Can You Keep A Secret?
As a small child, I found it nearly impossible to keep my Christmas purchases a secret. I tried to avoid the recipient after buying their gift because I’d lose control of my mouth and would spontaneously reveal my secret. Even such a small secret was very uncomfortable to keep.
As I got older, the challenge increased. I remember friends saying, “I’m going to tell you something, but don’t tell anyone.” I’d reply, “No, please don’t tell me.” I knew the mental torture that I would surely endure once their secret was deposited into my mind.
Fresh out of college as a new CPA, I landed a job as an auditor. Now, I was the one who got to flush out and divulge the secrets. That felt more comfortable. Today, I’ve expanded even more in my relationship to secrets as I dig up hidden secrets from the ancient world.
As someone who has devoted my entire life to either keeping secrets or uncovering them, I’ve come to know one thing. The truth does set us free. Keeping secrets steals our life force, makes us sick, kills relationships, and wastes our creativity.
The Psychology Behind Why We Keep Secrets
In 1984, George Orwell said, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” That is exactly what people do. We hide secrets by making them unconscious. We make them unconscious by piling thought after thought on top of the secret.
Let’s say that my friend tells me about her secret love affair. I can contain that secret if I layer more thoughts on top of it. I might tell myself, “I’m a good friend for keeping her secret.” I might rationalize that this information could hurt people. I could convince myself that I was a good sounding board for my friend. Rationalization is a technique that most westerners have mastered. These seemingly logical rationalizations override the secret, effectively burying it in our mind so we won’t accidentally tell everyone that the emperor has no clothes.
But let’s go deeper. Why did my friend have a secret? She was keeping her affair secret because she judged it as bad. Why did she judge it as bad? Other people have judged affairs as bad, and she accepted their opinion. Are affairs bad? Most people would say “yes,” but judgments are always beliefs or opinions even if everyone agrees. They are never the hard, absolute truth. I’ve often found my judgments were flawed once I knew the intentions behind the actions.
Keeping this secret enabled my friend to avoid the judgment she expected. And when we expect judgment, we usually get it. She made a decision to accept the discomfort of hiding the secret over the possible pain of judgment.
Our Greatest Fears
Some experts say that people’s greatest fear is not death, suffering, or even public speaking. It is humiliation and judgment. I’ve certainly seen ample evidence of that in my life and work.
My friend shared her secret with me because she believed that I wouldn’t judge her. But once shared, I had her judgment of herself, her secret, and her related fears of being judged in my body-mind. We were bonded in mutual discomfort. We felt closer only because we jointly separated ourselves from the rest of the judgmental world.
Why Do We Fear Judgment So Much?
Affairs are interesting material for study. In the moment of the affair, the couple is focused on the feeling of love (or lust). They have no thoughts of being bad or ever being judged. Once they remember that they will now be judged for an action that they can’t take back, the couple creates a bond of secrecy as well as shared separation from the people they believe will judge them.
This situation has roots in childhood. As children, we follow our feelings naturally; but eventually it gets us in trouble. Usually, our first offence wasn’t really bad; but it plants a seed that often grows into a big tree by adulthood.
Most people make the flawed conclusion that you shouldn’t follow your feelings; you should follow logic. But logic can be cold and calculating when feelings are excluded. The solution is to walk the line where feelings and logic agree. But we weren’t trained to do that.
In the book, “Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives,” Richard Wiseman, Ph.D., discusses the phenomenon of secrecy and lying. He describes an experiment that was done with three-to-five-year-olds.
“During these experiments a child is led into a laboratory and asked to face one of the walls. The experimenter then explains that he is going to set up an elaborate toy a few feet behind the child. After setting up the toy, the experimenter explains that he has to leave the laboratory and asks the child not to turn around and peek at the toy. The child is secretly filmed by hidden cameras for a few minutes, and then the experimenter returns and asks the child whether he or she peeked. Almost all three-year-olds do, and then half of them lie about it to the experimenter. By the time the children have reached the age of five, all of them peek and all of them lie.”
These children appear to have broken two social rules. They disobeyed, and then they lied about disobeying. They obviously saw no harm in peeking at the toy; they probably saw it as something fun like playing hide and seek.
They still had curiosity, and pure child-like curiosity is a quality of the heart.
Curiosity is the life force that drives us to crawl, stand, walk, learn, and dream. Love, curiosity, and creativity don’t exist in the same perspective as rules, beliefs, and secrets. We can’t hold two contradictory thoughts in mind at one time. What the children lacked was the ability to predict that someone would ask them if they peeked. They lacked the belief that they could be judged.
We are Born Innocent
People have been so conditioned to believe that they are born sinful that they often look astounded when I say it is not true. These children prove my point. They are innocent; they have no ability whatsoever to predict a consequence for peeking. They can’t think about their actions being judged because their mind is focused on curiosity and fun, not judgment and consequences.
We learn that there are consequences for disobedience from punitive-minded adults in our lives that teach us to obey their rules. Most of those rules are just conveniences for their benefit. We follow their logic, beliefs, and rules at the exclusion of our feelings because we were trained to do so. Sadly, this experiment proves that not many of us made it past five before our curiosity and innocence were squashed.
We are not born with a sense of right and wrong; it is a man-made invention. We borrow beliefs and rules from adults and authority figures in our life. We don’t realize as children that right and wrong is highly subjective.
Right and wrong separates us, and as innocent children we cannot understand separation. We have to learn it. And sadly, people go out of their way to teach it to us.
Once it is learned, we try to find ways to heal the separation. We miss the oneness. Affairs and “don’t tell anyone” secrets appear to cure our pain of separation because we focus on the secret bond where judgment doesn’t exist.
These children demonstrate the incredibly important moment in our lives where we traded in curiosity for obedience. We traded our innocence for rules. We trade our oneness for separation. And if we borrowed the need to please, we will spend our life trying to fit into other people’s finicky definitions of good so we won’t be judged.
All Roads Lead to Judgment
There is only one way to please everyone, and that is to keep secrets about the rules we break so that people think we followed their rules and don’t judge us. We fear judgment so much that we allow it to take our power, our authenticity, and our freedom. The real cure is to stop allowing other people to define what is good and bad for us and to start following our hearts again like little children. But that takes courage because the judges get brutal when we trust our hearts and not them.
I dream of a time when we all drop our unnecessary rules, beliefs, and judgments -- a time when parents applaud their children’s curiosity for peeking behind the curtain. When that happens, the children will also tell the truth about peeking. We’ll laugh as we join them in their playfulness instead of whipping them with obedience. When their heart-felt curiosity is honored, their innate desire to live without secrets will follow. The truth will set us all free.
Cathy Eck has M.S. in Transpersonal Psychology and a Ph.D. in Esoteric Studies, but her three children were her finest teachers. Cathy researches ancient texts, symbols, and mythology exposing ancient secrets. We live in a time when secrets are being exposed and the psychology of secrets affects every aspect of our life. Cathy mentors people in the art of letting go of secrets, beliefs, and suffering.