The Impact of Keeping Secrets

<center>Photo credit: Brian M Stark<center>
Photo credit: Brian M Stark

From the time we are children, we are entrusted with secrets. They can bring peace or chaos to our lives. How we deal with them impacts on how we relate to ourselves and others. Have you experienced some of the following types of secrets?

  • Family secrets that appear to be important to keeping the family safe and intact.
  • Plans being made for a surprise party or surprise gift. Photo credit: Brian M Stark
  • Finding yourself with knowledge that makes you uncomfortable, yet it’s not yours to share.

How do you feel about keeping secrets?

  • Do you take pride in your ability to keep a secret?
  • Do you feel weighed down by keeping secrets?
  • Has the need to keep secrets blocked your ability to share your message, either in a speech or written materials?

For many people, myself included, the weight of keeping secrets has the effect of putting a muzzle on sharing anything beneath the surface.

As I was growing up, my mother’s alcoholism was a secret that weighed me down. Problems arising from this were rarely mentioned inside the family, and definitely kept from anyone outside the inner circle.

Seemingly innocent questions like “What did you do over the summer?” were hard to answer. I couldn’t tell the truth, and wasn’t very quick at coming up with white lies to respond with.

A negative consequence of keeping secrets can be presenting a facade of yourself to the world.

I was in my mid-thirties before I was able to share my mother’s alcoholism and its impact on the family with people who weren’t close friends. Even now, I tend to volunteer the information after others have talked about being in some form of recovery.

One positive consequence of sharing is learning that I’m not alone in my experiences. And another positive consequence is being able to develop deeper connections with my new friends.

I’ve found that as long as I clarify that I am sharing an experience from my perspective, and no one else’s, that I am more comfortable with sharing. I’ve come to recognize that my four sisters and I each grew up in a different family even though the people had the same names – and I can share my experiences without having to worry about how they reflect on the others.

I’ve also come to appreciate the difference between keeping a secret and two other behaviors:

  • Respecting the privacy of another person
  • Maintaining confidentiality

There was a time when I treated all information I was reluctant to share or ordered not to share as a secret. As I have learned the difference between these three terms – secrecy, privacy, and confidentiality – and learned to apply them to different types of information, I am no longer weighed down by them.

When a secret is mine, I want and need to maintain personal control over how and where I share it.

Yet there is a difference between secrecy and privacy. Especially when the information is more someone else’s than mine, when asked, I will maintain that person’s privacy, but I no longer view it as a secret – just someone else’s information to control how and where it will be shared.

The highest level of maintaining privacy is to honor the confidentiality of information that I learn as the member of a board or when working with clients.

When things are in the nebulous beginning stages of development, they aren’t ready to be shared. Some details should never be shared. This is not a bad thing, just reality.

Frequently I have been used as a sounding board by a friend or a client. I’ve listened and shared my impressions of the project. I have helped the other person identify possible unintended consequences of taking each of several different paths in implementing their plans. But this is not my information to share. I have learned how to be in this role without being weighed down by it.

Plans for a surprise party or surprise gift are easier to keep secret. Yet if I know the person who is going to be surprised doesn’t handle surprises well, I can use my gift of seeing unintended consequences with the planners of the event to assure a successful party for everyone.

When sharing information, you have learned from others the rule of thumb has two parts: first, Will it help my audience (be it one person or a roomful)? and second, Do I have permission to share it?

What does this mean for your writing and speech making? The more open you can be about the parts of your life that you have kept a secret because they embarrassed you, the greater the connection you will make with your audience. The greater the connection, the more successful you will be.

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Has keeping secrets interfered with your ability to connect with your target audience? Use this link to schedule a time to talk and let’s see if there are ways to get you moving forward again on your writing.

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