Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy

Our Secret Selves
Everyone has a public self and a private self. There are personal aspects we gladly let others see about us, while there can be nagging things we sometimes have trouble acknowledging even to ourselves. What happens when something we feel uncomfortable about becomes too much to handle–or even to face?

We all have a pretty good sense of the things others will approve of and support.  If one has thoughts, feelings, memories or certain behaviors that she or he believes might be disapproved of, there is often a tendency to want to hide, pull away or deny it. We all have parts of ourselves we would prefer not to reveal to others. This is common in everyone. But some people are dealing with deep and troubling secrets, possibly serious guilt or shame, and sometimes don’t know where to turn for help.

The effects of juggling a secret life can be devastating. Whether we speak of the secret of an addiction—such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, spending, eating, sex–even the internet or overwork,  the secret of actions that have led oneself or others to be hurt, or the secret of anxieties, wishes, fantasies, beliefs or worries that one cannot discuss, the results are often very similar. It can be very difficult fully to focus on daily activities. Interactions with others can become strained.

People with heavy secrets start to avoid others or do things to “cover” their preoccupations so others won’t suspect. The secret takes on the weight of a great burden.Sometimes, people work very hard to avoid actually admitting the secret to themselves.

This is especially true with addictive behaviors–perhaps they minimize the number of drinks consumed, the actual amount of money put on a charge card, push the empty ice cream containers deep into the trash where they won’t be seen, or rationalize that all the money being spent on placing “innocent” bets isn’t really taking too much from the budget.

This often leads to a tangle of explanations to others, along with attempts to divert their attention away from the secret activities. Someone might begin to notice, to wonder, to say something—usually to be met with great denial by the person who is guiltily struggling to avoid believing there really is a problem.

Seeking help to deal with a secret, troubling part of oneself takes courage. If something is so frightening, guilt, shame or anxiety-provoking that it has led to avoidance, denial, and interruption of normal life and relationships, taking the first steps of talking about it can be hard. But psychotherapy is a safe place to explore the meaning of this secret in one’s life, and to develop ways to begin to rebuild one’s life for more productive living.

Ask  Yourself:
~Do you fear getting close to people in case they’d discover something embarrassing about you?
~Do you often try to convince yourself or someone else that you could stop a particular behavior anytime you want—while anxiously wondering if you actually could?
~Have there been events in your past (or on-going in the present) which you don’t talk about that have left/leave you feeling so sad, scared, guilty, angry. bad or worried that your quality of life is compromised?
~Have your withdrawn from activities you enjoy so that others might not discover something that might leave you feeling “exposed”?
~Do you hesitate to talk about certain parts of your life, lest you accidentally reveal something you feel anxious about letting anyone know?
If you have answered “Yes” to any of these questions, psychotherapy might be very helpful for you.

Copyright Kathi Whitten 2009