Scent of a secret

Humorous quote from Rob Corddry “If you have a secret, people will sit a little bit closer.”

What is it about secrets? Possibly the allure is simply being part of a small group who “know” bolsters one’s ego. But why have secrets in the first place. People keep secrets for a variety of reasons, however the following excerpt from an article on the  psychology of secrets shows three key motivations for secrets:

There are many reasons that people keep secrets, and many of them are unique to the specific situation and individuals involved. However, many times the motivations can be tracked to one of three specific reasons- Personal guilt, concern for others, or fear of retaliation.

When someone does something considered “bad”, a common reaction is to feel guilty about your action. Many people think that they can suppress the event in their subconscious mind and possibly even forget it completely. The guilt may make them feel that people will never forgive them if they are honest about their actions.

Many people keep secrets because they think the truth will cause harm to someone else. These secrets are originally made with good intentions, but many times, the truth comes out later and causes more pain to the individual they are trying to protect. Concern for others can lead to increased stress of having to maintain the secret while going along with life as if nothing has happened.

Others try to use secrets as a way to reduce the level of harm they cause. For instance, if they do something that obviously has hurt someone, they may admit to the offense, but hide certain details to make things “better than they could be”. This is similar to the previous motivation, but the fact that they admit to the wrongdoing at all is adding another layer to the secret as you are making it seem like they are being open and honest. This can obviously lead to conflict when the full truth comes out.
…via The Psychology of Secrets – Darlene Quinn

So there are the three motivating reasons for keeping secrets. What are the effects of keeping secrets? They can become a mental obsession, like when you try not to think of something and that is the one thing that keeps popping into your head. It can actually be detrimental to both your mental and in turn physical health and the release of secrets will bring relief, as is outlined in the following:

The logical opposite of an unhealthy obsession based on secrets is a healthy result from disclosing such secrets. This healing aspect of revelation is where Wegner’s work connects with James Pennebaker’s. In the late 1970s, Pennebaker was part of a research team that found, via survey, that people who had a traumatic sexual experience before age 17 were more likely to have health problems as they got older. Pennebaker looked further and found that the majority of these people had kept the trauma hidden, and in 1984 he began the first of many studies on the effects of revealing previously undisclosed secrets.

In most of Pennebaker’s experiments, subjects visited a lab for three or four consecutive days, each time writing about traumatic experiences for 15 or 20 minutes. In the first five years, hundreds of people poured their secrets onto the page. A college girl who knew her father was seeing his secretary; a concentration camp survivor who had seen babies tossed from a second-floor orphanage window; a Vietnam veteran who once shot a female fighter in the leg, had sex with her, then cut her throat. By the end of the experiment, many participants felt such intense release that their handwriting became freer and loopier. In one study of 50 students, those who revealed both a secret and their feelings visited the health center significantly fewer times in the ensuing six months than other students who had written about a generic topic, or those who had only revealed the secret and not the emotions surrounding it.

The work led to many papers showing evidence that divulging a secret, which can mean anything from telling someone to writing it on a piece of paper that is later burned, is correlated with tangible health improvements, both physical and mental. People hiding traumatic secrets showed more incidents of hypertension, influenza, even cancer, while those who wrote about their secrets showed, through blood tests, enhanced immune systems. In some cases, T-cell counts in AIDS patients increased. In another test, Pennebaker showed that writing about trauma actually unclogs the brain. Using an electroencephalogram, an instrument that measures brain waves through electrodes attached to the scalp, he found that the right and left brains communicated more frequently in subjects who disclosed traumas.
…via The Science Behind Secrets – Association for Psychological Science

If you have secrets, and lets face it most people do, it can bring you not only mental but physical health as well. Every spiritual movement has some form of bearing of ones secrets, such as confessions, on the path toward freedom or enlightenment. It is of interest that getting rid of ones secrets has so many benefits. So…go on, tell us your secrets.

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