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The Cost of Keeping Secrets

You might think that a secret isn’t the same as a lie.  But it affects your mental health and relationships just the same.

One lie often leads to the next.  You tell a lie, and then you need to remember it, and you need to tell some other lie to cover it up when pressed.  Lies are stressful.

Secrets, however, might feel more comfortable.  They can be more covert.  If no one knows you’re keeping a secret, you don’t have to lie to protect it.  But you always know, don’t you?  You’ll feel just as dishonest as if you’d lied right in someone’s face.  Because really, you have.  You let them believe something false.

Secrets are the enemy of intimacy.  If what you want is to feel truly close to another person (and on a certain level, isn’t that what we all want?  closeness and acceptance?), then secrets thwart that. They’re layers between you and the other person.  It might feel protective, like insulation, but it’s also creating more distance.

If you know that you’re keeping something to yourself in order to maintain the respect and love of other people in your life, then you won’t really trust the love that you receive.  You’ll feel fraudulent. You’ll feel unworthy.  And you’ll feel alone, because no one around you even suspects.  Sometimes the worst thing is that no one suspects.  It’s like no one knows you at all, not truly.

The experience of telling someone a secret that’s deeply held can be enormously healing.  To show yourself fully and be loved anyway–what could be more powerful than that?  It’s the antidote for shame.  Shame, of course, is a key component in secrets, just as it is with lies.

A difference between secrets and lies is that lies can be more overtly manipulative.  Secrets lead to the clichéd rationalization: “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

What it does, though, is rob other people of their agency.  It means that they don’t have all the information they need to make choices.   When you control information, you are manipulating others.  You’re also controlling the amount of distance in the relationship.

Being secretive can be a form of intimacy intolerance and therefore intimacy avoidance.  You might want to figure out whether that’s the reason for your secrecy, and how it’s impacting your relationships and your overall happiness.  Moving toward greater authenticity and wholeness is one of the best steps you can take for yourself and for those around you.

***This is a theme in my novel, “Don’t Try to Find Me (available now!)  For more on this suspenseful family drama, visit me at

The Cost of Keeping Secrets

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). The Cost of Keeping Secrets. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Sep 2014
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