A Secret History of You.
I wrote elsewhere on Medium (What is History For?) that just as towns or countries have historians and histories, just so individuals have histories, and are their own historians.
What does this mean?
It means that narratives about ourselves circulate, within our family, within our company, our town, and our various communities, as well as in our own heads: Jimmy’s always been so stressed, it’s who he is, or: Manuela is an angel. She carries her whole family.
The better you know people, the more elaborate and detailed these histories become. Just as only serious historians can create in-depth histories of, say, the Roman Empire, only our intimates and even we, can create detailed narratives about our lives. And we — and they — do.
But just like histories of famous people or nations, our personal histories are flawed — mostly by our own inability to see ourselves. Our own histories of ourselves might indeed tell truths about us, but often not the ones we think we are telling.
“I found Rome a city of bricks, and left it a city of Marble,” said the emperor Augustus. Now sure, he presided over the Pax Romana, a period of considerable economic growth for the luckiest of Romans. But what this quote, which he had etched into stone (or was it marble?) tells us is more about his overwhelming sense of power, accomplishment, egoism.
Our histories tell us about how we see ourselves, not how we are. Just so, those narratives constructed by our friends and family only get at some of the truth, instead they tell us more about them than about us, according to the general principle that “what Peter tells us about Paul tells us more about Peter than Paul.” And this is the case with History in general.
To get at the “truth,” just as historians seek to debunk myths, we need to access our “secret histories,” go beyond the official versions, these are the things about us which on some level we know to be true, but cannot — or will not — share with others. Or admit to ourselves.
Our secret histories hide behind public facades. Only intimate knowledge of someone can unearth a secret history — a history behind the façade. And only brutal honesty, or effective therapy can lay bare our public narratives to ourselves, force us to give voice to…