Imagine you’ve been driving through a city, a concrete jungle, for the last hour. As you drive along the road you see homeless people sitting on the sidewalks. There’s graffiti on the walls. Everything is grey, dirty, drab and depressing.
Then you enter a tunnel, a long tunnel that goes under the river.
When you emerge, there are blue skies, bright sunshine and golden fields of corn – fields and fields of corn for as far as the eye can see.
“Wow. This is so weird”, you think to yourself. It’s like you’re living on a different planet now. It feels so strange. So unexpected. So surreal.
Now imagine you’re 12 and you’re living with your parents. One day, when you come home from school, they sit you down and tell you they have something important to tell you. Then, your mom gently explain that they are not your real parents. Your older, married sister is actually your mother. She had you when she was 14 years old and your grandparents adopted you, and raised you as their child.
Or, imagine you had grown up believing your father had been killed in an accident when you were an infant. Then, one day, when you are researching your ancestry, you learn your father is not dead at all. In fact, he is serving a life sentence for murder, in another State.
Or imagine, you have been happily married for the last 25 years. Your spouse is a well-respected member of society, a successful professional in his field, and an adoring father. Then, one evening, he breaks down and tells you he’s being black mailed, and there’s something you should know. He’s been involved for years in series of affairs, and one of those women is threatening him now.
Secrets. Shocking news that comes out of nowhere. Unimaginable scenarios.
Why do find these secrets so hard to accept? Why do secrets change us, and affect us so profoundly?
On some level, learning a secret is nothing more than being given new, more up-to-date, information. From that perspective we should be able to accept, analyze and process the information.
But that is not what happens.
What happens is we become disoriented. Cut off from ourselves and our life.
What happens is we start asking questions like:
- “Who am I?”
- “Who are you?”
- “Why on earth would you deceive me like this?”
- “Who can I trust?”
- “What is real?”
- “How do I go forward and live my life now that I know these awful truths?”
We also are flooded with a torrent of emotions. We feel:
- Foolish (for having been deceived).
- Angry (for being disrespected and lied to).
- Lost and disoriented (because reality has shifted).
- Fearful (of our ability to trust our intuition, to trust those around us, and to distinguish truth from lies).
- Isolated and alone (since we’re living with a secret, a secret that is shameful, and which marks us out as different).
The author Jane Isay does an excellent job of explaining why these twists in the plots of our lives affect us in such acute and devastating ways. Here’s what she has to say about the matter :
“As human beings we live the stories we tell ourselves. This internal narrative makes up the core of our identity. Every day we tell and retell our story. But when a secret is revealed the movies of our lives are shredded … and when our reality is shredded, so are we.”
This is such an accurate and insightful description. It summarises well why we’re shaken to the core.
For when secrets are uncovered and we learn some awful truth, appearance and reality no longer match up.
And we don’t know what to do with the shredded bits of film.
 Isay, J. (2014). Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths that Change our Lives.