The Danger of Secrets
We’ve all held on to a secret at one time or another. The secret party, the secret lover, the secret travel destination, or the shared secret with a friend. To be one of the chosen few who shares such a secret makes us feel special, part of the inner circle of those “in the know.” But what if the secret you hold on to threatens your very existence? If you don’t keep the secret, your life could be in irrevocably changed, or even in danger. But if you do keep the secret, you could destroy yourself anyway.
In the story of The Woman with Golden Hair, a woman who lives in the woods is murdered by a man because she refuses to marry him. She decides to give him some of her golden hair in the hopes that he’ll leave her alone. But when he tries to sell it, he is jeered at. In retribution, he kills her and buries her body by the river. In this story, the secret is, of course the murder. Yet despite the fact that the woman is dead, her secret finds a way of being heard. After she is buried her hair grows up through the soil of her grave and is cut by shepherds to make a flute. It is through the flute playing that her secret is revealed:
Here lies the woman of the golden hair
murdered and in her grave,
killed by the son of the coal burner
because she wished to live.
In this way, the murderer is brought to justice for those who live in the wild woods.
This story illustrates how secrets cannot/will not be hidden indefinitely. Though the woman with the golden hair has been murdered, a part of her finds a way to be heard to exact justice. And so it is true in our own lives.
Perhaps some traumatic event has befallen you, but you feel too ashamed to admit it to anyone. Maybe they won’t understand or even believe you when you tell them. Or you’re afraid that once you reveal the secret they won’t love you anymore. They might even blame you for what happened. Perhaps they know what happened to you but want you to keep it silent because to reveal the secret could cause shame to themselves or others. The secret that you have carried may even torment you to the point that you want to end it all just to have some peace.
And so the years go by and you hold on to your secret. At times you may even forget about what happened to you. But your body won’t forget. You may become fearful of a world that, in your innocence, you were once able to trust. Your dreams may send you messages that you don’t quite understand. Somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind, the secret lives, and in time it will find a way to be heard much like the spiralling hair creeping up out of the grave in The Woman with the Golden Hair. While you might feel it preferable to be able to forget a shameful secret and not be bombarded by the instinctual need for the truth, I think this is the mind’s way of trying to help you toward the path of healing. According to Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women who Run with Wolves, it is necessary to reveal the secret in order to heal. The healing process may take time and the secret may need to be told over and over in order to release it. But this slow unraveling process is preferable to a lifetime of self-torture from keeping the secret hidden.
When the secret cannot be held at bay any longer, it is essential to find someone whom you trust to share it with. Someone who will not judge, but be fully present with you throughout the telling, so you may receive the love and support that was lacking during the original trauma.
It took me a long time to share my own secret with a friend. But once I did, I was surprised and relieved to discover that my friend loved me anyway. Her loving support allowed me to begin the work of releasing the hold my secret had on me for so many years. It still took time to work through the vestiges of my pain however, but I found as the years pass, it has less of a hold on me. I liken it to walking through a dark tunnel towards the light. I can see the light at the end, but just when I think I have a handle on things, something else will pop out that I didn’t expect that I need to deal with. But eventually I got closer to the light and the unexpected surprises became less and less. I recall during a summer writing course I shared my secret in one of my pieces and found that rather than feeling the shame of my secret, it no longer touched me. Such is the power of shattering the secret boulder into a million little pieces so it can no longer hurt you.
Pinkola likens our traumas to scars. She believes that the tensile strength of a scar is able to absorb pressure better than the skin. I really like this analogy. It reminds us that our scars will make us strong. Women are strong. And together we are formidable. We have the ability to heal ourselves and each other.