The Absolute Truth about Secrets & Shame.
It was a beautiful autumn day in a gorgeous, leafy suburb of Sydney. I was around 7 or 8 and nearly vomiting with anticipation. I can still smell the wet leaves and feel the presence of my dad beside me as we walked up the steep hill from the Valencia Street Wharf – and the school bus. There was a huge German Shepherd in the yard on the corner that I was too scared to walk past and so my Dad was walking me home. God that dog barked loudly.
I’m still not sure what dreadful acting I did – but I reached down into a nearby gutter, pulled out a handful of cash and pretended I was incredibly surprised.
You see, I’d hidden it there after I stole it from my mum’s purse.
I’m actually not sure how long I would have kept the act up – she found out at the supermarket when her purse was empty – but, dang, I had my eye on a brand-new Seiko watch and I was going to get it.
You know what – sitting here – watching Game of Thrones – a good forty-something years later and I can still feel the absolute drop of my stomach to my feet when I think of the look on my father’s face when he came to tell me he knew what I’d done.
I’m still not sure I’ve ever admitted I actually did do it – to anyone except my partner, recently – maybe not even myself for years – why? Such crippling shame. Absolute shame.
And you know what has fed that shame – secrecy.
My family was big into secrets and appearances and when you’re raised this way it tells your brain that there is something to hide. That something isn’t right and that it would ruin your life if other people found out the truth about you.
Looking back – a lot of the things we were told to keep a secret as kids weren’t even big things. Just lots and lots and lots of secrets.
Truth is, secrecy is the thug that does the dirty work for shame.
Where we have secrets, there is always Shame. They are best buddies.
Shame moves through generations. Secrecy is the muscle that fuels the process.
Shame is different to guilt. We feel guilty when we have done something wrong. We feel shame about the fact that we are wrong – as people.
Secrets come in all shapes and sizes. They go from huge lies to just omitting the truth. And if you’re wondering what that is – it’s not telling someone something that you know they should know.
Every single person has secrets. We all hide things for a ton of different reasons. Ranging from guilt and shame to just wanting desperately to fit in. Which really is just the shame that we feel when we decide we’re not enough. Maybe we want to protect other people.
Social media is full of it – beautifully curated lives that hide the truth of being human. That it’s messy and difficult and occasionally absolutely beautiful.
The biggest secrets actually wear us down – emotionally, spiritually and physically. Carrying around lots of secrets is soul-destroying, tiring on our spirits and can fatally affect our relationships.
The shame fracture begins internally and is insidious. Cracking us from the inside. Often irreversibly. There is always a price to be paid for carrying a secret. And it’s often our closest, most intimate relationships that suffer. Including the one with ourselves.
To carry secrets and still be able to function – we need to find a place for them to live in our brains. So we “compartmentalise.”
In psychology, compartmentalization is defined as a defence mechanism where someone suppresses their thoughts and emotions. It’s not always done consciously.
Compartmentalization, although I had no idea I was doing it, was how I was able to function as a mother, wife and student after the unexpected death of one of my kids, sexual assaults and a violent marriage. I was a pro at it. I pushed that stuff down as far as it would go.
I felt that it was shameful to not be able to cope.
To maintain the secrecy, I needed to hide the fact that I was falling apart – I put my feelings in a basket way at the bottom of my brain and left them there – for years.
I’d been taught as a child that certain feelings were unacceptable. I was ashamed of feeling anything.
I didn’t compartmentalise purposefully – I only knew there were responsibilities that needed to be handled and it was up to me to HTFU and do them.
I don’t even get mad at my brain for doing it. I needed to. I had 3 other kids – 5 later, and a house that needed to be looked after.
Trouble is – you can’t do this for too long.
Maybe you’ve had glimpses of the feelings you hid when you felt ashamed. Chances are they scare the S$$t out of you. Pandora’s box and all that.
But – let me tell you another secret. Your brain is going to spit them out at some point. It always does. And – it’s much better if you choose when and where this happens.
I’ve told the story before of my ending up in a bathtub – aged 29 – fully clothed – begging for curry and having continuous panic attacks for days. Oh yeah – and hiccoughing loudly for all those days too. In a very violent fashion. I wish I could write about the noise I made. My body could no longer hold my secrets. It became too much.
I wish for you a gentler release of your shame.
I wish for your shame to find a safe place to unfold.
I wish for you to see that life is tough. Being human is tough.
And – that the greatest comfort lies in sharing our stories with other people.
There is no shame in being human. There is no shame in not knowing what to do. Or say. Or feel. Or how to act.
There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed by life. In not having words to describe how you feel.
There is no shame in admitting that you feel lonely. Or angry. Or sad. Or completely overwhelmed.
We need to let go of the idea that some people “get it” – naturally. No – some people hide it better.
Life can knock you to your knees and spit you out – completely changed. And then, just when you think you have sorted it out – life will send you reeling again.
Even good things can be stressful. Saying this doesn’t make you ungrateful.
Finally – I want to speak to that little kid in you that still feels unworthy.
The kid that’s kept secrets all the years:
You are safe.
You deserve to put the shame down and to live a life where you don’t feel the need to keep secrets to be accepted.
Choose this for yourself. Be deliberate – seek out help before your body makes the decision for you.
Me – I hope that you find a place where you feel safe.
Look around for the best people, therapists, coaches to help you to realise that you are enough.
Places where you can tell all your secrets and know that it’s okay.