You are writing a memoir, or an autobiography, perhaps a story that is based on historical facts. Your research reveals some brutal truths. The little devil on your left shoulder whispers, “Go ahead. Spill you guts. Set the truth free.” But the angel with the glowing halo whispers in your right ear, “How could you reveal that dark incident kept hidden for years? You will destroy someone.” You wonder, Should I keep this a secret?
The latest research* on keeping secrets reveals some interesting outcomes:
- Upon learning the secret, the confidant often feels closer to the revealer.
- Having learned the secret, the confidant becomes “a co-owner” of the information.
- But that can be a burden for the confidant, who worries about keeping the information to themselves. Their attention becomes so focused on the need to hide the information, their positive outlook on their own life diminishes.
- Each of us has our own view of personal privacy and we set our own boundaries on what to reveal or keep private. When the confidant disagrees with the revealer, the confidant experiences what researchers call “privacy turbulence.”
Here’s the dilemma: what to do – tell or not tell? When you learn something you think a third party has a right to know, how do you decide whether to tell or not tell? Here’s what researchers recommend:
- The old saw about preferring to ask for forgiveness rather than seek approval doesn’t apply here. If you opened Pandora’s box by snooping, you need to seek permission from the secret-keeper. Get approval to tell other people who could benefit from knowing the secret, especially if they are family members or this involves a healthcare issue.
- Ask the revealer to consider fessing up, telling everyone themselves, because of another old saw: “Honesty is the Best Policy.”
- Ask a third person, whose opinion you trust and who is far removed from the emotional topic, for advice. This person can help you determine the outcome of revealing the secret.
- Give yourself a pat on the back for keeping a confidence to yourself. This will relieve some of the burden of knowing and not telling.