Turns out, keeping secrets can actually be bad for you. We all have things we don’t want to share with others for one reason or another. We all have things we were told to “never tell anyone.” But keeping all that information inside isn’t good for us. We need people to talk to. We need a support system.
Keeping secrets can be stressful because we may want to share that information with someone in particular and are unable to. Keeping secrets can be all-consuming because we have to focus on not talking about them.
All About The Goal
Research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that the problem with keeping secrets could simply be that it is a goal. Goals that we have yet to achieve are usually something we think about. For example, you are more likely to notice a mailbox when you need to mail a letter or you are waiting for something special than when you aren’t. It is about motivation.
So secrets may not be stressful because of the information itself but rather due to the act of thinking about the information. They are stressful because they are thought-consuming and therefore can depress your mood.
The study also looked at authenticity. The study found that keeping secrets, or more specifically thinking about keeping secrets, decreased people’s feelings that they were being their authentic, true self. That lack of authenticity caused them to feel bad about their life and how they were representing themselves.
If you are keeping a secret and feeling not-so-great about it, that is ok. Find the right person to share it with and move forward. It can be helpful to bring it up to a licensed mental health professional who can help you figure out what to do with the information so you can live your best life.
Dear Mabel: My goal has always been to go to grad school but now that it is time to study for the GRE I can’t get myself motivated. Grad school is a huge time and money investment and I am afraid. What if I don’t succeed after graduation? What if I end up right back where I am now? Then what was the point? What if I end up in a dead-end job living with my parents? I am getting really discouraged. How can I get myself motivated?
Signed, Frank from Minnesota
Mabel: Hi Frank, this sounds like a classic case of overthinking. Your brain is constantly evaluating the risk of taking this leap, so of course, it sounds like a bad idea. You are convincing yourself every day based on your fears. The truth is, yes there are risks. And, yes the worst case scenario is you will end up back at square one. But, what happens if you don’t take the chance? I like to look at things systematically. If you don’t take the GRE, if you don’t take the leap and try for grad school, then you have a 100 percent chance of being at square one. At least by taking this leap, you are giving yourself a fighting chance. Turn your thinking around. Instead of focusing on what can go wrong if you do go to grad school, think about what can happen if you don’t. What is the risk of not going?
No change happens without taking a chance on ourselves. You can choose to stay stagnant, right where you are currently, based on fears. Or, you can choose to fight for a change. You can give yourself opportunities, you can open doors for your future, but you have to try. So often we let fears get in the way. Your motivation is inside you, you just have to change your perspective on the situation as a whole. If you fail and you end up back at square one, at least you will know you tried. And, who knows maybe the experience will lead to other open doors. But, first, you have to try.