Sssshhhh!!! Can You Keep a Secret?

In Hey, That’s MY Business! Information Control I talked about the ways people try to control others by attempting to dictate what they can and can’t talk about.  Some people, I argued,  like to label topics as “their business,” which is to put it plainly, a lie.  No one has ownership over information.   When I present this viewpoint, I’m usually confronted with the same question:  What about situations where trust is expected, am I or anyone else free to violate someone’s trust in the name of freedom of speech and the right to choose what I want to talk about?

The answer, I feel, is a clear one. Trust cannot be commanded or contrived. Trust is a gift. Trust is the cornerstone of relationships and is not something that can be created over night.

But let’s be honest here.  When a person accuses another of spreading “their business,” nine times out of ten, they are not talking about having their trust violated.  In the relationships I address in Hey, that’s MY Business!  Information Control there is no trust. And even though it might seem trust is being requested  (I want you to keep this secret; I want to know I can trust you) real trust is not implied or expected. What is really being requested is an assurance of one-sided confidence without risk. Translated this is in actuality a ploy for control. To put it plainly, when a group, system or person attempts to control your thinking, what you choose to say to others about your interaction with them, what they are saying through their actions is:

I want to be able to trust that you will say only what I want you to say.  I don’t want to put myself out there and take risks or (and this is important)  give you any trust whatsoever. I want you to know and understand that you cannot ever expect to trust me, and I want you to be okay with it. You must never complain or make mention of this whatsoever, as I will only deny what you are saying is true. The reason I’ll deny it is because I want to be able to do what I want, when I want without any obligation to you or anyone else. BUT I don’t want anyone to KNOW that is what I want. Why? Because I want to be trusted by my unsuspecting victims, the people I want to have these one-sided relationships with.

In order for real trust to exist there must be the following:


A person who continually asks others to keep their secrets or not say anything about an issue or event which involves them usually does so because of an inability to trust.   Period.  A person who cannot trust  is not at all interested in accountability, transparency or responsibilty. When a person who cannot trust  speaks of trust, what is really being sought is control.

Let’s take a family, for example.  If the family unit is healthy, trust has been built over the years through the interactions of the family members. In their relationships with one another, there has been plenty of evidence of the characters of the family members and so in large part it becomes a given that the siblings can trust each other; that the parents can trust the children and the children can rely upon and trust the parents.

In these healthy families, even on occasions when trust is violated, as inevitably happens in even the best relationships, the family sets about restoring the relationship and regaining trust. How this is accomplished is by being honest, upfront, open, forgiving, willing to listen and willing to learn.

In unhealthy families there is no trust. Past behavior, character counts for nothing. One can be accused of the most heinous acts even if there is NO EVIDENCE in the past or present of such acts taking place before.   One is asked to continually “prove” themselves when there is nothing in that person’s character that warrants such distrust. What determines the way the person is treated is the label he or she is slapped with. If someone accuses you of being at thief this week, then you are a thief, even if I only need you to be one everyone else won’t know that I gambled again this week.   The person becomes whatever it is the dysfunctional system needs him or her to be and is treated accordingly. When trust is really violated, if a child is molested or there is emotional or physical abuse going on,  it is most often ignored.  Only scapegoats are expected to deal with the consequences of their actions, and no one else.

You don’t create trust in relationships by asking people to keep secrets, hide, lie or by refusing to deal with problems that arise from such unhealthy behaviors.  When relationships have this element they don’t grow, instead they stagnate.  The behavior actually fosters distrust.  If I were to continually ask my family, friends or co-workers to keep information relating to my life a secret how free would they feel to discuss things related to me?  The consequence of such requests is a relationship where others walk on egg shells, for fear of betraying confidence.  What I am doing is making it very clear that I do not trust.  Lack of trust hurts relationships.  Once a relationship is damaged by trust violation, no matter the nature of the interaction, it has to be the business of all parties involved to set about working to restore trust or else a festering sore develops and continues to erode the relationships of the system’s members. This is true for any friendship, family, group or collective system.

Sadly, in dysfunctional relationships there is no desire to restore trust; what there is instead a pervasive inability to trust.   Character flaws such as denial, an inability to own behavior, self-reflect and be honest prevent the internal, individual growth that is inevitable when a relationship has first been damaged and then healed. The fertile ground for learning through healing that is present in all relationships becomes acrid and sour, as either one, both parties, or all members of the dysfunctional system accuse one another, refuse to self-reflect and then take responsibility for their actions and finally, refuse to make amends.

