I used to love working with my teen girls’ group and hearing them complain that people had shared something they wanted to keep secret. It was always something that they felt wrong about doing or they would not have cared who shared their secret, right? I always told them that if they were doing something that needed to be kept secret, then they didn’t feel good about that thing and they would be better off not doing it! We are no different. Why do we want something to be kept secret? The only thing I can think of is that isn’t something we know in our hearts is wrong is when we want someone to keep the secret of a gift or surprise party. Even then, some people are offended by such secrets and surprises. Can you think of any other reason we need to keep something a secret?
The connection between shame and secrets seems clear. Isn’t shame the reason that we want to keep something a secret? And we are all learning more and more how destructive it is to feel shame. It leads to self-hatred, anxiety, feeling that there is something defective about us. Who wants to feel that way? Let’s keep examining how we have gotten used to keeping secrets and why.
You can say that you kept your secret from your spouse because they would just get angry if they knew. Well, perhaps it’s wise to ask yourself why they would be angry about what you are doing? This is so common, partners keeping secrets to manage the other person’s reaction to what they have done, said or thought. There is the proverbial shopping spree, where you sneak the bags of clothes into the closet. And then you pretend they are not new when he/she comments on them. Isn’t this just avoiding facing the reality of whether you can truly afford them, or whether you even need them or whether you and your spouse disagree about that question? Aren’t you avoiding the necessary discussion about whether you have a shopping addiction that is hurting your family’s finances or whether he is constantly anxious about money and wants to save every dime unnecessarily.
Such discussions are certainly not easy and you may need professional support to sort out why you fight about money (or sex or raising the kids or whatever the issue), but if you face and heal that issue instead of keeping secrets, you can become much closer as result. There is no secret that cannot be healed with consciousness and love. Is it a risk to share your secret and unload the shame you are carrying? Absolutely. But, what’s the impact on your relationship when you keep secrets, even small ones like the shopping example? Every single secret creates distance between the two people. You can try to pretend it doesn’t, but it does. So, risking telling the truth is the only to heal that distance and potentially create even more intimacy. When the secret is out and can be healed; when you give each other the chance to go through the process of honest communication about whatever happened, it opens the opportunity for tremendous relief and closeness.
And if it’s something you are contemplating doing, that you don’t want anyone to know about, don’t do it! Just don’t do it! At least take the time to think about what you are considering doing. Ask yourself why you are thinking of doing that and what would be the cost if you did. Taking a pause before acting is probably one of my favorite pieces of advice. Give yourself time to consider the consequences and ask yourself if it’s worth it? You will pay such a high price for that secret. If you are having an affair or gambling and embezzling or hiding a baby you had that your wife doesn’t know about; whatever it is, you will suffer for that secret. In Alcoholics Anonymous and all 12-Step programs, they say “We are only as sick as our secrets,” and “Secrets kill.” Why do they say that? Because decades of experience has shown that keeping secrets eats away at people and makes them drink and do other self-destructive things to try to make the bad feelings go away.
Another painful example of keeping secrets is people who do not know who their birth fathers are. They believe that the man who married their mothers is their father, but it is a lie that their mothers are keeping a secret. How do you think that mother feels? They drink and do self-destructive things and feel increased anxiety every single day of their lives. And for what? The longer they wait to tell their children the truth, the longer they suffer and the stronger the reaction will be when the grown child finds out the truth. We are truly only as sick as our secrets.
Today, let’s look at our secrets and tell them to someone we trust, hopefully our partners. Get them off your chest. Take the risk that you can work out whatever happens as a result. Your heart, soul, and physical health will be so grateful that you did. And have compassion for yourself. We were mostly taught that making mistakes is a bad thing, not something that is inevitable and part of life. Remember that we are actually made to learn and grow and that making mistakes is how we learn and grow. Have faith and courage and go ahead and face your secrets!