Secrets come in countless shapes and sizes. They're held for reasons that are noble, and they're held for reasons that are shameful. They can be of individual value or they can be of worldwide value. But regardless of which category your secret fits into, we can probably agree on one thing -- secrets are powerful.
Revealing a secret can provide transparency to a relationship which leads to a closeness that may have previously been lacking. Sharing that hidden piece of information has the potential to remove an unnecessary burden and allow you to live a happier, more stress-free existence. It can alert others to a danger they're facing and, as a result, help them avoid disaster.
But, like a knife that can be used to make dinner, a secret can also create pain and destruction. You may have heard the old adage, "loose lips sink ships." Some undisclosed information, once revealed, can produce untold damage.
If you've decided it's time to spill the beans, there are many things to consider. For one, there's the when-and-where issue. Should it be done in a planned manner or impulsively before the moment passes? You could choose a public venue or offer the information behind closed doors. You could vent without giving consideration to the listener, or you could act selflessly and restrained.
One thing will give you comfort -- history is strewn with examples of people who have shared their secrets. While there may not be a manual on the subject, there's definitely a body of research we can draw from. You're not going into this alone.
Whoever said that there's strength in numbers failed to note that there's also the prospect of embarrassment in a crowd. In April of 2011, wealthy and notorious businessman Donald Trump was rumored to be considering a run for the U.S. presidency. In an apparent attempt to weaken the political standing of President Barack Obama, Trump publicly declared that he had secret information showing Obama was not born in the U.S. -- a claim that, if true, would make Obama ineligible to continue holding the office [source: McMorris-Santoro]. When the White House countered by releasing copies of the president's original birth certificate, Trump became the focus of derision and his aspirations for higher office soon fell apart.
If you're concerned that revealing your secret in private could lead to violence or, at the very least, a heated argument, then choosing a public location -- say a coffee shop -- to disclose the information has its upsides. If you openly reveal the secret to a large group of people, you may get the support of the vast number of those people and, as a result, be able to handle the fallout from the rest. Weigh the pros and cons of a public or private setting -- it can make a decided difference in the outcome.
Procrastination is natural. When a difficult task lies in front of you, it's understandable that you'll be inclined to put it off. Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the harder the task can become. The same goes for secrets. For instance, a tidbit of information that you swear you'll share with a friend or loved one. It can end up being stored away for years, creating a bigger and bigger problem and an unnecessary daily concern for you. There may be pain in sharing the secret but the sooner the pain is felt, the sooner the healing process can begin.
Of course, there are limits to this approach. Let's say you have a sexually transmitted disease. Anyone you plan to become intimate with has a right to know as soon as possible. But is it necessary to share this information on every first date? Unless that date begins to turn physical, you're probably best saving the secret until later. Otherwise, your dates will never have a chance to get to know you and you'll be left with a string of awkward and extremely brief dating experiences [source: Taylor].
Visualization is the practice of imagining how a scenario could play out and how you'll respond. It's used by athletes, business people, politicians and public speakers. By doing test runs in your mind, you're better able to handle the situation appropriately which will lead to the best possible outcome.
If you're thinking of sharing a secret, picture in your head how that secret might be received. Take it to extremes. Imagine everything from shouting and crying to laughter and relief. You don't know for certain what will happen, so every possible eventuality needs to be explored. Forget what you think you know -- when secrets are revealed, people can act unpredictably [source: Papez]. How might you diffuse the situation if it becomes highly intense? How can you show appreciation if the information is received with open arms? You might want to make dinner reservations as a way of saying "thank you" to the person you've shared your secret with. You may also want to have an alternate place to sleep if your spouse doesn't want you around after you reveal the truth.
It's been said, "He who frames the argument wins." You can't properly frame the secret you're about to share if you don't know what you're talking about. Imagine that your secret is that you've missed your period. Without the proper information, you can't tell your partner that you're having a baby, though you can say that there's a possibility you're pregnant. Go into the situation with the best available information in front of you [source: Papez]. You don't want to drop a bomb on someone you care about and then be unprepared to handle the myriad questions hurled in your direction.
Is there even the slightest possibility that the secret you think you have isn't even true? If what you think you know ends up being false, the damage from sharing that secret may already have been done. Or if the secret you've shared is great news, your listener will be faced with unnecessary disappointment when you say, "Oops, turns out I was wrong."
What's your motivation? It's not only overly self-involved actors that ask that question. In fact, it's a question you should be asking yourself if you're about to reveal a secret.
When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released thousands of secret government documents in 2010, a public debate arose over how and whether some of that information should be revealed. Journalists who fight daily for freedom of information, conceded that if the release of a secret document could be tied directly to the death of a soldier, then it would not be right to share that secret [source: Ward].
Likewise, if a husband on his deathbed decides he wants to unburden himself of the secret affair he had years ago, he could be devastating his wife and family for his own few moments of peace. Again, what's your motivation? Do you want to alleviate guilt, move to a resolution, or do what's right for those around you? They're tough questions. Keeping a secret can be equally selfish, as well. Choose the most selfless option. It's never easy revealing a secret but the approach you take can make a world of difference in how the information is received and how you move forward.
Ready to clear your conscience? The links on the next page are no secret, but will provide you with lots more information.
Author and podcaster Gretchen Rubin speaks with Lisa Oz and Jill Herzig on the You Turns podcast on the four tendencies.
- Daily Mail. "This is Painful and Heartbreaking." May 5, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1388043/Arnold-Schwarzenegger-love-child-Maria-Shriver-breaks-silence.html
- McMorris-Santoro, Evan. April 7, 2011. "Trump Promises to Reveal Secrets of Obamas Birth Before Summer." TPM. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/04/trump-promises-to-reveal-secrets-of-obamas-birth-before-summer-video.php
- Papez, Peggy. "How to Reveal a Secret."Orato. June 24, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://www.orato.com/self-help/how-to-reveal-secret
- Taylor, Judy. "I Have a Secret." Happen. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://www.match.com/magazine/article/4010/I-Have-a-Secret-How-to-Reveal-It-To-Your-Date/
- Ward, Stephen, A.J. "How to Reveal Secrets." Center for Journalism Ethics. Aug. 24, 2010. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/2010/08/24/how-to-reveal-secrets/
- The Washington Post. "Deep Throat Revealed." 2005. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/watergate/part4.html