Everybody has a secret, a skeleton in the closet. In fact, most people will definitely have more than one.
A secret is something held deep within that people avoid revealing or sharing with others for fear of judgement and shame. The big statement going on in the mind with a secret is: what would they think of me if they knew…
But the word “secret” derives from Latin secretus meaning “separate, set apart”. It probably refers to the thing that is kept secret – yet it could also apply to the consequence of keeping secrets.
When we keep secrets it sets us apart. We often think we are the only one who has experienced or done something like whatever it is that’s a secret.
So it creates a barrier between whoever is keeping the secret and others. It causes a lonely sense of isolation.
Why we keep secrets
There are many reasons why people keep secrets. From the small secrets of not wanting to admit to anyone you have some really bad music taste to the much bigger ones such as infidelity or hiding an addiction.
Secrets can be a way of avoiding responsibility. One of the initial signs of addiction is that people lie about their drinking or drug use or other addiction including behavioral addictions such as workaholism, shopping, pornography, sex, gaming or gambling.
This is not only to others, but to themselves. The lies addicts tell themselves are a denial.
Frequently the reason for keeping secrets comes down to a deep fear of something or these things being discovered. The thoughts might be: if people knew the truth they would hate me or never speak to me again or be so disappointed.
Or it might be that as a child someone was abused. This creates great feelings of shame, even though there was nothing they could do about it at the time and it certainly wasn’t in any way their fault.
Even so, people desperately don’t want anyone to know. They think it has to be something that will go to the grave with them.
Yet over time this becomes extremely hard work. Feelings of guilt are often there as well, which only adds to the heavy burden that’s pushing down 24 hours a day.
Consequences of keeping these secrets
One consequence is that we are judging ourselves. This type of judgement always has a guilty verdict on ourselves passed by the high court in our heads.
A sentence is passed that we are guilty. Self-condemnation follows and this can only create anxiety.
It also – as with the most harsh forms of imprisonment – can lead to isolation, a self-imposed solitary confinement. We have sentenced ourselves to this because we feel ashamed, dirty, toxic, extremely embarrassed or disgusted.
The problem is the secret is still there. It has no way out – so it constantly hits the insides of whoever has the secret.
It is much like a skin wound. If it is not looked at and treated it’s likely to fester and get increasingly worse.
Some people will try to push down their secrets with drink and/or drugs or another addiction that distracts them – and that seems to at least for a while numb their pain. But the secret remains.
Then depression can result. The word “depression” derives from the Latin word depressare meaning “to press down”.
As the pressure builds, it needs more pressing down – which means more drinking, drugs and/or unhealthy behaviors. Then it may well be that other secrets arise that need to be kept down, such as from how someone cheated on their partner when they were drunk again or spent money on gambling again instead of on their children.
All of this steals a lot of our emotional energy. This means less energy for daily living and the good things in life.
It also means increasingly it can feel as if at any minute it’s all going to erupt.
Why letting go of secrets works
There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that states: “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” It’s not immediately obvious that something such as keeping secrets is so closely connected to addiction.
But keeping secrets is a major block to recovery. This is why Step Four and Step Five of the Twelve Steps are so important.
These two steps involve making a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of our secrets and then admitting “to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”.
This means writing down our secrets and then reading them aloud. This will usually be in Twelve Steps groups to a sponsor, who is someone who has already done the Twelve Steps and who is acting as a mentor.
These two Steps are a release of the pressure, shame, guilt and toxicity.
In reading these out to another person, those people who have done it will discover that they will not be shunned as they thought they would be. In fact a sponsor will often let the person know that they did or had done to them very similar things.
Releasing all these pent-up feelings most often gives an immense feeling of freedom. It can be like stepping from the cold darkness into the warm sunlight.
The person will feel reconnected. That terrible sense of isolation will lift.
The truth will set you free
Of course, a confession like this is not just part of the Twelve Steps. Indeed confession is the word used in the Roman Catholic religion for a similar process.
There are also versions in Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. As well, people who seek the help of a therapist will usually start to talk about things that they have never revealed to anyone else.
It is all a part of the solution.
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