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Thursday, May 31, 2007

I've Got a Secretrant

Can you keep a secret?

I can. With the best of them. It's part of what I do for a living. And that may be part of why I really don't like to do it in real life. Let me amend that. It's not that I don't like keeping confidences. Actually, keeping confidence is my default mode. You don't really have to tell me not to pass something along. Unless you specifically tell me to pass it along, I probably won't. No, what I don't like is being snared into keeping secrets, in real life.

I have one relative who is fond of telling me (and others) something, usually something personal, sometimes "juicy," often controversial, and saying, "You cannot tell ANYBODY." And then when I am around the "anybodies" to whom she was referring, I can tell that she's told them the same thing. So we're all there, knowing, but being forbidden from discussing it with one another while we all pretend we don't know what we know and aren't thinking about what we're thinking about. You know?

It happens with people sometimes who tell you something awful that a mutual acquaintance/friend/relative has done to them. But you mustn't say anything. To quote Pearl, "I'm tired of this crap." Telling me how you've been victimized may relieve you of some of the distress about it, but it delivers that distress right onto me. I can't confront the person who did you wrong because you don't want me to (or do you?) and because it's "not my business," (then explain to me again, why am I in this?), and I can't pass it on to someone else to relieve some of my distress about it, because that would be gossip, and that is against my religion (unless it's something totally worth breaking that rule for). So . . . here I am, stuck with your crap. Not that that's an unfamiliar position for me to be in, or one that I can't handle. It's just that normally, when I'm in this position, I collect a check after 50 minutes.

I'm aware that both my personal and professional history contribute to my regard for secrets. How many good things have to be kept secret? Not an upcoming "surprise," but an ongoing secret? Good things don't become secrets. It's the illegal, immoral, unethical things that become secrets. And most of those things couldn't go on apart from the secret-keepers' participation, collusion in them. And in the end, I believe nothing remains secret. Light shines eventually. Do you know of a secret that has been and will be a secret "forever?" I don't. They've either been revealed, or I can see how they will be, even years down the road, even after some of the main characters are long gone.

I recently received an email from the mother of one of LG's friends. The subject line said "Something weird about LG, I thought you'd want to know." The email explained that LG had mentioned to the writer's daughter, Sneezer, something that she had seen in a TV movie. The topic was of a disturbing, controversial nature. When I scanned my feeble memory bank, I almost immediately knew what LG was referring to. It was from the movie, "The Stand," which we allowed her to watch part of, on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I think it's a great movie. It's also over LG's (age 11) head, but I hope some day she'll watch it. The part in question was, ironically, a scene which LG didn't even see. Jif changed the channel. But I, open-minded, open-mouthed therapist Mom, told LG why she couldn't see it. In doing so, I told her what happened in it. In exactly . . . six words. That is to say, I did not give her a graphic description, the very thing that Jif and I were trying to protect her from. But apparently the brief explanation was striking enough that she told Sneezer something like, "I saw a movie in which [six words]."

I wrote back to the mom that I knew exactly what she was talking about, and I was sorry if hearing about that was distressing to Sneezer, and I would discuss it with LG. Before I went to discuss it with LG a few days later, I reread the other mother's email. And I had not caught this upon first reading, but she said there, "If you discuss this with LG, do NOT tell her that Sneezer told me and I told you. Sneezer is worried about getting her in trouble."

(Here's the part where I shatter any remaining illusions that I am a pleasant, easy-going person; I really think I used to be. I don't know if it's WTF, or old age, or what, but stuff bugs me now, and I say so.) Maybe it's just me, but that pissed me off. I didn't get any say in the matter. I was being instructed on how to handle a sensitive subject with my child. I really resented this other woman making the rules about how I could and couldn't do that. And somehow, just the very act of my opening her email obligated me to follow the rules contained therein, or else be a . . . bad person? Bad friend? Tattletale?

I wrote back to her,

"I didn't bring this up with LG earlier in the week, because we've been so busy. I went back and read your email before approaching her about the subject, and I was glad I did. I didn't catch the first time that you didn't want me to mention Sneezer. I will talk to her about it without mentioning Sneezer, as you asked. But I did want to let you know, for future reference, that's not how I normally communicate with LG, i.e., bringing up something but being unwilling to fully disclose where I'm coming from. I wouldn't want her to do that with me, so I don't like to do that with her. I only mention this because I hope that if anything arises in the future that you think I should know about, you will still tell me, even knowing that I will tell her where my information came from.

. . . And you can reassure Sneezer that LG isn't in trouble; I don't think she did anything wrong. I do need to remind her that not everyone talks about all the things we talk about. Occupational hazard, I'm afraid.

Thanks again for letting me know, and I hope my way of doing things won't prevent you from communicating any concerns in the future."
I don't know whether she'll ever tell me anything after that. I do know that I don't want to be constrained by her ideas of parenting, so if she chooses to keep something from me, because I will be honest with my child, that's the risk I choose to take.

