The Hell Butterfly

On the Dangers of Keeping Secrets

Secrets are dangerous.

They are dangerous to the individual keeping them, to the people who might find out, and to anyone involved in the secret being kept.

There are three different types of secret:

  1. The secret that one keeps simply because they fear the outcome of the information becoming public;
  2. The secret one keeps because they fear the reaction of, and effect on, the people closest to them;
  3. The secret one keeps with the knowledge that the information contained within said secret will be harmful in some respect to those closest to them.

The differences are subtle, but significant.

The secret that one keeps simply because they fear the outcome of the information becoming public.

These are the small things. Wine spilled on a sister’s favourite dress. Smoking. Joining a dating site …

They don’t harm anyone, but for the individual keeping this secret, it may prove damning. Though perhaps not a serious offence, keeping small secrets may in the end prove more hassle than they are worth.

Taking the example of my joining a dating site. Only my best friend and my older sister know I have done this. None of my other family or any of my friends know. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I fear the outcome of this becoming public knowledge. I don’t know how my family or friends will react if I tell them. I can’t get a date in person so I’ve gone online to get to know, and potentially meet, strangers over the internet – the situation doesn’t sound much better. It’s not illegal to be on a site like this, but I fear the way people will look at me when they know. That look in their eyes that pities, mocks, looks down upon.

These secrets are generally not dangerous to the outsider learning the information. They are dangerous on a smaller scale. They are dangerous to the individual as it will slowly but surely convince the keeper that the secret they hold is bigger than it is. The information may be insignificant, but in hiding it, it will manifest into something much more important in the mind of the keeper. Furthermore, the longer one keeps a secret like this, the harder it will be to tell. The level of scandal attached to such a secret as this remains unchanged in every case except to the individual. The mind of the keeper will stir the secret into something bigger than it is, and the longer this secret is kept hidden, the more difficult it will be for them to expose the information.

For example, my older sister has joined more than one dating site and told our parents and myself, as well as friends and work colleagues. The reaction to this news was minute. Mostly people simply accepted it. She wasn’t looked down on, in fact she was encouraged. I chose to hide it from everyone except her and my best friend. I should tell my parents, but I fear their reaction. The longer I keep this a secret from them, the harder it is becoming in my mind to tell them. It is not a significant action, but in keeping it a secret from the start I have created a problem for myself – I now cannot tell them. Or at least if I do it will not be any time soon. I have driven myself into a corner and created a worry in my mind that should not exist. This is the main danger of this type of secret.

The secret one keeps because they fear the reaction of, and effect on, the people closest to them.

To the casual observer, this type of secret would appear the same as the first. It is not. The second type of secret is that which will affect those closest to the keeper. In the case of the first type it is a fear of the general reaction of the information going public. In the case of the second, the scope is dramatically reduced. This type of secret affects the keeper and their closest acquaintances specifically. Stealing money from a parent. Underage sex. Self-harm and suicide.

These secrets are dangerous on a much more significant scale because they now not only affect the keeper, but an extended circle of people. Just like in the case of the first type of secret, they become bigger issues in the individual’s mind over time, and therefore harder to tell as time goes on. The pressure of keeping a secret of this magnitude also increases the stress on the mental state of the keeper. Keeping sensitive information out of public, or even private, knowledge can become strenuous on the mental capacity of the keeper. In this way it is yet more dangerous to the individual keeping this secret.

But the danger extends further. Those closest to the keeper can be greatly affected by both the concealment and revelation of the secret in question. In the case of the former, it may prove more harmful to keep the information secret from friends and family than it is to hide it from them. In certain cases this goes for the keeper themselves as well. Let’s take the example of self-harm and suicide. While sufferers may hide their feelings well, it can be far more dangerous to all involved to keep such information secret. Family and friends may well have noticed something wrong, but as the keeper will not reveal their secret thoughts, it will remain a mystery to the outsider. This can be harmful to those who care about the well-being of the secret sufferer. The worry felt by those who are close to the keeper may well be caused by their inability to tell their secret. While it may feel as though it is best to keep information regarding mental health hidden for fear of worrying those around you, it can prove just as harmful for them as they will still worry, but it will be because they don’t know what you’re hiding. This can also be dangerous for the secret keeper. Keeping significant information such as suicidal thoughts to oneself can amplify the problem. Help can only be given if people know what the problem is, and in allowing information like this to go unchecked it can ultimately lead to more problems than keeping it quiet.

