On Living with Secrets

1. Is it secrecy or privacy? There are plenty of things we never talk about – and that’s normal and OK. So how do you tell the difference between the two?

If you were asked a question by someone very close to you, and you would answer their question, then that is privacy.

If you would hide the answer, and your intention is never to divulge that information, then that is secrecy.

2. Keeping secrets is hard; keeping secrets can make you ill. When we have secrets we feel we are being inauthentic. Not our true selves. Even fraudulent. It is lonely and isolating. Plus, it usually takes a toll on our physical health. It can significantly boost stress hormones, play havoc with our immune system, elevate our blood pressure, cause sleep disturbances, cause gastro-intestinal problems, contribute to addictions, and even increase chronic pain.

And the bigger the secret, the greater the inner conflict, and the greater the impact it has on our health.

2. Keeping secrets uses up a lot energy. When we can’t share something that’s important in some way, we don’t just bury it and forget all about it. We ruminate over it. Our mind keeps on being drawn back to it. Trying to understand it. Trying to make sense of it. Wishing we could unburden ourselves. Wishing we didn’t have to carry it alone. Wishing we could have emotional support.

And all of that uses up a lot of energy. It also gets heavier as the years go by.

3. What to do if you’re not ready to share the secret. Write your secret down somewhere, and read it aloud to yourself. Somehow, this form of externalizing can help you detach a little from its emotional impact, and can make it a bit easier when the time comes to open up and share.

4. Who not to share your secret with. People who love to see you, or others, suffer. People who will be scandalized and appalled. People who will be unempathic, cruel or judgmental. People who will shame you, or will blacken your name. People who will gossip, or will share the information with a third party.

5. Who to share the secret with. First let me say, judging when to share a secret, and who to share it with, can be tricky. Often there is no right time. But there can be a right person.

Essentially you are looking for understanding and support – so ask yourself who, close to you, might fit that bill. Perhaps a best friend or family member? Here, it is important to think about how deep and solid the relationship is, and what that person’s attitudes and values are. You are trying to identify a safe person here. You are wanting to make sure that opening up will make things better, not worse, for you.

In fact, sometimes it is safest to start with a detached third person – someone who doesn’t know the people who’re involved. This could be someone in the medical profession, a counsellor, a therapist, or perhaps a minister, or religious advisor. The important thing is sharing with someone who will care so you feel less alone, and less engulfed by shame.     

As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself.”  


9 thoughts on “On Living with Secrets

  1. This reminds me of that old story about the King with Horse’s Ears. The young man who cut the King’s hair had to keep the secret, but he became very ill. It’s very good advice to tell some detached person. In the story the young man told a tree and the tree was later used to make a harp, which sang out the secret in the King’s Castle at a big concert – then everyone knew! You probably know the story.

    Liked by 2 people

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