Naked and Ashamed: The Unsolved Half of Shared Problems

“A problem shared is half solved”
The intending counsellor’s starter pack

I think so too. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have nudged Tumisi to write that letter to Nathan three weeks ago. I’m a mental health police, I’d like to believe. It’s in the ways I look out for the sanity of the people I care about. While this can be sometimes overbearing for them- my incessant “are you goods,” that is- I rarely budge. I find the bottling of emotions an unhealthy practice, a subconscious hatred for our wellbeing. And while I do not always have answers, I believe me and my folks take a chip off mountains each time we chose communication over silence.

Despite years of acting the listener though, and when necessity demands, the counsellor, I still can’t bring myself to embracing the quote up there as absolute. That quote seem to motivate most caregivers and intending counsellors to split issues into two equal halves, one half being made whole by a mandatory exposition of our fears. But what happens to the other unsolved half? Does it actually, eventually grab its own “exclusive” 50 percent solution because of some verbal spillage? Wait, are issues even worth the hype accrued them? And if they worth much attention, how sure are we our “intending counsellors” aren’t some buttheads who’d make us a specimen of the fallacy I see in that statement up there?

Some weeks ago I was having a casual conversation with a “friend” when I asked about the welfare of his apprentice, a young man in his twenties who learns Disk Jockeying from him. I hadn’t seen him in a while since he started working on behalf of his boss at a club every Thursday night. If it wasn’t for the recent engagement, he might have been in my office with his boss, both engrossed in their usual banters about steering clear me. But while I expected a simple reply about his wellbeing, my “friend” tells me: “Uchenna got “disvirgined” by three ladies who ambushed him in his hotel room last week.”

I was taken aback, speechless for a while. Yes, I do share some level of closeness with this “friend”, but not enough to make me privy to such information. As he recounted everything that happened that I didn’t ask for, I shut my eyes, and took a mental tour of conversations we’ve had in the past. I dissected every gist in search of any personal details I may have reeled out carelessly, such information I wouldn’t want the world to hear from the mouth of a talebearer. Thankfully there wasn’t any. Yet, I felt ashamed on behalf of that young man who confided in his boss, not knowing that barely a week after, an unsolicited ear would be fed with the debasing details of his first sexual encounter.

 

It takes guts to unburden issues before someone. Whether with a family, friend, colleague or even stranger; recounting setbacks is never an exciting experience. So when people summon courage, pull down their insecurities and develop trust in us, we must understand they aren’t expecting us to:

  • Make their private issue(s) a public affair,
  • Exploit their vulnerability either through blackmail or any kind of abuse,
  • Compound their insecurities by acting indifferent to their plight, and/or
  • Write them off through negative criticisms and/or self-righteous judgments.

I doubt Uchenna knows his sexual abuse is no longer a secret between him and his boss. I pray he doesn’t; he doesn’t experience that hurt that comes from voicing one’s fears into the wrong ears. It’s always heartbreaking, that wound that cuts so deep walls and broken bridges become one’s forte. May his plight not make the headlines, making a thousand genuine smiles forever lose grace in his sight. And may he not come in contact with another of them you-can-tell-me-anything folks; wolves in “I-care” clothing that feast on our weaknesses and leaves us naked and ashamed.

A problem Shared (With the Wrong Person) Is a Catalyst to More Problems

These days, I’m very careful in the ways I enquire about people’s wellbeing, including friends. Because I have been in Uchenna’s shoes before, and I can’t tell how long it took to nurse my broken heart, I allow people breathe when they build an edge around me. Maybe that’s how they know how to heal: playing the lone ranger, avoiding contact with anything that would ignite trust. A second time. 

 

Shared problems ought to bring about relief and empathy. But when processed by an unrefined ear with a loud mouth, it becomes a spiral of issues: People sink into depression. They start feeling like the universe is against them. Some lose their self-esteem and start seeking for acceptance in bottles of alcohol, hard drugs, porn, sex and other crazy addictions. More walls of resistance are built, relationships are destroyed and genuinely concerned folks are seen as wolves. The fear of an endless circle of hurts takes many on a gradual journey to the grave; others take a faster route: suicide.

I wish we would all understand that nobody owe us their stories. That when people share their issues with us, it’s not because they’re hosting a pity party and thus, in need of guests who’d drink of their plights then puke on their faces. They voice their fears because they have faith in us- in our empathy, advice and/or on the spot solutions. They could’ve spoken with countless others, but they chose us. If we see this as a privilege and not our divine right, we would allow God use us to reach out to them, and not act like the unsolved part of their problems.

P.S.: Name and some circumstances in the story shared have been tweaked to keep my “friend” and Uchenna’s identity faint from folks who are close to me. Don’t even try stressing your memory if you’re my friend; you have no idea what this is. Grab the lesson here and move. I love you too.

Temi Enemigin

I breathe in music, and exhale words tastefully woven for your soul's pleasure. When high on sarcasm, I could smash your ribs into fine pieces. But whether on a stage, singing out my heart, on in Solitude, scribbling out mysteries, my greatest aim is to bless humanity with the essence of my being.

