The burden of a secret

I once ran across a website posting short video clips of individuals revealing some deep secret. Some of these secrets were funny (developing a fake friend on a social networking site to make an ex girlfriend jealous), some were eye-brow raising (eating contents of nose), and some were downright painful (revealing affairs, addictions, sexual abuse and the like).

Keeping a secret (your own or someone else’s) requires that you carry a burden. You know something and can’t share it. You can’t talk about it. You might like to, but the consequences seem dire if you share it. You might lose a friend. You might lose your reputation. You might lose your security.

As someone who listens to secrets for a living I’ve a few observations about the secrets people hold:

1. Even in the confidential setting of counseling, it is near impossible to lay down the burden of some secrets. These secrets are covered in shame. Sexual abuse; Unwanted sexual thoughts and feelings; addictions.

2. Secrets shape our identity in some powerful ways–maybe even more than known truths.

3. The longer a secret is kept, the harder it is to tell, or the harder it is to tell truthfully. Time has a way of distorting facts and feelings in some cases. Similarly, we make lots of excuses for why we keep secrets. Some excuses are cover for shame (e.g., “It would hurt her to know that I…”).

4. When someone has a guilty secret (e.g., an affair), they often tell it to finally throw off the burden of guilt. So, when they tell their spouse, they often feel better right away. Unfortunately, the spouse does NOT feel better. In these cases I find the guilty spouse has a hard time relating to the new burden they’ve just loaded on to their mate. They feel free and wish their spouse would now also feel free too. It is always good for the guilty spouse to question why they wish to confess. Is it to promote truth and long-term possibility of healing? Then, they should tell (carefully). If it is to just be relieved of their guilt, then such a confession may not lead to repentance and healing.

5. Even little secrets kept from a loved one can hurt when revealed. If you lie to me about how many Easter eggs you ate on Sunday, maybe you are lying to me about more weighty matters.


Filed under counseling, deception, Psychology, self-deception

7 responses to “The burden of a secret

  1. Keeping secrets is a terrible and lonley burden. This is a very interesting post. I’m glad you brought it up. In the counseling field, we do hear many secrets and are witnesses to the pain they cause, especially when/if revealed. I really like this point: If it is to just be relieved of their guilt, then such a confession may not lead to repentance and healing. This is absolutely true. Sometimes confessions are made to a friend about a marital affair in hopes to get sympathy, support, or justification. This may not lead to repentance and healing. It can actually make matters worse, depending on the friend’s response.

  2. I have also learned that secrets grow bigger and darker in our minds, when kept secret. It’s hard to really accept love from other people because in our minds we’re thinking, “If they knew the TRUTH about me, they wouldn’t like me.”

    I had a son when I was in high school that I gave up for adoption. For many years, I kept this a secret and it about ate me alive.

    When I was pregnant with my twins, I finally started to tell people the truth and share. (I felt like I was constantly lying that it was my first pregnancy.)

    And you know what? It was NO BIG DEAL to anyone else. Truly. I had made this whole thing this HUGE shameful experience, and the truth of it is, nobody really flinched.

    And over the past nine years, I’ve been able to put his picture out and share my story…and it’s been very healing.

    And the shame? That’s pretty much gone now.

  3. Thanks Llama Momma. Good to hear from you again and your perspective on this. Blessings.

  4. Scott Knapp

    I am aware of a striking example of point #4. A man I know confessed to his wife some of his sexual indiscretions that had taken place during their marriage, and of course she was devastated, though he felt relieved to finally “come clean.” As she continued to wrestle with this new knowledge, he became increasingly irritated with her new distance she’d established with him while she was in “mourning”. He responded by doing a “public confession” to the people of their church. His wife confided that, while all their friends were congratulating the man on his moral courage to “confess and face the music,” it struck her more as a retaliation toward her for her lack of “cheering him on,” as well! Now, how could she despise her husband or feel ill will toward him, when he was a hero in the eyes of their friends, and more importantly, their spiritual overseers? Her husband’s public heroics seemed to be nothing more than a selfish, self-protective strategy, to alleviate the discomfort he felt from his wife’s natural process of grieving his sin…so he never truly “faced the music” he should have been listening to…instead he simply turned up the volume of the music he wanted to hear.

  5. Ruth

    Don’t you think that secrets told to a third party are also a burden? I think so. But some secrets, even though a burden, need to be told – because as you say, Phil, they form identity – of a person, a family, a culture…..Even though a person may tell a secret for the wrong reasons, it’s better out in the open than held in secret. Best of all is if it’s told with the desire for repentance and healing.

  6. Pingback: Elements of Justice: Accountability | SurvivorsAwakenTheChurch

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