This article’s purpose to help people build intimacy through the topic of privacy and secrecy, and how to keep the balance between the two.
Why I Wrote This Article
My struggles with understanding people’s perceived need to be private and secretive began when I started opening up to people about my struggles and pain. When I became open about my thoughts, beliefs and lack of knowledge, I started having more intimate relationships with each person who then came along.
The danger of sharing my thoughts suddenly dropped, and even the things I used to be ashamed about was a reason to connect with others.
It eventually came to a point such that I didn’t see the value in the high sense of secrecy and privacy. In fact, I recognise that I’ve sometimes been judged over the openness of what I talk about, but do not care for it. My purpose in my life, and in Undelusional, is to help illuminate the darkness to help people see the light in life, not enhancing the shadows that exist.
I had little to no understanding of the value of privacy and secrecy when I was younger. I was private and secretive. I was also terrible at communicating with others. I only shared information when things overwhelmed me – which meant I only had bad things to say, not the good stuff.
It was only through being an open book that I started discovering how communication, including stupid and wrong communication mistakes I made, works. And it is from a revision of the way I communicated that I found the value of privacy and secrecy, but we need to be clear to utilise it effectively.
Three Classes of Secrets
Let’s begin with the three classes of secrets:
Secrets of Severe Consequence
These secrets are pretty straightforward. These secrets are the reason why governments and companies have such strict Non-Disclosure Agreements and even air-gapping between internet and intranet. There are dire consequences due to leaks. People can die, countries can destabilise, livelihoods can be lost.
Secrets of Manageable Consequence
The straightforwardness of secrets ended with the previous class of secrets. For example, wanting to go to the bar to drink instead of going home but not wanting to hurt your loved ones, because you need your alone time. These secrets are due to the difference in preferences and values between people. The consequences are manageable because they can be managed through communication. However, it depends on your communication skills to manage it.
Secrets of Shame
These secrets are secrets where there often isn’t an actual consequence of the sharing. However, most people believe there would be. Things like “I feel like a useless person”, are secrets that have little to no negative consequence, but in fact, help people connect with the person. It is our shame that prevents us from sharing these secrets, not the consequences.
Value of Openness
“The truth will set you free” is a statement from the Bible, and has been used by psychologists and coaches to help people learn to move on from previous traumas. I was personally involved in a session of Storytelling Live where people came together to go through a cathartic experience of sharing their stories.
These cathartic moments also create a connection between people. As Brene Brown shared over a TEDtalk, vulnerability is the best way for people to love. It is only through the vulnerability that people gain intimacy – the foundation of relationships.
Any form of secrets will take a toll on a person, creating distance from others. These secrets are common reasons why many relationships eventually fail – there are too many secrets between partners.
Mistaken Value of Secrets
If you take some time to think about it, the majority of the time, people believe that their secrets are that of the severe consequences. We have no clue how to tell what class our secrets are most of the time.
The truth is, class 2 and 3 secrets are a lot more common (class 1 is rare), and are hurting intimacy on a daily level. So, if those secrets are more common, and we don’t know it, how can we tell?
Three simple questions:
Do I know the consequences of sharing the secret?
What are the consequences of sharing the secret?
Can I manage the consequences of sharing the secret?
Usually, people do not know the consequences of sharing the secret. They never tried. It is a massive black hole of knowledge that makes them freeze.
Majority of secrets are that of one’s failures, and insecurities (because there are just that many failures and insecurities in everyone’s life). We never shared them, which is why we don’t know the consequences. It is only through sharing that we can finally figure out what are the true consequences of these secrets.
Secrets of manageable consequence are often due to differences in opinions and values. We are worried that someone would judge us, leave us, or make life difficult for us as we rarely have the skills to manage it after. Usually, these are secrets we have experienced failures in before (where we get bullied because of what we shared).
Manageable consequence means that if one has the skill to overcome the consequence, things might turn for the better. This is covered in my book, Employee A&E, called Conflict Revolution, which we have a free version of it available here.
Another question to the secrets of manageable consequence is “do I want to manage the consequence?” This is when the most important question is how much value the person in front of you is.
Secrets of severe consequence are few and far between and are the most understandable secret. It has to be kept, and it has to be a secret. However, to mistake every secret as that is the reason why people today are feeling lonely and lacking in intimacy – when vulnerability is the only way to build it, secrets kill it.
Privacy and secrecy is an important part of our lives. Knowing who to share with, knowing how to manage the consequences of these secrets, and knowing why these are secrets, are the important parts of the equation. It is a part of one’s morality – the ability to predict and manage the outcomes and consequences of every action.
To build true intimacy with people who matter, it is imperative to know what secrets are good to share and what are the consequences, and how to manage them. It is by knowing the value of secrets staying as secrets as opposed to the loss created due to the consequence of sharing that would help us find the right balance between privacy and intimacy.