What's your Secret?
There are many kinds of secrets, Secrets we keep from others, for others or maybe even secrets we keep from ourselves. My latest blog post 'what's your Secret?' looks at where our secrets lie and the consequences of keeping things to ourselves.
There are many different kinds of secrets and all of them take energy to keep and maintain. We may have secrets that we have been keeping for most of our lives or secrets about more recent events. Sometimes we are trusted or burdened with the secrets of others and sometimes we even keep secrets from ourselves.
''according to a recent study by Michael Slepian, a professor of management at Columbia Business School, and two of his colleagues, the average person keeps thirteen secrets, five of which he or she has never shared with anyone else.'' The New Yorker
The Power of Secrets
"I keep a Secret
Well a secret keeps me
It is my judge and Jailor
It keeps me from being free"
-The Big Secret, Simone Ayers
Keeping a secret often feels like a necessity of huge importance. We ask ourselves constant questions such as ''what would happen if people found out?'' and ''what will they think of me?''. The longer a secret stays with us the harder it can become to share, we worry that people will question our motives for taking or so long or possibly not believe us.
These thoughts and questions are a breeding ground for anxiety and panic. We can isolate ourselves from others for fear of being discovered or be so preoccupied with our inner secrets that our relationships suffer because we are distant, tense, depressed or irritable. We may spend sleepless nights going over all the things that might happen if our secrets are discovered and our health may suffer. The weight can be overwhelming and incredibly lonely.
Other Peoples Secrets
Sometimes the secrets we keep are ones entrusted to us by others. It may relieve the burden of the other person to confide in us about their own secret, but what impact does that then have on us? It is worth thinking carefully about whether we want the responsibility of holding a secret for someone else, what the cost is to ourselves and the impact it may have on our own life and relationships. Secrets can come between family members, friends and romantic partners and can often be very divisive. We can feel caught in the middle or guilty about inadvertently taking sides.
Our own Secrets
We may be hiding social anxiety in everyday situations or masking our insomnia with caffeine and sugar in a desperate attempt to seem 'ok'. Or maybe we're hiding an infidelity, money worries, our sexuality, relationship doubts, childhood traumas, fears, feelings of depression or our sexual preferences... secrets can take any shape or form and its importance and magnitude depends on how we perceive the situation and not the nature of the secret.
Secrets we keep from ourselves
Sometimes there are things in our lives, our minds or our hearts that even we don't want to look at. Things that feel impossible to face. Things that we don't want to admit to ourselves because they threaten our sense of who we are. For example we may be unhappy in our relationship but we don't want to contemplate this reality, so we bury these feelings or camouflage them by talking about how happy we are and showering our partner with gifts and holidays. All the time running at 100mph from how we really feel. Addiction is another powerful way of disguising secret feelings, whether we use alcohol, food, drugs, shopping, sex or sport we can become lost in the compulsivity and distraction to the point that it disguises what is really going on for us.
Fear of being discovered. Fear of consequences. Fear of being judged. Fear of having to change. Fear of rejection and loss. Fear drives secrets and sometimes the fear can become bigger than the secret itself. The fear of discovery can be crippling and we may also feel intense feelings of shame connected to our secrets.
''I live with a secret
Inside it and behind
And my fear will feed it
Until the day I dare confide"
-The Big Secret, Simone Ayers
Secrets that aren't safe to keep
Some secrets have the potential to do more harm than just hurt peoples feelings or embarrass us. They can leave ourselves or others vulnerable to danger or harm. If you or someone you know are suicidal or being abused, exploited or blackmailed then please seek help. Talk to someone you trust or call Samaritans free on 116 123 or contact Crimestoppers UK anonymously on 0800 555 111.
When the cats out of the bag
Sometimes we share a secret and then wonder why on Earth we kept it so long. People react positively where we were convinced it would be negative or perhaps are barely even concerned with the secret you thought would break their hearts. Of course at other times hearts do break, relationships splinter or we experience the hurt of being disbelieved. Dealing with the impact of releasing a secret can be stressful and you may need a lot of support.
Sometimes the secret is not revealed by choice, it may be discovered by chance or accident or we may have our confidence betrayed. Without a chance to armour and protect ourselves this can have an enormous impact on our mental health and we may feel bewildered and hurt or spiral into crisis.
A secret shared
However long you have been holding the secret, whether it is yours or someone elses or whether you have discovered or suspect someone elses secret, counselling is a safe space to share it. It may take time for you to build up the trust in your counsellor to share secrets you have held for a long time and that is fine, you are in control of what you share. Counselling is confidential and your counsellor will hold your secret unless they feel you or others to be at serious risk of harm.