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What I learned about why people keep secrets

Updated on June 7, 2012
There were times that secrets felt like fences or walls that kept me a prisoner.
There were times that secrets felt like fences or walls that kept me a prisoner.

What I learned about keeping secrets.

When I was brought into a ‘secret’, I was often brought into a special relationship. Some of those relationships I entered voluntarily and others involuntarily. In the case of the voluntary relationship, the secret was a way to get close to a person. The secret became a type of bonding between me and that person. It was a special connection that the two of us shared. Those secrets were fun. It was a way for me to feel special and to have a unique relationship with that other person. The good kind of secret was a special way of connecting with people and for people to connect with me. Often times these were simple secrets like who thought who was cute or secret hiding places.

The scary part is when special relationships are exploited. There are some people who enjoy exposing secrets and using the relationships to hurt. Even when they do not actually ‘tell’ the secret, the threat of telling the secret was hard to handle. In such cases, the relationship was not special in a good way, but turned into a form of bondage. In those relationships, I dreaded knowing the secrets. Each secret brought with it more bondage. This happened a lot with my mother. She often told me things that I did not want to know that were considered secrets. She kept me quiet by threatening me if I ever revealed the secrets. Since she had power over me as a parent, I often felt like a prisoner in my own home. The secrets in this case were no longer ‘simple’ things. They often concerned matters like who was having an affair with who, where my mother secretly went, and when she stole things from others.

When the secrets were used to create bondage, I no longer felt special. I felt used. I resented each secret that I was brought into. I was expected to be a nice girl, listen and keep my mouth shut. I often wanted to keep my ears shut as well. In some cases, I was shown things that I did not want to see. During those times, I wanted to shut my eyes as well. The secrets were tortuous. What made things worse was that since it was my mother, she often used her position to enforce loyalty to her and to the secret. When that was not enough, she brought in religion and made me believe that God wanted me to keep her secrets as well. If I ever disclosed the secrets, I was damned by God and being disloyal to her. With that kind of double-whammy threat, I had little choice than to keep my mouth shut.

My heart goes out to those who have been a victim of when secrets are used to control them. I know friends who had been sexually abused in a relationship where secrets were exploited. In such cases, the abuse itself turned into a way of being controlled. The whole sense of being threatened with others finding out was enough to keep the secret. In such cases, where sexual abuse happened, the shame of being involved in abuse, even when you were the victim was painful enough to keep the secret. No one wants to be seen as ‘slut’ or a ‘dirty person’. The shame associated with those secrets is nightmarish and can last for years.

As I grew older and entered the workplace, there were new types of secrets. Workplace secrets involved matters that were only discussed behind closed doors. There were some secrets about workplace affairs, yet most of these concerned business practices that others did want regulatory people or competitors to discover. Workplace secrets often carried with them the threat of being fired or legal action against the person revealing them. Since I needed my job, I was not inclined to reveal the secret. There were also people wanting to have special relationships with me that used secrets as their way to connect. These secrets often concerned special attributes of the person or side secrets to the already business secrets. With each company, there was also the secret history behind the scenes. Most companies have a public history, yet I learned that there is often a secret history that is more about relationships, threats, and back stories. The secret histories often made a lot more sense that the ones that were presented to stockholders and the public.

Another class of secrets, with their own reasons for keeping them concerned knowledge. From college onward, there were times I learned things and made connections that were not common knowledge. When you know such information, you have to be careful about who you share it with. It was as if I was a member of a secret club that I could only share the information with other members of the club or people with similar values. I had not viewed the information as ‘secret’ at the time, I learned that when I shared such information with people who did not know, they reacted with resentment, jealousy or even ridiculed me for having revealed what I had learned. Those experiences taught me quickly about the need to be careful about who I shared such information with.

It was as though I came across some ‘unknown’ truths that others were often not ready to handle. People often display the most intense anger at being exposed to such truths. Rather than being the target of such anger, I learned to be selective with those I could talk freely to. This same kind of pattern I also saw in organized churches. I had some knowledge of matters, yet often had to be careful about who I could talk to. With these kinds of secrets, I learned how to listen for keywords or references that alerted me that the person in question could handle me talking with them about the ‘unknown’ truths. These unknown truths were often observations, knowledge and questions about subjects that were at an advanced level of mastering intellectual material, be it at church or school.

In parenthood, I discovered another type of secret. This is the special relationship between a parent and a child. Although I did not specify anything as being secret, there are some unique ways that I approach and deal with my children. Things like ‘pet names’ and gestures that I have with each of them in a special way. I do not try to hide these from the world, yet the child and myself understand them and enjoy them. They feel special and I feel special as well.

I also learned in dealing with extended families, that there are some things that are best not talked about. It is not that they are secret, it is often that discussing them will lead to fights and hard feelings. In many cases, it was better to avoid the mention of those issues than to open wounds. The wounds would not have accomplished anything. In such cases, no one is threatening me with any consequences, it is a matter that bringing up those sensitive issues is not worth the hassle. These issues are often known by all the family members, who, in order to get along, maintain the truce and do not bring up the disagreeable issue.

These are some of the reasons I have kept secrets. You may have some other types of secrets and reasons for keeping them. I have learned that the AA saying, “Your as sick as your secrets!” has a lot of merit. Over time, I have taken steps of speaking the truth and not being caught up in secrets. Although I try to keep them to a minimum, there always seems to be a few that hang around. Those that remain, I try to keep as pleasant secrets and not those that made me feel like an exploited prisoner.

Poll on Secrets

Why do you keep secrets?

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    • Sue St. Clair profile image

      Sue St. Clair 5 years ago from I would rather be in Paris


      Thank you. I like your come back for that response. The more I have looked at secrets, the more I recognize that they are often used as ways to 'control' others. Sometimes the control is designed to create worry or fretting. It takes away our peace of mind. There is an old joke about how some people have to be your best friends forever because they know too much about you.

      I have seen some people who intentionally tell others select pieces of information so that no one person knows the whole picture. They know 'who' told the secret by what piece of information got out. It is another form of manipulation.

      By knowing the different ways we are manipulated by secrets we can avoid the pitfalls and traps. Thank you for sharing your experience. It helps all of us.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      Interesting. I have not looked at different kinds of secrets in this manner. The secrets I hate are the ones that others tell me and cause me worry. Some people need someone to share their misery. I hate for someone to say, "If I hear it again, I will know that you told." I have already prepared my return the next time someone says this to me: "When you told, it was no longer a secret. If you cannot keep your mouth closed, why should I?"

    • Sue St. Clair profile image

      Sue St. Clair 5 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      Kelley, thank you for the vote up. Your question was a good one that inspired me to look at a few things. Good questions can make all the difference.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with secrets and how powerful they can be. Voted up and shared! Take care Kelley