Secret Shame Is Bad for Your Health—But This Science-Based Strategy Will Liberate You
Secrets are one of the only things that every human being has in common. From simple secrets like the fact that it was really you who broke that glass, to more complex secrets involving a web of lies and sensitive emotions. Secrets are everywhere.
Personally, a lot of my secrecy has come in the form of hiding my identity, ideas, and opinions of others from them to make them feel more comfortable. To fit in. These secrets are things that at the time are terrifying for me to imagine disclosing to the people involved. I have a shame within me for holding these thoughts and for not being true to myself. For pretending to have a certain opinion on something, just so that I seem normal and don’t start an argument of opinions. It’s a deep shame—the shame of betrayal—and the worst thing about it is… it always comes back to target you.
Shame by its very nature cannot be the fault of others. Shame is a self-centered, self-directed, emotion. Other people might contribute to shame. But it’s you who bears the brunt of the impact of this emotion.
We so often pride ourselves on being honest and open, that having secrets can seem in direct opposition to our morals. Which is why keeping secrets leads to shame.
Shame has been associated in several studies to worsening in mental health. One of the studies explored this shame in relation to sexual orientation in gay men and straight men. The study found that gay men report worse mental health than straight men and this is combined with a higher frequency of reported shame in their emotional state.
It’s not hard to see how shame could have a horrific impact on someone’s mental state. Shame takes away your self-worth and makes it so that the blame is seemingly solely resting on you. It leaves you feeling like you are the root of every problem.
An impact of increased shame, specifically about secrecy, can also be that you become intensely focused on the secret that you’re hiding. The secret begins to eat away at you and take up a huge amount of your time and energy. The more you focus on something like a secret, the more apparent it becomes in your mind and the more you will ruminate about it. Always focusing on things you’re hiding is a certain way to make yourself into a shame-filled, paranoid, wreck.
So how to fix it?
Some studies suggest that mental health surrounding secrecy can be improved by learning to shift your emotional state. The composition of your emotions dictates how your mental state behaves and in the end, your entire range of feelings. So having the right balance of emotions is paramount!
Shame is a very negative emotion that doesn’t prompt positive change, but rather forces one down a hole of self-blame and worthlessness.
When it comes to secrecy, it may not be possible to let the secret out because of the impact on others. On the other hand, coming clean may be possible but it might take a lot of time to find the right moment and minimize the negative outcome.
In that case, simply shifting your focus of emotion from shame to guilt might help.
I know that feeling guilty doesn’t seem to fix anything… But it can be a vital starting point for positive change to occur. You see, feeling shame forces more self-blame and less willingness to improve. Guilt makes you feel like you have the obligation to fix things. Whilst with shame it’s the secret which takes all your attention… With guilt, it is your lack of trying to fix the problem which takes your attention. Because of this outlook, you are much more likely to want to fix things and will be so much more motivated to start making those changes a reality.
So how to shift your emotional state?
1. Stop blaming yourself: Yes, you may be the one keeping the secret. You may even be the one who made it so that a secret needed to be kept. But there are often so many other factors at play in a situation that you cannot be completely to blame. So take a step back and see yourself objectively. Just how much of a role do you really have in the situation? Are you just taking all of the blame onto your shoulders because you feel that somebody has to? Try to see the whole picture and not just your snapshot.
2. Start to think about how you could fix it: When you feel guilty for something that happened or a situation, try to think about how you could possibly fix what happened. It’s not your responsibility alone and this may not apply to those who are quick to try and take on everything and fix it all. But more many, seeing that they have the ability to fix something, can bring back some of the self-worth which shame takes away.
It may be that one day you need neither feel shame or guilt, and that is the ultimate goal. But sometimes, we have to hold secrets or white lies and we still feel bad. If this is the case it’s better to feel guilty that the whole situation occurred and be motivated to help, than to feel shame and be consumed by self-blame. It begins really with realizing that you can change and make a positive difference.
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Photo: Mitchell Hollander – Unsplash; Arif Riyanto – Unsplash; Joseph Pearson – Unsplash.