Wednesday, November 01, 2006


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'Secret' postcard from Post Secret

I've been visiting Post Secret for a while now and always find it intriguing.

Post Secret is a site where people anonymously mail in their secrets on a self-designed postcard. The secrets run a whole range of emotions - from hope to regret, from ecstatic to funny to tragic and sad, from desire to confession.

PostSecret has obviously hit a nerve with many people. It's a very successful project with the latest in a series of books PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives just on sale.

What attracts people to the public revelation of a secret?

The power of the secret. When to keep? When to tell?

Theories abound about why keeping secrets might be bad for us. People often talk about the physiological and psychological stress inherent in witholding the secret.....or the thought that in keeping a secret we're somehow denying something very basic about ourself.

Psychologist Anita Kelly, author of the "The Psychology of Secrets", questions the evidence that keeping secrets causes physical harm.

"There is no direct evidence showing that keeping secrets
causes illness. Studies show that secretive types –
those who fear disclosure – do exhibit more physical and
psychological symptoms, but those types may be
predisposed to illness because of their personalities,
not because of a particular secret.”

While it is generally thought that disclosure is healthier, Dr. Kelly says disclosure has its own dangers, which can be determined by the subject matter. In particular, electing to reveal secrets about sexual behavior and mental health problems can cause problems.

"If you give people information about yourself,
you give them power over you".

Dr. Kelly also points out that secrets usually get passed along to at least two more parties and that people may not always respond to our secrets in the way we expect.

This makes a project like Post Secret quite attractive. A secret can be unburdened, the secret is visible for for the world to see and yet no one need ever know it's origin. Except for the secret giver.
The best of both worlds? What do you think?


Kelly, Anita E. and McKillop, Kevin J. (1996). Consequences of revealing personal secrets. Psychological Bulletin, 120, 450 .


Alison said...

I think it's a brilliant idea in that it is the best of both worlds. I'm glad to read someone who believes that telling certain secrets gives others power over you. This can be painfully very true. And yet this site provides so many with the relief of an unburdened secret. Great stuff and thanks for this - love that 19 year old's secret - just gorgeous!

jumpinginpuddles said...

weve been taught to keep secrets from infancy to do any less could hurt more. Its only starting to happen now that we believe secrets need to be shared and can be done in safety. But its so ingrained its hard to do all the time.

Anonymous said...

I checked out the site. I like it. There's something cathatic about it. We also know that catharisis is a healing factor, at least in group therapy. Yahlom I think. Anyway, this is interesting. Even though there is evidence that keeping secrets may not be bad, there is something irresistible about telling them. A safe place to do so may be a gold mine of data, don't you think?
Hope you are well!

tkj said...

I thought the '19' secret was actually quite touching! Man I think I'm way too sentimental sometimes lol

Fat Doctor said...

I could have written that at age 19. Very interesting project - I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the tip!

healthpsych said...

Hey Alison,
It is. It's a really nice mix of emotions and secrets.

Hey JIP.
That is a hard thing to do for sure.

Hi Tiesha,
I often go back to this site for an update. Some secrets break my heart, others warm it. It's addictive.

Hey TKJ,
The '19' secret was one of my favourites too but don't worry. Women love men with a hint of sentimentalism!

Hi FD,
Me too. Maybe that's why that one caught my interest.

psychgrad said...

Interesting post. I like the quote: "If you give people information about yourself,
you give them power over you". It's something I was talking about with my TA the other day (she's a clinical student, so it was interesting to get someone else's perspective). I was talking about how I was surprised that a student who had recently confided in me was acting really aggressively towards me. I wasn't sure if it was my response to the information he gave me or something else. She suggested that sometimes when a person confides in you they experience regret (perhaps due to a loss of power) and compensate for it in some way. This student seemed to choose passive-aggressive behaviour to undermine my role as professor.

Thanks for the insight!

Anonymous said...

Loss of power or not, I'm with Healthpsych. It's kind of addictive so I'm glad that someone's telling secrets :)

healthpsych said...

Hi Psychgrad,
I think your colleague is spot on. Confiding can easily be followed by regret and the need to put emotional distance between oneself and the person we confided to. Been there, got the t-shirt!

Hey Tiesha,
It is a very addictive site.