On the other hand, allowing a secret of this kind to become known by those closest to you can be far more dangerous than keeping it to yourself. Underage sex is a prime example of this. Firstly, it is illegal. I don’t know the exact law surrounding this subject matter, but I do know that if one participant is over 16 and one is not, the over 16 will be hit pretty hard by the law, even if it was consensual. In this instance, letting a secret like underage sex get out will be damning for the older participant. And even in some cases where both participants are underage, the legal boundaries are sketchy and so it may be in this case that allowing a secret like this to become public knowledge will be more harmful than keeping quiet. But putting the law aside, the reaction of friends and family in this situation is a major factor. It may prove dangerous to let this secret out as family may not approve, friendships may be strained, and in the case of consensual sex the relationship between the participants may also be threatened.

It can be difficult to know in the case of this type of secret whether the less harmful option is to keep the secret or to tell it. If it will benefit the individual and those closest to them it may be better to tell it. If it will be dangerous to those involved for the secret to get out then hiding the information can be the better option. But while these secrets have the chance of being dangerous, there is one type of secret that is more dangerous still.

The secret one keeps with the knowledge that the information contained within said secret will be harmful in some respect to those closest to them.

In this scenario, the secret in question will definitely be harmful to the keeper and to those closest if it were to get out. This can be the most dangerous type of secret for this very reason. Again, it cannot be denied that keeping a secret of this magnitude will be strenuous on the mind of the keeper. Hiding information with the knowledge of the damage it could cause is harmful to the keeper. And the longer this secret is kept, the bigger an issue it becomes and the harder it is to tell. The difference here is that, if the secret is big enough to fall under this category, once the individual has chosen to keep it a secret, it must be kept that way to avoid harmful consequences.

I have a secret like this.

I generalise in the title of this category by saying ‘harmful in some respect’ because the effects can vary. The one constant is the magnitude of the danger. No matter the nature of the consequence, you can bet it will have a massive impact on those involved. One obvious example is anything that involves the law. Criminal activity performed either by the keeper, or by somebody close to them, is one instance where the consequences are great. Perhaps you have broken the law, or you have witnessed or have knowledge of somebody you know breaking the law. In both cases it would have irreparable consequences if this information were to be made public. To extend this further, anything involving scandalous activity in regards to someone close to you is an example of information which knowledge of the aftermath forces the individual to keep secret. There may be something going on behind the scenes within your close circle, and the result of allowing this information out can be immensely harmful.

It is hard to explain my point without divulging hints as to my own secret, and that is something I cannot allow to happen. I suppose that in itself makes a point. This type of secret must be kept that way. The harm done by letting this type of secret out will far outweigh the strain of hiding it.

I suppose the point of this post is to highlight the different stages of danger involved in secret-keeping. If a secret is insignificant, it is not worth having as a secret. The danger will be heightened by keeping it more so than allowing it to become public. These secrets generally will only affect you. If it won’t harm anybody else, it is not often worth hiding. Secrets that may affect the people around you become more complicated. If it will prove to be more harmful if kept hidden – ie to the mental health of the individual or those around them – it is not worth keeping it a secret. In any case where mental or physical health are threatened, it is likely that allowing this information to be revealed will be less dangerous than suppressing it. On the other hand, if the consequences of allowing information to become known poses a greater threat than keeping it hidden, it may well be best to let it remain a secret. And in our final case where it is guaranteed to harm people, keeping a secret is imperative. This final type of secret is the only case in which secrecy is vital.

Next time you consider keeping a secret think about the consequences. Who will it harm if it gets out? Who will it harm if it is kept hidden? Consider whether it is dangerous to hide at all or whether in fact letting it out will cause more damage than good. We all have something we need to keep secret, but let’s all make sure we only hide those things which are necessary to keep behind closed doors. We may be causing more problems than solving them by choosing to keep secrets.

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