Spotlight On Painful Secrets: To Share Or Not ? By Dr Linda Berman

  • Skeletons In The Cupboard: Our Shadow Side


Secrets.Luc Tuymans. Wikioo.

Secrets are part of the human condition; it is inevitable that there will be issues, both large and small, in all our lives, that we do not share with others.

What is the difference between privacy and secrecy? Often, there is a fine line between the two.

We all need privacy, we need to have boundaries and to choose our own time and space. This is something that is mostly based on our own decision, our own choice.

Secrets, however, are often maintained because there is some fear, of judgement, or of condemnation.


Karl Witkowski – Stealing Apples. Wikimedia Commons. 1890.

Some people are of the opinion that keeping aspects of ourselves secret is part of what makes us strong and real as human beings…..

“I feel like we all have our skeletons.”

Taraji P. Henson

“It is better to have ten skeletons in your closet, than walk with no bones.”

Anthony Liccione

“How hollow to have no secrets left; you shake yourself and nothing rattles. You’re boneless as an anemone.”

 Andrew Sean Greer

imageDancing Skeletons. Edward Burra. Wikioo.

“Not many skeletons left in my closet because I invite them to dance all over the front room!”

John Schneider

“Humans have a light side and a dark side, and it’s up to us to choose which way we’re going to live our lives. Even if you start out on the dark side, it doesn’t mean you have to continue your journey that way. You always have time to turn it around.”

Taraji P. Henson

We are all human, and, as such, are not perfect.

We all have a dark side, or, as Jung termed it, the shadow side of our personality, which is most often kept under wraps, even from ourselves, buried in the depths of our unconscious.

Perhaps these repressed ‘monstrous’ and dark aspects of ourselves may feel shameful to us, only revealing themselves symbolically in dreams and nightmares, or perhaps leaking out when we are feeling tired, stressed, or angry.

“Monsters are metaphors of our anxiety.”

Richard Kearney.

I guess most of us have done things that we are not proud of. What to do with such memories? Bring these ‘skeletons’ out of the cupboard and air them? Keep them there, mouldering in the dust?

It all depends on what feels right for the individual. It is a choice, whether to disclose, to oneself, to others, or maintain the secrets.

The secrets that we keep can be difficult sometimes; however, there is no blueprint for how to deal with these.

Should we share them or not? There are many ways of looking at this issue.

Some people may tend to be secretive, or they do not trust others with their secrets.

In other cases, there can be good reasons to keep a secret, for it may, at times, cause more harm if it is disclosed than if it is maintained.

image“Some secrets are better left at that -as secrets.”

Candace Bushnell

“There are many secrets; don’t try to resolve them all.”

Dejan Stojanovic

Sharing secrets may feel risky; we may fear our secrets will be spread around by another, or we will be hurt, judged and rejected because of them.

Keeping secrets may feel like a survival strategy in this case.

imageThe Secret. Felix Nussbaum. Wikimedia Commons

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

Benjamin Franklin

“Don’t trust people who tell you other people’s secrets.”

Dan Howell

image“One can only share so much

There are secrets we must keep.”

Richard L. Ratliff

“If nature had intended our skeletons to be visible it would have put them on the outside of our bodies.”

Elmer Rice.

It may be true that, for some, it feels better to keep the secrets close, not to share them, but try to live with them and ‘forget.’

imageLittle Study of Stones . Franz Marc. Wikioo.

“Some secrets are like fossils and the stone has become too heavy to turn over.”

 Delphine de Vigan

Whilst we may not truly be able to forget, it is sometimes possible to resolve difficult memories inside ourselves and to live with them.

Whether we hold secrets or not, whether they are shared or kept to ourselves, it is important to resolve any feelings we have about them.

It is sometimes possible for people to come to some kind of resolution alone, to think, read and reflect, to counsel the self….

23294887583_97bc33eb2c_oKezban Arca Batibeki – Trio 2 [2012] Wikioo.

Some people might try to run away with and from their secrets, but they still take them with them.

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

Jim Russell.

50837499291_14f0560951_oEdward Hopper – Compartment C Car [1938]

“If he could do one thing, he could run. He had spent his life running, secrets spitting at his back.”

Brenda Sutton Rose.

If secrets cannot be settled inside ourselves in any productive way, and they are causing us distress, then perhaps we could risk sharing them with a trusted friend or in therapy.

If our choice is, however, to keep ‘skeletons’ hidden, then it is important not to judge others for having their own ‘skeletons’….

