You stand looking into the mirror wondering who the person is that’s staring back at you. The face looks vaguely familiar, yet its features are distorted by the pain of the secret you’ve been carrying around for so long. You’re desperate to be free from the past that haunts your present, but at this point you’re not even sure if freedom is an option. Surviving each day wearing the mask that hides your secret has become your current operating system, and to remove the mask would leave you exposed and vulnerable. Just the thought alone of how painful revealing the skeletons in your closet is sends you into a gut-wrenching withdrawal, and the process of survival continues.

Here, however, are four gentle steps to help you peel away the layers of shame and guilt and replace them with confidence and empowerment.

1. Feel.  Healing and gaining confidence are ways of giving yourself permission to feel every emotion that shows up as you go through the process. Removing the words “should” and “shouldn’t” from your vocabulary allows you to experience what you’re feeling to the fullest. You’ll be honoring your essence, extracting the truth of your identity, overwriting an outdated operating system and creating a space for a reignited passion for life as you liberate yourself from the limiting thoughts of “should” and “shouldn’t.”
Often “What if” and “if only” begin to wedge their way into your thoughts as you begin to heal, but the negativity these words conjure up also needs to be eliminated from vocabulary. Instead of following the path of these words back into the darkness of secrecy, use them to your advantage. “What if” by telling your secret you learn to live again? “What if” people already know you’ve been silently dying and they love you anyway? “What if” when you finally free yourself from your past and love the real you your family and friends will be able to love you unconditionally as well? “If only” you hadn’t gone through what you did, you would never have learned the lessons which will help you help others.

2. Write.  Another necessary step in the healing process and gaining the confidence to free yourself from your pain is putting pen to paper. It’s in your journal you can tell every deep, dark secret without the fear of anyone ever finding out. Moving the pain from your mind to your paper helps clear away all of the lies the secret has been telling you. It also frees you from living in the past and opens up the present moment where you were created to live.

There’s no rule which says you must keep your journal either. If re-reading what you’ve written causes you to stumble or hurt again, burn it. The past is the past, and that’s exactly where it needs to stay. Begin to write about the changes and new outlook on life you have — and the gratitude you have for it — and your perspective will continue to spiral in your favor on a daily basis.

3. Forgive. Regardless of whether your secret is an addiction, an affair or a little white lie you told in the third grade, you’re not the same person now as you were then, and it’s time to forgive yourself. You were simply doing the best you knew how to do at the time. Take the lesson you’ve learned from whatever happened and use it as a strength and a life skill to help others.
If it’s a pain which wasn’t yours to carry in the first place — a wrong committed by someone else and the pain is still too much to bear — spend some time journaling about life from that person’s perspective. While I would never advocate forgiving the action, forgiving the person (including yourself) is the only way to move into the present and find the confidence to heal your life.

4. Unveil. Once you’re at the place where your past has been reconciled with your present and you feel strong enough to finally speak to someone other than the person in the mirror, choose someone you know who will have only your best interests at heart. This person needs to be someone who sees you through the eyes of God, who won’t try to “one-up” you by saying, “Oh, please. You think that’s bad. What till I tell you what I did!” Choose someone who can be in the pain with you until it no longer hurts.

Surround yourself only with people who support and love you and will walk through the fire with you until you no longer have any association with your secret. Now that you’ve made room for thoughts of self-worth and compassion where once only fear loomed, you will gradually — or suddenly — find yourself sharing your light with each person you encounter…whether it be through a smile, a touch or even a loving glance in the direction of someone needing to know their secret is not their identity and they too can gain the confidence to live fully and freely.