Have you got a secret?
We all have secrets, don’t we? The small ones – white lies – ‘Yes, I love your new hairstyle’ when secretly we think it looks awful; ‘Your new novel is great’ when really we haven’t managed to get to the end of it; the party invitation we turn down, when a better offer comes in afterwards. No problem, surely? White lies/small secrets in order not to hurt someone, to oil the wheels of social interaction.
But what about the bigger ones? The cigarette you smoked when you promised you’d given up. The extra drinks your friend persuaded you to have. The amount you spent on that new dress/car/holiday. They don’t do any harm, do they? What people don’t know about, can’t hurt them, so the cliché goes.
And the bigger ones still. The affair? The tax dodge? The business double-crossing? Are they okay?
‘If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.’ (George Orwell 1984) And perhaps that’s the main problem with secrets – in order to keep them, we have also to lie to ourselves. We must pile thought after thought on top of the secret, so that we can live in the false world of our secrets.
But it doesn’t take a psychiatrist to explain what psychological damage such behaviour is likely to inflict on an individual. Secrets or ‘lies’ are the strongest walls we can build within and around ourselves, trapping us in a prison of deception. An edition of Psychology Today describes keeping secrets as ‘like swallowing a slow-acting poison: one’s insides gradually rot.’
But it’s not only ourselves we damage by secrets. It’s other people’s well-being and our relationships with them that we jeopardise. The same magazine states ‘if it’s a secret you’re withholding from someone close or intimate – even if it never need come up – it represents a barrier, a schism between you and that person.’
Okay, it’s January, spring is still a long way off, if it’s not snowing, it’s raining, so why am I choosing to depress us all still further by writing in such a gloomy way?
I’m fascinated by secrets. Why we keep them. The damage they do. And the impact when they emerge – as so often they seem to do. Secrets are one of the main themes in my novel THE PIANO PLAYER’S SON – out in October. Jan Fortune, of Cinnamon Press describes secrets as ‘permeating the novel’. The novel explores the corrosive effect of secrets, the reasons people might keep secrets, and the fallout from secrets.
And no – this is not a peek at the cover of THE PIANO PLAYER’S SON. That’s still a secret!
So, I’d love to know:
- What do you think of secrets? Are they always damaging?
- Why do people keep secrets?
- How do you feel if someone asks you to keep a secret?
- Hve you ever found out a secret ages afterwards?
- And if you’re brave enough – Have you got a secret? (Respond anonymously if you prefer!) If so, are you keeping it for positive reasons, such as fear of upsetting someone?
- Does the secret weight heavily on you? Are you afraid it might come out?
Will I get any comments?! I do hope so!