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The transition from hiding to sharing can feel like an identity crisis

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Is “identity crisis” the best way to describe it? At the very least, an interaction I recently had certainly conjures the ghost of an identity crisis. Do you know this feeling? The feeling of having lived one way for so long that once that way changes, you find yourself disoriented? It’s an interesting and unexpected sensation. Thank you for allowing me to share mine with you. I think you might know what I mean...

After launching our podcast series, I treated myself to a manicure at my favorite nail place in town. The whipped cream and cherry on top turned out to be that they were having a flash sale on their new color line–which I wanted–and my shellac mani cost me $10 (ladies, rejoice!). I was asked what brought me in and I shared the celebratory nature of my visit, to which I was asked the most natural follow-up question in the world: What is your podcast about?

The pace at which the mind can do gymnastics is astounding. The thoughts all passed through my consciousness so quickly that I’m not sure how they remained separate. This familiar routine included the following:

Should I tell him? Should I tell the truth? What will he say? How will he respond? Does he seem safe? Does he seem trustworthy? How do I actually tell him? Do I include the part about me? Will my answer make any sense if I don’t? I hadn’t thought about this being the first thing someone new might listen I want him to listen to it? Will I never want to come here, again, if he does? Why would I lie? I don’t want to feel scared anymore. I don’t need to feel scared anymore. This has been my life and it’s true. Hiding isn’t who I am today. Shame isn’t who I am today. Fear isn’t who I am today. This is becoming more normal for me. My story is my story and it’s an amazing one. I don’t need to have these feelings. They aren’t warranted anymore. I’m safe. Alright. I’m calm now. I’m at peace. I’m myself. I can give the real answer.

All that in a split second. One of oh-so-many similar split seconds I’ve experienced over the past year, seconds when I’ve been thankful to have a mask covering half of my overly expressive face.

These experiences feel like an identity crisis. I am no longer living as I did: ever since I could talk, I always hid the truth in any relationships outside of my cult group. Now, I answer questions truthfully, with no need to modify my story. I don’t have to cover up to friends, teachers, neighbors, and my church.

But the reflex is still in me.

Though I am in the process of diffusing this reflexive lying, it’s not gone yet. The new patterns I’m creating feel foreign. Retraining will take more time, more practice, and continued commitment to challenging myself to accept my story on deeper levels.

  • Yes, my story is unexpected. My answer was not in the nail spa owner’s vocabulary: “I was raised in a religious cult and this podcast brings awareness to experiences that have overlap with mine, as well as brings education so others never find themselves in a similar situation.” But, the reality of a woman walking into his shop with this bizarre testimony behind her normal-looking appearance has now brought awareness.

  • Yes, my story evokes strong responses–people are either fascinated or dumbfounded. They either have a slew of questions or they slowly walk backwards away from me with a pretend smile on their face. But now they know that this really happens. It’s not just a Netflix series.

  • Yes, my story risks judgement. Was I a victim or am I also to blame? Is “cult” contagious? Should everyone back up, lest they become defiled by it? Like being unclean in the Old Testament? But, now they’ve heard the truth, even though the truth wasn’t all flattering, and if they talk to me again, it’s because they knowingly want to.

Can you resonate with this, personally? Do you have aspects of your story that compel you to evade conversation, if talking could lead in the direction of exposing the truth?

Many of us do. I am not unique in this experience. And my identity crisis moments of choosing bold narrative over historical replay is not a battle known only to me. It’s known to many of you, too.

If you see yourself in this story, I pray you’ll take the next step forward toward owning your narrative. Not all of the steps at once, just the next one–too much at once can be harmful. You have the time that you need for you each step, so take it, and be kind to yourself.

Our testimonies are powerful and they need to be heard. They serve us and they serve others.

In time, will you tell yours?

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