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18 Responses

  1. Emmatush says:

    This is one fear we have in confiding in people. Sometimes people tell me stuffs about others,and I just can’t close my mouth. Stuffs I didn’t even ask them. Then,at the end,they would make the most disappointing statement “please,don’t let him/her know I said this to you. He/she said I shouldn’t tell anyone.”
    Indeed,problems shared with the wrong person(s),is a catalyst for more problems.

    • Temi Enemigin says:

      I have been guilty of such in the past, and now as I look at it, I wonder what wisdom I found in spilling a tale I’ve been asked to safeguard while still considering it a secret. It was really my big mouth controlling my head then. Now I rein that temptation to spill a little with “trusted” friends. In fact, as soon as I’m done hearing such personal gist, I put everything behind me. My sole concern becomes the welfare of the person in need.

  2. Hmm.. As a teen counselor, I have learnt over time to not abuse that privilege of been a custodian holding VALUABLE secrets.. Each one has a different safe with me…different keys. Some friends of the teenage who just left my counseling would come to snoop for info. But naah, Can’t give them access to the safe. Cant afford to lose that trust I have built for years

    God help many confidants who thwart such privilege. Like Rev Timothy taught us, “Those who cannot handle broken souls should not handle living bread”.

    • Temi Enemigin says:

      “Those who cannot handle broken souls should not handle living bread”.

      So much depth in that statement. I’m learning over again to be mute, to allow secrets remain what it is. Sometimes we just spill secrets out of pride. We want the world to know we’re worth being told such stories. But that’s just us showing our insecurities. Our confidence is hidden in the nakedness of the folks we claim to be covering.

  3. Ireti says:

    I’m sometimes guilty of this because I feel sharing that person’s problem with another mature mind will help me solve it. And I learn from in the process. Keep writing my friend. Thank you for this.

    • Temi Enemigin says:

      I get Ireti. Sometimes we share out of concern, we think the person we’re dealing with would be better off with a well informed and necessary third party, so we spill. But what have learned to do is to ask questions:

      “I’ve listened to all you’ve told me, and I do appreciate you’re trusting me with this info. However, there’s someone I know who is well equipped to handle this situation. Do you mind meeting him/her? I could book a session on your behalf if it’s okay with you.”

      Most times, they agree. Other times they don’t and I respect their decision. What I do is I keep inquiring about their progress or lack of it. I pray. Research. And seek (on how best to improve their condition) in ways I don’t necessarily have to expose them.

      I’m glad you learned from this, babe.
      Thank you for reading.

  4. Rashidat Akashat says:

    This is so true, a problem spilled to an unrefined ear with a loud mouth is catastrophe. May God help us. This you wrote I learned before I became an undergraduate. It made me reserved but I am still learning. Thank you for this piece.

    • Temi Enemigin says:

      We keep learning, babe.
      It’s good you learned that early. Little wonder you’ve been a sweetheart these years.

  5. Alero Richards says:

    Very powerful and insightful piece you’ve written Temi!
    Only recently I was thinking on this same matter but thank you for such articulate words.
    I truly believe that everyone has a right to have and hold secrets. No matter how close a person is to us, they are not obliged to share their problems or burdens with us and we must respect that fact. If and when they eventually open up to us, we must hold those secrets in the alabaster boxes of our hearts (especially if they swear us to secrecy). Because sometimes, sharing is the only thing that may prevent them from committing suicide. Perhaps that hug you gave after they shared, that smile, that encouragement, that prayer you said over them, that may have been the oxygen they needed to breathe again.
    God bless you sister! Much love.

  6. Happiness says:

    Hmmm,great write up dear,this is one of the reason,people can’t share what they are going through to others,having it at the back of his/her mind that it might slip out,it is so heart breaking that this so common in the Church.

    • Temi Enemigin says:

      Babe, it’s sad that it happens in churches. But mind you, we have churches with brethren who hold hands through tough times. I remember when I was in my lowest moment two years ago and couldn’t even talk to members of my family because I was scared about the negative impact it would have on them. I approached a sister in Church. She listened, then asked if I’d like pastor or his wife to know and I told her no. That babe held my secret safe. Nobody in church knew my story. I was the one who later told pastor about a year after.

      So really, it’s more about individuals than church. I understand that as believers, love’s demand on us should propel us to naturally watch our brother’s back. But many people don’t even know they err in this. They think are just spicing up conversations which such “juicy” stories. And it’s sad. If they are our buddies, then we should draw their attention to the mess.

  7. Chika says:

    Been at the horrible place of having one’s secrets spilled and I think I can appreciate better what you’re talking about.
    Really apt words . Thank you for reminding us .

  8. Marian says:

    Trust once broken, can never be gotten back. Quite sad.

    • Temi Enemigin says:

      It is certainly sad. Hard to regain. But I wouldn’t doubt the possibility of a second chance. To trust. And be trusted. People can change. For good.

  9. There are just some people who can’t differentiate between what should be secret and what shouldn’t. Some can differentiate between the two, though, but they would always bring that secret to the open. After all, it’s not their secret or their self-esteem that’s been smashed. I feel sorry for that young apprentice.. I’ve been a victim of such. Although, I would say mine was worse as it was more rumours than fact that was spread. God help us all oh.

    • Temi Enemigin says:

      Amin. So sorry about your experience. But from such, we learn to be discreet about the issues of those who confide in us.

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