I think it's the mixed message about these examples that pushes my buttons: I trust you enough to confide this in you, but I don't trust that you can choose how to handle the information in an appropriate, constructive manner. So I'll tell you what to do with the information.

How do you handle imposed secrecy? Is it hard for you, or is it just me?

file under: &About Me &Family

34 heads are better than one . . .

Blogger Susie said...

Oh, and if you think this post is about YOU, it's NOT. Honest to chocolate, it's not.

Anonymous Cindy said...

By default, like you, I assume most things are to be kept quiet. I'm finding that most people think, because I don't say much about myself or others in their presence, that I'm secretive. I'm private - but not secretive.

Secrets told to me by others are sometimes a burden - especially when I believe that the secret is hurtful to someone else. I've been burned by holding secrets as well - it's cost me a friendship. That sucks. But overall, I keep most secrets.

Blogger lawyerchik said...

I'm kind of like you in one sense: my dad is a minister, and it was just the "default" setting that anything discussed about church members and any issues they may have had was not to be discussed with anyone. Being a lawyer, I fell into a profession with the same code, so I've had lots of practice.

However, ordinary discretion aside, I also believe that there is a danger in keeping secrets. There is a tendency to believe that anything about which a person feels shame or guilt is to be kept private, but keeping that private contributes to the sense of shame or guilt whether it is deserved or not.

I don't have a great deal of comfort with letting people into my house unless it is perfect, even though I know that no one has a perfect house - I think it's the same with the psyche. Nobody is perfect and keeping secrets mostly just reinforces the myth that we are.

I much prefer people with flaws who can accept me with my flaws - and very few secrets! Which is not to say that I blab everything from the rooftops (I do have SOME common sense!), but I also reserve the right to exercise my own judgment about disclosures. :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do I handle imposed secrecy? You're kidding right? I don't DO imposed secrecy anymore. EVER.

I have a default setting though. I tend to keep most things to myself. There's only so much childhood one can buck yanno?

If my girls tell me private stuff, I don't go blabbing it all over either.

If there is something my girls tell me that they don't want me to tell someone else...but I truly feel it needs to be told...we discuss it, I explain my feelings and tell them I'll keep them out of it if possible. And they tell me their feelings and trust me to do my best with it.

If my neighbor had sent me an email like that, I don't think I would have replied. I would, however, have told my girls what was said, had the same chat you would have about some people don't talk about these things...and that it's not wrong to talk about them, it just makes some folks uncomfortable.

You are definitely MUCH nicer than me!

Blogger WILLIAM said...

This is a very thought provoking post. How you handled the email is perfect.

I like your idea of "imposed secrecy" and I have never really thought about it in that way before. I am pretty good about telling someone, when they approach me with secrets or gossip, that I DON'T want to know that I really DOn't want to know and I stop them. I don't like that burden.

It's funny, because, I tell my wife, Lauren, everything. And sometimes I get from people who have shared their secrets a weird reaction when I tell them I told Lauren. I have a better bond with her than anyone else so why wouldn't I share information? Especially when it could affect her and me. this often causes trouble with friends and family.

I like this post.

Blogger WILLIAM said...


shhhhh...but Injun Joe is ticklish

Blogger eclectic said...

Lawyerchik's comment is about exactly what I would say, except that my dad wasn't a minister. But he was a doctor, so matters involving patients were handled in a similar fashion.

Bravo to you for stating clearly how you intend to parent, while still indicating respect for the other mother. That is a hard line to balance, and you did so with aplomb. (Which is different than a plum.)

Blogger M&Co. said...

My work too requires that I be secretative about what I know and how I have learned it. It use to bother my Mother a lot that my Father didn't tell her things either but the Hubs seems to understand that it's just part of my gig and not that I'm trying to keep anything from him.

But we just had a situation arise like this last night. At dinner, the GirlChild told me that one of her friends told everyone at school today something disturbing and potentially troublesome. We have known this family for a long time and I consider the girl's mother my friend. The circumstances under which this potent disclosure was made struck me as odd. I called another Mother in the GirlChild's class to see what she had heard, and got a similiar description.

So, I called my friend last night and told her what I'd been told. I didn't tell her some of the other things the GirlChild has told me about her friend, and her relationship with her mother, but I saw this disclosure as potentilly troublesome.

I resisted the urge to ask her not to tell where the information came from. My concern was that the child will be angry that someone has told her mother about this incident at school and that in turn she will take her anger out on the GirlChild.

Interestingly enough my friend seems to be angry with me. Depending on how this plays out, I may be hesitant to tell her things I have learned in the future.

Anonymous Elizabeth said...

