A 2017 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the
average person keeps around 13 secrets at any moment. These secrets range from planning a surprise birthday party to hiding infidelity. For now, let's focus on the secrets that keep a
person in a constant state of anxiety from the guilt and shame they are hiding.
Hiding secrets is hard work. You have to be hyper-vigilant in watching what you say and do. You have to be careful not to slip up and always make sure you are covering your tracks. This constant state of hyper-vigilance and concealment can be exhausting. A person can be prone to ruminate about it consistently, which then plagues a person with feelings of shame and guilt. This can result in feelings of being isolated and alone. Being in these two states can cause a person to be in a constant level of stress that can affect your body and mind with any of the following:
Loss of sleep and other chronic sleep disorders
Acid reflux and other stomach issues
High blood pressure
Why do people keep secrets despite knowing it’s hurting their overall health? They are fearful
of being judged. My mother kept secrets for fear of being judged by our community. My
parents were open and knew each other’s secrets, but my mother’s secrets took a significant
toll on her because she decided not to share them outside of her marriage. She did not feel safe letting the outside world or even her children know her true self. My mother believed that she would be shunned from the community and her children would think less of her. However, different significant life events forced some of her secrets to be revealed. When these secrets were released her children did not think less of her. In the end, we were finally able to get her into therapy later in life after her mother passed away. Her grief was a tipping point for her to seek help. Once she was able to have a safe place to open up and talk about these choices she made in life, her healing began and her health significantly improved.
The act of confiding in a secret can feel cathartic and relieving. However, the real health benefit is when sharing a secret with another person, receiving emotional support, useful guidance, and helpful advice. I’m not sure if my mother was ever able to talk to friends truly and authentically. The last time I saw him before his death, my father remarked his amazement at how open I am with my children. I replied that I “didn’t see a reason why I should hide things from them." I wanted to say was through my therapy I realized that my parent’s approach wasn’t healthy for them or my brothers or myself. I didn’t want to pass the secret legacy on to my children. When people find a healthier way to think about their secrets, they ruminate less and have a healthier outlook and mindset. It is important to find someone who feels safe to talk to. This can be a trusted friend, mentor, religious leader, or therapist. The important thing here is to know, there’s always someone out there you can talk to. Secrets don’t have to hurt as much as they do.