THE BLOG

Understanding Why We Keep Secrets

05/15/2011 10:59 pm ET | Updated Jul 16, 2011

This is our ode to our humanity, our wellness, our intelligence.

This is our ode to our secrets.

We all think we have secrets; actually, they have us.

The number-one reason people keep secrets or lie is to "keep the peace." We hold onto secrets to keep other people happy, safe, set in their vision of the world, and in their vision of us. After my friend Lauren Zander's 20 years of coaching people, she's found "lies" to be the sturdiest walls that we humans erect within and around ourselves, thereby keeping ourselves trapped and wrapped in a wide range of limitations.

In the Handel Method, all the different types of lies are defined, from white lies, "Oh yes, I've read that book," to the full-blown secrets that some of us call "those we take to the grave," such as shameful abuse or cheating. In the gray area between those two extremes of lying is where we live most of our daily lives, with little, supposedly harmless untruths. All lies create the conflicted cast of characters within us, that each express their truth differently with different people.

Who better than a highly intelligent human being to justify why she'd never go into the horrific, disingenuous world of politics -- yet won't tell her husband that she bought shoes with cash, leaving the box at the store so he wouldn't be mad?

Do you lie?

Do you want to say "no" immediately? Good, you're in the right place. Everyone's initial reaction is to plead, "No, not me, I'm no liar." Mine was, too. One of my stories to Lauren when she first began working with me was, "I'm a yoga teacher. I don't lie. I'm actually helping people. That justifies secretly enjoying a few cigarettes even though I'm teaching people how to breathe. They're my little secret, and they help me stay sane." Good one. So when she gave me permission to smoke only as many cigarettes per week as I'd have my 4-year-old son smoke per week, I was done. And then I realized that I wouldn't want to practice yoga with someone who smokes.

Or lies.

Lauren marvels at how easily people shift gears once she defines what's included in a lie: those little details we hide from others, because we've deemed them irrelevant; or the way we tell most of the story, depending on who's listening. She and I teamed up to create a class for yoga teachers, having learned from my smoking situation, about the stark divide between the lies we're telling and the teachings we're sharing. I was a hypocrite, plain and simple. The smoking was one of my lies. Telling people I've read such-and-such book after having glanced at the chapter titles is another funny catch. All of it is lying. Now, if I catch myself in a lie of any kind, I have fifteen minutes to come clean, from the moment I recognize my skewing of the truth. And the coming clean is always exhilarating, and brings me closer to my heart every time.

Can you begin to see how your ability to justify everything you have to say is exactly how you've trapped yourself into the "you" you aren't actually living up to?

In my example, Lauren pointed out yet another massive lie from my past: my infidelity. I was justifying it because I wasn't going to tell anyone about it, ever, and I wasn't going to leave my marriage; I told myself at the time I'd just needed more attention, which somehow made it okay. I hung that lie out as my "poor me" banner for months.

That story was about to become my son's hidden, secret legacy. So around six months after the time that Lauren pointed this out to me, I apologized. My ex-husband told his own truth, and we've become dear, true friends. Most importantly for my son -- I finally love myself past that destructive choice -- instead of allowing that secret to erode my confidence and diminish my capacity to serve. I began telling on myself to anyone who would listen, in the hopes that others will find this healing freedom in their own lives. This is possible for all of us, no matter how horrible the prospect of telling the truth might seem. There are ways to frame and create conversations wherein everyone, ultimately, is healed.

Here's the gold: my self-love and freedom come from the confidence I've gained in fully admitting how this lying lives in me.

Can you admit how your lies live in you now? Can you dare to make your own connection between your lies and a subtle but disconcerting lack of self-respect? No matter how well the secret is kept, it's leaking somewhere, somehow, into your life. If you let the "real" you be a liar, then the person you're showing the world is basically a people-pleaser, quietly stuck, keeping the peace, exactly like I was, slowly becoming more sad and unsettled.

Do you even care about having this level of self-love or freedom? If your answer is no, think about the people closest to you before you commit to that answer. My son was managing my wild pendulum of moodiness, all due to the fact that I was overseeing a collection of secrets that were making me terribly nervous and afraid to lose it all. I only saw that link once I confessed.

Now that I've come clean, my fear-filled fits of temper have (for the most part) shifted into constructive, caring conversations (I'm actively addressing this every single day). Instead of trying to dress up poison as poise, I want to offer him the full force of a grounded, gorgeous Mama who knows where she stands on planet Earth.

What if you had to make a list of your lies from your past? And then the list of the people with whom you'd be frightened to share them? That list is the exact formula for your access to real freedom; on the other side of your fear to tell, is your voice. The art and science of the truth is how we humans can make real magic.

Our ability to be confident and truly present rides on our having nothing left to hide.