Being honest with yourself isn’t easy. I can say that personally. Tomorrow is my 22nd wedding anniversary. I’ve been lucky enough to stay married to the same man for all this time. In dog years, we’ve been together for well over 100. Most of them have been happy, but some of them have been hard. Really hard. There were many times when getting a divorce, separating, or calling it quits seemed like the answer.
We didn’t understand how to communicate, fill each other’s love tanks, and we were both selfish. I didn’t know how to be responsible with my emotions, they were spilling over and bleeding out and creating havoc. I wanted my husband to be responsible for my feelings and emotional well-being. If only it were that easy. If only there was a way to sidestep the internal work that each of us must do if we choose to stay in our marriages. No one can do the work for us.
A year-and-a-half into our marriage, I nearly stabbed my husband. The violence happened in a megachurch, with lots of people present. I had a broken foot and was using crutches. Typically, my husband and I would sit up on the balcony with our friends, but because of my crutches the stairs were difficult to navigate, and we stayed on the ground floor.
After the service, my hubby went upstairs to go and say hello to our friends. Seemingly small action, right? Not for me. When he went upstairs, I felt totally abandoned. I felt like he’d left me and that I wasn’t good or worthy enough to stay with.
I felt scared.
I felt unseen.
I was seven again and felt like the little girl who’d stood by the window waiting for her dad to come home only to find out he was in jail. I felt as though I was not good enough to be in this megachurch with these rich people praising God and trying to make friendships that kept going wrong.
When my husband came back downstairs, I went into a blind rage. Today I know it was driven by fear. I charged my husband and hit him with my crutch in the middle of the lobby (did I mention that this is a megachurch?). He was embarrassed, caught off guard, and upset – who wouldn’t be?!
He asked me what the hell my problem was. I started yelling and cursing while he walked away. His walking away made me feel even worse and I chased him as if I had no broken foot, pushed him against the car, and, wait for it . . . threatened to stab him in the neck with my car key.
That’s the dirty little secret that I’m known for. That’s the secret that people love to hear when I speak and that I felt equal amounts of pride at being what I thought was a badass and shame for being so out of control.
Being honest with yourself isn’t easy. I couldn’t talk about this secret overnight. It took time. I had to reach into the feelings behind the action and how I built a critical narrative about myself around the secret.
Millions of women are suffering globally from the shame of their secrets, confused about their value and self-worth, and unaware that what drew them to create secrets in the first place was not their fault. We have been told how to dress, talk, act, behave, beg, wish, hope, bully, and plead for most of what we receive, even in this modern-day world.
When I think of the woman I used to be and the secrets I used to keep, I can honestly say, I should not be married today. But I am. The reason? Finally, I decided to be honest with myself. I broke my internal rules and took an honest look at the secrets I was keeping and the actions I was taking that were ruining my life, my self-esteem, my relationships, and…oh yeah, my marriage.
Let’s talk about rules.
Internal rules are hard to break because they are part of our original family system and societal norms and stereotypes. That we’ve adopted When we consider breaking the rules there can be a lot of fear about losing love, respect, not fitting in and people being mad. Rules can be any kind of family system such as, people like us don’t do things like that, your mother’s feelings are more important than yours, or, never take the last piece of cake, because it’s rude.
Rules like these teach you to not speak up and to put your feelings aside. Anytime you feel afraid, there is usually a rule that you want to break but your internal writing system that follows your rulebook won’t allow it. Other rules can be things like, being pro-choice is bad because “you’re a Christian” but truly you are pro-choice and have to keep it secret. Or, speaking up only causes trouble, we don’t talk about our feelings, our finances, or our mental health.
Are any of these hitting a note?
Who decides the rules that you live by? The Supreme Court? Institutions? Your parents? The law? Your husband, boyfriend, or father?
It’s important to think about and to truly look at the rules because many of the rules that we follow have nothing to do with what we really think, they were just ideas that were passed down or given to us. And if we don’t take the time to decide and define our own rules, someone else always will. This becomes a breeding ground for secrets.
Some of the most common secrets include romantic desire, issues around money and finances, sex, which will come as no surprise. Family secrets are quite common, secret ambitions, being unhappy with something, whether it’s your social life, your physical appearance, your romantic life, issues around mental health, violating another person’s trust. And all of these secrets are created because of a rule that we’ve broken and feel shameful about.
Rules on their own aren’t inherently bad or good. Where it gets tricky is when we don’t agree with the rules and we go against our internal compass to fit in. Rules are our conditioning. They’re our right and wrong, they are how we get love, approval, and fit in. But when we don’t decide for ourselves what the rules are, the rules we live and lie by turn against us and turn into secrets.
