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 secretsin 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!

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  1. Polly says:

    Well … I might tell you … but then I’d have to kill you (!) mwahahahahahahahah 🙂

  2. Lindsay says:

    Okay, but before you do, Polly – what do you think of secrets? Are they damaging?

  3. Maggie Doyle says:

    Memory isn’t what it used to be but I don’t think I am keeping any secrets at the moment! I don’t think all secrets are damaging; planning a party, holiday or gift is always fun. There is the conspiratorial element plus the almost flattering effect that somebody thinks you “worthy” to keep a secret. Perhaps I just mix with nice people 🙂 “Dark” secrets are usually nasty gossip which puts one in a dilemma. Sworn to secrecy – ok, but now having knowledge of something bad which is being circulated pricks the conscience. Sounds a fab read, can’t wait for the book!

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Maggie. I agree that some secrets can be positive, but I suppose I’m thinking of those where other people might be adversely affected by the truth. That’s the potentially corrosive bit, I think.
    Glad you think the book sounds a good read – I can’t wait for it to come out myself!

  5. Mo Hall says:

    Sometimes a secret is the price one has to pay in order to avoid hurting someone. Are they corrosive? Yes, but damage is only done if it is a guilty secret – and then the damage is done more by the guilt than the secret itself. Best not to be the keeper of your own secrets in my experience – keep other people’s!

  6. Christine says:

    This one got me thinking. I assume we’re talking ‘big’ secrets here-the sort you wouldn’t want anyone to know about and which produce a frisson of shame when they pop into your head? If confessing would hurt someone you care about, I think there’s something to be said about what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Yes, it could be said to be wrong if knowing this secret would alter someone’s perception of you to the extent that they no longer wanted to be with you. But then that presupposes that you are your past, and that no matter how much you think you may have changed, you haven’t. A few indiscretions when you were younger? Are you still that person? I like to think I’ve, if not changed completely, at least have learned something in the meantime. Also, that little nugget of shame can be helpful. Surely it’s that which stops you making the same mistakes again. But there’s no doubt, secrets are a godsend in fiction. How would Soapland survive without them?

  7. Lindsay says:

    I’m thinking of guilty secrets, Mo. Sometimes people keep something a secret because they feel ashamed or embarrassed, and we’re afraid of being judged, but are we then imposters in a way? Noy who we’re pretending to be.
    One aspect of PP’s Son involves a character who has a secret forced on her, and she believes others have a right to know. Keeping other people’s secrets can sometimes be harder than keeping your own.

  8. Lindsay says:

    Interesting thoughts, Christine. I agree that confessing might sometimes do more harm than good, and I like your idea that ‘nuggets of shame’ can be helpful to keep us on the straight and narrow! What about if the secret raltes to the past but its repercussions continue into the present. And yes, secrets and fiction belong together!

  9. Linda says:

    The best secret our whole family had to keep was when my daughter’s boyfriend, Jamie, told us he was proposing to her at Alton Towers Firework display. A secret we had to keep for two months! Even when Samantha phoned to say they had got engaged, we had to pretend we knew nothing, as Jamie had palnned a surprise party with family and friends the following day. It was difficult keeping it secret, as when Samantha talked about her friends getiing engaged or married, it would have been so easy to let something slip! But, we all did it, and Jamie and Samantha are now a very happy engaged couple, with a wedding to plan – together this time! No more secrets!

  10. Lindsay says:

    That sounds a very nice secret to keep, Linda! But I wonder how it felt to keep a secret from your daughter which was really her secret. Does she know now that you knew all along?

  11. Linda says:

    When she phoned to tell me, she asked if we could get the family al together the following day, so she could tell everyone herself. I knew that all the family were keeping the secret too, and attending the party! I felt so guilty just saying we would do what she wanted, but so happy too as she was so obviously very happy! Jamie had bought the ring in secret, planned everything in detail in secret! It was all worth while, just to see her face when she walked into the party! She thought she was just going out for a celebratory drink with a couple of friends!

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