June 25, 2017

It’s Not the Secret that Really Hurts, It’s the Shame.

Not all of our stories are difficult.

Some are funny or poignant, some are self-congratulatory—hey, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating your accomplishments.

But the stories that we often keep to ourselves are the ones that come with shame attached. These are the stories we are least likely to share, but are the ones we need to share the most.

These are the stories that we believe will change how people in our lives view us for the worse. And so these stories, and important truths about who we are, stay in the shadows.

And, in a very real way, so do we.

When we can’t tell the truth about something in our life, we aren’t free to be open and present in the way that, deep down, we know we want to be. When we feel we can’t tell the truth, the person we are presenting to the world is like an actor we’ve sent out to portray us. But we aren’t them—they are just a piece of us.

There are stories that we don’t share widely because they aren’t ours alone. Other people have skin in the game of that story, and to broadcast it to the world may be a violation of their privacy or trust.

But if a significant piece of that story is yours, then it’s important to have the space for others to hear it. It’s important for that part of who you are to be witnessed; whether it’s by your partner, a trusted friend, someone from your spiritual community, or the members of your 12-step group, you need to be seen.

You in your entirety. All of you, in your beauty, strength, and shame.

The Washington Post has a new slogan: Democracy Dies In Darkness. So do our souls.

My family held a secret for a long time. When I found out what it was, I was shocked that they had been able to keep it to themselves for so long. That was all I focused on at the time, but later I was able to see the cost of keeping that secret. I was able to go back to points in time where the weight of that secret was obvious.

What I saw was that the secret itself wasn’t the issue. The issue was the shame around the secret. The issue was all the things that couldn’t be said, because saying them would have revealed the existence of the secret.

To me, the funny thing was that when the secret was finally revealed, it wasn’t as big a deal to me as anyone had imagined it would be. There was the requisite, “Holy sh*t” moment and then things went on pretty much as before.

We carry so much shame around things that we think we should have done differently and better. We beat ourselves bloody for our imperfections, real and imagined. We are merciless about our failures. We hide these painful stories, and they take more and more space in our lives. The story is painful, and the shame we have around it adds to the pain.

There is no one who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “Hmm, how can I totally screw up my life, my kid, my job, my (fill in the blank), today?” No one.

We are all doing the best we can at the moment. This doesn’t mean our best is necessarily good enough—sometimes, it just isn’t—but carrying around a secret because we believe that what we did, or who we are, makes us bad or unlovable is agonizing.

Our freedom, our joy, lie in being seen—for in being seen, we open the door to being loved. Sharing our stories makes space for love. Sharing our stories makes space for us to love ourselves because we find that we aren’t alone. Others show compassion for us. Our story—and shame—is shared by others.

If your story is one that causes you shame, choose wisely when sharing it. Take care of yourself by opening to someone you know to be kind and trustworthy. Do what you need to do to make the sharing as safe as possible. And then take the risk, share your truth, unburden yourself, and feel the relief.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou



Author: Omkari Williams
Image: Monique Prater/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Taia Butler
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman

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