A caring, faithful relationship with a family member or a friend is a sacrosanct space where you can shed your guard, reveal your secrets, and disclose your worries. Such relationships are life’s principal social support systems.

Your ability to form close relationships with others hinges on the trust you feel with your nearest and dearest.

Once You Share Something Confidential, You Lose Control of it

Sharing your secrets with others and keeping others’ secrets are essential to establishing and nurturing bonds between people.

Secrets are kept or revealed for a variety of complex reasons—utter carelessness, actual malice, self-serving manipulation, or altruistic protection of others.

  • Forgetfulness and negligence often initiate letting a secret slip; some people may not understand the potential consequences of not keeping somebody’s secret to themselves.
  • As the World War II idiom cautions, Loose lips sink ships. Some blabbermouths just can’t be the soul of discretion—they have no filters and don’t concern themselves with betraying others’ trust.
  • Some folks justify spreading others’ secrets by convincing themselves that the secret is common knowledge—if a source shared a secret with them, the source may have shared it with others too.
  • Some nefarious people use secrets they’re supposed to keep as currency to curry favor with someone else. An egregious recent example is that of McKinsey’s Managing Director Rajat Gupta revealing confidential information about Goldman Sachs, on whose board of directors he sat, to hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam.
  • Some people may assume an altruistic—or self-righteous—mind-set and reveal a secret assuming that divulging the secret could be more beneficial to those concerned than keeping the secret.
  • Some people reveal secrets because they can’t bear the mental distress of keeping the secret. Often, the bigger the secret, the harder it is to keep it.

If you’ve been told a secret or have some information in hand that may put somebody in immediate emotional or physical risk, be careful in how you act. Telling secrets in the wrong way, to the wrong people, or at the wrong time can be surprisingly destructive. If required, seek help from a relationship counselor.

If a friend shared something about you that you told them in private, try to forgive his/her lack of discretion. Hold back your trust until you can feel comfortable trusting them again.

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