Don’t tell! It’s a secret!

When I was younger, I loved knowing secrets. It made me feel special; I was “in the know.” I must be important, if I knew something that other people didn’t know, right?

The older I get and the more secrets I’ve had to live with, the less fond of them I become. Oh, I still notice that little thrill of self-importance that comes with first hearing some secret, but I’ve discovered over the years that secrets are a heavy burden to carry around. At minimum, they place me in situations where I’m always watching what I say to make sure I don’t give anything away. But they also all to often create the need to lie to (or at least mislead) people in order to preserve the secret. Secrets, particularly other people’s secrets, don’t work well with a life of integrity.

Then there’s the whole pressure that comes from having shared one of my secrets with someone else. Will they tell anyone else? Was I wrong to trust them with my secret? Am I still safe? What will I do if they tell? It’s stressful!

I’ve been keeping a secret about a change that is coming up at work for quite some time now. As secrets go, it’s not a particularly juicy one. Nor is it one that would be devastating to anyone if it were revealed. But it was still something to be kept secret until a formal announcement was made, and there was a sense of integrity at stake in honoring that commitment to secrecy.

The challenge was that this change is having a major impact on my life. My work hours are changing dramatically (going from part-time to full-time), my work location is changing, my health care and other benefits are affected, my job responsibilities are changing. Because of these changes (particularly the schedule ones), it has meant that I’ve needed to make some difficult choices about which parts of my own business venture will continue, be cut back, or be eliminated all together (for now).

I’ve been able to explore some of those choices with people close to me by giving vague descriptions of what is coming, but I haven’t been able to share the full story as I’d like to in order to give people a complete picture of what I am facing. I also haven’t been able to share the excitement I am feeling about certain aspects of this change, and it’s always hard to have good news that can’t be shared.

The official announcement about the changes came out today, and it has finally opened the door for me to share my news freely with others. I have been amazed at what a freeing feeling it is to no longer have the weight of this secret on my shoulders.

And what really catches my attention about this is the fact that in the grand scheme of things, this is really a little secret! Yes, it is about something that is having a big impact on my life, but it is not a traumatic or utterly life-changing situation. I need to make some hard choices and some adjustments, but it’s not the end of my world. But it still was a huge weight lifted to be able to share the news this evening with those who are dear to me.

How much more do those big secrets in life—my own and others’—weigh me down without me even realizing it? Perhaps being “in the know” of secrets is less of a special thing than I once thought. I might be better off avoiding knowing any more secrets than necessary.

This doesn’t discount the fact that we all need to be able to share confidential information with others at times in order to work through our own challenges, and part of being a good friend to those who matter to me is being willing to carry the burden of their secrets with them. There will always be situations where secrets are necessary, at least for a time (as was the case with this work situation). And once we’ve made a commitment to keep someone else’s secrets, that’s a commitment that needs to be honored. But I am increasingly aware that knowing secrets is more of a burden than a sign of specialness or importance.

It also makes me wonder if we tend to value secrets more than we should. What would our world be like if we spent less time keeping secrets from one another and more time being all of what we are authentically, openly, honestly? What could we accomplish in the world if we used the energy we currently spend on keeping secrets on things that would improve ourselves and the world around us? How much freedom would we all discover if we stopped hiding and were fully present to one another in all of our glory and all of our shame?

I know this isn’t likely to happen any time soon, but it makes me question whether I need to keep as many things secret about myself as I currently do. Maybe if I stopped hiding those parts of my self that I am ashamed of, I’d find that they aren’t really causes for shame after all. Maybe I’d discover that I’m ok just like I am—warts and all. Maybe each step out of the many closets (of various kinds) that I hide in makes me more whole by revealing my secrets than my hiding ever could.

I think it’s worth setting secret-free living as a new goal for my life. I may never get there completely, but I can’t wait to see how much weight and fear I shed off my shoulders as I move in that direction.

What do you think? Are there any areas that you are ready to stop hiding your own secrets and come out of the closet (of whatever kind) into fuller life?

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

4 thoughts on “Don’t tell! It’s a secret!

  1. I personally think there is a huge difference in “secret” and “private.” In fact, I don’t feel anything is a secret until I ask another to carry the knowledge and not share it with others. What is mine – is mine. ESPECIALLY if its hurtful or damning. An important question I ask myself before I share anything is what is my (or another person’s) motivation for sharing a “secret?” Is it guilt, is it excitement, is it a need to be encouraged? 😉 I am glad I have someone (a therapist) who is ethically and legally bound to keep confidentiality – there is something to be said for cleansing confessions of the soul when you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you are safe to do so.

    • I am glad you brought up the distinction between private and secret. I am also a very private person, and there are many things that I don’t share with others. But I think I define the difference between the two a little bit differently than you do. Things that are private are things that I don’t share because they don’t seem necessary to tell anyone else, but there is no emotional charge connected to them. Secrets are things that I don’t share, but they cause me a lot of fear and worry about people finding out anyway. For example, there was a time when the fact that I am a lesbian was a secret, but there was a lot of fear and worry about other people finding out and what they would think of me if they knew, but it was also painful to hide it because it was an important part of who I am, so this all generated a lot of negative emotional weight that I carried around. Now that I am open about it to the people that I felt really needed to know (family, close friends), it’s still not something that I go about widely announcing to everyone I meet — I am too private a person for that — but I don’t really care who knows, so there’s no worry or fear associated with it like there was. I’m private about this now, but it’s not a secret.

      I agree that having a therapist or a similar confidant can be a big help when there are confidential matters that need to be shared and explored. I think there will always be times that this is important. I also like the way you consider WHY someone is sharing a secret. I just think that the idea of having secrets can become addicting, and there are times when letting go of them (when appropriate) can be very freeing. They tend to create a lot of emotional baggage that often is not needed.

  2. Perhaps I need to rethink my own definition of private vs. secret and spend some time contemplating their emotional charge or lack there of. Very well put. Hmmmm…. (as I put my head in my hands and look deeply into space 🙂

    • And I don’t mean to indicate that my experience with this is at all normative. Your relationship with secrets may be very different than mine! This is just where I’m at with it at this moment.

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