My secret had me convinced that the true me couldn’t be shared. Instead, I believed it was necessary to create an alternate version of me that would be accepted by others.
I grew up with a secret. The only people who knew this secret were my parents and the police. This secret guided the way I presented myself to the world. Over time, it convinced me that there was a certain right way to be in the world. And it was determined by others, not me.
My secret was born when I was 5 years old. The church janitor said he had something to share with me and asked if I was gonna tell my parents. I remember curiously wondering what the right answer was. I wanted to give him the one he wanted to hear. I wanted to please him because, well, I wanted to please everyone back then. I just wasn’t positive which answer would do that. So I took a guess and said I wouldn’t tell.
I went on to wonder if things might have turned out differently had I given the other answer. Not only did this interaction lead to sexual abuse that day, but this man went on to stalk my family for another year and some. Guns were involved, as well as police.
This was 47 years ago. Times were different. Talking openly about sexual abuse was certainly not a part of the culture back then. And I was the Episcopal priest’s kid. My parents didn’t want people to treat me differently so they told me I could talk with them about my experience anytime I wanted, but they asked me not to share it with others.
So I didn’t. It wasn’t till 12 years later that I finally shared it with my younger sisters and a therapist.
But there’s an odd thing that happens with secrets, even when they’re well-intentioned. They have a way of growing stories inside our minds, right? What can start out as having simple, clear meaning can go on to hold a notably distorted perspective.
I bet many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. There are so many experiences that can lead to secrecy. Sure, sexual abuse is one of them. Or living with family members in the throes of addiction, unmanaged mental illness, physical violence, or other dysfunction.
But let’s be honest here. It’s not always something traumatic, but a small moment, experience, or feeling that can lead to secrecy. Like telling a lie that remains with you for years to come. Maybe you didn’t finish college and it’s something you try to hide from others. Or you developed a crush on someone who isn’t your partner. Perhaps you’re deep in debt and afraid to have others know. Or maybe you secretly drink wine during the day but hide it from your family and friends. The list could go on, right?
For those of you who’ve experienced secrecy in your lives, you know that the simplicity of it changes over time. And shame quietly weaves its way into your story.
Some cut off from their secrets altogether and go on as if they never existed. For others, the secret(s) comes to define you as you identify as the abused, mistreated, or ‘not good enough’ person. Either way, unmetabolized, leftover feelings likely leak out into other areas of your life, often impacting your relationships and how you feel in the world.
For me, my secret led me to believe that showing people my truth was a bad idea. But you know what? I had no idea I believed this. I simply experienced this belief in my body.
I went to church every week and walked up the aisle for communion with my hands and legs trembling uncontrollably every. single. time. Yet other than my sisters and my mom, no one knew I shook. Why? Because I was REALLY good at looking like I had it all together.
I walked up that aisle worrying that others in the church pews might think that my hair wasn’t perfect, my outfit wasn’t hip enough, or my facial expression wasn’t the right one. These same worries were present for me in the other parts of my life, too. And I assumed that I trembled because I was anxious about having others’ eyes on me. (If you relate, check out this blog, too: https://dremilycolwell.com/how-to-ditch-the-shoulds-in-your-life/).
What I didn’t understand back then is that my secret had me convinced that the true me couldn’t be shared. Instead, I believed it was necessary to create an alternate version of me that would be accepted by others.
And do you know what this does to a person over time? It makes it easy to disregard your own needs, wants, feelings, and questions because it’s about meeting others’ expectations, instead of exploring your own. It becomes exhausting…constricting… anxiety-provoking. And it places your entire focus outside yourself. It’s like living in a body, but you’re not really home.
And it turns out it’s not fun to be a human who isn’t really home!
My relationship with my secret that was birthed at 5 years of age has evolved over the years. In fact, it’s not even a secret anymore. In the beginning, it was SCARY to share it with others. And I was left with an uneasy fear that the person listening might go on to think less of me or pity me, which was the worst thing I could imagine.
But you know what? It wasn’t the sharing of my secret that changed my relationship with it. In fact, it was something else entirely.
