Secrets: Something to Keep for Yourself
We all have secrets. At our core, there are things that we just don’t want other people to know and we hold onto these secrets for all we are worth. Along with this there is a popular perception that we should be telling our secrets, and that a life without secrets is what we should be aspiring to. I don’t agree.
Two types of secrets
It seems that people can see their secrets as one of two sorts. The first of these sorts is the secret that they are busting to tell; it might be something as minor as a piece of gossip, or, it might be something a bit revealing about themselves. This is the sort of ‘secret’ that some people share on Facebook, and is sometimes called ‘oversharing’. These secrets are things that people are willing to trade in social situations.
The second sort of secret is something that lives at the heart of us. It is something about ourselves which we have kept private, sometimes for many years. We may not even be sure why we keep it private, but it feels important for us to do so. I believe that this sort of secret becomes so important to us that it actually forms a core part of our personality; in some sense we build ourselves around our secrets. Some people can have what seems to them like a ‘terrible secret’ – that has been carried for years and has become a burden. In a clinical situation, someone might go to a psychotherapist or counsellor and in the very first session tell them something that they have never told anyone else.
Secrets are the mark of the individual
To have a secret is to be an individual, and the keeping of your secrets can preserve and build your sense of identity – it is almost as if your self coheres around the secret and the preserving of it.
For many people to disclose a secret then changes their relationship to it. They feel differently. For some people this change can mean they feel unburdened, but for other people they can feel suddenly exposed. Going back to the example of the ‘terrible secret’, despite the client’s intention that this be the start of a working relationship with a psychotherapist, in many cases, this act of disclosure can actually spell the end of it. This secret, kept so long by the client – perhaps because it seems shameful – is now known by someone else. In many cases, it makes the therapeutic relationship unbearable for the client and the therapy ends.
Keep your secrets
Keep your secrets until you are sure you want to reveal them. When I work with someone who has a secret and wants to tell it, I encourage them to let it out slowly. We work through it, asking such questions as “without saying what the secret is, how would you feel if someone else knew this secret? How do you imagine I might think of you if I did know it?” Using techniques like this we can try to deal with secret telling, without the secret being told. We see how you feel with every step you take towards revealing it. If it doesn’t feel right, take a step back and say no more.
I don’t feel you should feel pressured to reveal anything. In time, you may choose to reveal the secret or you may not. Not only is this up to you, but it ultimately might be better for you to keep the secret within.
– Tim Hill