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Carl Jung

Jung’s wise words encourage us to gain more self-knowledge, so that we might challenge aspects of ourselves, rather than judge others for what we do not like or deny in our own personality.

We may unconsciously project our uncomfortable feelings onto others around us, scapegoating and demonising them, instead of being able to face our own shadow.

imageAlexei von Jawlensky. Prophet (Sibyl). Wikimedia Commons.

“The self-righteous scream judgments against others to hide the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.”

John Mark Green

“People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.”

Albert Camus

  • The Realm Of The Unconscious: Secrets From Ourselves.

imageConscious and Unconscious. Louise Gibson Annand. Wikioo.

“He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.”

Sigmund Freud

It is possible to keep secrets even from ourselves, in a kind of ocean of denial. This tends to cause a sense of discomfort that may emerge in other forms, such as mental or physical illness.

Anxiety and depression can occur, as a result of feeling one always has to be on guard, in case the secret leaks out.

There may be associated feelings of shame or guilt, which can lie dormant beneath the surface of our consciousness.

As Freud says in the quote above, often in therapy, there are tell-tale signs in our body-language which will indicate that there is something distressing happening inside.

“How remarkable we are in our ability to hide things from ourselves – our conscious minds only a small portion of our actual minds, jellyfish floating on a vast dark sea of knowing and deciding.”

 Andrew Sean Greer

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself. You must know all the while that it is there, but until it is needed you must never let it emerge into your consciousness in any shape that can be given a name.”

George Orwell

  • Self-Disclosure: Sharing Secrets.


The Two Friends. Henri De Toulouse Lautrec. Wikioo.

“It needs strength to stay silent, but it needs courage to confide in somebody.”

Namrata Kumari

If hidden secrets continue to trouble us, then we may decide that it is best to share them, having thought about the possible consequences of our disclosure.

“Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people.”

John O’Donohue

Sharing secrets can be bonding, with a trusted friend, partner or therapist. The experience can be healing, as we may need others to hear our pain and help us through it.

“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.”

Sylvia Plath

Disclosing secrets with someone who is reliable can be a considerable relief.

Sometimes, we might feel the ‘skeletons’ are ours, when in fact we have been a victim of others’ maltreatment and abuse.

Sharing with another person may help us to recognise this, and lighten the burden of a painful memory.


Old Friend. A.A. Naumov 1889. Wikimedia Commons.

“Friends share secrets. That’s what keeps us close.”


  • Acceptance, Change And Moving Forward.

“Gone is the boy with the guns and the skeletons in his closet. These hands holding me have never held a weapon. These hands have never touched death. These hands are perfect and kind and tender.”

Tahereh Mafi

In whatever way we have chosen to manage secrets, it is possible to accept ourselves and move on.

Whether through sharing secrets, or resolving them in another way, we can work towards letting go of the past and accepting that making mistakes is part of being human.

Letting go can be painful. We cannot forget the past, but we may need to free ourselves from its burden, perhaps through therapy, so that it does not hamper and impede our current life.

In accepting that something is over, that it belongs in the past, we allow ourselves to feel stronger, more empowered.

Then we may glimpse new possibilities, new freedoms. This is, in itself, empowering.

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”

Steve Maraboli

  • “The Secrets Of The Universe.”

imageThe Secret of the Universe. Centrifugal painting – PVB solution on the coloured spinneret for centrifugal spinning. Ms Headly. Wikimedia Commons.

“If you listen quietly enough life will whisper its secrets to you”

Rasheed Ogunlaru

“All the secrets of the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.”

Robin Sloan

The Universe holds many secrets that will, most likely, be eternal. These are massive, boundless, mysterious secrets.

“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.”

Blaise Pascal.

As we discover more and more of the secrets of the world around us, there are always further mysteries to discover and understand.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

Carl Sagan.

We cannot know everything. All is uncertain. Isn’t that what makes life special?

Mysteries, Yes
by Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

© Linda Berman.

If you are not already following this blog, please do so now, for regular weekly updates to your email inbox. Thanks! Linda.


  1. Karl Witkowski’s painting of the three boys stealing apples reimnds me of me and my two older brothers raiding the apple trees on Anably Common just outside Hull. This was post WW2 when food supplies were still scarse. But we didn’t call it stealing, we called it scrumping and our mum would make the most delicious apple pies with our ill gotten gains. Oh to visit my age of innocence again.
    Paul Parritt

    Liked by 1 person

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