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How You Do What You Do: Share Secrets Carefully

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Thursday, 18 July 2019 04:49 PM Current | Bio | Archive

You Can Share, But Up to a Point 

Many people have experienced the relief of getting something off their chest by sharing personal information. Relieving the stress of concealing painful, emotionally distressing information by sharing it with a trusted confidant can be cathartic, freeing, and liberating.

How does this work? Obviously, much depends on the caliber of the secret you share—including your reluctance to share it.

One Person's Embarrasment, a Badge of Honor for Another 

Some people prefer to keep private facts private; others tweet, post, and blog their private lives for the world to see. The extent to which private facts cause personal distress depends in part on the type of information at issue, as well as how someone feels about their predicament.

In many cases, one person´s embarrassment is another person´s badge of honor.

People have drastically different views about their personal circumstances.

Some individuals go to great lengths to conceal their status as a cancer survivor, while others proudly display bracelets and ribbons touting their survivor status, run in 5k races to raise money for cancer research, even posting selfies from the hospital after chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

As a prosecutor, I have met sexual assault, molestation, and human trafficking victims who suffered in silence most of their lives, carrying the pain and shame without wanting to disclose, while other victims become outspoken advocates, speaking out about their ordeal as the voice for so many others who are not ready or willing to openly discuss their own history.

But regardless of the source of hidden pain, shame, or distress, research reveals the value of sharing. Whomever you decide to tell, however, when it comes to "sharing," there is a significant difference between disclosing, and confiding.

Equating Sharing Secrets With Wellbeing

Michael Slepian and Edythe Moulton-Tetlock (2019) researched how confiding secrets to others impacts wellbeing. After examining more than 800 participants with a combined total of more than 10,000 secrets, they found that sharing a secret does not predict less concealment.

Instead, apparently, confiding a secret is likely to produce increased well-being through effective coping.

They begin their research by contrasting general self-disclosure within relationships, which builds intimacy, and confiding a secret, which is usually a request for both confidentiality and help in dealing with the secret.

They also distinguish confiding secrets from venting of negative emotions, which is usually done for the purpose of catharsis.

Secrets and Mind Wandering

In discussing secrets, Slepian and Moulton-Tetlock discuss the process of mind-wandering, referring to the fact that people tend to think about their secrets even when seemingly irrelevant to their current context.

They note that previous research demonstrated that repetitive mind wandering to a secret predicts lower well-being than concealment of the secret. In their own research, they found that confiding a secret resulted in less mind wandering to the secret.

They also found confiding led to social support, and thus predicted increased ability to cope and higher well being.

This is great news for people who would rather confide than hide troubling facts that are weighing on their mind. What kind of facts? The 10,000 secrets Slepian and Moulton-Tetlock studied included everything from abortion to addition, drug use to social discontentment, infidelity to illegality.

Apparently, people hide many things, from personal failures, to lapses in judgment, to everything in between.

So how do people decide how and when to "share" such sensitive information? It depends on how they believe they are sharing it, and to whom.

Yes, There Is a Difference Between Disclosing and Confiding

Slepian and Moulton-Tetlock drew a distinction between disclosing secrets and confiding secrets. Because secrets are usually kept for fear of rejection, disclosure might create concern that the secret might be shared and the information might spread, causing social stigmatization.

Disclosure, consequently, is associated with increased mind wandering.

Confiding a secret, in contrast, paired with a request for help, can increase a sense of social support and increased coping, and lead to less frequent mind wandering.

Secrets Can Spark Social Support

Slepian and Moulton-Tetlock explain that both experimental and correlational studies show that when people share a secret, they perceive social support, and are better able to cope with the secret. In addition, due to the perception of more effective coping, confiding a secret is linked with thinking less about it.

They also found that confiding a secret is predictive of increased wellbeing through a process of altering how and how often people think about whatever secret they are keeping.

So apparently, confiding secrets can potentially alleviate emotional distress, reduce repetitive mind wandering, and boost coping ability.

This appears to be true across the board with a wide range of different types of secrets.

When it comes to sharing, however, the key is being able to identify the right people to confide in. Smart sharing of sensitive information can certainly increase our well being, but it also involves choosing our confidants with confidence.

This article was first published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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Some individuals go to great lengths to conceal their status as a cancer survivor, while others proudly display bracelets and ribbons touting their survivor status, run in 5k races to raise money for cancer research, even posting selfies from the hospital
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Thursday, 18 July 2019 04:49 PM
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