Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Secrets: The Good, The Bad & The Unspoken

Secrets.  Just the word sparks our interest. Why? Because something is being kept from us or we are concealing something from others.  Although the word "secret" feels light and airy, it carries with it a mysterious weightiness which only its holder can attest to. For today's blog, we are going to explore the anatomy of secrets - differentiating the good secrets from the bad, and more importantly, exposing the unspoken destructive characteristics which accompany a lengthy hibernation. Lastly, I'm going to encourage you to respond to a few writing prompts. Because secrets are uniquely personal and private, we often learn best from our own experiences.

The Good

Secrets, of course, can be good.  They can be fun! It's planning a surprise baby-shower for a friend; it's not telling the rest of the family about your plans to propose to your partner (so no one else will spoil it); it's making the effort to show up at a special event for your best friend after telling him you had to work; it's saving for months in your private account in order to pay for that special anniversary vacation or gift!
A Surprise!
Secrets are good when...
 they conceal information and/or carry the confidence of someone
 with the primary and purposeful intention of bringing joy to others.  

The Bad

Secrets can also be bad. Secrets can be dangerous and destructive. It's agreeing to hide the truth from someone or something; it's choosing to lie for someone or something and concealing it; it's covering up wrong-doings for personal gain or pleasure; it's misleading others regarding one's intentions within any relationship or situation.
Manipulating what others know.
Secrets are bad when...
they manipulate others by controlling what is known and not known,
with either an intentional or unintentional consequence of harming others.

The Unspoken

Most of us don't like to acknowledge the pain and discomfort of  keeping a secret. And although holding a good secret is not typically harmful, the longer we hold onto or hide anything, the more it weighs on us and depletes us. Holding a bad secret is extremely self-destructive. And the longer it is held, the more damaging it becomes. Why? Let's take a look at the Unspoken lifespan of a secret and its insidious impact on us.

Also, I've provided a few writing prompts for your reflection. Responding to them will assist you in connecting to your experiences with secrets and how you may handle them differently in the future.  

1.  Phase One - Seduction and Satisfaction 

Unhealthy or bad secrets are conceived out of necessity - to cover up, manipulate, or withhold truth. In the moment, we are seduced by them because they serve a purpose or they fill a need.  As secrets are born, there is an intoxicating measure of satisfaction as we experience their successful implementation and integration into our lives and into the lives of others. At times, there is an unusually heightened sense of relief, as if we have obtained a stay of execution from the truth of our reality. We are safe in our secret, at least for a while.

When I was in my early twenties, I was in a highly unhealthy relationship. The person was an alcoholic and abusive - emotionally, psychologically, and financially. Although I didn't know much about alcoholism and abuse at the time, I remember I was so ashamed of how I was living and with whom. Therefore, I kept the truth of my turmoil from my family and friends. However, the longer I pretended that everything was ok, the more I hurt myself in the process. When I finally had the courage to share my secret with family, they were supportive and assisted me when I left the relationship. 
Secrets hide shame.
Reflective prompt: Think about a time you agreed to keep a secret or you held one of your own. How did that feel at first? How long did that feeling last? What would you differently next time?

2. Phase Two -Repression and Regulation

It has been my experience that shortly after the period of seduction and satisfaction, we enter into phase of mild to moderate anxiety as our energy must be focused on repressing the truth and regulating or managing our secret. Typically, it is during this time where lies upon lies are told and/or stories are changed, altered, and amended in order to sustain the secret. Depending on the severity of the secret and its potentially damaging consequences (if exposed), the holder of the secret may experience physical, emotional, and psychological effects.

In 2010, quite by accident I stumbled across a deeply buried family secret - my parents had lied for 60 years about their wedding date. Although today it would not illicit the shame, scandal, and stigma of years ago, their lie was kept secret to cover up an unplanned pregnancy. Not wanting to dishonor my parents or  hurt my sisters, for several years I kept my parents' secret as my secret. However, being a person who has worked hard to "live in truth", I felt the burden of faking and pretending. At times, I felt angry at the hypocrisy of my parents for fabricating lies for so many years to cover up their secret while being extremely judgmental and critical of their children's choices and how we led our lives.

Reflective prompt:  As you repressed the truth and regulated your secret, how did you feel? What did you do which was out of character for you or which ran contrary to your healthy ways of being? What would you do differently next time? 

3. Phase Three - Suffocation and Strangulation

It is my belief that as we continue to manage our secrets by spinning our lies and weaving them  into our being, they will eventually suffocate our truths and strangle our spirits. Tremendous emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual, and at times, financial resources and energy are needed to sustain their longevity. Tragically,  because of the insidious nature of secrets, over time the secret itself evolves into the new altered truth. It is in this phase when we justify the secret and deny it's potentially destructive ramifications. Many individuals turn to or relapse into self-soothing or self-medicating behaviors to cope with the internal turmoil.

Many years ago, I was working with a client  in her mid-twenties on personal growth issues. She had a conflicted relationship with her mom but she adored her father. He was her hero. My client was disturbed by her father's recent relapse into alcoholism after maintaining years of sobriety. Several months after working together, my client discovered her father had kept secret a first marriage and family along with a serious felony record. As her father would disclose to my client later, "The toll of carrying the secret for thirty years almost destroyed  me."
Keeping a secret for a long time can feel like being imprisoned by it.
Reflective prompt:  If you kept a secret for a lengthy period of time, when did you realize it was affecting you?  How did it affect you?  What would you do differently next time?

4. Phase Four - Revelation and Restoration

A secret will continue to live on until it is exposed or revealed. The irony is that we believe keeping the secret is saving us from pain when in truth concealing it fuels and feeds our fear, anxiety, and turmoil. Our secrets actually hold us hostage and keep us bound in unhealthiness. Healing and restoration can begin only after its revelation.

When my daughter was a child, I wanted to share a few secrets from my past with her. However, I wanted to wait until she was age-appropriate. Although a few family members knew of some of the painful parts of my past, "I" wanted to be the one to talk with her about them. Unfortunately, an unhealthy angry family member shared one personal piece of information with my daughter in order to hurt me. Even though my daughter was confused by the information, I was able to talk to her honestly and answer her questions. Not only did the experience  provide a strong bond and foundation from which to navigate future conversations,but I felt a tremendous level of release and renewal by freeing myself from their hold on me.
Revealing secrets brings renewal
Reflective prompt: When your secrets were exposed or revealed, what consequences - both positive and negative - were experienced?  How would you describe your feelings? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

I believe that someone might be reading this and thinking, "I have held onto my secret to protect my family." Or, "It is just too painful to talk about. I can't ever disclose my secret." Or, "What good what it do to tell others now?  Too much time has passed And it would just bring unnecessary injury to others." I would say to you the following:
You know yourself and your situation best. 
 Honor what is healthy for you and for those who are or will be impacted by your decision. 
Most importantly, keep a  pulse on the unrest you might be experiencing by not living in truth
 in contrast to the peace you will regain by the reclaiming of it.

Peace comes with living in truth.
Lastly, although there are similarities between keeping some matters personal or private and  holding a secret, there are important differences.  In our next blog -  Secrets & Private Matters - we will examine those differences along with a few strategies for how and when to disclose a secret.

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If you feel betrayed because of a "truth which became a lie" or a "belief which was shattered", 
~ It is time to find your peace ~

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