Insight

What Psychologists Know that You Don’t

Secrets: Three Women's Stories

Making the right decision about your secret is critical

modernmediamom.com
Are you are struggling with a decision to reveal or to conceal your particular secret? In a recent blog post, I outlined my Four Steps to Sensible Revealing @ 

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight/201009/your-secret-four-steps-sensible-revealing

I am hoping that the following very personal examples from three women's lives will help shed light on what is involved in each of these Steps. Keep in mind that Step 1 is simply figuring out whether your secret is really just private information. The remaining Steps involve deciding whether you have a good confidant, whether that person will discover the secret anyhow, and whether the secret is bothering you. Although I interviewed women, these same steps could certainly apply to men as well.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

I interviewed these women back in 2003, thus they are all 7 years older now. All of them (names throughout have been changed) were courageous enough to tell me their stories about stuggling with a very personal secret and gave me permission to share them with you. Each of their stories highlights one of the Steps (2-4) that pertain to secrets.

Step 2: He wasn't a good confidant

Elaine, 30. Marketing Director.
"When I was a freshman in college, I was seriously involved with this guy named Jonathan. One night I was date raped by someone I thought was a good friend, Dan. I told Jonathan about it several days later. He was shocked and upset, and accused me of cheating on him and then saying that it was rape to clear my guilty conscience. I decided that it would be best to end the relationship because I couldn't manage his emotional problems in addition to mine. He took it hard and tried to reconcile. I wouldn't have it. Then he totally flipped out and became my stalker. He followed me everywhere, called me and threatened my life, and broke into my house and stole my belongings. I wish that I'd never told him about the rape and just found some other way to break it off. If I hadn't told, I think I would have been able to deal with the devastation of being raped without the added trauma of fearing for my life for several years at the hands of Jonathan."

Step 3: He was likely to discover the secret

Theresa, 30. Surgeon.
"When I was attending Yale, I dated this guy for 8 months. He graduated and I lost touch with him. Then 4 years later when I was at medical school in New Orleans, I dated a guy at the law school. His parents live nearby, and on my first visit to meet them, I saw a picture of my ex in the house. It turns out that my current and ex boyfriends were half-brothers! Since they lived in different cities, didn't talk much, and the relationship was going well, I figured I would wait to tell my boyfriend this secret when the time was right. Four months later, he got an invitation to his half-brother's wedding. Then I knew I had to tell him since my secret would become obvious. He was pretty surprised and asked if we'd had sex. I told him yes, that's what dating couples do. He asked me how I could not have told him sooner and said it made him feel like a fool. It definitely killed the relationship. In retrospect, I should have been open and upfront with him and told him right away after seeing the picture."

Step 4: My secret was not troubling me

Sandy, 31. Fashion Designer.
"Often toward the end of my marriage I thought about what it would be like to be with another man. I often fantasized about my cute younger neighbor while I made love to my husband. I felt horrible about it but I never did tell my husband. It would have definitely brought trouble to our marriage if I revealed this secret. The guy was much younger (21) than my husband (29) and since I often saw my neighbor, my husband would have been furious, even if I said it in a joking kind of way. Since this was just my thought, I didn't think it was his business, therefore, didn't feel a need to 'confess' or reveal it."

Anita E. Kelly, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She is author of The Clever Student and The Psychology of Secrets.

more...

Subscribe to Insight

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?