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We all have secrets – parts of ourselves or our past that we keep hidden. At first, a secret may feel like a form of protection, but ultimately the anxiety, fear, shame, regret and guilt take a toll on our body and mind.
Secrets come in many forms such as trauma, unhealthy behavior or even negative beliefs about oneself. It’s easy to internalize them without realizing how harmful they are to our health.
The emotional, mental, physical and spiritual impact of secrets are well documented. In fact, research suggests keeping secrets can significantly boost stress hormones, impact blood pressure, inhibit sleep, contribute to mental health and substance use disorders and even increase chronic pain.
The question becomes: How do you start to safely unburden yourself, get relief and develop a new approach moving forward?
The Path to Letting Go
While it can be difficult to confront the truth behind a secret, especially one you’ve been holding close for years, there are ways to find support and take steps to recover:
Find a safe space. It’s important to think carefully about who you want to share your innermost secrets with. Not everyone is equipped with the empathy or skills to support you. A close friend or spiritual advisor may be a good place to start or a professional who can help you delve into your past and provide guidance in a non-judgmental way.
Build a supportive community. When you have a secret, you can feel as if you’re alone. By connecting with others who have similar experiences, you can begin to reshape your narrative. For example, a woman appeared supremely confident but what nobody knew was, she had a lot of self-hatred. She was binging and purging to make it through the stress of looking perfect. She had a lot of shame tied to her thoughts and behaviors and feared if she told someone they would confirm her belief that she was a failure. Once she started talking to a therapist and her close friends, she was able to find support, realize she was not alone and develop self-compassion.
Create a new lens to view the world. Sometimes we don’t recognize that we hold secret beliefs about ourselves that color every area of our lives. There’s a story I like to tell that perfectly exemplifies how this happens. As a child, a woman was sent by her mother to deliver soup to several neighbors on a snow day. Along the way, she slipped, and the soup went everywhere. When she returned home, her mother said, “You didn’t get the soup to anyone?” From that day, she carried a secret perception that her needs didn’t matter as much as others’, a belief nobody else knew. For years, this affected her relationships and career until she got help and was able to view herself and her needs differently.
Set boundaries. All secrets don’t have to be shared with all people. It’s important to set boundaries so you can protect yourself and support your emotional growth in a healthy and balanced way. This allows you to free yourself from your secrets without allowing others to pull you back into denial, shame and avoidance.
Once people find the support they need, they can make peace with the truth. They accept they are more than their secrets and are worthy of unconditional love. Over time, it’s possible to change your narrative, let go of secrets and lead a more authentic and fulfilling life.