by Aditi Hukerikar //
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Where do secrets and pain intersect? For me, my pain became my secrets: not only did I internalize my pain, keeping it a secret from the world, but I tried to deny my pain in the hopes that I wouldn’t feel it anymore. Maybe I was trying to keep it a secret to myself.
The best kept secrets might be the ones you never tell, but they also become the most painful. I can’t share my pain the same way I could share a more mundane secret, but I can try to share the way that it felt, the way that it still feels, and maybe that would be enough.
Even now, I write vaguely, I ask rhetorical questions to an unknown reader because if I were to give answers the secrets I have guarded for so long would no longer be mine. Because when I made the mistake of letting my secrets slip, what I got for my troubles was worse than the years of pain I had experienced before. I learned the hard way that the only thing more painful than keeping your pain a secret was taking the risk to share it and not being believed.
“Maybe I handled my secrets so well that my struggles and pain weren’t even believable,” says the nicer part of me. But the hidden anger that I harbor knows better, and it rages on because all I can hear are the same people who contributed to my pain telling me that I don’t deserve to claim it. But if my pain was always a secret then of course, how could anyone understand what it felt like if I never showed it? Or was it that I always showed it but they didn’t want to see it so it stayed a secret by force and not my choice?
These words are dedicated to the secret pain that has persisted through so many stages of my life. This is an ode to silent tears behind closed doors, to learning how to swipe my fingers quickly under my eyes so nobody could tell I was crying in public. This is a love letter to the girl who weakly insisted that her puffy eyes were from allergies in the dead of winter, who learned early that the only way to guarantee that you weren’t hurt is if there was nobody around to hurt you. This is for the fake smiles and caked on makeup, for the sickly sweet “I’m great” in response to a casual “how are you?” Because my pain has always been a secret, because the alternative would be to appear weak or crazy, and when people get the chance to label you as one of those, it leads to a whole new type of pain that becomes harder to keep secret.
It’s a tale as old as time. As women, we internalize our pain because the second that even a bit of negative emotion peaks through, it becomes weaponized against us. If she’s crying, it means that she’s too sensitive, that she’s not strong enough to overcome her challenges or that she can’t be trusted with serious responsibility. If she’s angry, or even the tiniest bit frustrated, then obviously she’s a raging bitch who makes it difficult for anyone to deal with her.
But the timing starts earlier, starting from the compliment, “she’s such a quiet child,” or “she’s so mature” for the kid who doesn’t talk to anyone. We praise silence, we praise secrets, and we praise keeping any sort of pain internalized, because we learn how showing pain is punished with more pain, so we try to reduce the pain, but it reverberates inside of us and amplifies. What do you do when you want to scream your secrets instead of whispering them but you can’t? And why can’t you?
Maybe you can’t because you understand the consequences of letting your negative emotions show. You’ve learned from the time you were young, either directly or by watching others, that there are consequences for letting your pain show. Even though women generally tend to express their emotions more, negative emotions tend to be internalized among women, including young girls. A large part of this is how women are treated when they show emotions like anger or sadness, being told that they’re “too-sensitive,” which leads to less emotional expression and fuels this vicious cycle of repressed feelings and hurt.
Essentially, we’re fueling a culture in which women learn from a young age that only positive emotions are acceptable to show on the outside; still, joy isn’t the only emotion in existence. It’s impossible for us as humans not to feel hurt, sad, angry, or a plethora of emotions all together. So why do we place so much emphasis on never feeling pain, as if it were some kind of future rather than an unachievable goal?
Besides the overwhelming frustration of having your pain and accompanying negative emotions belittled or brushed off, keeping in negative emotions causes a multitude of mental and physical health issues. Accumulating emotional stress can lead to mental illnesses–like depression and anxiety—as well as heart disease, intestinal problems, and more. Keeping all this pain to ourselves without letting it out lets it fester inside of us, turning into something more sinister with the capacity to cause longterm damage to our bodies and minds. So yes, letting out your pain might seem daunting, and you might be intimidated by the thought of the repercussions. But with the expense of your own wellbeing, the alternative is no better, and you owe it to yourself to accept your pain and all the emotions that accompany it for nobody’s sake but your own.
Secrets hurt us, not just the ones we keep about others but the ones we keep to ourselves. If we pretend that our pain isn’t there, if we try to hide it away in the back of our mind and mask it with fake smiles and honeyed words, we end up hurting ourselves. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to hide their pain for others’ benefit, because it’s unfair to force ourselves to take on the resultant threats to our health.
Let me tell you one last secret. There’s something I’ve always wanted to hear about my pain, something that nobody has ever told me, and right now, I want to make sure I tell it to you. If you are holding onto any secret pain, I want you to know that I believe you. I believe that you’ve struggled, that you’ve been hurt by those things you seemingly brushed off, and that you’ve so desperately wanted to release the ugly flood of emotions that you have held back for so long. I’ve divulged the truth behind my pain to you, anonymous reader, and only ask that in return, you allow yourself to accept your own truth and stop keeping secrets from yourself.
Chaplin, Tara M. “Gender and Emotion Expression: A Developmental Contextual Perspective.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 16 June 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4469291/. Accessed 9 March 2022.
Greene, Mark. “Women Are Better At Expressing Emotions, Right? Why It’s Not That Simple.” Yes Magazine, 28 January 2016, https://www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/016/01/28/women-are-better-at-expressing-emotions-right-why-its-not-that-simple. Accessed 9 March 2022.
Hendel, Hilary Jacobs. “Ignoring Your Emotions Is Bad for Your Health. Here’s What to Do About It.” Time, https://time.com/5163576/ignoring-your-emotions-bad-for-your-health/. Accessed 9 March 2022.