Why it’s dangerous to keep secrets

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They used to be two jolly friends until their relationship became frosty when one betrayed the other by revealing a secret they both swore to keep to themselves.

Till date, Esther, 34, said she had yet to understand why her friend, Kemi, 33, would reveal a secret she entrusted her with years ago. “It’s something I won’t forget and I’m not sure I can ever forgive her for doing that to me,” she told Saturday PUNCH.

She recalled that when the going was good between them, there was hardly anything they didn’t share between each other and that it was in that spirit of oneness and mutual understanding that she freely told Kemi what she did to get a job. Two years after, they had a quarrel and Kemi decidedly let the cat out of the bag, telling all who cared to listen how her friend slept with people to get a job.

Years have passed since they had the issue but, since then, the two have become sworn enemies, while Esther had vowed that not even pleas and emissaries by Kemi would make them friends again.

Such is sometimes the reaction when one’s trust is betrayed.

According to a popular Canadian poet, Margaret Atwood, the best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one. It is almost a given that people would always have certain happenings and information that they hold too precious to share.

However, while some tend to share their secrets and valued information with trusted friends, some people keep such secrets to themselves, which experts have described as harmful to one’s health.

It is equally worthy of note that people’s reluctance to share secrets is partly due to the natural propensity of humans to spill the beans. Previous studies have shown that women, as much as men, are often overcome by a strong desire to share a secret with another trusted person as soon as they hear one.

Apart from the fact that alcohol has been found to make (lure) people to want to share secrets, the researchers found that women are more likely to share a secret in about 47 hours and 15 minutes of hearing it, while that of men could be more or less.

They noted that every human has such tendency but that the fact that the trusted person would likely share the secret with someone not directly related to the matter could be comforting. This has no doubt discouraged some people from sharing their secrets with anyone; they would rather bottle it up.

Meanwhile, for people in this category, some researchers have found that people who keep secrets to themselves or keep other people’s secrets tend to have psychological problems and physical pain. In their post on Mail Online, they said if done by children, it could affect their well being and psychological development.

Specifically, a study by Professors Tom Frijns and Catrin Finkenauer from Netherlands found that keeping a secret all to oneself could lead to psychosocial problems, including depressive mood, low self-concept clarity, low self-control, loneliness and poor relationship quality. They also found that it could affect psychological well-being and adjustment.

In their six months study of 278 adolescents, aged between 13 and 18, they found that children who shared their secrets with people were psychologically balanced and better than those who still kept all to themselves, saying the latter showed increased psychological problems.

In his view, a professor of psychology at Notre Dame University in the United States, Anita Kelly, said people who keep secrets tend to have headaches, inadequate sleep and back pain.

Some other scientists found from their respective studies that people’s level of openness and disclosure impact on their health. They noted that keeping secrets could be a form of burden that could wear them out, cause depression and impact their judgement on relative matters.

Michael Slepian, a postdoctoral Research Scholar and Adjunct Assistant Professor in Decision Making and Negotiations at Columbia Business School, New York, said the more burdensome a secret is coupled with the more thought devoted to it could be an equivalent of carrying physical weight. “Thus, as with physical burdens, secrets weigh people down.”

Meanwhile, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, Laura Smart, pointed out that there is a process in the brain that makes it difficult for people to hold back a thought or secret, saying the brain is not empowered to keep secrets for too long.

She said on Mail Online, “When we try to suppress a thought or secret, a mental process in our brain, called the ironic monitoring process, makes us remember it. It functions to search for exactly those unwanted thoughts that are under suppression, thus ironically making the unwanted thoughts accessible and making it likely that they will return to conscious awareness.”

Speaking further on how the brain handles secrets, a neurologist, Dr. Ikenna Onwuekwe, said keeping secrets could be harmful to the brain. He said keeping secret has the same effect with lying and that since the brain is wired to say things the way they are, the process of keeping secrets causes the brain cells to overwork.

He said, “One way to look at it is to see the connection between keeping secrets, lying and the brain. There is a connection there. To keep a secret, you have to be ready to cover it up, lie, say the opposite, or to pretend that something is not true, all in a bid to keep the secret a secret.

“Whereas, the brain is naturally wired by God not to lie because the frontal lobe of the brain is wired to be truthful; say what it sees, hears and experiences the same way it is. But when you consistently have to keep secrets or lies, you are gradually wearing down the brain because the brain would use up a lot of glucose, energy and work harder than it normally should to keep the secrets or lies.

“So, the brain has to create an active process that requires a lot of energy, glucose and oxygen to maintain and this active process, which can be measured on a machine called MRI, invariably wears down the brain. The effect is the same whether someone tells you the secret or the information is your own secret.

“So, it is harmful for you to keep secrets. In neurobiology, it is not even wise because invariably, you are causing your brain cells to overwork and when you overwork your brain cells, they will likely degrade faster which could damage the brain faster. People don’t know these things but over time, they create abnormal neurological functions.”

Onwuekwe however pointed out that people with a dysfunction, called Parkinson’s disease, do not have the capacity to keep secrets. “They also don’t tell lies because the ability of the brain to lie is lost due to the fact that the disease destroys the frontal lobe in the brain,” he added.

He said, “So, if Mr. A kills someone and there was someone who saw it when it happened, if that person is someone who suffers from frontal lobe disease, you are wasting your time if you think your secret is safe, because he cannot keep it. If anybody asks him, he will say what he saw because he doesn’t have the capacity to keep it.”

Meanwhile, a professor of psychology, Toba Elegbeleye, said keeping secrets could indeed lead to psychological problems, saying the need to psychologically guard the secret is stressful on its own, but that it depends on the type of secret.

He explained that if the secret is one that brings with it some guilt, it could interrupt the person’s level of convenience and hamper the person’s social outgoing, unlike someone who doesn’t have anything to guard and is free to live a free life.

“For example, if you know that the wife of your best friend is cheating and you are bound by some reasons not to tell, that could be knocking on your heart from time to time, especially when you see your friend, and that could bring stress, but if it is something that does not bring about guilt, it may not have such effect.

“Also, there are some secrets you have to keep for the rest of your life, and it brings with it some level of stress, more so when you see the person(s) connected to that secret, because you have to watch what you say or do in order to keep the secret, which could be stressful as well. And there are a number of individuals who have to keep some secrets about themselves, especially when ageing is setting in and there are some ailments, which could compel them to keep the evidences away because of the stigmatisation attached to it, so, keeping it could affect the well being of the individual.”

He pointed out that another “psycho-cum-medical effect” that may arise from keeping secret is that at the level where the secret is found out, there are individuals who can collapse and die. If it is a secret that borders on life or criminality, if the keeper of that information is careless with it, that can lead to depression and in some cases, death. “So, keeping secrets have its bad sides,” he added.

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FridayPosts
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Fridayposts Contributors scans through the news world to find relevant news updates for your information anywhere, everytime.

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Why it’s dangerous to keep secrets

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