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A local mental health expert is sharing the idea of spilling our secrets with the right people can have incredibly positive effects, emotionally and physically.
"Keeping secrets feels very isolating. We feel alone. Not only do we feel separated from others, but we feel separated from ourselves. Often the secrets are about wounding experiences that have happened to us in the past. Often they are shrouded in feelings of shame, that there is something wrong with us. Sometimes we have been threatened by others to not tell this secret to anyone. We end up feeling trapped," says Terry Warburton, the Clinical Director of Recovery of Hope Counselling in Winnipeg.
According to Warburton's research when people keep secrets, it affects their overall health in negative ways.
"There is such a thing as good secrets, like keeping a secret about a surprise party for someone or keeping the confidence of a friend. But the topic of toxic secrets interests me because, in my years of working with clients as a mental health therapist, clients will sometimes tell me things that they say they have never told anyone before. It is a humbling position to be in, to be trusted with a piece of information that a person has not entrusted to anyone else."
When people find someone they trust enough to share their secret with, it is often a freeing and healing experience.
"The side effects of keeping secrets include depression, anxiety, fatigue, hostility, fear, guilt and poor physical health. In researching the role of secrets in our lives, it has been discovered that it is not the keeping of the secret that is the most wounding of experiences for us. It is the fact that we think about that secret."
It isn't that hard to keep a secret if the nature of the secret doesn't come up during common conversations.
"What creates fatigue and depression and anxiety, and other physical symptoms is the fact that we are thinking about this secret which has the effect of poison on us. It continues to hurt us. Often we feel defined by this secret that we are keeping. And if no one else knows about it, there is no way to gain any insight, any other perspectives, that can help us to grow a different understanding of the secret. We continue to feel bad and different and ashamed. It is in the sharing and exposing that helps the secret to not be poisonous to us anymore."
Does that mean people should share their secrets with everyone? Warburton says that is not the case.
"We must be in charge of who we share our secrets with. We need to be able to trust that person. We should not be sharing our secrets indiscriminately. This can put relationships at risk."
Finding a person or therapist to unload people's secrets to can bring whole emotional healing, or the start of it, according to Warburton.
"When we don’t share our secrets in a trusting relationship, it’s like the secret sits in the dark with no other perspectives or insights. We often continue to believe the shameful and toxic messages of the “secret.” Sharing the secret brings the event into the light where we can get perspective and see the truth of what happened and heal."
It is specifically shame that keeps people locked in their secret's grip and Warburton shares how to escape that.
"A thought that I would like to leave you with today is that if you’re feeling shame or fear about a secret that you are holding, find a way to share it with someone you trust! The experience of truly being seen and known and accepted in spite of our secrets is the most powerful antidote to shame."