How To Know Which Secrets To Share
The reports of a study on keeping secrets presented in 2001 (by Catrin Finkenauer et al) indicate that among adults, secrecy is often considered dysfunctional and problematic for the secret-keeper.
For adolescents, keeping secrets from parents is associated with physical and psychological disadvantages.
There are also sociological disadvantages leading to loneliness.
Jack had been tossing and turning in bed all night. Jill, his wife kept asking him to talk about whatever was keeping him awake.
“It’s nothing,” Jack said for the umpteenth time.
“Okay, Jack. I refuse to share a bed with a man who cannot share his thoughts with me. Do I leave, or do you?”
“All right,” Jack whined. “Little Miss Muffet has a problem. She asked my advice, but she swore me to secrecy. It’s huge, and I can’t get it out of my mind.”
“So, you and I will stay awake all night because of a secret you share with Little Miss Muffet, which you cannot share with your wife,” summarized Jill. “Does that make sense to you?”
Jack was not even a counselor, only a family friend to Little Miss Muffet and her parents. This scenario brings various considerations to mind:
- Does anyone have the right to confide in a married person with the stipulation that he or she not share the secret with the spouse?
- What are the options when the secret threatens the harmony between husband and wife?
Types of Secrets
John Bradshaw, counselor and author of Family Secrets: The Path to Self-Acceptance and Reunion describes four types of secrets. We will discover which category Jack’s secret falls into, and judge whether he should share it with Jill. We will also learn to differentiate between secrets which are and are not worth sharing.
First Degree Secrets
These secrets violate “life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.” They include secrets about emotional and spiritual abuse and criminal actions—theft, arson, sexual crimes and so on. We know the advantage of sharing these secrets with the appropriate authorities. Exposing them is one way to prevent the offenders from harming other people.
Second Degree Secrets
These have to do with addictions which may not be illegal, but destructive to the person who has them. They also affect the people close to the addict. Secret addictions to bad habits like overeating, gambling and abuse of prescription drugs should be confessed in an effort to get help and avoid serious consequences.
Third Degree Secrets
These secrets warrant a look at the circumstances. What are the facts surrounding the secret? Are they worth the explanations? Do they matter to the other person? These include secrets about family issues, political opinions, views on social issues like abortion.
They also include marital secrets about past misconduct and infidelity. Are they better left unsaid? Jack’s secret with Little Miss Muffet fits into this category. If Jack were able to sleep and Jill did not have a clue, there would be no need to tell. However, the circumstances are that the secret is disturbing their physical and emotional health. In the future, Jack may learn to investigate the type of secret before committing to silence.
Fourth Degree Secrets
These are personal secrets which, unlike second degree secrets do not affect anyone else, but may burden the individuals. For example, disguising one’s identity with a phony accent, or similar types of deception can create fear of discovery; it can also breed other negative emotions like guilt and anxiety. Personal secrets can cause very public embarrassment when exposed; so it may be better to abandon the act.
The Irony of Secrets
Some secrets are not really secrets. How many people do you know who think they have personal secrets, while you and others in your circle let the delusion run? You have shared their stories several times, each time soliciting an oath to secrecy. Beware that you also think you have secrets which other people know and share.
Family secrets are notorious for the hypocrisy they create. Nobody asks about the absent family members at the reunion, so that nobody gets to mention the uncle in the mental institution. They pretend not to know about the uncle and his wife who are “secretly” living apart. They just suppress facts and hide the truth.
“The dark secrets that are so carefully guarded get revealed and uncovered” writes John Bradshaw, “because the children act them out—if not in this generation then in the next, or the next.” For the most part, secrets will eventually be shared. How and when are important issues.
Short Polls on Secrets
Are you presently keeping a secret which you wish you did not know?
Are you presently keeping a secret which you are pretending not to know?
General Guidelines for Sharing Secrets
If a secret disturbs your thoughts on a daily basis, you may want to share it. Fourth degree secrets may be shared in a journal or with a pet. For others which are necessary to share with someone, consider the following general guidelines.
Every tip is not applicable to every secret, so think through your situation, before you attempt to share.
- Be purposeful. Have in mind the outcome you expect and state it. For example, “I want to share something that will explain, or help, or redirect a focus.”
- Be discreet. Use your best judgment concerning when and where to share the secret. One woman chose her office at work as the best place to confess her infidelity. Her husband broke a chair and a window. (However, they stayed together.)
- Be gentle. Lead up (but not too slowly) to the actual secret. For example, “It’s not about this . . . or that . . . or that. It’s about the big purchase on the credit card which I cannot hide any longer.”
- Take responsibility. “I should have disclosed this long ago." "I think this is the best time." " I take responsibility for . . .” the confusion, the tension, etc.
- Be repentant. Repentance may not be necessary, but if it is, humility will be in your favor. “I’ll understand if you’re angry” or whatever negative emotion is likely.
- Be hopeful. “If it is alright with you, here’s what I will like to happen.” State your plan for moving forward. If there is no future in the relationship, you would have freed yourself, anyway.
Generally speaking, people know when to share their secrets. The challenge is to really keep the secret until the time is right. When it's time, listen to your heart and share honestly.
© 2013 Dora Weithers