I once read in a book about palmistry that a person whose hands can’t lay completely flat on a surface without their fingers being bent is a sign of being disloyal. At the time, I was unable to lay my hands flat, and it bothered me. I refused to see myself that way, even though deep down I found it extremely difficult to keep a secret. Instead of committing to not being a tattletale, I committed to working on straightening my fingers through yoga practice. I didn’t want to be perceived as a tattletale. It was my goal to not have people think that about me when I have been considered a fiercely loyal and supportive friend otherwise. I aimed to fix the external problem rather than the internal problem.
I have always been someone who other people tell their life stories or confessions to. Whether that be friends or strangers, people have always pegged me as a listener. I am an empath and I feel what other people are feeling, even before they are aware of it sometimes. While this can be considered a gift, it has also made it difficult for me to hold onto other people’s stuff. Their secrets on top of mine can feel overwhelming and suffocating. And when it has gotten to be too much, it’s as if I have this compulsion to share the secret with someone else so that I don’t feel the pressure to carry it all by myself.
While I find talking out what I have been carrying around internally to be helpful, I also recognize now that it is not my place to share what has been told to me in confidence. Sharing what I thought other people deserved to hear or participating in gossip has put me in compromising situations, and it has ruined some of my friendships. While I wish people would let go of the shame of their secrets, I understand wanting to lead a private life and not wanting many people to know their personal information as well. All I’ve ever wanted out of life is to connect deeply with people, and I want that sentiment to be reciprocated.
Here, I will impart some advice that has helped me be able to recover from and improve upon how I connect with people.
1. Keep your world small
Not everyone is for you. Not everyone is going to like you. And that’s okay. Stop caring so much about how other people perceive you. Quality over quantity is what matters most when it comes to your support system.
2. Don’t follow everyone you ever meet on social media
Sometimes I wish that there were firmer boundaries set in place between professional and personal lives. Social media blurs those lines. It’s not necessary to accept friend requests from people that you don’t even like. It’s not a requirement to follow every single one of your coworkers on social media. You never know exactly what a person is going through, and not everyone deserves to know what is going on in your personal life. I have learned the hard way the consequences of oversharing online. I’m from the generation that grew up with the birth of social media, so all I’ve ever known is sharing my life online. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t want to do that as much anymore. These days, I want to live my life out loud off-screen. I want to reserve information about my personal life for the people who show up for me and who are invested in me and my future.
3. Practice what you preach
People who are all talk can be frustrating to deal with. If you want to be considered dependable, then own it! Trusting someone and later finding out that they are a two-faced backstabber is the ultimate betrayal. This can be avoided by showing people that you are an honest person by keeping to your word.
4. Focus on you
You are the only person who is going to be there for you your entire life. Depend on yourself. Develop a self-love practice. Take accountability for your actions. Don’t make other people’s problems and drama your own. When you learn to trust yourself, then you will be able to prove to other people that you are trustworthy and loyal. Would you be friends with you? The answer should be a resounding yes.
5. Find an outlet
Instead of gossiping and potentially hurting the person whose secret you are supposed to be keeping, find a way to clear your channel of the burden. If you need to talk about it, then talk about it with a therapist or a third party who doesn’t know that person. Push your feelings of overwhelm out in a healthy way. Journal. Meditate or practice yoga. Cook or bake. Play a musical instrument. I find tasks that utilize my hands to be helpful to me.
6. Set boundaries
If keeping secrets to yourself is too much for you, remember that you can always say no. Hold your ground and speak up. Give yourself permission to ask for space if you’re not ready to take on their personal information. Practice holding space, which means taking a step back, stepping into your body, and not taking on others’ emotions. Knowing your limits is valid.
After daily yoga practice that involves a lot of planting my palms on the mat, I am proud to say that I no longer have bent fingers. I have stretched my hands to their fullest expression. But that doesn’t matter to me as much. Admitting to myself that I was a tattletale and changing that trait was always more important. Keeping secrets to myself is still a daily struggle, but like yoga, it is a lifelong practice, and I am grateful for the opportunity to change.