WoW 037: On secrets [Words of Wisdom]

On secrets

Here are some reflections on secrets that I've learned the hard way as I've betrayed others, kept my trauma hidden, and as I work with clients who carry their secrets.

My working definition of a secret:

Secrets are an attempt to hide to protect yourself or others.

There are three kinds of secrets, so far as I can tell.

The first two kinds of secrets are destructive.

A secret protecting a betrayal. You did something you know will hurt the person you love. So you hide it, bury it, keep it a secret so it won't come to light. You may mean well, wanting not to tell, so you don't cause more damage. While it is true, there are things best left unsaid; if you have done something to betray the trust of a loved one, it is usually best to share this secret and not hide it.

Your spouse, for example, owns their story with your story. They may tell themselves the story that you are loyal when in reality, you have betrayed their trust and stolen, lied, or cheated on them.

Selfishness says, "It won't hurt her if she doesn't know." Yet you have stolen their story from them, and they don't even know it.

The second type of secret is to protect a wound. Perhaps you were hurt, deeply wounded, even traumatized. Keeping this wound a secret only keeps you isolated, and it strengthens the lie that you might be telling yourself: that no one would understand.

Maybe you were the one betrayed by your spouse or someone in power, such as at work. And so you carry a secret to protect their reputation or avoid potential consequences. But if you do not speak, their abuses of power continue.

So speak up, and speak out. Not to harm the person who hurt you, but to love them because you know that if their secret betrayal remains hidden, you and they will not have the chance for deep healing. All of this is a general principle. Each situation is unique and requires thoughtfulness to navigate. If you have been betrayed or experienced abuse, I urge you to speak up to someone safe before reporting it further. Seek wise counsel first.

To carry the secret of your wound without the help of other safe friends means you must bear the burden on your shoulders. Do not go it alone. Share your story, and in the midst, despite perhaps the terror you feel at the idea, you will find freedom.

Shame is underneath both the secrets of when you betray and are betrayed. Though this secret, this part of your story, is part of you, it need not fully define you.

The truth has a way of coming out. I've found it's best to share your story before it is discovered.

Speaking your story of pain or betrayal will heal your brain and body.

We are meaning-making machines. Without purpose, we can't flourish. Significant secrets divide and fracture the soul.

Keeping a secret shows up in unexpected ways, such as defensiveness, avoidance, and anger. For example, projecting anger onto others–often even onto others who have done the same things we have done in secret.

Not everything needs to be told to everyone or even to your spouse. But not telling your secrets and betrayals prevents you from being deeply known, let alone forgiven, and it creates a rift that is inevitably perceived.

Please don't go through it alone. Share your secret with someone safe.

The third type of secret is different: it can be good when you do good in secret.

You can do good and keep it a secret to protect your ego and the balance of power in a relationship. If you are generous, especially highly generous financially, it can change the balance of power in how people see you.

So an option to seriously consider is to protect your ego, be humble, and give generously in secret. Serve others, whenever possible, in secret, or at least without drawing attention to yourself. Doing good is reward enough.


"But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you."

Jesus of Nazareth, in Matthew 6:6

"When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending."

Brene Brown, in the article, Own our History. Change the Story.


Is there a secret that you have held onto for too long? Who can you tell?

What good can you do in secret?


Maybe you have a secret and don't know who you can tell. You can tell me. Let me be an advocate for you and support you by having the honor of hearing your secret. Regardless of what it is, you couldn't shock me, and it wouldn't be too much for me. Don't wait. Whether it's me or someone else safe that you respect, don't wait. Choose to be known.

Live wisely,


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