4 Signs the Secret You’re Keeping Is Too Much of a Burden

6 min read
Evgeniya Porechenskaya_Shutterstock

Source: Evgeniya Porechenskaya_Shutterstock

Many people come to therapy feeling torn between concealing a secret and revealing it. Facing this inner conflict might prompt them to say things like:

  • “I just found out that my friend’s ex was cheating on her throughout their relationship and he never told her. I feel terrible. Should I say something?”
  • “I haven’t told my girlfriend about my debt. I’m struggling to pay on our dates but I don’t know how to tell her.”
  • “I haven’t told my partner that I got passed up for that promotion at work. We were excited about it and I just feel like I’m a disappointment now.”

While keeping secrets is an inevitable part of the human experience, it can often weigh heavily on one’s mind with adverse consequences on well-being. A new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found four important factors that determine the burden of a secret and the toll keeping one might take on an individual. These include:

  1. Daily personal impact
  2. Relationship impact
  3. Pressure to reveal
  4. Anticipated consequences

The research suggests that more than the number of secrets you keep, it is the nature of the secret, and the degree to which it preoccupies you, that determines its impact on your health. This distinction delineates whether a secret is harmless or needs to be let out.

Here are four signs, based on the study, that indicate if a secret is too burdensome for you.

1. The Secret Is Consuming You

One of the key factors contributing to the burden of keeping a secret is its daily impact on you. Individuals who harbor secrets often find themselves caught in a web of rumination. Such mental preoccupation causes stress, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, and even isolation.

Moreover, the effort expended to maintain a façade can exhaust you, as it requires an exercise of will, vigilance over what you say, and the constant use of emotional and cognitive resources.

A 2017 study found that the frequency at which people thought about their secrets was far more than the occurrence of the actual social situations where they were required to conceal them. However, this rumination alone predicted lower well-being. Research shows that secrets are far worse for your mental health when they are difficult to conceal and lead to higher levels of rumination and negative emotional states.

A secret also forces you to make significant adjustments in your daily life like having to avoid certain social situations or lying to others regularly to protect your secret. Such actions can create a sense of inauthenticity, making you feel disconnected from your true self.

Therefore, when deciding whether to reveal a secret, it is important to reflect on the following:

  • How has keeping this secret been affecting you and is it occupying your thoughts daily?
  • Could confessing this secret bring relief and reduce constant rumination?

2. The Secret Is Changing Your Relationships

The way you feel about keeping a secret affects your relationships and your treatment of others. Especially when you attempt to hide your flaws, past mistakes, and perceived inadequacies from them, it can lower your self-esteem and create a discrepancy between your self-perception and the way others view you.

The inauthenticity you feel as a result of this gap can make you perceive greater emotional distance, lower levels of trust, and a lack of commitment and satisfaction in your relationships. You may be perpetually torn between the urge to be authentic and fearing the consequences of your disclosure.

A 2023 study found that those in romantic relationships of poorer quality tended to be more preoccupied with their secrets, exacerbating relationship issues. Hiding information implies a lack of trust that one’s partner will be supportive of them, and often leads people to believe that their partner could, in turn, be dishonest with them too.

In a healthy relationship, open communication and self-disclosure are essential. The burden of keeping a secret strains your connection and intimacy. While deciding whether to reveal a secret or not, you could reflect on the following:

  • How has this secret been impacting your relationship?
  • How would it affect the other person to learn about it and is it important for the health of your relationship for them to know?
  • Is it possible that they may handle your disclosure better than you think?

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3. You Feel Pressured to Reveal The Secret

External pressures to reveal a secret can further compound the burden of secrecy. You may feel obligated to disclose secrets due to guilt, expectations from others, or perceived social obligations.

For instance, if you saw your best friend’s boyfriend hanging out with their ex, you would feel obligated to tell them. Not only because you do not want them to be in the dark, but also because the three of you might spend a lot of time together socially.

This feeling that you must reveal the secret, even against your desires, can threaten your sense of autonomy. People value their control over personal information and who they choose to share it with. The imposition of external pressures to reveal a secret can infringe upon this autonomy, leading to feelings of discomfort and psychological distress. When grappling with these feelings, reflect on the following:

  • Why has it been important for you to keep this secret so far?
  • Would you be revealing it for your good or solely for the sake of others?
  • How would you feel if you were to reveal something you were not ready to share?

4. You Fear The Consequences of Being Honest

Anticipating the consequences of a revelation can also contribute to this burden. You may worry about the potential fallout, fearing negative consequences, such as uncomfortable conversations, being rejected, or facing permanent damage to your reputation.

This constant future-oriented worrying takes away from the present moment and becomes mentally and emotionally draining. Some possible reflections in such moments could be:

  • What would make you feel safer in revealing this secret?
  • What might be an appropriate time and place to discuss it?
  • How much is this secret taking away from your life right now?
  • What if you were able to handle whatever consequences came up as a result of disclosure?


It is important to note that not all secrets are harmful, and some may be kept undisclosed out of a desire to protect the other person or maintain privacy. However, as much as possible, open and honest communication is what fosters trust and understanding in healthy relationships. We are best able to bond with others when we can show our authentic selves, without the shadow of a dark secret looming over us.

Kristina Flour / Unsplash

Source: Kristina Flour / Unsplash

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