Relationships present, in my opinion, wonderful opportunities for self-growth, to expand knowledge of self. Unfortunately, the way human beings function, we don’t seem to learn very well from positive experiences and seem to do our best learning either in the midst of or after great tragedy. Violation of trust can be counted among such tragedies. To speak plainly, if a person is in a relationship and their trust is violated that is an opportunity for them to self-reflect on their choices.  Having your trust violated is unavoidable.  In order to experience the beauty of relationships, the growth and fulfillment that can be found in them, one must put themselves out there to experience the relationship and in tandem, run the risk of having their trust violated.

Very simply, there is no insurance policy against trust violation.

So I think the concern that is echoed in the question:  What about situations where trust is expected, am I or anyone else be free to violate that trust in the name of freedom of speech and the right to choose what I want to talk about is really a concern that can be summarized as follows:  How do I know that you can be trusted?

How does anyone know?   The truthful answer is no one can ever know this for sure about another person unless he or she becomes involved with that person or observes that person’s involvement with others.   The best relationships over time might give an impression of complete and absolute trust; however, we are all fallible. Even with our best intentions sometimes we fail to honor our loved ones’ expectations, and we do violate their trust.

Does this mean I’m saying one should never expect trust in relationships?

Of course not. There can of course be trust, and over the years, in a close friendship, in a family, work environment or any group that has been developed through continual love, respect and consideration, trust is mostly unspoken but at the same time clearly understood. If the goal is to “test” a relationship by asking someone to keep a secret, lie or hide, the reverse is actually being done to the relationship.    One is developing a foundation for distrust.  In a relationship that has a solid foundation of trust there is no need to say: “Please don’t say this to anyone,” or “I’d like you to keep this to yourself.” More often than not, it is accepted that one is dealing with a person who can be trusted. And even if a situation comes up that warrants a request:  “Please don’t say a word.” The answer is quick: “Of course not, I wouldn’t even think of doing so,” and the reply is accepted without question. But more importantly, such requests are never made lightly and only come up when warranted.

If you’re in a relationship and you even have to ask a person not to say something about an event or issue perhaps you should consider the fact that you do not trust this person; perhaps you should reconsider how much you are revealing.  If this is, in fact, a person you can trust, perhaps you should ask yourself what you are hiding and why.

If you’re on the receiving end of this behavior, if the requests are constant and frivolous, ask yourself:  Why doesn’t this person trust me?   Determine if there is something in that person that needs to be addressed.   Don’t allow a person who cannot trust to make you feel less than.   Ask yourself if you are being asked to give up your autonomy to appease a person’s need to control a relationship because they cannot trust.  Ask yourself if by keeping their secrets you are actually enabling them.

When dealing with groups, I’m happy to say we can avoid involvement with toxic groups looking to control our thinking.  Our best bet is to speak to current members and observe their behavior and also carefully watch the behavior of those in charge.  No matter if it is an individual relationship, a group, an organization or system, those who are trustworthy are usually able to extend trust to others.


5 replies on “Sssshhhh!!! Can You Keep a Secret?”

After reading a response on the first part Sabine, I think some people might miss this point. I mean at least I got it. If you look at our government or whatever group that’s telling you not to talk about your experiences with them, it’s automatically viewed as dishonest but in personal relationships we don’t tend to look at why because there’s this implied obligation of loyalty and I think what you’re saying is if a person is in a relationship with someone they should stretch and extend themselves to trust, and if they’re always worried that people are going to “talk about them”, its a problem. Am I right?

You don’t create trust in relationships by asking people to keep secrets, hide, lie or by refusing to deal with problems that arise from such unhealthy behaviors.

I can totally agree with this statement even though I don’t think all the time that a person asks you not to tell something that they are being abusive or controlling. I can agree that sometimes that’s the case, though and it’s something to really keep in mind. I can see how it might mean that the person has trust issues and are really sending the message that makes people feel like they can’t be trusted. I never thought about it this deeply all I know is I always feel yucky if I’m around a person whose always asking me to not talk about things. I think the more it happens in a relationship, the more true that might be and if it’s in a business or a work place or like you said a family then to me, yep, big red flag.

Thanks for a great follow up!

Thanks for the comment! It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it has applied and made sense to me in my life. Continuity being the key. If I work for an organization and they’re constantly telling me all the things I can’t “disclose” I’m outta there! Something shady is going on!

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