Have you ever promised someone that you would keep a secret only to regret it later? Perhaps your curiosity made you promise and you didn’t consider the potential consequences or the emotion bind you might end up in. Keeping secrets can strengthen relationships but it can also cause the secret keeper a range of emotions from guilt, to worry, to shame.
Here are a few rules of thumb when deciding whether to keep a secret:
- Does keeping the secret potentially put another person at risk physically or emotionally? Might you be making your friendship and the risk of sharing the secret a priority over a person’s health and well-being? If so, you might consider sharing it with an appropriate person. For example, if your friend tells you that she has been having thoughts of suicide, it is imperative she gets the proper help in order to save her life. Sharing this secret might cause an issue in the friendship, but at least you know your friend will be safe.
- Are you suffering emotionally by keeping the secret? Do you feel burdened by the weight of the information, are you wracked with worry or guilt, and/or do you feel preoccupied with the secret and the urge to tell or fear that someone will find out? If so, you probably need to tell the person who asked you to keep the secret that you are struggling and that you might need to tell. Or perhaps you can share the secret with a neutral person who is bound by rules of confidentiality such as your clergy or a counselor.
- Would you be sharing the secret in order to gossip or look cool? Are you doing it for some other reason to benefit you regardless of the hurt you will cause? If so, don’t do it! Trust in relationships is critical for a solid foundation and reciprocity. Sharing information about someone else especially when they have specifically asked you not to can be selfish and rude and extremely damaging.
When secrets are involved, a situation can be complicated with many layers and potential consequences. Perhaps the easiest way to prevent getting into these sticky situations, is to make a promise NOT to promise to keep a secret! It may seem like you are giving up a certain closeness or “in the know” kind of feeling, however you will spare yourself the burden.