That is what you said as you swallowed your anger. You got used to the knot in your stomach and learnt to live with the anxiety. You mastered the art of pushing back on the memory; another secret filed in the recycle bin of your mind, never to be restored.
Secrets in their most basic form are lies; lies of commission and omission. They are the things we say and the things we choose not to say, like saying we are okay when the truth is that we are hurting. Secrets are the lies we tell people we know well and those we do not know at all, they are the little non-essential details we leave out when we retell a story or the huge life-altering experiences that we keep hidden and in the dark.
We learn the power of secrets when we are young. We find out that the breaking or keeping of a pinky-promise could be the difference between being someone’s best friend or being the snitch who eats alone at break time. We quickly pick up on the fact that not telling on your sister for coming home late could earn you favours and bubble-gum from big school. As you grow older you realise that people are not who they say they are – your favourite uncle beat his wife and your neighbour cheated on her husband.
We all keep secrets and these are the reasons why:
1. We fear the consequences of confrontation.
The fear of confrontation tells you that the pain of keeping a secret is easier than that thing on the other side of confrontation – the truth. Like the woman who knows her husband has a small house but cannot speak of it because she fears having to confront the issues in their relationship. Telling the truth means having to go deep and dig up the roots. Telling the truth is scary.
When we keep secrets we create a space where things that we would normally consider evil become ‘normal’. The infidelity of the married becomes ‘normal’ and even expected. It is an open secret – no one talks about it, but everyone knows that it is happening. He does not always come home after work and when he does, husband and wife skip around the elephant in the room, making small talk.
How are the children?
Farai got a merit badge at school today.
The geyser needs a new element.
People with a fear of confrontation lull themselves into a false sense of peace. We convince ourselves that everything will somehow work itself out if we just keep quiet about it, but that is a fantasy. Confrontation is powerful because it is a choice to speak the truth in love.
2. We use secrets for protection.
Walls define boundaries and they have two functions: Keeping outsiders out and keeping insiders in. Secrets work in much the same way. We confide our secrets to people we want to invite in and withhold them from those we would rather keep at arm’s length. The problem is that we can often become trapped in our own secrets. What once served to protect us now imprisons us.
Stha was molested when she was five years old and too young to understand what was going on. As an adult she knows that a deep wrong was committed against her. She feels a combination of guilt, anger and shame. She does not want your pity and is not anyone’s victim. Stha keeps the molestation a secret because ‘going there’ would mean opening up a deep part of herself to another person, something she is not willing to do.
Vulnerability is not an act of weakness, it is a powerful act. It is you intentionally taking down your walls to let people in. Walls may keep us ‘safe’ but they also keep us trapped. Vulnerability brings truth and truth brings freedom.
3. We like to keep up appearances.
People-pleasing is the most popular sport of our generation. We like to please people that we love and even people we have just met. We pick and choose the details that make us or the other person look good. We like to be liked and to preserve people’s ideas of us, even when they are lies.
People-pleasers cannot tell the truth about their personal struggles. We can be struggling with depression for years but you would never know because we have become adept at maintaining the illusion of “I’m okay.” The urge to please is natural but damaging. Like a dog eager to please its master, you become addicted to approval.
I am a people-pleaser. I like to be liked and I want to be all things to all people. In the process of juggling my multiple identities I have come to realise that I am not only lying to other people, but to myself. In my efforts to keep the real me a secret I am losing myself and becoming someone that even I could not recognise.
I also realise that I not only had an obsession with keeping up appearances, but a fear of confrontation and vulnerability. I keep secrets because I like to keep the peace. I fear vulnerability because it requires me telling on myself and telling on other people; that sounds a lot like betrayal.
The truth is that secrets make us fearful and are a barrier to authenticity. Secrets make us emotional cripples who cannot connect because we do not want to be found out. Keeping secrets keeps you trapped in the past and caught in a pattern of lies and deception. Whatever your reason for keeping that secret, it is not worth sacrificing your health and happiness and the health of your relationships.
Now that you know the truth the question is: Will you tell it?