Contemplating Guilty Secrets

Are secrets shared to release a weight or to make the listener feel at ease with their shortcomings?

by Sharon MacGregor • Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

With more than a few decades of life experience under my belt, I have met a variety of women in all phases of their own journey and for whatever reason have learned a wide range of their closet skeletons. Some are, of course, very open and willing to share. Some come as quite a surprise, almost bursting out of the woman’s mouth and then immediately followed by perhaps regret or remorse for revealing such a private aspect of their life. I personally struggle with my own demons and have no time or place to judge, but it seems human nature to compare our flaws and faults with others, to kind of place them on a line and see where they fall compared to the extremes.

During one co-worker lunch hour, some women shared a few of their own secrets from stealing or shoplifting while an entirely different group of females confessed to hiding large purchases. It is during the more intimate one-on-one conversation that a woman may confess to a long time affair or an illegitimate child. I have known more than one woman to hide her own child from her family. A dozen years later, a new audience may comment, “Well, you were young,” or, “You really didn’t have any other choice.” Makes having ice cream for dinner or telling a friend you are busy to avoid talking with them seem quite lame in comparison.

Listening to the frustrated mother who feels guilty for not being able to juggle it all with a smile, the fact that she bought something for the bake sale instead of baking, or her story of losing patience with her child and then yelling or crying may seem abusive or tame depending on the perspective of the listener, but to the woman experiencing the pain, it is a shameful secret. Another mom may envy the intelligence, social skill or athletic ability of another woman’s child and these feelings then cause horrifying guilt. “Oh, that’s not so bad,” they may be told. Or, “Let it go. It’s no big deal.”

In a small town, a young driver made a life-changing mistake by driving the morning after a party and the end result was the loss of a young passenger’s life. Years later, both the driver and the family of the deceased live in the same little village and seem destined to run into each other from time to time. Does the driver keep the secret from future relationships? Should it matter? What happens if everyone runs into each other? 

And does the guilt of secrets diminish with time? Are the mistakes of youth forgiven simply because of lack of information, knowledge, or frame of reference and if so, what is the age limit for this excuse?

In fact, are secrets shared and revealed so the holder can in some way release some of the weight or is it to make the listener feel at ease with their own short coming? Is the teller looking for some form of comfort?

What about the news headlines for local citizens and celebrity scandal alike? Housewife madams, the single mom moonlighting as an exotic dancer, skimming from private companies and local communities, runaway brides and inappropriate teacher/student relationships are just a few stories that immediately come to mind. Are the readers rating how their own secrets rate in comparison? Does knowing a woman who has or is in the middle of overcoming drugs, alcohol or violence somehow make the story more relevant than when it is read or seen as a news byte? Is the desire to know more, craning our necks and blatantly rubbernecking one woman’s secret story just as bad as the list of one’s own guilty secrets?

Sharing secrets, shame and guilt – where does it all lead? What purpose does it serve us?  Is it only about seeing where we fall? Is it about forgiveness? Is it about the now what, what are the next steps? Is it the so-what? Is it the lesson learned? Does size matter?

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