This is the second post inspired by Dr. Brenee Brown’s TED talk on Vulnerability. One of the statements she made was regarding ‘shame’ was “the less you talk about it – the more you have it”; a statement I feel needs more discussion.
Occasionally, clients will talk about having a ‘secret’, something they’ve held onto for a length of time and there is often a sense that if anyone knew their secret, they would be judged as ‘bad’. The secret doesn’t have to be a deep, dark, horrific thing to be disruptive to our psyches; we only have to think or feel like it is. Essentially, anything that we feel would elicit negative judgment may have the same affect. We keep this kind of secret because we are afraid of judgment.
While I don’t condone airing all the dirty laundry in your closet for the world to view, I do believe that sharing those ‘secrets’ with someone close to you is fundamentally beneficial in a number of ways:
First, you aren’t holding the weight of the secret by yourself any longer. Secondly, the knowledge that at least one person doesn’t judge you for the ‘secret’ that you are burdened with will help strengthen your courage.
Dr. Brown says “have the courage to tell the story of who you are”. There isn’t a person on earth who hasn’t made a mistake.
Own. Your. Mistakes.
When you do, they lose their power over you. Try not to make them again, and learn from them! Most of the time, our ‘secrets’ are simply – mistakes! There is NO shame in making a mistake – preventing its reoccurrence – and learning by it.
YOU are not your mistakes. One of the single most destructive cognition affecting people is the idea that having made a mistake (or even a series of them) makes them a bad person. I suspect that ALL good people make mistakes – sometimes BAD ones, but the mistake is bad – NOT the person.
And, this all operates under an assumption that there is actually good and bad – that’s for another post!
Most of the time I find that the fears and feelings about the mistakes people have made and the corresponding secrets are MUCH bigger than the actual mistakes themselves. Clients will frequently tell me that when they begin to share their stories with family and/or friends, they find similar experiences are shared back.
It isn’t unusual to hear that many of these ‘secrets’ people hold revolve around a few socially taboo topics: sex, alcohol, drugs, and abortion.
A good example of how keeping a secret can manifest into a full blown problem is as follows (scenario is made up but typical of conditions):
A young college student engages in a spring break fling, becomes pregnant, and follows through with an abortion; both of which she considers big “mistakes” but feels compelled toward the second because the first would be such a large offense to her parents (she fears). She bears the weight of these actions silently for many years and eventually marries a devout pro-life Christian man. They start their family and at the first obstetrician meeting she has to fill out a form that asks about prior pregnancies. She is compelled to lie on the form in order to perpetuate the ‘secret’ she has been carrying. She develops debilitating anxiety and enters therapy.
Sometimes, simply talking to a therapist and sharing the ‘secrets’ that one is holding, is enough. There is almost instant relief that someone knows your shame and hasn’t passed judgment; in fact, has probably validated all your fears.
Other times, discovering whole communities of people who have similar experiences and seeing how they have handled and/or coped with their feelings is beneficial. I often recommend this in situations of infidelity where couples don’t want friends and family to know their precise struggle but they feel the need to talk to others who have similar experiences.
In all cases – “the less you talk about it – the more you have it”. Share your story with SOMEONE! You are not alone and YOU are NOT bad.