A friend recently shared a family secret that had come to light: a previously unknown sibling had suddenly surfaced. The newfound sibling turned out to be personable, accomplished and friendly.
To my surprise, my friend wanted nothing to do with him!
“Why?,” I wondered to myself. Didn’t my friend have the better part of the deal? Couldn’t he afford to be generous? Isn’t a friendly new sibling a bonus?
Well, maybe not.
Maybe my friend has been paying the price for this unknown sibling his entire life. His mother’s secret had lived with her family every day of their lives. Though the secret was hidden, it had a HUGE presence.
It was the proverbial elephant in the room.
Worse, on top of co-habiting with a pachyderm, and in addition to running behind it with a shovel, the family was asked to play along with the idea – no, to really believe – that there was no elephant there!
When asked to go along with a family myth, we often agree. You can call it The Family Agreement, and it looks something like this:
That massive shape eating up half the space in the living room DOES NOT EXIST! The parts we keep bumping up against – the smell, the noise, the energy it takes – are just figments of our imaginations!
I understand this first-hand. In my childhood I was asked to play along with a myth of a happy family. Desperately wishing it were so, I even convinced myself of its reality.
Living with a lie is its own kind of tragedy. Even lies intended to protect the children or spouse exact a steep toll. The fear, shame, and sheer effort it takes to maintain a fiction affect everyone involved.
In my family, when circumstances arose in which the truth became undeniable, the myths tumbled to the ground like so many falling cards. Though it was devastating at the time (and is an ongoing process of healing), the stripping away of illusions was the greatest gift I could have received.
Years of doubt and disconnect were over. I was released from a kind of bondage to an illusion, and this release allowed me to realign with my inner truth. Instead of trying to squeeze myself into others’ narratives, I finally rediscovered my own story.
Acknowledging the elephant in the room allows forward movement. Perhaps it’s embarrassing to admit to living with an elephant, maybe it’s scary to see what life would be like without the old familiar roommate, and chances are some walls will be broken to get the massive thing out the door, but with awareness comes the possibility of resolution.
We all live with different kinds of elephants in the room, some large, some small, some dramatic like my friend’s newfound sibling, others more mundane. Secrets, lies – even thoughts and emotions we hide from ourselves – are like insidious little worms that mysteriously morph under cover of darkness into gigantic, hungry creatures that leave no room for happiness. When we work to uncover our secrets, to bring our truth to light, and to accept what is in our own hearts and minds, the monsters once again shrink down to size and disappear.
It can be a life-long challenge to know your own mind, especially if you were trained to believe others’ stories rather than your own. Yet the universe will meet you halfway: when your intention is to learn, insight will start to come. The willingness is all.
Go on a journey of discovery, your own private safari. Put on pith helmet and bush jacket, hop in the jeep, and track your elephants down!
So, what are the signs of an elephant in the vicinity?
Besides the obvious pachyderm pies and prints, look to see if there are things you say you want to do, but never do them: what ‘elephant’ might be in the way of you following your dreams?
Elephants are also known to seek camouflage: what is the elephant hiding behind a reach for food, alcohol, hyperactivity, depression, overspending, narcotics, etc.? What is the story beneath the grab for ‘cover’?
When you spot an elephant, you don’t have to shoot it – no need for a gory mess! Just uncover your elephant.
Be willing to see the elephant.
You can even make friends with it.
Whether you choose to keep it, or prefer to part company, the elephant is never as scary as it seemed, once it is uncovered.
Reba Linker, coach and author specializing in inspirational books for women and ‘stories that heal.’ Her book, Follow the Yarn, encourages others to ‘follow their own yarns,’ tell their stories, and discover their true voice. Download your free excerpt, and be the first to know about new publications and special offers when you sign up for the free newsletter in the upper right corner of this website. Connect with Reba on Facebook at Reba Linker, Author