The Psychology Behind Keeping Secrets 
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The Psychology Behind Keeping Secrets 


Do we share everything that we come across in our daily lives with at least one individual? Just think! Most of us are individuals who have certain things kept just for ourselves. There are exceptionals too. But this article tries to explore the majority of people upon why they hold certain facts or information or experiences to themselves. All this unshared information hidden or kept for just themselves is the concealed fragment which we call the SECRETS.

Meaning: Secret

The secret, a universal phenomenon can simply be stated as the practice or habit of either hiding or not sharing certain aspects of information or experience. Secrecy can be defined as the information that is concealed from one or more individuals, says Michael Slepian, a professor from Columbia Business School.

How Common are Secrets?

The secret is a universal phenomenon which means almost all of us have something as secret. Recent research has found that almost every one of us has something to hide. They did find that there are about 36 common secrets that most of the secrets that individuals hide from others. By making an analysis, researchers categorized these 36 common secrets into 3 major dimensions or categories. This includes:

  • Immorality: this includes certain components that seem to be socially unacceptable. Examples include theft, harming individuals, or something related to illegal ones.
  • Insight: this pertains to the understanding of what keeping secrets may involve. This also includes the internal reflections that an individual holds on to.
  • Connectedness: this one includes relationship-related details like romantic desire or sexual behaviours etc.

Types of secrets

Secrets can accompany in various forms in context with the individual’s circumstances and experience. Only a few have been listed below:

  • Personal secrets: This would include the individual’s fears, desires, and experiences
  • Relationship secrets: This includes the hidden details or information kept from partners from close ones or friends or at times from family members.
  • Professional secrets: The ones that are relevant to the job or profession an individual is into. Individuals in the field of psychology attribute to the characteristics of professional ethics which include not sharing any process held in the clinical setting or therapy session.

Others include Health secrets, social secrets, family secrets, cultural secrets etc.

Motivation behind secrets

There could be so many reasons or motivations behind secrets or secretkeeping. A few of these will be covered here:

  • Protection of oneself – Individuals tend to keep secrets when there is a need towards protecting themselves.
  • Self-control – Individuals at times have secrets to have control over their flow of thoughts and experiences.
  • Relationships – When in a relationship, to avoid hurting their close ones or family members or friends or partners, they tend to keep secrets.
  • Rejection – When individuals have any personal information that they tend to think would be misunderstood or misperceived, they keep secrets.
  • Professional ethics – Every Profession has its ethics that they need to follow. Doctors, Therapists, Psychologists, lawyers- and so many noble professions hold on to ethics that would make them ethically bound which leads them not to disclose any information or process.
  • Power – Secrets can at times give individuals a sense of power especially when in politics.

Emotional burden or Impact of keeping secrets

Keeping secrets does have its own emotional burden that an individual is battling with. The following could be the possible emotional hurdles that any individual might go through while keeping secrets. This includes:

  • Anxiety when holding onto a secret, individuals might go through a toll of anxiety and guilt for concealing the things known to them
  • Stress it is so obvious for any individual to feel stressed when they have to constantly hide information or experiences.
  • Loneliness Individuals might have to distance themselves from others as they may not be able to be true to themselves.
  • Cognitive overload – when an individual needs to not share certain things with certain people or with all of the individuals, it would remain as an additional preoccupation in their thoughts.

The first half of the article focused on the keeping of or holding onto secrets while the further article would proceed with the psychological aspect behind revealing or sharing the secrets.

Sharing or revealing secrets

It’s been found that 90-95% of individuals have secrets while 13% of it remains common. Under such instances, there seems to be about certain majority of individuals get involved in the revelation of secrets. Revealing secrets or sharing secrets is considered a unique form of self-disclosure. If we get to consider secrets as a third of a whole load of information or experiences, 1⁄3 rd remains with just the person. At times, about 2 to 3 parts of the secrets get revealed or shared with other individuals.

Confiding a secret seemingly is different from self-disclosure. Confiding remains as trusting a person and sharing that information with another person in private. Self-disclosure can be termed as sharing or revealing secrets as a form of closeness. At times, self-disclosure remains a form of help or social support.

Factors leading to the revelation

There remain three major factors: Personal factors, Social factors and Relational factors that would lead to the sharing of information or experiences.

Risks associated with Revelation of Secrets

Though secret revelation is associated with the benefits of ventilation and support seeking, it has its risks. It could turn negative when it tends to be shared with someone else. Whenever we seek towards sharing secrets, the selection of the individual we choose is important.

Benefits of sharing secrets
  • Catharsis remains a vital part of secret sharing. Catharsis is a process of venting emotions or emotional tensions that an individual has been holding since.
  • It would help in the decline or ruminating thoughts regarding the secret keeping from the individual.
  • Sharing of secrets would remain as a source of support or help.

Understanding the Psychology behind secrets would help individuals with the learning of the complex interplay of emotions, motivations and reasons behind hiding information (secrets) or revealing them.

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