Columbia Business School Research Supports the Fact That Keeping Secrets is Harmful to Your Health and Wellbeing
Researchers Slepian, Mason, and Jinseok Chun, in the article entitled “Keeping Secrets Is Harmful to Your Health,” report that secrets can hurt and destroy relationships and can negatively impact your overall health.
“What happens in the dark comes out in the light”- Rachel Graham
In Rachel Graham’s Tedx talk, Secrets: Unlocking Your Lockbox to Live a More Joyful Life, she asks you to imagine a box with a lock on it where inside are the secrets that you keep. Rachel shares how those secrets hold you back from living a joyful and purposeful life. There are at least nine types of secrets that most people keep. Examples of these secrets are:
- Emotional infidelity
- Extra relational thoughts
- Sexual behavior
- Lies that create an alternate reality
- Romantic desires
- Violation of trust
- Ambition or goals
- Family details
While sometimes keeping a secret is helpful to avoid pain or social exclusion, there are downsides to keeping secrets. Research reveals that the mere thought of a secret kept may be harmful when one mentally revisits past transgressions creating a decreased sense of well-being. The harm presents itself each time the secret is remembered, masking a part of ourselves in inauthenticity.
Secret keepers dwell on their secrets and ruminating on them is what makes them unhealthy. The energy expended thinking about and dwelling on the secret takes a toll on a person’s focus which results in a detrimental effect on their life.
A woman suffered from a hard life when her mom died shortly after her birth and was then abandoned by her father as a toddler. This woman kept her traumas secret her entire life.
Living a sad life, her secrets accelerated her aging and when she died at age 50, she looked and behaved as if she were 90 years old.
Why do people keep secrets? Secrets are kept for these reasons:
- Fear of judgment
- Fear of rejection
- Feelings of shame
- The negative impact of secrets on others
In 12-Step Programs, it is said, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” People are encouraged to be honest about the things they’ve done, this way the shame of keeping secrets does not continue to drive them to self-medicate away their pain with drugs and alcohol.
The fear that the secret could place a relationship at risk, or lose it entirely, motivates the silence. Studies show that keeping thoughts, feelings, and actions secret causes relationships to deteriorate. Secret keepers are preoccupied with their secrets diverting the focus from the relationship to the secrets trapped inside them.
Secrets can be kept for decades and over time, across generations. Secrets can be from childhood trauma or real-time experiences. Secrets lead to lies and dishonesty. The real problem in keeping a secret is the energy expended thinking about it. A secret that comes to mind repeatedly can be exhausting. Constantly thinking about your secrets can create feelings of isolation.
If keeping secrets makes you feel isolated and alone, how does confiding your secrets to another differ? Research shows when a person confides a secret to another, it reduces the amount of energy, thinking about them in irrelevant moments. When you unpack your lockbox of secrets, you start to live a congruent life where your actions, thoughts, and words go together. When you look inside your box of secrets you realize that your fears are unfounded, you are free from resistance and lack of personal acceptance, and you attract other people who have done their work of unpacking their box of secrets.
The act of confiding a secret can feel cathartic and relieving. The conversation that follows the secret reveal, often includes emotional support, guidance, and advice. With support, people generally find healthier ways of thinking, ruminate less, and have a sense of overall well-being. A single conversation can lead to a healthier outlook and general peace of mind.
“One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.”- Linda Lambert
Start today and contact Rachel to learn firsthand how you can unlock your lockbox of secrets and live a more purposeful life.