Here are some examples of rules put on women by society and well-meaning loved ones:
1. Women should always have long hair and carry a nice purse (what if you like short hair and you carry a backpack?)
2. Polite women don’t speak up. (great way to become a people pleaser or to be seen as a B$tch if you do)
3. Good mothers stay home with their kids. (way to feel bad if you love your job or have to work)
4. Pretty women are a size 4 or smaller. (hello – nice way to create body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia and low self-esteem)
5. It’s unsafe to travel alone as a woman (really? So, we should stay at home and wait around for someone to go with us and put our life on hold?)
Sound familiar? Whose rules are you following? What secrets are you holding because of these rules?
Here’s an exercise for you in being honest with yourself. Take out a piece of paper and write down as many of the rules you live by as you can. Ask yourself where you learned them. Now ask yourself if you agree with them. Then write down any secrets that you keep because of them.
I’ve seen the secrets that people keep and how they affect us leading to experiences of shame, guilt, isolation, inauthenticity. What women don’t realize is that we are all keeping the same kinds of secrets and the affect in similar ways. If you’re struggling with a secret, remember that you’re not alone. We all keep the same secrets. We all have the same experiences with them.
Whenever I share about my past secret actions, thoughts, and behaviors people are like, what? You did that? I would have never known. I thought I was the only one. Yes, girlfriend, I did that and more.
Here are a few of my old secrets:
1. I was violent with my husband on more than one occasion and would “justify” the reasons.
2. I lied, all…the…time, to manipulate and to get what I wanted.
3. I would throw my husband’s stuff away and pretend I didn’t, because I thought he was a slob.
4. I gossiped about people behind their back and was nice to their face (yuck – I hate that I did that).
5. I raised money for an AIDS walk and then spent it, but still did the walk (I know, it’s awful and I’ve paid the money back).
6. I had a mean inner dialogue that used to tell me I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, had too much cellulite, people didn’t like me, and that I was a fraud.
7. I didn’t want people to know that I grew up in an alcoholic home.
8. I really did not love being a mom to a newborn.
The woman I am today…the woman celebrating 22-years of ride or die marriage, does not behave in those ways anymore because she was willing to do the work- true confession, I sometimes still throw my husband’s stuff away….I’m not perfect.
What is the work? It’s about being honest with yourself, looking in, going to the source of your secret-keeping and the reasons you created them in the first place. It’s about looking at the rules you follow or break and asking yourself who set those rules, and do they work for you? It’s about telling the truth, the real truth, your truth. It’s about making right the wrongs in the areas that feel dark and gross (like me stealing the money from the AIDS walk). It’s about coming clean so that you can drop the act. We are all far too busy for that. That’s the invitation and what’s on the table. Are you willing to do the work?
Being honest with yourself in healing after divorce
Once your secrets become visible, life changes in ways you can’t imagine. You show up to life rather than try to protect yourself from it. You no longer avoid, hide, or hold shame. You never know what that will look like. You know for yourself what needs to intimately be done in your life. When a secret something is hidden there is a part of the brain/ body that is ever vigilant for no one to find out about it.
It’s exhausting and , lowers self esteem, makes you on edge, vigilant, would have you feeling less than or feeling like you’re the only one, and it makes you sick…..The worst part of holding a secret is the narrative that you listen to about yourself because of the secret – then you listen to the narrative – the story your mind tells you about you – and the secret distracts you from your full operating capacity you can bring to your work, your family, and the world.
Ladies, it’s time—especially if you are thinking about divorce, going through one, or trying to move on in life after divorce, to stop playing by someone else’s rulebook. It’s time to define who you really are and to let go of the shame of the past and to step into the light where you are unafraid and unashamed. It’s time to let the cat out of the bag, it’s time to tell your secret.
If you would like more information on my Secret-Breaking System, please click here. Want to experience the program for yourself without making a commitment, join me for my free 3-part secret shedding, rule-breaking mini series.
Considered by many to be one of Los Angeles’ top coaches, Gretchen Hydo is a highest-level Master Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation, a certified mentor coach, keynote speaker, and trainer. She is the author of the book, Break Free From Your Dirty Little Secret: A Ten Stage Secret Breaking System to a New You. Specializing in helping individuals, organizations and coaches make life changing transformations by breaking free of the rules and secrets that hold them back from living their most powerful lives. Her coaching and wisdom help people create new identities based on their strengths and step into their best selves, achieving life-changing success both personally and professionally.