In my newfound zeal for fun reading, I lately launched into a true story, Annie’s Ghosts, by Steve Luxenberg. I’m still just getting into the thing, but, basically, the book explores a family’s discovery that their mother had a sister about whom she never breathed a word. The author attempts to find out about this woman, what happened to her, and why – and why she was a family secret.
As I drifted off to sleep after dipping my toe into this story, I couldn’t help but think about the murky territory of secrets.
It seems to me that the vast majority of secrets are born in shame. And shame is born in judgment. Even perceived judgment is born in judgment.
As I look at my own family, friends, and acquaintances over the years, there have been an astonishing number of secrets – some big and some little – that folks have carried, almost always in shame and often to someone’s detriment.
If a thing is too shameful of which to be spoken, it simply then becomes a burden on our hearts. In shame, we carry the judgment of ourselves and the projected judgment of others who actually know nothing about the secret.
Once we’ve determined something’s a secret, it also becomes a barrier. We may be very honest people who try to do things right, but, now, on some level, we are dishonest. It is a conflict. It also serves to keep us separate and alienated to some extent, no matter how warm and loving we may be. Shame stands between us.
There are the secrets we carry on behalf of others, too. We allow someone to unburden themselves of their secret, and then we must bear it, too. Sometimes these shared secrets themselves become a judgment, in an awful twist.
Incredibly, some of our secrets are about good things, which we still yet feel shame to disclose.
We learn very early in life the lessons of judgment and shame in the arms of our families. Our institutional religions and systems of education cement these concepts with vigor. Media then continue to bang the drum for us.
Shame is a compelling motivator in life, that sadly does an awful lot of damage. It’s true that shame, once acknowledged, can move us to improve ourselves, change for the better. It’s the shame we bury and carry that cripples us.
As usual, though, it all comes back to fear and love. And both sides of the equation are the same.
Those who would wield the weapon of judgment are burdened to look at their own fear, and to seek a loving answer.
Those who carry shame are burdened also to recognize their fear, and to seek a loving response.
Funny how that works.
So much for lighthearted reading. We’ll see how the book turns out. 🙂