Secrecy and Privacy: Some Thoughts on Their Differences

Secrecy is the act of hiding information. Privacy is about being unobserved — being able to have my own experience of life without the eyes of anyone else on me. Bruce Muzik, quoted on Rewire

Your Right to Privacy

In your closest relationships, can/should you still have privacy in this day and age? Peggy Drexler, PhD, Psychology Today, has posted on this issue. She draws this conclusion:

There is a place for privacy in loving, trusting relationships, and it’s important to remember that a person’s need for privacy doesn’t mean he’s up to no good. Similarly, naming your significant other to your shortlist of those with access [to email, phone, etc.] does not necessarily mean you have intimacy or connection…

But reading through messages—authorized or not—won’t make you feel any more connected, just as having access won’t prevent infidelity. What might? Trust and respect.

The Effects of Secrecy

Alex Stone, on Psychology Today, writes about the phenomenon of “high self-concealment“:

High self-concealers tend to be stressed out and depressed and have low self esteem. They suffer frequent headaches and back pain. People with secret memories fall sick more often and are less content than people with skeleton-free closets…

…Even just writing about a secret trauma on a scrap of paper and then burning it is enough to reap some physical and psychological rewards.

The connection between self-concealment and pathology makes more sense when one considers that, psychologically speaking, secrecy is a lot like lying. Keeping a secret in an interview, for instance, will often set off a polygraph machine, because it triggers the same physiological responses as lying, such as increased sweating and accelerated heart rate.

Some Benefits to Confessing Secrets

Dr. Alex Lickerman (Psychology Today) notes that if your secret is about something you’ve done, opening up is likely to:

  1. Reduce your guilt.
  2. Prevent the person or persons who would be hurt by learning the secret from finding out about it from someone else.
  3. Reduce the number of your offenses.

But not all secrets have to do with things you’ve done wrong. Many are about things done wrong to you. Childhood sexual abuse, for example.

Or things about you that aren’t wrong but that others might judge. Being gay can fit into this category.

In any case, disclosing can prove helpful. Alcoholics Anonymous, as you may know, has a saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”

And, physician/author Paul Tournier (1898-1986): “Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.”

On the other hand, are some things better left unsaid? Particularly if your secret is going to hurt someone else?

“I thought about how there are two types of secrets: the kind you want to keep in, and the kind you don’t dare to let out.” Ally CarterDon’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover

In the end, each of us has to decide what works or feels best. But telling at least one person (perhaps your therapist) is likely to bring a measure of healing relief.

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