Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I've Got a Secret

When I was studying at the Gestalt Institute in the late 1970's, we spent a fair amount of time talking about distinctions between various closely related concepts. In our book, Bridget and I touch on some of the more frequent and important examples of these distinctions and just this morning with a client I was reminded of one .... the distinction between privacy and secrecy. Without thinking, we might use these words interchangeably and, of course, they have a lot in common. Naturally if you consider something either secret or private, the upshot is that you are keeping it to yourself. From the outside they look the same.

This morning my client was talking about her chaotic childhood and the fact that her mother was institutionalized several times for a severe mental illness. She had been at lunch with friends who were telling childhood stories and she decided to stay silent and not chime in with information about her past. Secrecy or privacy?  it might be hard to distinguish between the two but it seemed important to me to explore this with my client.

Secrecy and privacy are motivated by different needs and feelings. And, if you'll pardon the new age-y language, they have different energies. Of course we are all entitled to privacy. It would be bizarre--not to mention a reflection of poor boundaries--if my client went up to the barista at Starbucks and said, "By the way, did you know that I had a very dysfunctional family of origin?" On the other hand, if she and a good friend are talking about their childhoods and she decides not to share any information, it's helpful to wonder why. To keep something secret has implications---maybe she would be afraid of being judged, worried that people will conclude that there must be something wrong with her. More significantly, she might harbor her own fear about what her dysfunctional family means about her. If you are keeping something secret because you are afraid or embarrassed or ashamed, you are walking around carrying a big ole glob of toxic, festering material that can effect your self-concept and eat away at your self-esteem.

My hunch is that when you come up against this issue you will be able to distinguish between the two. Privacy has a sort of easy, matter-of-fact feeling to it...."No, I don't think I know her well enough to share this information." Secrecy has a more anxious energy. When you experience that, try exploring what fears might be lurking underneath.


Gigi Little said...

I like the way this piece links up with the post above about comfort. How part of what happens when you're keeping secrets comes from that simple impulse for being comfortable. Keeping secrets keeps us comfortable. Look under that impulse and sometimes we find that the reason we're keeping the secret isn't that scary after all.

Liz said...

the irony is that keeping setrets will ultimately make you UNcomfortable. i really like how you related thes posts, gig.