Anybody who has binge-watched Big Little Lies – or played a formative late-night game of "truth or dare" at a sleepover party – knows there is a psychological burden in keeping a secret, but it can also, conversely, foster a deep, life-long, "blood sisters" kind of intimacy.
Indeed, there’s something special about being a confidant. This can be the case whether you’re in year 5 and in possession of the knowledge that Sally has an unbearable, life-consuming crush on James, or if you're many years older and your best friend is having an affair with one of the school dads.
Secrets can bring us closer, but can become a burden when they play on our minds.Credit:Shutterstock
Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says sharing secrets can bond you together, depending on their framing.
"Talking about secrets in the past or things we’ve done in our youth and disclosing them retrospectively can be different to something that has happened more recently as there is likely to be more current emotional valence (weight, energy) attached to it," she says.
"So maybe sharing stuff you got up to in high school that you have not previously spoken about can help bond people in the way that self-disclosure is designed to increase your likeability and connection."
Recent research suggests we are all, on average, keeping around 17 secrets at any one time, and while keeping some secrets can be a burden, work by Dr Katie Greenaway from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and Dr Michael Slepian from Columbia Business School suggests the real toll is more to do with how often you think about the secret you've been told. And so it goes that, the closer you are to the confider, the more you might think about the secret. Something which can ultimately have an impact on your sense of wellbeing.
“The more a secret overlaps with one’s own social network, the more one conceals the secret on the other’s behalf, predicting increased feelings of burden,” the authors say in their study.
As part of the research, Dr Greenaway and Dr Slepian investigated the secrets of more than 600 participants, covering stories of abortion, work, theft, infidelity, sexual preferences, marriage proposals, lies, hobbies, hidden relationships, finances and more. The researchers looked at how often the keeper of the secret thought about what they’d been told and the feelings of intimacy and resentment that secret engendered. They also looked at the way the secret holder interacted within their social network.
Now the duo are set to further the research by studying the impact of secret keeping in daily life with research which will involve text messaging participants at random points throughout the day to ask them if they’re thinking about a secret they are keeping.
For Dr Greenaway, whose prior research has included emotional regression, secrets make for a fascinating insight into how we connect, and disconnect, with others."
"[If] you have a secret confided you tend to take that on as your own secret, you get the same level of burden or cost to your wellbeing as does the person whose secret it is. The positive is that you feel greater trust and a bonding and that can improve your relationship. So the cost can be offset by social benefits," she says.
Greenaway and Slepian's research also found that there tend to be three kinds of secrets: those involving others, say infidelity or theft, those involving the self, personal preferences, health and positive secrets, marriage proposals and pregnancy. So not all secrets are equal, or equally as burdonsome.
Greenaway hopes the new research will give an even better understanding of secret keeping, the emotions it brings up and most importantly, how to better manage them.
Brewer agrees with the idea that keeping someone’s secret can impact your relationships, and that there is a very wide variance in the seriousness of secrets (i.e. confessing to watching ahead of your partner on Game of Thrones isn’t quite in the same genre as, say, confessing to someone that you've covered up a crime scene).
“There is emotional labour involved – needing to purposely forget or shelve information and not allow it to cloud or change our judgement or interactions with the person,” she says.
Ultimately, Brewer believes being asked to take on a secret is something we shouldn't go into lightly, and knowing your own boundaries for the relationship and yourself is key.
Of course this is no easy feat given we don't generally get a heads-up when someone is about to saddle us with their deepest, darkest deed.
When it comes to deciding who to share a secret with ourselves, Brewer believes that sometimes it is best left with the professionals.
"People need to ‘tune in’ to their own values on this and consider the potential emotional labour and burden of concealment – the trick is you won’t know how you feel about it and what’s involved in keeping the secret til you’ve heard it. If you need to talk to someone about a secret and need it kept confidential, talk to a psychologist – we are bound by client confidentiality and unless you are in serious danger or disclose certain illegal activities your secrets are safe."
Source: Read Full Article