Being REAL or Being Helpful

Two Girls Sharing SecretsDo I share my feelings completely? ALL the time? Will it hurt other people if I do? If I don’t, will keeping secrets hurt me – or them? If I know this, shouldn’t I share the information?

Some people naturally share everything they hear or know or feel. Others have developed the habit of keeping everything to themselves. Here’s a truth to ponder: once you tell someone something, you can’t “untell” it. Apologies can help if you’ve said something that is harmful, but how much better to never tell something that causes pain in the first place. It may not always be easy to know whether sharing certain information is wise or not.

Here are a few examples of where “keeping secrets” is actually a good thing:

  • Parents who discuss their parenting conflicts behind closed doors and present a united front to the children
  • The medical professional who focuses on the patient in pain, while not talking about his/her own stress at home
  • The friend who refrains from telling others about a struggle you are having (i.e. gossiping), while remaining available to help you

But there are also many examples of when keeping secrets causes much pain and destruction. Those who have experienced family dysfunction, addiction, or personal betrayal know the pain of these kinds of secrets:

  • A spouse spends a significant amount of money without telling their husband/wife
  • A colleague keeps silent about signs of addiction in a co-worker who is putting other people at risk
  • Someone knows of a child or other vulnerable individual who is being hurt – and says nothing

So how can you know if this is a “secret” you should keep or not? Maturity, wisdom, counsel, and prayer are all very necessary for some of these tough decisions. Scripture talks about love covering many sins (Proverbs 10:12), and also affirms that what is in our heart will be made known (1 Cor 4:5).

Some thoughts to consider when deciding whether to “keep a secret” or “tell it:”

1.  Why do I want to tell (or not tell) this information? This may not be as easy to know as it sounds. The heart can be very deceptive. Am I looking for sympathy? Do I hope to make someone else look bad? Am I trying to give a false impression of my own self, or make myself look good at someone else’s expense? Or, am I trying to develop intimacy with the one I’m sharing with? Am I truly trying to get someone the help they need?

If you need to talk about something for your own benefit, choose carefully who you talk with. It’s important to “debrief,” but with someone who is safe, and in a manner that will not cause harm to others unnecessarily.

2.  How will my telling this information affect others?  Will it make my children feel more secure? Will it help my spouse understand me better? Will telling this enable someone in need to get help?

Information breeds intimacy. I firmly believe there should be no secrets between spouses: sometimes that means sharing, sometimes that means listening. Beyond that, everybody doesn’t need to know everything. It comes back to being certain why you are sharing the information.

3.  Am I picking the right time, place, and person to tell? Is the person I’m telling truly in a position to help? If it’s something difficult to hear, am I choosing the time and place based on when the other person will be most able to hear and respond? Am I sharing in a way that will cause the least amount of pain to others?

Your spouse needs to know if you overdrew the checking account, but if possible don’t tell them when they are tired or hungry. If you’re sharing something negative about someone else, make sure the one you tell is truly in a position to make a positive difference.

Perhaps you’ve told something, and later regretted it. Or perhaps you’ve kept a secret and realized doing so only led to more pain. May God help us all with wisdom in how we use our words!

Your turn: Have you struggled more with keeping unhealthy secrets, or sharing information you later regretted? I’d love to hear from you!

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