- I am keeping a secret to protect someone—possibly myself—from the natural consequences of ongoing destructive behavior (alcoholism, violence or sexual abuse, for example).
- My secret makes me feel constantly ashamed.
- I conceal the truth because telling it might make someone angry.
- I would not want to associate with anyone who has the same secret I do.
- I'm sure I'll be rejected by anyone who learns this secret.
- My secret is so awful, I can't stand to think about it, let alone talk about it.
- This secret makes me pull away from people I want to trust and love.
- I'd rather end a relationship than tell another person my secret.
- I'm doing something that violates my own moral code.
Conveniently enough, the first person to whom you absolutely must confess is you. Why not try it right now? Admit to yourself the secret things you have done or that have been done to you. Reject euphemisms and use the real words: adultery, stealing, bulimia, child abuse, whatever. Traditional cultures teach that calling something by its real name is the only way to gain power over it. Naming your dark secret in your own mind is the first step in reclaiming the power it has leeched from your life.
The next step is one of the hardest but most liberating things you'll ever do. You must tell your whole truth to at least one other human being. You might want to start by confiding in a therapist, a religious advisor or a 12-step group. You're more likely to get a calm reaction from these people than from folks who are directly influenced by your actions. Finding just one person who doesn't run away screaming when you tell your secret will move you a long way toward feeling whole, brave and strong. That's good, because the next step is even scarier.
You must confess your dark secrets to anyone with whom you wish to have an intimate emotional bond. I know dozens of people whose romantic relationships have failed because the parties involved kept secrets from each other. "My feelings for my wife have faded over time," said a friend who had just ended an affair. "I've confessed to our priest, and I feel good about myself, but that sense of being really connected to my wife hasn't come back." News flash: You can never feel really connected to anyone from whom you are keeping important information. Secrets kill intimacy.
Next, an extra-credit question: Is it still possible for you to be blackmailed? In other words, after you've admitted the truth to yourself and your loved ones, is there any person or group you're still terrified might learn your secret? If so, you're not finished confessing. To be really free, you must be comfortable with the idea of any person or group knowing the whole truth about your life. That doesn't mean you have to confess everything to everyone, but you must be able to handle the thought of their knowing your secret. Otherwise you'll be haunted by doubt, controlled by your attempts to control what others know.
Next: When is the right time to confess?