How do you feel about secrets? In my experience, there are two views. One side views secrets as something special. This is something that you only tell a close, safe friend. They’re things that hold important content that isn’t suitable for just anyone. This side enjoys mystery books and movies like Goonies or Raiders of the Lost Ark in which secrets hold treasure and hidden artifacts.
The other camp views secrets as hurtful and divisive. Secrets are things that split friends and cause discourse in communities. If something is a secret then it can’t be very good. This side might point to the reason people were killed in those same mystery books and the bad guys chasing the person with the secret like Indiana Jones and the Goonies. They see openness as a virtue.
The truth is both views can be correct. Information is powerful. When we limit the flow of that information it can take the form of a secret. Secrets can play out in both good and bad ways. It reminds me of a rhyme we used to say as kids, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can crush my soul.” What? That’s not the way you sang it as a kid?
Okay, maybe I didn’t either, but I think it is the more accurate version.
We live in an information age, so this topic of whether or not to share information is an everyday, in-your-face issue. This is especially true with social media. How do we live lives that are real and authentic without that same information hurting or offending? How can I cultivate an environment of transparency with my kids while ensuring they don’t get their souls crushed? My family’s answer was to keep everything secret. There were no family stories because that would have required sharing information about the family. I wouldn’t recommend that approach. However, to convey every thought that enters your head is also not an approach I would recommend. In cultivating an appropriate presence of authenticity, I think there are two things that can help us navigate the varied terrain of the world we live in:
What I mean by boundaries is to have an intentional guideline to determine what is appropriate to share to different groups in different settings. It’s very easy to use social media as a shield for the pain that we’re personally feeling or conversely to broadcast that very same pain to the universe. It provides a removed layer that can create a pseudo-safety. That removed layer can make it easy to attack when we would never think of doing so face-to-face. It can make it easy to unburden our soul to all when, if asked, we would never want anyone to know those same details. However, on the flip side it can make it much easier to have sensitive discussions about topics that might be very difficult to talk about in person without becoming reactive. Transparency, therefore, can cause damage as we’ve all seen or to be an open window for honest discussions about things that are long overdue. One way to do this is called the Intimacy Bullseye. Draw a bull’s-eye on your page taking up the whole page. Then insert the different levels with which boundaries will change depending on the appropriateness of those different levels. Starting in the middle and working out the different categories are:
1. You at the center
The center should have no boundaries. You should cultivate a sense of vulnerability and authenticity with yourself that takes a soul-searching look at every part of your life and every action you make. This is the only way to be truly authentic.
2. Couple – you and your spouse or significant other
If you’re single you’ll skip this one. If you’re not, this is going to be an essential area to cultivate so that you know how to be authentic and vulnerable in appropriate ways with others. Although it would be great if we could cultivate complete authenticity and vulnerability with our spouse, it’s just not physically possible since we have two different brains that value different things at different times. It’s one thing to want to be authentic internally and it’s quite another to express that in appropriate ways outwardly. Your spouse is going to be the safest, best place to do that. However, know that there is some variance here. For instance, one common topic is whether that vulnerability extends to using the bathroom in front of the other person. Some just see that as gross rather than a beautiful representation of authenticity.
Your kids don’t need to know everything. They’re developing and changing constantly. Their life isn’t on the same level as ours as adults. It’s important to make sure that you have boundaries on what you share with your kids. However, it’s also important to be authentic, real, and avoid shielding them from everything in your couplehood. Kids learn how to deal with opposition, victories, happiness, and struggle from the way they see you handle these things. Just like you respect the developmental stage of your children and avoid exposing to extreme, sometimes we can overcompensate on the side of protecting them from the reality of our life. In my opinion, this boundary is one of the toughest because it takes a careful balance between letting your kids know who you are (both the good and the bad) and not just vomiting out every thought in your head and thereby exposing them to things that they are not ready for. I think one good rule of thumb when dealing with kids is to try to PREPARE rather than to PROTECT. Protection indiscriminately shields while preparing allows sharing at a level that is helpful and useful.
This is the area for your extended family—your mom, dad, etc. This is an especially important boundary to set up when you’re first married. When you walk down that aisle your immediate family instantly shifts to your extended family and your spouse becomes your new immediate family. Making sure that there are appropriate boundaries between you/your spouse and your parents/in-laws is essential for a healthy foundation of appropriate vulnerability and authenticity. That said, some families aren’t safe. Sometimes family members can be toxic or unsafe to share information. In these cases, some couples and individuals have friends that are surrogate family for them. In this section of your Intimacy Bullseye you may actually have friends in front of family.
As we mentioned before, friends may actually be in the above section, but if instead your family is safe then this section is where your close friends will be. These are your forever friends that span life stages and moves and all the things that come between us and our connections. These are the friends that you feel comfortable sharing things that you may not be comfortable sharing with the rest of the world.
6. Situational friends
These are friends that may be very close in certain stages of your life, however they’re contingent on a specific situation. That situation may be where we live or a job we have or a stage in our life. We all have friends that were very close at one point but have drifted. Maybe we drifted because we had kids and they didn’t or we changed jobs.
There can be many more layers than this, but this particular section is a catch-all for the other groups of people we come in contact with that may not be considered necessarily friends but are people we’re friendly with. You may want to have another level for general public if you would share more with these people than that of complete strangers.
In each of these layers determine what level of vulnerability and flow of information is appropriate. Each level should have distinctions that make them unique. Each level will involve a greater level of transparency and vulnerability the closer to the center they get. This will allow you to be more intentional about the things that are shared and to whom.
It’s important to see what things transcend all the different layers of the Intimacy Bullseye. What things represent you and who you are no matter who you’re with or where you are? In other words, who are you everywhere?
What are your defining features? This will guide your ability to be authentic and vulnerable in safe and appropriate ways no matter where you are on the Intimacy Bullseye. Often when we’re on a level where it is not appropriate to share something we can feel like we are being fake. We can feel like we’re being deceptive or lying to people. There’s a very big difference between outwardly lying to someone and not sharing something that isn’t theirs to know. Being able to be real with everyone along this thread of who you are can allow you to feel real rather than fake when something isn’t appropriate to share. It also gives you an added sense of confidence since you know who you are despite what people in the various levels may say about you.
Once you have a sense of who you are and what is appropriate to share it’s much easier to cultivate an environment of authenticity and safe vulnerability. It’s important to make sure the things we share and/or post online authentically represent who we are. It’s important to make sure the things we share and/or post online are appropriate to the level of relationship we’re in. Our lives can be a beacon for growth and connection. Practicing authenticity in our relationships whether live or through social media can be a marvelous way to live a life of connection, of open discussion, and of growth when it’s intentional and boundary-filled. Otherwise, we can find ourselves living a life of hiding, of attack, of unintentional (or intentional) hurt, and of living behind a mask of what we want to be rather than who we are.