Spiritual Reflections

The Price of Hiding

Who we are, who we think we are, how we identify ourselves to our world and how we interact with our world are all factors in our choice to hide or come forward based on those aforementioned fear factors.

When I was first asked to write a piece on emotional wellness with the topic being, “The Price of Hiding”, I had all sorts of ideas but first maybe we should define what “hiding” really means. Merriam-Webster says: a) to put out of sight; b) to conceal for shelter or protection; c) to keep secret or hide the truth and d) to turn away in shame or anger. 

Powerful words in that definition. Let’s look at some of those in the context of our topic. For instance, putting oneself out of sight, is akin to becoming invisible. Do those who chose to stay hidden do so to keep a secret or hide their truths? Do we hide for shelter or protection from something we feel shameful or angry about or do we hide because we seek safety? Can it be all those things and what are the costs to us if we stay hidden? 

Often those in hiding suffer from: 

  • Not being heard and understood 
  • Not feeling affirmed 
  • Not feeling blessed 
  • Not believing in the possibility of an intimate relationship 
  • Not feeling safe 
  • Not feeling they are chosen 
  • Not being included 

These are pretty costly prices to pay in our lives considering our needs as social beings that require a truthful connection to others in order to function with any sense of emotional health. However, sometimes the idea that revealing our true self makes us so uncomfortable and fearful that we feel we must conceal ourselves for the purpose of protection due to the anger and shame that we feel about who we are. 

In these times of pandemic, we have all been hiding, in this case, behind masks, more so for our safety and health and the safety and health of others. The masks we have chosen have been assortments of cloth, surgical, gaiters, scarves, KN95 and N95 and they all have varying degrees of protection. In this case, we are well served to have a good protective mask. There are, however, masks that some of us wear every day in an effort to hide ourselves. Whether we are hiding from ourselves or someone else or everyone, there is always a price to pay based on the strength of the emotional mask we choose. 

There are numerous reasons why someone would like to remain hidden but it all boils down to fear. Now fear is a strange animal: it has its uses especially as far as self-preservation is concerned. It too comes in all types of forms (shame, anger, etc.) just as our facemasks do. Fear is one of our base responses to dangers that would threaten our survival. We are actually born with neural wiring to be fearful of certain things, like snakes and the edge of cliffs. Surprisingly, our culture and where we live in the world may also play a part in which types of things are wired into our fear response. All the rest is pure conditioning, learned responses and reactions to cues in our environment that we have learned, some for good reason and many others are the result of societal rules and prejudices. 

In addition to a survival instinct, we are also hard wired for connection or attachment to others, as we are social beings. In order for us to connect to others we need safety as well. So, safety always plays a key role in our emotional wellness. 

Who we are, who we think we are, how we identify ourselves to our world and how we interact with our world are all factors in our choice to hide or come forward based on those aforementioned fear factors. Survival and connection being the ultimate hard-wired sources of our fears and pleasures make it not so surprising that there actually can be safety in hiding. 

When hiding is safety (for the short term) 

One can almost argue that not being true to our real nature is somehow a denial of one’s self emotionally and mentally, but there are times when the act of hiding is all about self-preservation. So we don’t knock down a hornet’s nest when we are allergic to bee stings. As previously mentioned, we are all born with an innate sense of danger that mostly involves keeping us alive. Pretty much all living things have that, or else. So the price of hiding must be paired with the cost and benefits of coming out. Given your own cost/benefit analysis, I cannot tell you that staying hidden from your true self will hurt you, but eventually it will take a toll. It’s like eating a really bad diet; it’s not going to hurt you tomorrow or maybe not for 20-30 years but it will come at you sooner or later. In this case, depression, anxiety, regret, loss of relationships and other similar things are likely to happen. 

Emotional wellness can help us come out of hiding

Emotional wellness is an intimate play between our feelings and thoughts, the reality of where we are, cognitively and emotionally, at any given time and our sense of safety. Learning to be emotionally healthy is a small price to pay in order to move out of hiding. It is often my experience that those in hiding have strong negative beliefs about themselves and tend to believe what they think others think of them. 

Coming out of hiding is a process that encompasses aspects of: 

  • Being aware and accepting of oneself 
  • Seeking information and reaching out to similar others, such as joining support groups 
  • Disclosure to others (an often-scary proposition) such as family, friends/ peers, therapists and others (coworkers/ employers). Certainly, disclosures of any type need to be balanced with aspects of safety and perceived consequences 
  • Integration of one’s self with the rest of the world

So, while there is no doubt that hiding has a price, that price is contingent on the individual in many ways. Just as every snowflake is different so are the differences and challenges for anyone stuck in hiding. The consequences of this range from physiological to psychological, likely both. Hiding serves a purpose but only in the short term. Growth, through learning how to be emotionally well, will allow one to transcend the boundaries of concealment, learn to manage the negative self-states of shame, anger and fear and allow one to feel safe and connected with their world. 

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