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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Secret, secret, I’ve got a secret: The secrets we keep can be more unsettling than the truths we tell

We learn to keep secrets at an early age. Most people will get their cues about secrets and honesty from their parents or role models. If a child has been encouraged to keep secrets, or viewed their parents being secretive, they are bound to learn sneaky or concealing behaviors and believe them to be the norm.

Secrets are universal. Keeping secrets is part human nature, part cultural, and part learned dysfunctional behavior.

PostSecret is an entire website, and many books, that delves into the phenomenon of secrets and hidden events or thoughts. “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.”

                                              - From the PostSecret Website -
I encourage everyone to take some time and look it over. Some of it may shock you. It can be an incredibly liberating experience being able to FINALLY tell a long-held secret. Some of the secrets are very sad. Others many incite a feeling of rage. Most people will be able to relate to some of the less dramatic secrets.
We all have had, or still carry, secrets. Some of them are harmless and banal. Keeping secrets about small things, like how many cookies we ate, or not wanting to admit when we made a minor mistake at work, are normal and to be expected. Secrets start to take on a life of their own when they involved BIG THINGS like our children, our spouse, or employer, our country, or our character.
Secrets are so universal that you could fill a library with books and films which bear the theme of secrecy, betrayal, lies, and hidden events. We often find secrets fascinating, repulsive, exciting, or frightening. Some people have affairs simply because their lives are boring, and they long for the "excitement" of secrecy.
Wikipedia says- “Secrecy (also called clandestinity or furtiveness) is the practice of hiding information from certain individuals or groups, perhaps while sharing it with other individuals. That which is kept hidden is known as the secret.
Secrecy is often controversial, depending on the content of the secret, the group or people keeping the secret, and the motivation for secrecy. Secrecy by government entities is often decried as excessive or in promotion of poor operation; excessive revelation of information on individuals can conflict with virtues of privacy and confidentiality.”

Some of the most terrifying things I’ve ever heard have started out with these sentences:

“I’ve never told anyone this before…”

“I know you are going to find this hard to believe…”

“I don’t really know where to begin…”

“I hope this won’t change your opinion of me.” or the similar, “I hope you won’t be shocked by what I am about to tell you.”
 I’ve had my share of guts spilled all over me. I've spilled mine over other people. It often isn’t pretty. Sometimes it can change your life. But sharing secrets is, more times than not, better in the long run than trying to keep them hidden.  I admit to unpleasant, shameful secrets, which have all come to light or I have finally shared. Many of them, I am not proud of.
Who hasn’t done something in their life they would rather forget? Who hasn’t been a less than wonderful parent, friend, or spouse? But keeping poor or dysfunctional behavior a secret means it isn’t being dealt with or addressed. In order to make a true amends, or correct the behavior which is being kept secret, the issues and situations must come to light.
Believe this- the negative energy and stress required in keeping a secret will only increase in time, and it will, for most people, begin to eat away at their soul. Secrets can be toxic and harmful enough to destroy a person’s entire life.

Almost everyone has shared, or had someone else share, a secret they would rather not have known about or wish they could forget. Wouldn’t life be so much easier and simpler if we didn’t have terrible and shameful things that we have either had to, or chose to, hide?

Many people believe it is better to keep their secrets. They convince themselves they are protecting others, or themselves, from pain, hurt, humiliation, or scandal. And every day you can see examples in the headlines, or  on television, of the terrible outcomes of that theory.

