The Secret Lives of Us

Sydney Morning Herald, 2020-08-07

Many people have secrets (more than one!!!) they can’t make public at the detriment to their careers, families and mental state.

Secrets and Lies

  • A secret is something you don’t want to admit to others or even yourself.

  • Most commonly shared: telling lies to others; least commonly shared: relationships with someone other than the partner/spouse.

  • If your dark secret hurts no one but you – the society looks without much stigma.

  • If it gives you power over other people or the lies is at cost to others – that’s unforgivable.

  • Secrets tend to be a burden to their bearers and exaggerate own perceptions of reality around them.

  • Secrets hurt our health, relationships, sense of wellbeing and produce depression and anxiety.

  • 97% of us have at least one secret at any given time. An average person has 13 secrets.

  • Many people after hiring a private investigator to successfully prove cheating … do nothing – all they need is proof they’re not crazy.

  • Secrets: need to accept or reappraise [MK: how???] the situation.

  • Some secrets hardly matter to their keepers. Some grow over time.

  • Keeping secrets for long may be disastrous, especially if they’re about the health, because otherwise preserving this secret is more important than the people who have to live with it later on.

  • Messing with powerful people’s secrets [MK: it’s not only cheating, of course, corporate fraud is fun, too] is dangerous; some people become enablers / collaborators with the perpetrators.

  • Secrets in companies can create power / exclusive groups – the secrets define the boundaries of acceptable norms.

  • The secrets we hold tightest are the ones we keep from ourselves – we’re just very good at self-deception.

  • “Motivated forgetting”: we just conveniently don’t think about the ways in which our actions don’t fit with the version of ourselves that we like to have in our heads.

Guilt and Shame

  • Secrets hurt not because of hiding them or because of their gravity – it’s because the mind keeps wandering to them and makes feel guilty / ashamed.

  • Guilt is OK because it can be managed, shame makes us feel helpless and powerless —> occurs more often.

  • Guilt: apologize or come clean.

Three Ways We Self-Deceive

  • Motivated attention: focus on what justifies our choices, ignoring the rest. What we want to hear.

  • Motivated construal: view our actions through a frame allowing us to minimize responsibility and argue away the issue – via ambiguities.

  • Motivated recall: reassemble the picture of events in the head to feel better.


  • The most dysfunctional motivator of our behaviour.

  • Leads to lying, self-deceit and keeping secrets.

  • People with low self-esteem are more prone to self-deception.

Sharing With Others

  • Secrets are a huge drain on life; sharing with someone trusted allows seeing a different perspective and feeling supported.

  • Keeping secrets to oneself may lead this person to seek / retreat to self-punishment.

  • Confiding in strangers is not such a stupid idea after all. But confiding into the wrong people is a disaster.

Keeping Secrets

  • Confiding is not just a disclosure, it’s a request for help and confidentiality.

  • 40% of women couldn’t keep secrets no matter how personal or sensitive.

  • Most secrets are kept by women for under 48 hours (i.e. 2 days). [MK: I wonder what the number for men would be]

  • But men are better secret keepers. But not because of lack of gossip, just in the male world there’s nothing to gain by repeating secrets.

  • Girls/women: status is defined by being close to a popular girl or mutual friend; it’s demonstrated by showing you know their secrets.

  • Trading of secrets and betrayal of confidants in women are core examples of indirect aggression.

  • Some people are more prone to feeling guilt —> are more trustworthy as listeners. They appear to be more conscientious.