Privacy vs Secrecy: What’s the Difference?

Everybody has needs—real, legitimate, have-a-right-to-have-them needs. One of these needs is for intimacy, for closeness. Another need is to have privacy. It’s not hard to imagine that these two can be tricky to weave together. The fly in the ointment lies in our confusion between privacy and secrecy. Because when the two concepts of privacy and secrecy get cross-wired, closeness and intimacy become impossible.

Privacy, then, is not a nice-to-have, but a need-to-have. We need to have some time to be by and with ourselves. We need some me-time to dive into the depths of our interior, without being disturbed by even the most favorable vibes from our pals. Beyond this, sometimes we need some space to allow something we essentially desire to share with our loved ones to ripen, whether it’s an artistic creation or a new insight or awareness. Some stuff just needs a chance to complete itself before we open it up to others. Hence, having some privacy is a legitimate soul need.

When we seek privacy to avoid the anxiety created by contact, we’ve waded off track.

The periods of privacy we’re talking about here are not the same as isolating or staying separate. In this case, a state of aloneness is a necessary means for finding more of ourselves. But of course, we all have a knack for also distorting any divine quality into its diabolical counterpart. And that’s what happens when we seek privacy in order to avoid the anxiety created by contact. At that point, we’ve waded off track.

Many of us completely miss this point that we have a need for some privacy. Being oblivious to this reality, we may find ourselves alone—perhaps through circumstances beyond our control—and then immediately set about cluttering up our inner landscape with noise. Surface thoughts, loud music, perpetual input—all these effectively avoid the deep inner contact our souls are craving. This can be one reason people gravitate to living in crowded conditions: they’re producing an outer reason to avoid inner aloneness. Other people living in such conditions may manage to find their happy place despite the busyness that surrounds them.

Oddly, when people keep to themselves out of fear of contact with others, they are really primarily afraid of themselves; fear of self is the primary fear, followed by a fear of contact with others. Being alone then won’t fill the bill of the need for privacy. In such cases, we don’t come any closer to knowing or liking ourselves, just as we likely then won’t forge true intimacy or contact with others when we take the opportunity to spend time with them.

So where does secrecy come in? First, let’s be clear that the kind of secret we’re talking about here is different from when we keep a lovely surprise party under wraps. In that case, we’re planning all along to joyfully reveal the “secret.” No, real secrets are never good because they are always hiding something negative. Otherwise they wouldn’t be kept secret. The most surprising thing about secrets is the way we like to overlook this important fact.

Take apart any secret and we’ll find the wish to hide something that we think will be unpalatable to someone. Either we want to keep something in hiding ourselves, or someone else wants us to help them keep something destructive hidden.

It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing.

If we would reveal our secrets, we could deal with them. They could be dissolved and replaced with beautiful, positive creations. But when we keep things secret, we incubate our negative thoughts, nurture dishonest behaviors and sustain destructive ways of behaving.

And it’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re perfectly well aware of our charades and shenanigans—otherwise, once again, we wouldn’t be keeping them a secret. To get all self-righteous about our bad behavior is really absurd. But that’s about the time we trot out our “need for privacy,” using it as a camouflage for our real intention, which is to keep things covered up in secrets. This is what secretive people do. And that’s how the forces of darkness worm their way into our living rooms, banking on our confusion and handing us a truth to use in covering up a lie. They’re good at what they do, and too often we fall for it.

Nothing that is true and beautiful ever needs to be kept a secret. Not ever. So something that is divinely inspired will ripen in privacy and then unfold when the time is right—it’s never meant to be kept hidden. Secrets, on the other hand, are just the opposite, where we feel a need to hide our lies, dishonesty and destructiveness from others.

We may rationalize our secrets by saying, “If I reveal myself, I won’t be understood,” or “People will criticize me unfairly.” But that’s really taking things out of bounds. Because in truth, when we’re in truth, we won’t let possible misunderstandings from others justify the erection of impenetrable walls of secrecy. No, when we’re standing in truth—or attempting to get to the bottom of it—we’ll make an effort to help others understand. Further, we can use their pushback or criticism as an excavating tool to dig more deeply into the reality of a situation we might otherwise keep secret.

In the final analysis, keeping secrets is akin to theft.

What’s happening when we keep secrets is that we fear we’re not in truth. Better yet, we often know we’re not but we have no intention of changing. So then we’re really being dishonest, since we know that others wouldn’t react kindly to seeing what is hidden. And that’s what we are trying to avoid. So we want their love and respect, but we have a sneaking suspicion we won’t be able to earn it if they see what’s behind the curtain.

In the final analysis then, keeping secrets is akin to theft. We’re cheating as a way to secure a result that won’t come if we disclose our secret. And hey, we also sort of like the way it keeps things lopsided. We don’t have to work at finding equitable, honest solutions that allow others to participate in the party.

That’s how secrets become such killjoys for relationships. And that’s why secretive people are never emotionally fulfilled. We build walls of separation that are plastered over with secrets, and then wonder why we feel alone and so very misunderstood. Folks, we need to put two and two together.

When we follow a spiritual path, we are on a direct mission to eliminate all our secrets. We need to realize just how much material we’re ignoring, sticking it away in our unconscious where it breeds and multiplies. Once we start to develop a habit of being more honest with ourselves, we’ll naturally begin to drop the veils between ourselves and others. If we continue in this way, we’ll find it’s the only way to be. It’s the way to fulfill our need for contact and to live without fear and anxiety hanging over our heads. Ah, the relief of living without shame and hiding, without pretenses and façades. That, my friends, is a headier stuff than any two-bit secret.

It’s also important to realize that when we hold negative things in secret, we also keep a lid on revealing the best in ourselves. The lid of secrecy is one-size-fits-all, so when it’s on we begin to feel embarrassed about our best ourselves. Our dreams and innermost desires will feel shameful.

As we make our way along our spiritual path—regardless of which path we’re on—we need to gather the courage to expose everything we’ve been hiding. We will never regret making this step. It will usher in the freedom of no longer pretending in any way, and the clarity that comes from this will bring us straight to self-esteem—oh right, that thing we were hoping to get through our hiding.

Think of transparency as the new black; it’s a habit that looks good on everyone.

Think of transparency as the new black; it’s a habit that looks good on everyone. But we’ll need some patience and perseverance to wear it well. And we’ll need to devote ourselves to learning this fine art. Sure, we’re going to be hesitant at first, but our inhibitions will evaporate the more we learn to express ourselves, conveying what at first we didn’t think we could ever get across.

When left inside the four walls of our minds, our thoughts, attitudes and feelings seem so vague. We think they are so unexplainable we don’t attempt to convey them. But once we gain a smidge of confidence that we can do this—we can articulate our experience, even if we can’t capture every little nuance—we’ll be surprised at how well we can make ourselves clear.

The point is, communication is essential to self-revealing. If we want to be open, effort will be required. But the rewards are fantastic. That stuff that appeared embarrassing only seemed so because we didn’t believe we could find the proper words. Try—the words will come.


—Jill Loree

Adapted from #252 Privacy and Secrecy as it appears in Pearls.