The key to freeing yourself lies in the confidant you choose. You want someone you can trust -- and who can bring you new insights. You want a person who will listen and avoid judgment, be discreet and help you get through the process of righting any wrongs the secret might have caused. A tall order, to be sure.
While this is a difficult decision, it's worth investing the time and effort to identify such a confidant. Start with divulging something small, and work your way up. Find out how much you can trust your potential confidant.
Secrets play a big role in families. Hiding a child (as we've seen with Schwarzenegger and Edwards), abortions, addictions and abuse are just a few of the secrets that play out in families. All parties in a family are affected. Children especially notice something is going on, often blaming themselves or acting out.
In lots of cases, secrets get exposed anyway. It's just a matter of timing -- and whether it's under your control or comes out from another source. Those involved with secrets sooner or later speak the truth or have to face it as it's revealed. In the cases of our recent public official scandals, we've seen them flip-flop from day to day.
Coming clean can leave a relationship stronger or weaker, depending on the way it's handled -- and on the willingness to take full responsibility and make amends. Rebuilding trust takes time. It happens in baby steps -- with lots of patience and persistence.
Keeping secrets cuts you off from others as well. You're not the person your friends and loved ones think you are -- and you know it. Then there are the cases where we keep secrets from ourselves -- "the secret behind the secret," explains Bottom Line/Health. A man who has one affair after another, for example, is not facing the reality that he's sabotaging his marriage.
When you tell yourself, "I can quit anytime I want to," yet continue an addictive behavior, you might be in denial. Refusing to admit a destructive habit has taken on a life of its own and is now in control.
How can you tell if you're threatening your health by keeping secrets? Saltz says to look for these signs:
These behaviors can tip you off there's something you may be ashamed of -- or are too upset to admit (even to yourself).
If you cannot, or will not, confide your secret in someone else, there's another way to "get it out." Write it on a piece of paper and release its hold on you by burning it. Follow this up by listing what you want to invite into your life in place of the secret.
"Writing about a secret helps label and organize it," says social psychologist James Pennebaker. Disclosure can reduce rumination and worry. Putting experiences into words (even for our eyes only) has a powerful effect.
Is it time for you to come out of hiding? "Wearing a mask is a powerful thing," concludes Visor. "We've all worn a mask at one time or another in our lives. The danger is when you can no longer be seen."
Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefu...@arnoldagency.com.