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Saturday, April 30, 2016

why it’s dangerous to keep secrets

breeze
They used to be two jolly friends until their
relationship became frosty when one betrayed
the other by revealing a secret they both swore
to keep to themselves.

Till date, Esther, 34, said she had yet to
understand why her friend, Kemi, 33, would
reveal a secret she entrusted her with years
ago. “It’s something I won’t forget and I’m not
sure I can ever forgive her for doing that to
me,” she told Saturday PUNCH.

She recalled that when the going was good
between them, there was hardly anything they
didn’t share between each other and that it was
in that spirit of oneness and mutual
understanding that she freely told Kemi what
she did to get a job. Two years after, they had a
quarrel and Kemi decidedly let the cat out of
the bag, telling all who cared to listen how her
friend slept with people to get a job.

Years have passed since they had the issue but,
since then, the two have become sworn
enemies, while Esther had vowed that not even
pleas and emissaries by Kemi would make them
friends again.
Such is sometimes the reaction when one’s trust
is betrayed.

According to a popular Canadian poet, Margaret
Atwood, the best way of keeping a secret is to
pretend there isn’t one. It is almost a given that
people would always have certain happenings
and information that they hold too precious to
share.

However, while some tend to share their
secrets and valued information with trusted
friends, some people keep such secrets to
themselves, which experts have described as
harmful to one’s health.

It is equally worthy of note that people’s
reluctance to share secrets is partly due to the
natural propensity of humans to spill the beans.
Previous studies have shown that women, as
much as men, are often overcome by a strong
desire to share a secret with another trusted
person as soon as they hear one.

Apart from the fact that alcohol has been found
to make (lure) people to want to share secrets,
the researchers found that women are more
likely to share a secret in about 47 hours and 15
minutes of hearing it, while that of men could
be more or less.

They noted that every human has such tendency
but that the fact that the trusted person would
likely share the secret with someone not
directly related to the matter could be
comforting. This has no doubt discouraged some
people from sharing their secrets with anyone;
they would rather bottle it up.

Meanwhile, for people in this category, some
researchers have found that people who keep
secrets to themselves or keep other people’s
secrets tend to have psychological problems and
physical pain. In their post on Mail Online, they
said if done by children, it could affect their well
being and psychological development.
Specifically, a study by Professors Tom Frijns
and Catrin Finkenauer from Netherlands found
that keeping a secret all to oneself could lead to
psychosocial problems, including depressive
mood, low self-concept clarity, low self-control,
loneliness and poor relationship quality. They
also found that it could affect psychological well-
being and adjustment.

In their six months study of 278 adolescents,
aged between 13 and 18, they found that
children who shared their secrets with people
were psychologically balanced and better than
those who still kept all to themselves, saying the
latter showed increased psychological problems.
In his view, a professor of psychology at Notre
Dame University in the United States, Anita
Kelly, said people who keep secrets tend to have
headaches, inadequate sleep and back pain.
Some other scientists found from their
respective studies that people’s level of
openness and disclosure impact on their health.

They noted that keeping secrets could be a form
of burden that could wear them out, cause
depression and impact their judgement on
relative matters.

Michael Slepian, a postdoctoral Research Scholar
and Adjunct Assistant Professor in Decision
Making and Negotiations at Columbia Business
School, New York, said the more burdensome a
secret is coupled with the more thought
devoted to it could be an equivalent of carrying
physical weight. “Thus, as with physical burdens,
secrets weigh people down.”

Meanwhile, a professor of psychology and
neuroscience, Laura Smart, pointed out that
there is a process in the brain that makes it
difficult for people to hold back a thought or
secret, saying the brain is not empowered to
keep secrets for too long.

She said on Mail Online, “When we try to
suppress a thought or secret, a mental process
in our brain, called the ironic monitoring
process, makes us remember it. It functions to
search for exactly those unwanted thoughts that
are under suppression, thus ironically making
the unwanted thoughts accessible and making it
likely that they will return to conscious
awareness.”

Speaking further on how the brain handles
secrets, a neurologist, Dr. Ikenna Onwuekwe,
said keeping secrets could be harmful to the
brain. He said keeping secret has the same
effect with lying and that since the brain is wired
to say things the way they are, the process of
keeping secrets causes the brain cells to
overwork.

He said, “One way to look at it is to see the
connection between keeping secrets, lying and
the brain. There is a connection there. To keep a
secret, you have to be ready to cover it up, lie,
say the opposite, or to pretend that something
is not true, all in a bid to keep the secret a
secret.

“Whereas, the brain is naturally wired by God
not to lie because the frontal lobe of the brain is
wired to be truthful; say what it sees, hears and
experiences the same way it is. But when you
consistently have to keep secrets or lies, you are
gradually wearing down the brain because the
brain would use up a lot of glucose, energy and
work harder than it normally should to keep the
secrets or lies.

“So, the brain has to create an active process
that requires a lot of energy, glucose and
oxygen to maintain and this active process,
which can be measured on a machine called
MRI, invariably wears down the brain. The effect
is the same whether someone tells you the
secret or the information is your own secret.
“So, it is harmful for you to keep secrets. In
neurobiology, it is not even wise because
invariably, you are causing your brain cells to
overwork and when you overwork your brain
cells, they will likely degrade faster which could
damage the brain faster. People don’t know
these things but over time, they create
abnormal neurological functions.”

Onwuekwe however pointed out that people
with a dysfunction, called Parkinson’s disease, do
not have the capacity to keep secrets. “They also
don’t tell lies because the ability of the brain to
lie is lost due to the fact that the disease
destroys the frontal lobe in the brain,” he
added.

He said, “So, if Mr. A kills someone and there
was someone who saw it when it happened, if
that person is someone who suffers from
frontal lobe disease, you are wasting your time
if you think your secret is safe, because he
cannot keep it. If anybody asks him, he will say
what he saw because he doesn’t have the
capacity to keep it.”

Meanwhile, a professor of psychology, Toba
Elegbeleye, said keeping secrets could indeed
lead to psychological problems, saying the need
to psychologically guard the secret is stressful
on its own, but that it depends on the type of
secret.

He explained that if the secret is one that brings
with it some guilt, it could interrupt the person’s
level of convenience and hamper the person’s
social outgoing, unlike someone who doesn’t
have anything to guard and is free to live a free
life.

“For example, if you know that the wife of your
best friend is cheating and you are bound by
some reasons not to tell, that could be knocking
on your heart from time to time, especially
when you see your friend, and that could bring
stress, but if it is something that does not bring
about guilt, it may not have such effect.

“Also, there are some secrets you have to keep
for the rest of your life, and it brings with it
some level of stress, more so when you see the
person(s) connected to that secret, because you
have to watch what you say or do in order to
keep the secret, which could be stressful as well.

And there are a number of individuals who have
to keep some secrets about themselves,
especially when ageing is setting in and there
are some ailments, which could compel them to
keep the evidences away because of the
stigmatisation attached to it, so, keeping it could
affect the well being of the individual.”

He pointed out that another “psycho-cum-
medical effect” that may arise from keeping
secret is that at the level where the secret is
found out, there are individuals who can
collapse and die. If it is a secret that borders on
life or criminality, if the keeper of that
information is careless with it, that can lead to
depression and in some cases, death. “So,
keeping secrets have its bad sides,” he added.

Source: The Punch

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