Secrets shared, secrets kept

What if you could share a secret that has been bothering you? What if you could do it anonymously? A community art project built around people sharing secrets has grown into a vehicle for discovery and support.

The site PostSecret, which weekly publishes postcards sent to founder Frank Warren’s Maryland postal address or by email, has gathered more than 667 million views. The idea was first inspired by a dream in 2003, he explains on a related website where visitors can communicate, find out how to attend one of his events, learn about his books, and connect with wellness resources such as hotlines for abuse and suicide prevention or eating disorders. Since the secrets are anonymous, it isn’t possible to know how many of the half-a-million things sent in are true, but he shares some follow-up stories about how lives were touched by a sharing a secret or reading someone else’s secret.

Sometimes, taking the time to write down a secret or create an artistic postcard about it can help the person lay claim to a truth that has lingered inside, unclaimed. By reading others’ secrets, people can learn that they are not alone in their feelings and actions.

Revelations shared on the site range in intensity from what some might not consider a reason for secrecy at all — personal habits or tics — to life-shaking fears about love, work, school, and the meaning of life. Some are confessions of actions traditionally thought of as immoral or illegal, such as deception and theft. Others express regret or hope.

Secrets contain power. They can draw people together through intimacy and trust or breed destruction through self-criticism and unresolved emotion. Secrets are kept for a reason, such as fear of expected consequences such as social isolation and loss of connection, possessions, or freedom. While some secrets feel like an honor to keep — being trusted with a loved one’s email password — others can gnaw at a person. The desire to share a secret may be an important indicator that the weight of carrying it may be too heavy to continue bearing. Keeping the secret may come with the high price of rejecting your yearning to be heard and accepted for who you are or may prevent you or someone else from connecting with help to reach a place of greater happiness and fulfillment.

Whenever you carry a secret, it’s wise to examine the reasons behind not telling and to weigh the feared consequences against the power of liberation. Some secrets are worth keeping. Some secrets seemed necessary to keep at one point, but the reasons are no longer valid. Some secrets can be shared with those who have earned the right to hear them. Others are secret more because of the keeper’s fears than the actual consequences, as some find once they have shared.

What if you could share a secret that has been bothering you? What if you didn’t have to do it anonymously?

Want to read more about the potential impact of secret-keeping on individuals and relationships? Check out the Psychology Today article “The Power of Secrets.”