It was the tiny, micro-moments in which I began to invite my focus back home inside me that changed the game entirely. And many of these moments lasted a mere 2-3 seconds in the beginning. These moments allowed me to start noticing how I truly felt about things, rather than what others thought. They created momentary space for me to tune into whether something made me feel expansive or contracted in a given instance. It enabled me to question things in a way I’d never before done.
And guess what resulted from these micro-moments of coming back home to myself? The REAL me began to surface in a bold and grounded new way. Others’ expectations of me gradually stopped holding the same weight as I started navigating my life from the inside out rather than from the outside in.
And THIS is what softened the secret within me. Suddenly there was a bigger world inside me that had new depth and weight and made me feel at HOME. There was room for my own wants, needs, desires, opinions, feelings, and questions to have life in me, too. And this meant that my secret was no longer the loudest thing I could hear.
You see, this is the beauty of the micro-moment! Astounding change becomes possible through tiny steps we take, sometimes for mere seconds. These micro-moments add up over time and they NEVER have to be done perfectly or all at once. If you’re a perfectionist, this is a dream come true!
Studies have shown that coming back home to ourselves and our uncomfortable feelings for a mere 1-2 seconds at a time begin to create new neural pathways in the brain. As these new neural pathways grow, this paves the way for new responses to old experiences. This is exactly what happened with my secret.
The more I practiced coming back home to myself for seconds at a time, the more it became possible for me to navigate my life from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. And THIS changed my relationship with my secret.
Now, my experience of sexual abuse no longer defines me. Instead, I’m left with incredible compassion for my young self and the journey she moved through. And I feel a surprising appreciation for the unexpected gifts that have come to me through this experience.
I’ve discovered that what was once a deep, dark secret for me is now something that I comfortably share with clients and others who’ve also experienced sexual assault in one form or another. Why? Because my journey has shown me the transformational power of learning to come back home to ourselves one micro-moment at a time. And enabling that hope to be born in another person for whom it has always felt hopeless…well, how could I not wish for them to have the chance to experience this, too?
So here’s the deal. Coming back home to yourself makes it possible to start navigating life from the inside out so that others’ expectations no longer rule your life. It makes it possible for your secrets to stop being the loudest thing driving you to create a more acceptable public version of yourself. And it makes room for you to not only feel in touch with your authentic self but for it to comfortably shine out into the world.
If this sounds intriguing, YAHOOOO!! You know why? Because SO MANY of us know what it’s like to haul around secrets. And these secrets can make it SO HARD to feel free to have your inside and outside versions of yourself match.
The good news is that you don’t have to hurry up and drag those secrets out into the light of day to feel better. That becomes a natural side effect of coming back home to yourself in the micro-moment. The more this is practiced, the more your secret loses its grip on your life. And the more at home you feel in your own body and life.
And you know what? There are SO MANY ways we can come back home to ourselves. One of the pivotal ways that I initially did this was by using The Micro-Moment Reset, a guided visualization that I created for myself years ago in order to find relief in the micro-moment. I’ve been using this with my clients ever since and many find this brings not only relief, but transformation as they practice it in their lives.
I’ve since converted The Micro-Moment Reset into a short audio. If your secret has you feeling like you can’t be your authentic self, consider giving this audio a listen. You may just find it to be an indispensable tool in helping you come back home to yourself in the micro-moment, too. It’s from here that it becomes possible to start living your life from the inside out. And suddenly there’s room for your authentic self to be comfortably shared with not only you, but the world.
So here’s to the unexpected ways that coming back home to ourselves can transform our relationship with not only our secrets but ourselves and our lives. ❤️
P.S. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, confused, angry, or any other uncomfortable feeling in between, The Micro-Moment Reset can be an invaluable tool for you, too. I encourage you to give it a listen and see what you find. It may just bring you the relief you’ve been needing.
I’m repeatedly amazed by the powerful transformations many have as they practice this tool in their lives. Let me know what YOU find! ❤️
P.S.S. If you’ve been enjoying my weekly blogs and are itching for more daily inspiration, friend me on Facebook (Emily Colwell) or follow me on Instagram (dr.emily_colwell). I post frequently and humor leaks into most of my posts!
Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND
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