Privacy vs. Secrecy & Boundaries

Depending on the type of boundaries you grew up with, keeping something private can get confused with keeping a secret.  If you grew up in a family in which intrusion and other boundary violations were common, keeping something private was likely not allowed and was labeled as wrong in some way.  The word private may have been misused to hide family problems.  On the other hand, in a family with rigid boundaries, experiences may have been arbitrarily divided into categories of what you talk about and what you don't talk about.  In either case, you didn't have the opportunity to learn and discern about how to relate to secrecy and privacy.

Secrecy carries shame and fear. It explodes into weird confessionals or is held with clenched teeth.*  Most often secrecy is associated with engaging in, being the victim of, or witnessing behavior that's harmful to others.  Keeping something like that hidden takes its toll on body, mind, and heart; draining the aliveness from life.  With this kind of experience as a template, something that might naturally be private may get labeled as secret and thus trigger shame and fear.  This pervasive sense of shame and fear can give rise to a compulsion to reveal all or close off completely creating an inability to discern life serving boundaries.**  A lack of boundaries and discernment, has the tragic results of alienating those who may be of benefit and attracting those who are caught in similar reactive patterns. 

Relating to secrecy from a place of agency and discernment, you will find yourself most often saying no to keeping secrets.  While you may not be able to play out in your mind all the good reasons for saying no to keeping a secret, you know that keeping secrets typically comes from reactivity and leads to harmful outcomes.  If you grew up under the threat of harm if you didn't keep a secret, you may need the consistent support of others to be able to stand in your truth, say no, and experience safety.

Relating to privacy from a place of agency and discernment, you can decide to keep something private, not out of fear or shame, but because it is a way of taking care of yourself or honoring something special within yourself or between you and another.  You recognize that not everyone can meet what you have to share with the kind of presence you would like, thus, it is better to keep it private.  Sometimes just you meeting your own experience is enough and is what most honors that experience.  At other times keeping something private, can support differentiation.  It's okay to have some things/experiences that are just yours. Keeping something special to yourself is not the same as keeping a secret or hiding.

When old hurt around secrecy and privacy begins to heal, you have space to become more aware of what truly contributes to life.  Situation by situation you can notice when it is helpful to share something and when it is helpful to keep it to yourself.  You can track the impact on another person and yourself in a given moment.  And you can track relationships over time and notice what kind of sharing is truly supportive of that relationship.


Take a few moments now to reflect on your relationship to secrecy and privacy?  What was the norm around these in your family of origin? What have you since consciously discerned about how to respond to secrets and when and how privacy is of benefit?


*Special thanks to my student for letting me borrow his insightful and eloquent words with this phrase.


**At the level of severe trauma, an inability to set effective boundaries is complex and relates to brain functioning.  See "The Body Keeps the Score" by Dr. Van Der Kolk