What Keeping Secrets Does To Your Brain

Secrets. We all have them.

One of our clients recently had to let an executive go for non-performance reasons. The tricky part was the executive was well-loved in the organization and a large number of the employees reported up through his department. Prior to the termination, my client had to, of course, keep a secret of it. He had to self-censor, to watch what he said to whom and when. He had to be careful not to reveal the secret when long-term plans were discussed that the to-be-terminated executive would not be a part of it.

At times our client felt anxious, a little depressed, obsessively thought about it and felt inauthentic since he had to wait for the right timing to proceed with the termination. He also felt isolated.

You’ve had to keep a secret before… how did it make you feel?

The True Cost of Keeping A Secret—it’s Not What You Think

New research now reveals the truth behind secrets—and it’s not what you’d expect. First, 97% of people have one or more secrets at any given time. But most common is 13 secrets per person… whoa! Secrets included workplace secrets like pending terminations or promotions, personal life secrets like surprise parties, dark or controversial family secrets, you name it. And secrets have different categories, including simple preferences (maybe you really don’t like your mother-in-law’s casserole but pretend you do) to full-out breaches of trust, like infidelity or even embezzlement.

So what does keeping a secret do to your brain? Here are the 2 biggest problems I see (and notice the research backs them too):

  • Damages your well-being – think back to my client above. The energy it took to resist, to self-censor, the rumination (the repetitive thinking about it), the anxiety and depression in anticipating what would happen when the secret would be revealed, all took an enormous toll on him. His emotional resilience was reduced significantly and he noticed he was more irritable. He wasn’t sleeping as well, so he was experiencing what we call REM rip-off, which negatively impacted his behavior further.
  • Damages your focus and decision-making – when you’re distracted by a secret you aren’t fully present. Then your cognitive biases will likely take over and you’ll have less behavioral choice. You may be telling yourself scary stories instead of being able to reframe what’s happening and how you feel. To make matters worse, you’re out of rapport with yourself, too.

Since you’re experiencing the opposite of being mindful, here’s what’s happening in your brain:

  • your amygdala is on overdrive (irritability, quick to drop into fight/flight/freeze),
  • your hippocampus is compromised due to the stress of excessive cortisol which then cause excessive cytokines, so learning, memory, and immune system are compromised,
  • and last your pre-frontal cortex is likely offline a great deal since you’re in Critter State so your ability to communicate, collaborate, innovate–basically be your personal best–is down the tubes.

So what to do?

Reveal Your Secret To A Trusted Source

Often we hold our secrets close because we have some guilt, shame, or blame tangled up with them.  Find out which of these is trapping your secret. Our client was feeling guilty about having to let the executive go, as he knew he’d disappoint some of the staff. But for all the others, he’d usher in a new world order, which would be more empowering and positive. He was feeling some shame for not having dealt with this sooner. And he was also blaming the executive for not fixing the behaviors he had repeatedly asked him to.

My client suffered for 2 weeks, then his wife urged him to call me. When he did we worked through his painful emotions and rumination with some potent brain-based processes to re-establish rapport with himself, and to create a positive outcome for the situation. Once his well-being was considerably restored we could move on to strategy—who he’d talk with when and the key messages to keep everyone calm when they heard the termination news.

When you reveal the secret it loses its power over you. Then you can brainstorm, get an unbiased perspective, no longer feel excluded from others.

The Net-Net:

Secrets cause isolation and hurt us emotionally

They also affect our performance, focus, decision-making ability

Share your challenging secret to get a fresh perspective and stop suffering!

What secrets do you have? What story are you telling yourself that keeps you isolated with them?

This article was originally sourced from here.