MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS
The Three S’s – Shame, Secrets and Silence
Shame – the concept we are flawed is connected to the feeling that we are unworthy and unlovable.
Secrets – the practice of hiding something so others are not allowed awareness into a reality.
Silence – the avoidance of stating something to protect oneself or others.
How do these three practices, shame, secrets and silence, impact our mental, physical and spiritual health?
Shame is reinforced by the internal messages we apply to ourselves, “I am not good enough”. As I write this, I am reminded of the story in the Bible of the Samaritan woman. Samaritans were societally considered unworthy and avoided by the Jews and that message was manifested in the women’s understanding of herself as she exclaimed, “How can you a Jew ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (John 4:9). What message of shame are you experiencing? Fill in the blank, “I am ashamed because I am _______________________________________________________ .”
And because of that shame, the practice of secrets, versus acceptance, gets in the way of our ability to accept ourselves as God created and accepts us, as children loved completely and fully and encouraged to avoid the shame that drives our secrets. “For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). In reality, the secrets attached to our shame come out in our behaviors such as addictions, personality disorders, OCD, anxiety, depression, perfectionism and other mental health struggles. Honestly, research shows that the more we keep secrets, the more we think about those secrets, and the more we think about the secrets, the bigger the impact of the secret. In turn, the body will find a way to bring the invisible to the visible, or bringing the secret to the light. However, if the journey of unpacking our secrets and our shame is handled lovingly and vulnerably through counseling, prayer and the sacraments, we can break free from the secret. Complete this sentence, “I am tired of carrying the secret of _____________________________________________________.”
In addition, perfectionism gets in the way of peace. Absurdly high bars of expectations placed on ourselves by our own choice or by societal norms can keep us silent. In this silence is the pathway for good mental health to be disturbed. Maybe no one will know the real secret, but the behaviors will tell there is a secret. Think of the story of Martha. She wanted everything to be perfect as she worried about many things and was concerned that the meal and the trimmings be just right. I can just see her fretting about the house. But in reality, she set the bar higher than Jesus set the bar. Jesus wanted her time and wanted her to experience peace not anxiety, or really to experience a different kind of silence. Not a silence covering a secret and coming out as a desire for societal perfectionism, but a silence that is golden and pointed toward Christ. Again, fill in the blank, “I am tired of keeping silent about ________________________________________________________ and covering it up by setting higher and higher bars of perfection.”
I now turn back to my original question. How do these three practices, shame, secrets and silence, impact our mental, physical and spiritual health? These behaviors are related to dysregulated nervous systems, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD and isolation, including isolation from our faith.
Fortunately, God gives us the resources to manage the three “S’s”
- Talk to someone, such as a counselor, about ways to understand the behaviors in order to develop new, free behaviors.
- Actively participate in the sacraments including receiving the grace desired by God by confessing one’s sins, and nourishing ourselves with the Eucharist.
- Shift from the silence of keeping secrets and shame to the silence of contemplation and time in scripture.
God wants you to heal. He wants you near just like the Samaritan woman and Martha.
In closing, if you are experiencing a mental health crisis and are considering suicide, please immediately reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish. 800-273-8255.
Remember Mental Health Matters.
Author: Eileen Borski
National Certified Counselor
M.Ed. Clinical Mental Health Counseling