Is it ever ok to keep secrets from your parents?
For example, how much money you make, your sexual orientation, if you are single or dating, or your chosen religion?
In a recent forum many adults shared the biggest secrets they've kept from their parents, whether as children or as adults, and some are surprising, while others are saddening.
This got us thinking so we asked psychologist Enzo Sinisi to weigh in on the topic of keeping secrets, asking him is it ever ok to keep secrets from your parents?
Top Secret: I met the guy my mom told me was my real father. We did a DNA test and there is a 0% chance [that he is my biological father]. I’ve never told her. - Reddit post
He tells Parent24 that the word "secrets" is loaded and implies deception, manipulation, and a few other unsavoury things.
"I prefer 'private'", he says.
"And yes, of course its perfectly acceptable, at any age, to have a private life, even from your parents. In fact, I would say that this forms part of the developmental process through which we evolve boundaries, a clear identity as a separate human being, and trust in our having a mind of our own."
Top Secret: That I'm a lesbian. And that that "friend" who I don't invite home anymore is actually my ex. - Reddit post
"Sometimes, our feelings run way ahead of our thinking and knowing. Paying attention to why you want to keep something private often helps you understand yourself: are you insecure about something?, and your relationships: is this a safe place? - more deeply," he says.
Top Secret: I make more money than I let on. My parents have and will always be the "I take care of you all your life, time for you to pay it back" type of parent. Except there is no end to this "debt". So I hide money from them so they can't take advantage of me. - Reddit post
Sinisi adds that there is of course a world of difference between wanting to keep something private because sharing it would place you at risk (such as your sexuality), versus spoil something (such as a birthday present idea), versus harm a relationship (such as some critical thought).
What are the risks of keeping secrets?
This will have a lot to do with the nature of what is being kept private, Sinisi says.
Top Secret: I crashed my boyfriends car when I was 16. He took the fall, because I wouldn't have been able to get my license for years. - Reddit post
"Very often, people do eventually discover that something was kept from them. Thinking of things as private rather than secret also allows for you to be open about the fact that there are things that you are not sharing," he explains.
This is probably be the biggest difference between a private thought and a secret. "In this way, you are somewhat protected against people feeling betrayed when and if they discover what’s been kept from them. This limits the damage done to the relationship," he adds.
Sinisi says that, more than that, establishing a relationship in which it becomes acceptable to have private thoughts, adds to the strength of the relationship by building trust and mutual respect.
Top Secret: My depression and the fact I nearly failed out of first year, because I couldn't handle university. - Reddit post
"Sometimes, our secrets have more to do with hiding damaging or shameful facts from people who we care about, in fear that they may judges of be disappointed. Some examples include instances of self-destructive behaviour, events that trigger feelings of shame (sexual assault), or items that you know will trigger unwanted, but possibly necessary, consequences (that you are addicted to tik)," he says.
Keeping these matters to yourself also cuts you off from potential help and even lifesaving support that others might bring, he warns.
Top Secret: Stole money for weed and regret it to this day. My lazy ass should've just gotten a job instead. - Reddit post
"If you are keeping things private, out of shame, from loved ones who are likely to care deeply, be on your side, and try to help, then it is worth reconsidering your strategy. Shame is a painful emotion that, as excruciating as it may be, can reduce on exposure."
When might it be a good idea to keep information to yourself?
Sinisi says any time where sharing the information is likely to cause unnecessary pain or damage that is greater than the potential good.
"Sensitive information should not be shared with people that cant be trusted to treat that information (and you) with due respect. More broadly, information that you don’t yet feel comfortable to share and that is unlikely to cause harm by being kept private need not be shared," he assures us.
Share your stories and questions with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
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