it? Or are you afraid of what they will think of you if they only knew?
As stated above, here is another list of potential issues and experiences you may choose to keep private. Many of the items involve information that is shared in relationships. Assess the list for yourself and as always, feel free to add your own:
- financial status
- confidences that friends, partners, children have shared with you
- a surprise that will eventually be revealed
- ideas that you are developing
- beliefs about how to raise your children
- religious beliefs
- political beliefs
- your past experiences that require trust in order to share
- your inner thoughts and feelings
- your fantasys
- sexual practices
- relationship agreements
- your body
- your home
Healing shame and releasing secrets:
If you discover that you are holding secrets and with that awareness comes shame, know that healing is possible. The best way to release a secret is to name it. It also helps to reveal it to a witness. That witness may be a trusted friend, family member, teacher, or therapist. Speaking the secret out loud diminishes its power and frees you from all the work that is required to hold it in. It takes immense courage to speak your Truth. I am always honored and humbled when you take the risk to share your sacred secrets with me in therapy. The goal is always to release the shame and empower you to integrate and transform your experience into a private matter that you can then choose whom you share it with and when you share it. Free yourself from the weight of secrets. Speak your Truth! And in the powerful words of Sara Bareilles in her song Brave:
“Don’t run, stop holding your tongue. Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. Maybe one of these days you can let the light in and show me, how big your brave is!
Say what you want to say, and let the words fall out, honestly… I want to see you be brave!
And since your history of silence won’t do you any good, did you think it would? Let your words be anything but empty, why don’t you tell them the truth?
I wonder what would happen if you say what you want to say, and let the words fall out, honestly… I want to see you be brave!”