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Keeping Secrets is Bad for Your Health

Linda: James W. Pennebaker is a social psychologist, and a Centennial Liberal Arts Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the health consequences of secrets. A pioneer of writing therapy, he has researched the link between language and recovering from trauma and been “recognized by the American Psychological Association as one of the top researchers on trauma, disclosure, and health. In his book, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others, (New York: Morrow, 1990) and Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (New York: Guilford, 1997) he speaks of hardships in both childhood and adulthood, including a death of a family member, divorce, sexual and physical assault, living with an addict, or mentally ill parent, as well as other traumas. In his research, he assesses how extensively participants talk about these events.

The findings of his studies are quite clear. Those who did not disclose their traumas were more likely to suffer both minor and major health problems such as ulcers, flu, headaches, cancer, and high blood pressure. The cause of the silence about the events varies from person to person and includes some or all of the following: feelings of guilt, shame, a valiant attempt to move on and forget the past, fear that no one would believe them, or could understand what they lived through, an attempt to protect their family and friends from being upset, or a resistance to reliving the pain of the trauma.

Pennebaker discovered that it was not the nature of the adversity, nor was it the length of time that the difficulty persisted, that predicted health problems. No matter the nature of the problem, it was a commitment to remain silent and to not disclose or confide with another that turned out to be more damaging than having experienced the events. His research illustrates how therapeutic it is to disclose disturbing thoughts, emotions, and memories. By attempting to deny or conceal mental suffering, it does not fade away. The suffering manifests as disturbances in the body.

Pennebaker makes a strong recommendation that no matter how long concealment has taken place, it is never too late to find a confidant to express both the details and emotions surrounding the difficult circumstances. When the commitment to conceal converts to a commitment to reveal, the disclosure releases a great deal of stress that comes from the attempt to suppress memories and emotions. The “talking cure” helps us make sense of what we have been experiencing. No matter what the intense emotions can be including but not limited to guilt, shame, fear, sadness, depression, grief, feeling disoriented, abnormal, or crazy these feelings can lighten.

We can disclose to a therapist, support group, clergy, family member, or friend. If we have a trusting partnership, the depth of that trust can be utilized to bring the dark material out of the shadow to meet the light of day. By disclosing the trauma, we don’t feel that we are isolated to carry the heaviness that accompanies difficult circumstances. It is only when we disclose our secrets, that we can be reassured that others have suffered in similar ways. We are no longer alone. By sharing our inner life, we make bearable that which was formerly unbearable, thereby not only improving our emotional well-being, creating a closer bond with our confidant, but making a big contribution to enhanced health.


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Keeping Secrets is Bad for Your Health


Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW are considered experts in the field of relationships. They have been married since 1972. They have both been trained as seminar leaders, therapists and relationship counselors and have been working with individuals, couples, and groups since 1975. They have been featured presenters at numerous conferences, universities, and institutions of learning throughout the country and overseas as well. They have appeared on over two hundred radio and TV programs. Linda and Charlie are co-authors of the widely acclaimed books: 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last (over 100,000 copies sold) Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love, and Happily Ever After...and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams. The Blooms are excited to announce the release of their fourth book, That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. They live in Santa Cruz, California, near their two children and three grandchildren. To view our upcoming events and to sign up for our free newsletter, visit our website at:

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APA Reference
Bloom, L. (2020). Keeping Secrets is Bad for Your Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Jul 2020
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