Anyone who attends AA meetings is familiar with the oft-repeated phrase, “Our secrets make us sick.” Those who struggle with addiction are typically full of secrets and are stuck in their bad habits due to an inability to disclose them. Yet, addicts are not the only ones who struggle with secrets. Most people don’t like to disclose certain things about themselves that they find shameful or painful.
While we are not required to blab our entire life story to the Starbucks barista or a work colleague, there are some people (and times) that we need to expose secrets to the light. Read ahead for some insight into why some individuals are more secretive than others, and what we can do to grow more authentic.
The Root of Secrecy is Fear
There are many reasons why we choose to keep secrets. Sometimes we do not want to hurt someone’s feelings, other times we are embarrassed, and more often we want to impress people, particularly if it is a new relationship. Secrecy is related to lying and often requires us to tell half-truths or outright lies. Other times, we are truthful about most things in our life, but decide to keep a few painful memories to ourselves. Some individuals use secrets to manipulate others and get their way, though this is usually relegated to sociopathic behavior.
Regardless of the type of secret, the root of all secrets is fear. We are afraid that others will judge us, or that they will not like us for something we have done in our past. Many of our secrets are rooted in trauma. We may not be entirely honest about these events with ourselves. For example, adults who experienced molestation as children tend to bury these events deep within their psyches. They remember them, but practice believing that ‘they don’t exist.’ Unfortunately, this does not work forever.
What we hold inside ourselves will eventually come out in one way or another. In the best-case scenario, we may struggle with anxiety, depression, or resentment. In the worst-case scenario, we may engage in addictive behaviors or self-harm. In short, it is not healthy to keep secrets. It truly does make us sick, in one way or another.
Adults who struggle with secrecy may have experienced a childhood in which they were forced to keep secrets. One parent may have required the child to hide things from the other parent. Or, the atmosphere was such that children were not allowed to disclose their true feelings for fear they would get in trouble.
Researchers believe that secrets create “motivational conflict,” or a need to avoid the social cost of disclosure with the purpose to maintain relationships with others and not lose them. In other words, we keep secrets because we believe it will make intimacy stronger. In actuality, a close relationship cannot survive when there are too many secrets. Openness and honesty are what make long-lasting relationships work.
Learning to Open Up
Opening up does not require us to disclose all of our secrets to everyone. We first need to recognize which secrets are causing us to feel pain, anxiety, or depression. Then, we need to get comfortable disclosing them to one or two people. For those who struggle with obsessive secretiveness, therapy and counseling are a must. A therapist is a safe person to speak with because he/she is not related to the patient in any way. There is no potential consequence that will impact the relationship if a patient discloses a secret.
However, the patient must want to truly get better. In some circumstances, patients have had trouble disclosing secrets to their therapists because it is a habit not to. They want to get help, but they aren’t sure how. The patient must be willing to open up and trust someone with the secret. Once they do, they will be more willing to be more authentic with friends and partners.
The Benefits of Honesty
We tend to believe that our secrets are worse than everyone else’s. The truth is that most people do not care as much about what we did as we tend to. It may surprise you when you disclose a secret to a friend and they underreact. They may even thank you for trusting them enough to be honest with them. If they are a good friend, they will not sit around judging you or thinking about what you did. They have their problems to worry about.
With practice and the help of a therapist, we can learn to be more authentic. We can begin trusting others to accept our authentic selves and not a partial or distorted version of them. We will then grow closer to others and feel more comfortable in our relationships. We will also notice that our anxiety and depression will dissipate. We will not have to remember so many lies and stories; we can just be who we are. We will realize that everyone has skeletons in the closet. We are all imperfect human beings, trying to do the best we can.
Do you struggle with anxiety, depression, or secretiveness? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors will set up an appointment with you.