Silence and the Need to Conceal

Researchers are always trying to unravel the mystery of our desperate need to conceal secrets. The silence that accompanies our need to conceal could even be more harmful than keeping actual secrets. Silence, of course is not what causes agony in the future; it is our perspective of the context in which such a secret developed. Ultimately, keeping secrets supports negative thoughts about others not being able to understand us. It gives the dark sense that we must go through it alone.

Barry Lubetkin, the founder and director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy explains, “Nearly every person has a million secrets they’re carrying around… They can be the silliest things, or they can be very significant”. Lubetkin elaborated that secrets come in a wide variety. Some secrets are kept originally as lingering effects of trauma, some secrets are about a shameful addiction, and some include our hopes and dreams we believe we cannot share with anyone. However, even those secrets are nothing compared to the secrets we keep even from ourselves. Lubetkin states: “The deepest secrets are the ones we don’t even directly acknowledge – even in our own diaries.” It’s easier to deceive others if we believe the lie we are telling.

Lubetkin points out that “A maddening duality characterized deep secrets: even undisclosed, they can harm us and those around us.” The trouble arises first with the anxiety of the unpredictability of the truth potentially getting out even, if you stay silent. Understandably, we keep secrets primarily because of shame and what others will think of us or because we are trying to avoid hurting someone. Sometimes it is even because we don’t want to stop doing a certain behavior that we know others would want us to stop if they found out.

Secrets affect mind and body. Consistently having to watch yourself in front of others to ensure that your secret is not exposed becomes very tiring and can become overwhelming. Michael Slepian of Columbia University, conducted a study to see what happens to people when preoccupied with a secret; he found out that those in the experiment group who were preoccupied by some type of personal secret felt “weighed down” during different tasks compared to the control group. In other words, keeping secrets leads to the depletion of mental resources, especially if the secret is trauma.

Dale Larson of Santa Clara University did a meta-analysis that uncovered the fact that “secretive people are more depressed, shame-prone, anxious, and sensitive to judgement.” Consistently experiencing the tension of wanting to tell someone while simultaneously keeping it concealing induces physical and physiological problems. To protect yourself from the harmful effects of keeping a potent secret, you must use your thoughts to process through the secret and categorize it to yourself as neutral rather than emotional.

You are the only person who can redefine yourself and your experiences. Take ownership of your secrets and understand that you do not necessarily have to share your secrets with the world; just don’t allow your secret to keep you powerless.

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