I’m not sure why this is on my mind at the moment, but I want to talk about the difference between keeping a secret and setting a healthy boundary by not telling all. Perhaps it’s because of my counseling work with others, or a conversation I had with my mom yesterday, or just because I used to keep my disordered eating habits a secret.
So, here are some thoughts that come to mind when I hear the word secret: A secret is specific. It’s something few others know. As such, it’s something I can use to manipulate others (if I so choose). A secret gives me some power over someone. Holding a secret puts me in control of something. Keeping a secret can lead to lying to people I love. A secret can also bring with it shame, embarrassment, fear, or discomfort. Keeping a secret for a really long time can be unhealthy and lead to physical ailments. I know all of this because I have held secrets in my lifetime. At this point, there are others on the planet who know all of my former secrets. However, who I chose to tell what secrets was part of learning how to set boundaries.
So, when I hear the phrase “setting boundaries”, I think of the following: Boundaries are similar to limits. They are my personal comfort zone. Boundaries are lines in the sand. They are not walls. I can choose to erase them and move them. As lines in the sand, they are sometimes hard for others to see, so I need to clearly communicate to others what my boundaries are. I can do that by sharing my feelings and needs: “I feel frustrated that when I share my problems you want to come up with a quick fix solution. I really just need you to offer your support by listening and encouraging me.” Boundaries include things like not telling everyone everything, saying “no” when asked to do something you don’t want to do, and not letting others define you or direct your life. Boundaries are healthy.
Sharing my secrets — including that I was desperately struggling with binge-eating — with a select supportive few people in my life helped me edge further away from the black and white, all or nothing thinking that I am so prone to. It helped me recognize from whom I could get the most support and understand that it doesn’t have to be either/or. I didn’t have to hide everything from everyone. Nor did I have to share everything with everyone. Setting healthy boundaries was difficult for me to learn. In the beginning, I either let someone in completely or held them at arm’s length.
I want to encourage all my readers to find someone (maybe a counselor to start) to share your secrets with. Counselors are ethically responsible to maintain confidentiality (with a few important limitations aimed to keep you and others physically safe). The great thing about sharing a secret with a counselor is that it’s no longer something that no one on the planet but you knows about. Counselors can also help you identify areas where you struggle to set boundaries with people. As counterintuitive as it seems, setting boundaries goes a long way towards increasing the intimacy and closeness of relationships.
Just some food for thought today.