Privacy, Secrets and Shame–Part X: How to Reveal a Secret

So you’re convinced, due to some circumstance or another, that the time has come to reveal your secret, and relieve yourself of the burden of shame and hiding that has weighed you down for so long. NOW what?

Well, best of all would be to use some common sense, I suppose. Public service announcements, revelations during the best man’s speech, or trying to tell your husband something intimately private while he’s running out of the house–all these seem like bad techniques.

So where SHOULD you start?

First, I can’t recommend enough that you process both your secret and its revelation in some way. You can do this via journaling, or confession, or speaking into a tape recorder. Even better are some sessions with a counselor experienced in matter of secrecy. Once you get the secret out–kind of like a practice session, in a safe context, your challenge is to explore what you’re most afraid of in releasing this secret.

Then, pick right moment. This is important, but of course if you have a new and urgent secret, you’re going to have less flexibility. Manfred, dying of AIDS, had fewer options open to him in revealing the secret of his hidden gay lifestyle to his family, since the matter had become urgent and time-bound. But let’s say it’s not of that nature. Perhaps Alan finally is going to tell Alayna that he never finished high school. Or let’s say Jennifer’s family was going to share with her why her last name was different from any other family member’s.

Don’t choose to share this secret at a time of tension. As Alayna’s preparing for her daughter’s engagement party is not the time for Alan to announce his reality, nor would Manfred be in line to share his secret during Ludwig graduation week.

Then, open the secret by degrees, testing the water.  Tell the part of the story with the easiest layer first. Start with a “just the facts, ma’am” approach, and see how things naturally progress from there.

Begin with the easiest people to tell. Young adults who are coming out often tell the people farthest from them first–and build up the strength to tell their parents last.  Of course, if the people who really should know the secret from you will find it out from one of the other people you’ve told first, think it through. You know how your own social group-dynamics work; use your own best judgement.

Some more ideas follow on how to reveal a secret. If any of you have advice from your own experience, I’d find it most enriching to hear about it.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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