When I was younger my friends and I would pinky swear not to tell secrets. As I got older, the pinky swear became a circle of trust and these days, my friends and I put things in the trust tree. All of these things are euphemisms for confidentiality. We tell our friends secrets, but some secrets need the added security of confidentiality.

In counseling, confidentiality is the most important part of the counselor/client relationship. Without the promise of "no telling" (except for in instances of potential of harm to self or others) the relationship cannot be helpful. In some ways, I think the same can be said of close relationships -- of the friend or intimate kind.

I've recently been made privy to a breach of confidentiality in several different situations. In a few, the breaches could have serious consequences for those who's secrets have been revealed and for those who have done the revealing. But in all the situations, no matter the individual outcomes, there are heavy consequences for the relationships.

Over the years, I've struggled with how readily people share their secrets with me. For one, the things I know about people are just... let's just say that there's more than a handful of people out there who should make it their business to never piss me off :). But for two, it's a heavy burden carrying people's secrets. In fact, what I've actually learned about secrets is that people share them because of their weight. Tonight, I spoke with 2 friends about the misuse and abuse of the "trust tree." I told them that people will use the trust tree to reveal things they shouldn't be revealing because the weight of those things have become to heavy for them and they want to dump the load off on someone else.

Once, a friend tried to explain to me what it is about me that makes sharing so easy and she couldn't quite articulate it, but she did tell me, "whatever it is, it's a God-given gift that you don't even control, so use it right." I've really taken those words to heart. Confidentiality is of the utmost importance, but that has meant I've had to learn other ways to deal with the burdens I feel because of the weight of the secrets.

Maybe the one thing that sticks with me as I work on my confidentiality skills (which, as I'm trying to point out, is larger than not telling people's secrets) is what it's been like to have my own secrets exposed. The sum experience is that I now don't really tell things about myself to anyone that I wouldn't mind getting out to everyone. On one hand, that's made me less self-conscious about some things, but super self-conscious about others and maybe the things that I don't talk about are the things I really need to be talking about. When I think about these situations in my own life the hurt and embarrassment hasn't always been in what was told, but the way it felt to know that I had shared something with someone in assumed (or explicit) confidence and that person disregarded my feelings to score a point or be funny or maybe even just to embarrass me.

Perhaps the most educational experiences have been when I knew my secret was told in an effort to help me. Knowing that there are conversations happening about me without my input and clarification can be stressful. I take from that feeling that when I feel like a secret needs to be told to someone else to help the individual, that individual needs to be told too. Thinking that in order to share I secret I must tell the secret's owner keeps me honest about why I want to talk about it. What I usually find out is that a simple conversation with the person alleviates a lot of concerns for me. It releases whatever burden I'm feeling.

All this comes up for me, right now, because I'm trying to figure out how to address a group of people who have become close friends about all of our misuses of understood confidentiality with each other. Coming this close to feeling like I have people who I can really share myself with and not worry about the consequences makes me eager to do my part to be sure I do have that and for as long as possible.

It's also making me be even more serious about being confidential.


Ms. Payne said...

In the end I have come to "re-name" friendships and trust. Like to me I know now more than ever that in a close group of friends there will be some sort of "group share" going on. Hence why now, I make it a point to choose my close friends wisely. Not so much as to keep certain people in the dark BUT to make sure that I do not mind if everyone knows the business. So I completely understand where you stand. And to be honest my method may not work for you but it sure does clear up the muckity muck

A.Smith said...

I think that method is super effective, actually. Like you said it clears up the muckity muck.

I think there are some added, possibly unintended, benefits. For one, no matter how old we get, we never stop playing telephone. We always add a fact, or embellish something when we re-tell a story. If every iteration of the story comes straight from the horse's mouth, there's no misunderstanding on what did or didn't happen.

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