Most people have a secret, whether it's calling in sick to go on an interview, or something bigger, like cheating on a spouse or stealing from an employer. While many people successfully conceal their secrets, new research from Columbia Business School reveals there are harmful effects just from thinking about indiscretions.
Secrets Invade Our Thoughts--Repeatedly.
Michael Slepian, co-author of the study, explains why keeping secrets is so detrimental to our health:
People anticipate that, once in a while, they will need to hide their secrets; they do so and move on. However, people don't expect their secrets to spontaneously pop into their heads when irrelevant to the task or current situation at hand. This seems to be the real downside of having secrets from others.
The authors state it's common for people to mentally revisit their past transgressions, leading to a lower sense of well-being or unhappiness. Why? The secrets serve as a reminder they're masking part of themselves, which leads them to feel inauthentic. The authors say this cycle can hurt or destroy relationships and negatively impact our overall health.
Keeping These 38 Secrets to Yourself Hurts Your Health
In this research, the authors have identified the 38 most common secrets people keep that invade their thoughts and can negatively impact their health. They found that when a person keeps a secret to themselves and doesn't share it with anyone else, it increases how much they think about the transgressions, causing more physical harm. Some of them include:
- Hurting another person
- Drug addiction/abuse
- Addictive habits
- Illegal activities
- Physical self-harm
- Traumatic experiences
- Lying to someone
- Violating someone's trust
- Having romantic thoughts about someone else while in a relationship
- Being unhappy in a romantic relationship
In short, the more secrets you have AND don't share with anyone else, the more likely they'll negatively impact your health.
P.S.--It's Going to Show in Your Work, too!
Besides hurting your health, the study explains why keeping secrets could damage your career as well. Malia Mason, co-author of the study concludes:
Secrets exert a gravitational pull on our attention.... Along with a diminished sense of well-being and physical health consequences, keeping secrets can also shift a person's focus from the task at hand to their secrets, which clearly can have a detrimental effect on task performance.
In summary, getting secrets off your chest is important to keeping your health and career in check!