We see examples of the husband, or wife, who is trying to hide the affair from their spouse- because they don’t “want to hurt them”. The pedophile hides their evil deeds because they don’t want to face the shame and disgrace which will befall their family.
The unfortunate part is that it isn’t a factor of IF a secret will be revealed; it is only a matter of when. And perhaps more importantly, if a person doesn’t want to hurt their spouse or family, or even themselves, they shouldn't engage in the secretive behavior in the first place. That is the surest, more reliable, way to shield and protect those you love from pain, humiliation, suffering, and consequences.
Secrets rarely stay hidden. It may take months, years, or even decades- but in my experience, and from historical evidence, secrets almost always come to light. And one of the most unpleasant, and unfortunate, aspects of secrets is that the longer it has been concealed, the more distress, hurt, pain, and shock it will cause once it FINALLY comes to light.
Someone finding out a terrible betrayal or unpleasant event in real time is certainly upsetting and can cause problems in a marriage, job, or friendship. Finding out the same information five or ten years later can be devastating beyond repair.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious. As an example, if I do something wrong and I come clean and tell the other person about my mistake immediately, for one thing, it will show that person that although I have erred, I am sorry and I want to make amends.
If, on the other hand, I do something to break trust or faith with them and I conceal it, sometimes for years, when they eventually find out (and the percentages show that they probably will); not only has my mistake or lie been exposed- I have also shown that I had no remorse for my actions, nor the honor or integrity to admit it. A lose, lose proposition if there ever was one.
                                                                                             Roy Lichtenstein-CryingGirl
There are many lies people tell themselves when they are keeping secrets. Often a person tries to convince themself that the other person, or people, involved are better off not knowing. How many terrible crimes have been committed because of that self-deceit and cowardly excuse? And think of the Bernie Madoffs of the world and the John Edwards, and the Marion Barrys-   all prime examples of people who believed that they could “get away with it” and they were trying to protect someone with their lies. How convenient is that?
Tragically, children who have been sexually abused believe they have to keep their abuse secret or terrible, dangerous consequences will happen.
Having been sexually abused as a child, by a neighbor, I can relate to that feeling. I kept that secret all to myself for many, many, years. I felt that something terrible would happen if I told. My seven year old mind had convinced itself that if I told my parents, something would happen that would make my life unbearable. I was terrified that my father would kill my victimizer and would go to jail. I believed that keeping my secret was the only way to keep the people I loved safe. What an agony my parents went through many years later when I finally told them the truth. By that time, it was simply too late to do anything because the sexual predator had moved and no one knew of his whereabouts.
Keeping any kind of secret can create devastation and ruin. Gay politicians who fear for their careers and stay in the closet, even marrying a woman and having children- and all the while having affairs with men, keep their secret because they have convinced themselves that it is the only way they can continue with their “dream” of holding public office. That is a giant cop out and one of the most painful and shameful betrayals a person can lay on another.
Anyone keeping a financial secret from their spouse will surely learn that it will only be a matter of time before their world implodes in ruin. Believing that a spouse is better off not knowing is madness because both people will eventually have to deal with the fallout.
Parents will often keep the secret of a dead marriage from their children, wrongly thinking that they are somehow protecting them with the lie, but when the marriage finally collapses and the kids are shocked to realize that there were problems all along, the betrayal and hurt can destroy a family. How do you begin to build trust again after years of secrecy and lies?  It isn’t pleasant or pretty, and it can take years to heal, if the healing is even possible.
Last but not least, attempting to keep addiction a secret from family, friends, and employers, is one of the most futile and hopeless cases. There is no possible way for an alcoholic or drug addict to keep the secret of their addiction for very long. There are many who will be in denial about a loved one or employee’s addiction issues, but at some point the secret will be exposed and the situation will have to be dealt with accordingly.

Some other secrets that people believe they can keep, but rarely do:

  • Depression
  • Physical or mental illness
  • Gambling or shopping addictions, or secret debts
  • “Love children” or secret family members
  • Criminal record
  • Political scandal
  • Addiction to pornography
  • Internet addiction, to include internet “affairs” and inappropriate online relationships
  • Fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Stolen valor
  • Plagiarism
  • Internet dating secrets
  • Misrepresentation of credentials or degrees
  • False persona
  • Pyramid schemes or dicey investments
If you search the word, secret, on any of the top internet search engines, there will be a wealth of information. Secrets are a hot topic in almost every aspect of life. It is surprising that something so common still has the potential to be so upsetting.
I have learned the hard way that secrets have the potential to destroy the best parts of life. Losing integrity and self-respect is one of the worst aspects of keeping secrets. Secrets can keep people from truly sharing and connecting. Secrets breed more secrets and they eventually cause a person to despair.
In my humble and compassionate opinion, a life without secrets brings peace of mind and serenity rather than the chaos and hopelessness of attempting to conceal things which may or may not stay concealed.
If by some chance something does remain a secret, what price does a person pay when they have to look in the mirror each day and know that they are not true to themselves or others around them? That price is too steep for most and the cost may be everything.


  1. "We are only as sick as the secrets we keep," is a quotation often touted by celebrities these days. They share theirs, their journeys and their recoveries.

    Perhaps theirs are one of the many tomes in that library you wrote about with keyword secret in their titles?

    It begs the question, Reveal a secret when? To heal? To earn? (half joking in our share and tell all world)

    Thanks for comprehensive peek behind the curtain!

    Helena Kaufman

  2. Having read and learned about secrets and the many faces and situations they have, I'd like to add something very important.

    We can write and heal ourselves, but to have so generously shared all you have processed and learned is admirable. Your tact, sensitivity and vulnerability in sharing your experience with family is very special.

    Now to share it so publicly and help others heal.. in this very private, intimate forum, is a precious gift to all who might benefit. Brava, brave woman.

    (sorry for double comment space.. I hit a key and deleted my very personal message and had to rewrite here)

    1. write down what you're feeling,praying helps too

  3. I compare secrets to debt (and I guess in a way it's an emotional "debt" in which we put ourselves). It's so exhausting to constantly juggle things and continually live on the edge of disaster. Worse, we never realize the toll it's taking and how weighted down we are until we finally look at it, deal with it and let it go. Then, even though the underlying problems are still there, the sense of freedom from those crushing emotions can be almost euphoric. Very timely post (think Sandusky, wikileaks, and so many other news items) as well as a very brave post, Diana.

  4. Linda and Helena, I am honored and moved by your generous and eloquent comments. I appreciate, and value, your opinions very much. I am humbled to have such thoughtful and intelligent people reading my work. THANK YOU, sincerely, for the remarks, the kindness, and the support.