What keeps things hidden? How does secrecy feel to you? Is it like a deep, reflective silence where truth grows rooted and strong? Is tender or brittle and chaotic, a forgotten bear trap lying in wait for some unsuspecting person?
Denial protects us, to a limit. When a sudden shock happens and life goes awry, sometimes we need that experience of cognitive dissonance, that partial rejection of the new reality, to help us survive the moment.
People who have never had to hide something about themselves in “the closet” cannot quite grasp the toll secrecy on the well-being of the closeted person. There is a world of difference between “No one can find out I’m gay” and “I don’t think it’s anyone’s business but I’m not trying to hide it either.” The difference is one of ability to choose, freedom, and fear of reprisal. Coming out as anything requires courage and is terrifying, but the cost of staying in is the deadening of the inner life. How else can one tolerate the constant anxiety of being discovered?
I’ve met people who are so committed to honesty that they claimed they would truthfully answer any question asked, and others who would share details of their lives that I did not care to know. Even this kind of honesty can become inauthentic, in which the person performing self-disclosure is not including an awareness of audience, of their goals for the self-disclosure, of what is important about themselves to be known in the moment and what could unfold with time. Self-revelation creates intimacy and trust, powerful lessons and confrontations, and can free one’s self of a burden. Not every relationship benefits from this kind of intensity, particularly when the revelation is bluntly applied.
Self-deception warps us over time. Where there are places inside clouded with shame, regret, greed, or fear, we sometimes find the instinctive want to close up and defend against them. These are the problems that slowly poison us, yet we cannot bear to admit to them and let them be seen. Perhaps something in us is afraid of what changes will have to happen when we finally accept the truth. Perhaps something in us is afraid of being rejected by the person who sees this. Perhaps we recognize that our lives are a house of cards built on the foundations of a falsehood.
We waste energy in self-justification and defensiveness, hiding our flaws from criticism or accountability. We whitewash the reputations of our heroes and ancestors, colluding with their crimes, instead of accepting them as the humans they were. Some part of us wants to believe it is righteous and exempt from the evil we see. It wants something pure and untarnished. We harbor nostalgia for an idyllic past that never happened. We lie to ourselves by refusing our faults and accusing others of them, or seeing only our faults and failing to take responsibility for our power.
Some part of us wants everything: integrity and self-righteousness and to get away with bending the rules. We think we’re justified but no one else is. We want punishment for those we dislike and protections for those we like.
We convince ourselves that unfriending someone on Facebook is courageous political activism, restricting ourselves to small circles of like-minded people who agree on the same thing and share articles by others who agree with us explaining why we’re right.
We’re not right all the time. We’re wrong about something in this moment and don’t even know it, because we think we’re right.
Take a moment and think about a secret you’ve kept, for yourself or someone else, or something that you’re afraid others will find out about you. If nothing comes up, imagine as though there is something you’re keeping from yourself that you don’t yet see.
What do you notice about this secret? How does it feel in your body? What emotions come up? What thoughts? What inner battles?
Imagine this secret is a bubble of air at the bottom of a bowl of honey. Imagine the secret gently rising up, slowly parting the layers of resistance that slow its journey. Follow the secret until it rises to the surface and pops, shedding its bubble of secrecy and emerging into air and light.
How does that feel? What changes in your experience?
Please share your responses to this article in the comments. If you have trouble commenting, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.