Reasons why you may not be able to keep a secret


HOUSTON – Baylor College of Medicine said the majority of people don't have malicious intentions when spreading secrets, but no secret is safe - even with someone you consider trustworthy.

“Secrets often involve something that someone does not take pride in. They’ve chosen someone to confide in, but don’t want other people to know about it because they feel like if it gets out it could damage their reputation,” said Dr. Asim Shah, professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. “However, it can be hard for the person to keep that to themselves because it may become a burden.”
The psychological reason behind wanting to repeat those things, he said, is because when we have important information and it makes us feel important to share it.

“A lot of time people feel that it makes them important if you share something about somebody with somebody… That is a way to get closer to another person,” Shah said.

Who's worse: Men or Women?

“None of them can keep secrets,” Shah said.

Even though both men and women think they are most likely not to spill the beans, there’s no indication one is better than the other at keeping secrets.

“Short studies say that women may be the first one to divulge, but men are not far behind, maybe a couple of hours later they will discuss the same thing,” Shah said.

"Please don't share this with anybody"

Even when we try really hard to take that person's trust seriously -- and only tell one other person-- Shah said our nature for each person to continue the cycle and only tell one other person.  Especially if you start the secret with one key phrase!

“Whenever you tell a secret to somebody by saying ‘Please don't share it with anyone,’ that person more than likely is going to share with at least one or two people. Saying the exact same words, ‘Please don't share with anybody,’” Shah said.

As soon as you tell somebody not to repeat your secret, people begin to have an obsessive, anxious urge to share it with somebody, Shah explained. Also, most people have a confidant, so when you share information with yours, keep in mind that they likely will share it with their own confidant.

When can you trust your secret with someone?

Shah said secrets are taken seriously when they're something we legally can't discuss or the confidant is also involved in the secret. If the person learning the secret has something to lose, they will likely not divulge to someone else.

For example, this can be true with “time-sensitive” secrets like a job promotion. You may tell your spouse, but since you both have an investment in the promotion, you’re likely not to repeat it and the sensitive nature will soon expire anyway.

Shah said we are also good at keeping secrets about things we are deeply ashamed of but this can be bad because it stresses us.