Counsellors are trained to keep secrets and confidentiality within the Ethical Frameworks of the professional organisations to which they belong. There are strict guidelines which they must adhere to; these include the limits of holding secrets and which people they may share information with as part of their professional responsibilities. This helps to form a boundaried and safe place to undertake the complex and sensitive work of counselling.Sharing things which are part of our pain can be difficult, particularly if some things have not been spoken about to anyone else and have been kept secret for a long time.
This article will focus on difficult secrets – the ones that steal our peace, keep us awake at night and lead to us feeling burdened and overwhelmed.
I would imagine that we all have secrets that we would prefer other people not to know. I would suggest that it is entirely appropriate to want to guard our privacy and to be very careful with whom we share some of our secrets. If we share a secret with someone we thought was trustworthy, and they betray that trust, we can feel angry and let down, as well as fearful.
What about if someone asks us to hold secrets for them and we feel anxious but want to be supportive? Are we able to be boundaried and assertive and let the other person know that we don't want to hear, particularly if it is about something we feel uncomfortable with? I imagine that we may feel conflicted as we try to process whether we should be listening or not.
My sense as a counsellor is that it is wise to think carefully before opening ourselves up to other people's secrets. What will we do with the secret and how will it impact us, the person who shared it with us, our relationship with them and other relationships?
There are many reasons that we keep difficult secrets:
- Perhaps someone has threatened us, and we are afraid to tell anyone.
- Perhaps we feel a sense of shame because we are not managing life well and are self-harming, addicted to drugs and/or alcohol or porn.
- Perhaps we are trying to protect a family member or colleague.
- Perhaps something has happened to us in the past and we are now struggling with anxiety and life in general.
- Perhaps we are involved in something illegal and are fearful of the potential consequences.
- Perhaps we are embarrassed because we imagine that everyone else in our sphere of influence thinks that we are strong, so we don't want to acknowledge either to ourselves or anyone else that we are not coping.
- Perhaps we think that our friends will reject us if we don’t keep their secrets.
- Perhaps we think that if we were to share the secrets we would not be believed.
Clearly this list is not exhaustive.
If we find that we are lying to ourselves and those close to us personally and professionally it might be worth reflecting on the reasons we are doing this. If the secrets we are holding about ourselves or other people are feeling like a heavy burden and our own health and well-being is being affected, what will we do about this? It is so important to find a professional you can trust to share some of your secrets with.
Trust takes time to be established and a professional will be respectful of you and your narrative. Your story is important and it can be really beneficial to talk to someone who will treat you with care and help you find the way forward. Self-compassion is vital as we process the impact of the difficult secrets which have held us captive.