It’s been long known that secrecy is the breeding ground of any number of ills, from international incidents to rifts between couples and families. In this piece I will focus on how it relates to problematic or out of control sexual behavior (which I’ll refer to as OCSB). Sexuality is a topic that tends to have a lot of secrecy surrounding it, especially due to all the taboos that can go with it. Secrecy here has to some extent been a function of how sexuality is not discussed as part of public and interpersonal discourse. It is often relegated to jokes and humor, and not taken seriously. This is part of what can drive sexuality into secrecy, but what perpetuates it as well is feelings of shame and guilt that can go with one’s sexual experiences. If my sexual behavior feels out of control or problematic, I won’t want to talk about it to others. And if I don’t talk about it, my shame will tend to increase. This is something pointed out by author and Professor Brene Brown in her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability. Unless a person who is engaged in out of control sexual behavior somehow of their own devices manages to altogether stop the behavior, the problem will become magnified.
Keeping it Going Takes Work
When it becomes magnified, then the lies can tend to spiral out of control as well. This can contribute to the feeling of unmanageability. As I referred to previously in a previous post, Esther Parel, LMFT, CST, has spoken in one of her TED talks about how we live in an age when it is so easy to ‘cheat’ in relationships, but it has never been harder to keep secrets. This is largely due to the technology we surround ourselves with, and that permeates our lives. One would think this would make people keep their activities more ‘above board,’ but the nature of this type of behavior drives people to do the opposite. Again, this can be seen as largely due to the intense feelings of shame that underpin such behavior. The nature of shame is to avoid being seen or exposed for fear of exclusion from a relationship, important connection, or ‘the tribe.’ Brene Brown goes so far in her first TED talk as to say that shame is a fear of loss of connection, and Robert Miller, PhD talks about shame as a fear of being driven out of ‘the tribe’ as part of his Survival Model of Psychological Dynamics.
So there is behavior that relies on secrecy to continue it, but ever-increasing measures needed to hide it. This creates a huge ‘energy drain’ on the part of the individual who is trying to manage all this. This increases stress levels and a fear of ‘being caught.’ That fear can further exacerbate the problematic or OCSB behavior until it reaches a crescendo that ultimately leads to the ‘house of cards’ collapsing as I documented in my recent post on multiple affairs. This is when most or all the secrets are exposed and the true consequences of a person’s behavior hit full force. Until then, much time and energy has been spent in trying to keep it ‘together’ with a postponing of the ultimate ‘day of reckoning’ when the real problems and situations have to be faced.
The Inevitable Crash
You may think that there are real problems with the secrecy, and that is true; but until the person’s secrets are exposed they are dealing with problems more about perpetuating the lies, which are false. Once the truth comes out then the real problems are evident for those willing to see them. This recently was where scores of individuals who used the Ashley Madison website were when someone threatened to make public all the names of those trafficking the website. All of them were suddenly faced with the inevitability of being exposed and much fear was generated. It’s almost as if they were about to walk through a doorway from the false to the real where all the stories, lies, and secrets were about to be exposed along with the truth of what they had been doing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to come to this. By way of treating problematic sexual behavior or OCSB, the people who have been living a lie can tell their secrets to a trusted professional therapist, and perhaps later a group of other trustworthy individuals. This can give them the courage and direction to stop the secretive behavior, and later find a way to share this with the others in their lives who care most about them. Perhaps a disclosure needs to be made to a spouse, but that may need to happen in the context of couples’ therapy further down the line.
I also recently watched the movie Spotlight and saw all the emotional carnage wrought by individual and institutional secrecy that suppressed the international scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, which mainly involved pedophilia. Hundred and perhaps thousands of individuals bought into secrecy by believing that all the stories of the people who were victims of this scandal should not come forth until it couldn’t wait any longer. This is a good example of how families and friends can get drawn into one person’s secrecy and believe that these need to be kept for some reason. It could be a false sense of loyalty, or because of ‘authority,’ or a sense of religious conviction. A lot of people suffered because of this, not only the victims, but also the perpetrators (some of whom were victimized themselves at earlier ages), and the general public. The ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkeys come to mind in this situation, but it only puts off the ‘day of reckoning’ which I mentioned earlier.
If you or your loved ones lives with these kinds of toxic secrets, seek help from a qualified professional therapist. I can provide a free screening or consult for these matters, and am starting a group for OCSB men in the near future that can help in addressing the problem. I can be reached via phone and e-mail to set up a free screening or consultation at 512-374-0100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.