Is It Ever Okay To Keep a Secret?

We all have secrets we keep locked away from others. For some, the secrets may be small and harmless, but for others, they may be great enough to cause damage to personal relationships. I often talk about the topic of secrets in therapy with my clients. What people tend to not realize is that harboring a secret could be hurting you just as much as revealing it, if not more. Secrets, even small ones, can prevent relationships and friendships from being truly close. We keep secrets for all different reasons, but is it ever okay?

To determine whether or not keeping your secret is justifiable, first be honest with yourself. What are you trying to hide and why? If telling your secret will cause damage to your relationship, friend or spouse, you have to decide if you can live with hiding it or if it’s best to reveal it and deal with the consequences. If it’s fear of judgment, can you try to overcome that fear in order to let go? If you’re avoiding disapproval of a bad habit, is it time to come clean in order to avoid the anxiety of keeping the secret? Is your secret big or small?

Let’s look at a few scenarios. Robert has noticed his good friend James has an alcohol problem. For some time now, whenever Robert brings James to a bar, restaurant or social gathering he has one too many and his behavior becomes embarrassing. Robert doesn’t like confrontation, so rather than address James about the issue; he avoids inviting him along to any places that serve alcohol for fear of what might happen. Robert’s secret is preventing him from having a close relationship with his good friend, and is slowly driving them apart. In order for their friendship to survive, Robert needs to talk to James, and explain that alcohol is the reason why he avoids inviting him to certain places.

Sarah, a wife and mother of a young and impressionable little girl, has a problem of shopping more often than she should. In order to continue going on shopping sprees without her husband knowing, she has secret credit card accounts, and makes an effort to hide her receipts and shopping bags. Of course, eventually her husband finds out and they fight about it, but Sarah continues her secret shop-a-holic behavior. Sarah fails to realize how destructive her secret shopping is to their relationship.

Perhaps you have a child who isn’t doing well in school. You’re more of a laid back parent, and your spouse has higher expectations for the child’s grades than you do. He’s unaware of the issue because you’ve kept it a secret from him out of fear that he’ll be too harsh. Keeping a secret like this is not healthy for you, your husband or your child who might get the backlash when your spouse does find out. It’s best to inform your spouse about the situation and discuss ways you can work together in the best interest of your child.

After you say what you need to say, no matter the outcome, you might feel as if a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, finally letting go of whatever burden you’ve been carrying could be beneficial to your health, both physically and mentally. Keeping a secret can cause stress and anxiety, and even depression. Even small secrets, things you live with every day, can keep lingering at the back of your mind. Once you reveal it, you will let go of negative feelings and clear your mind. When a friend, spouse or family member keeps small secrets and chooses not to talk about feelings or experiences, he or she is putting up a wall that hurts the relationship.

EXAMPLES OF SECRETS PEOPLE KEEP

  • Secrets about personal past (breaking the law, drug and alcohol use, weight)
  • Secrets about family (suicide, alcoholism, domestic or child abuse)
  • Secrets about finances (hidden debt or secret bank account)
  • Secrets involving sexuality (rape, STDs, abortion, past promiscuity)
  • Hobbies they enjoy but their spouse doesn’t approve of (video games, fantasy football, chatting with friends online, texting too much)
  • Bad habits that are hard to break (smoking, eating unhealthy foods, gambling)
  •  Sexual orientation (keeping this from family and friends)
  • Child with a disability or a disability of their own
  • Resentful feelings toward in-laws
  • Unfaithfulness

REASONS PEOPLE KEEP SECRETS

  • Reluctance to hurt their partner
  • To “protect” the relationship
  • To avoid confrontation
  • Fear of disapproval or judgment
  • Ashamed or embarrassed
  •  Fear of being able to solve the problem or break the habit

Secrets create a barrier between people preventing them from being truly close with each other. I have seen this happen with couples, family members, and friends. Take into consideration that telling your secret could deepen your relationship and strengthen your connection. When you reveal your secrets, your partner will get a complete picture of you, flaws and all. Who knows, you might even find that you aren’t the only one hiding secrets. Your courage could inspire your partner to reveal his or her secrets, too.

TIPS FOR REVEALING SECRETS

  • Write your secret on a piece of paper, even if no one ever reads it, or say it out loud to yourself. It might make you feel better and prepare you for the moment you reveal it.
  • Decide where to reveal your secret. Should it be in a public place or behind closed doors?
  • Decide if it’s better for you to be impulsive or if it’s better to plan what you’re going to say and how it’s said.
  • If you feel very emotional about it, wait until you calm down a bit. It will be easier to communicate when you can think clearly and speak calmly.
  • Explain to the person the reason why you kept the secret. This will help him or her understand better.
  • Be prepared to listen to the person’s response, no matter how disappointing it may be.

A lot of work in therapy is about admitting secrets – to ourselves and to those we care about. This opens the door to deeper communication, empowers you and creates the kind of connection we all want in relationships. If secrets have been hurting your relationship, please don’t hesitate to contact me to schedule a time to talk.

 

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