...wut?? this post isn't about me?.. ;)

I handle imposed secrecy by imposing it on others... :) ;)

ok, actually I don't do imposed secrecy..coming or going...I am guilty though of imposing secrecy in my past..ugh...cringe..

(psst...btw, don't tell William I find his artwork from the basement hysterical)

Blogger Squirl said...

That was really unfair of her to do that to you. You handled it way better than I would've.

As far as other people's secrets, I have a problem in that I love to be in-the-know. But then I can't say anything. I'm chatty and I love to talk. But, of course, since I'm sworn to secrecy that will be the topmost on my mind.

I definitely can keep a secret, plenty of things at work require that. It's just that sometimes it's really hard to stay quiet.

Anonymous LadyBug said...

Oooh, I know exactly what you mean, Susie. My mother-in-law does that with my daughters all the time. If they get in trouble for something at her house, she'll take care of it; then she'll tell me about it and say, "Now, don't say anything about this, 'cause I already took care of it."

I don't mind my MIL disciplining the girls when they get in trouble at her house; in face, I prefer it that way, so I don't always have to be the bad guy. But why tell me about it, if I can't even discuss it with the kids?

In other news, you're on my mind and in my heart and lifted up in my prayers today, Susie. I SO hope and pray you get some answers today.

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Oy... there are some things I know that "nobody knows", yet when in a group, it's clear that everyone knows, yet no one can bring up the 800 gorilla in the room. That frustrates me, and I end up have a slightly cynical (or, more to the point "smart ass") internal dialogue with myself wherein I eventually scream "WHY CAN'T WE ALL JUST ACKNOWLEDGE THIS AND MOVE ON?!"

That's just one group of secrets.

Mostly, though, I keep the secrets/gossip to myself -- myself being myself and Hubby.

Blogger Erin said...

My husband, Mike, and I used to know someone who, on several occasions, said to Mike "you can't tell anyone about this, not even Erin." Mike finally got fed up and said "If I can't tell Erin about it, don't tell me."

Frankly, I don't get the whole secretive thing. Some of my stepdad's family will share family news (of a less-than-good nature, like an impending divorce) with the "don't tell anyone" label on it. Why share it, then? If it is so upsetting that you don't want the whole family to know, then maybe it is better to keep it to yourself.

Blogger The other me said...

I am hopeless, I tell people that secrets don't sit well with me so best they don't tell me. Actually secrets are very safe with me but I hate being told what to do with them! Susie...it's a miracle, because we stood firm and refused to act immorally to get a house....look what our landlady did, you have to go to my blog to see though!

Blogger Lynn said...

I SOOOO get what you're saying here. Oh, yeah. You know it.


My whole life, childhood, family of origin, etc. is one GIANT and foul smelling secret. I'm not only supposed to not talk about things, I'm supposed to not ever KNOW. I'm supposed to pretend that everything is just peachy. House of secrets, lies and masquerades.

Ever seen the movie "Pleasantville"?


I hereby release you, Susie, (and me, too). You know what I mean.

Blogger Nilbo said...

Was it Dorothy Parker who said "If you haven't got anything nice to say ... then sit right down beside me, dear."...?

I love secrets. I keep secrets all the time. If someone tell me a secret, I don't tell a soul, so that they can trust me with more secrets.

And I have secrets of my own. Lovely, wonderful secrets, secrets that would BLOW YOUR MIND if I were to breathe a hint of them. So I don't. I just hold them close and smile smugly.

Faced with the predicament you were faced with, I'd have quite happily not told, and not thought less of the person asking me to keep the secret. I think one of the problems we have nowadays is that there's just too damn much honesty running rampant. I don't want to live in a world where everybody needs to know everything.

Some things are on a "need to know" basis. And I find that utterly delicious. As long as I'm one of the ones who needs to know.

That said, I heartily endorse what you said and did, as long as it makes YOU happy. Of course, if I didn't ... I'd never tell you.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.s. I'm wearing my "Susie" shirt today! hehehe...

Blogger Susie said...

cindy, I appreciate that distinction -- private, but not secretive. I think that's me, too (except for my secrets). Secrets can indeed be a burden. I think I only want to hear secrets from people who trust me enough to trust that I'll handle them well, and not feel the need to tell me how to handle them.

lawyerchik, brava. I could second your whole comment, I think.

traci, well, there's ONE person that I'm nicer than ;) xxx

william, I really respect that you will tell people that you don't want to hear the gossip. I do that; sometimes that's tough, but I think it's usually best. And as for keeping someone's secret from your spouse, I believe in the whole two-become-one thing. Someone who would expect that I would keep their secret from my husband (clients aside) is someone who doesn't respect my marriage enough to be a good friend to me.

eclectic, see, if I'd had a plum, my response might have been totally different :p

m&co, it is very tricky territory, telling a parent something about their kid. Many parents are extremely defensive. I chose to believe that Sneezer's Mom was acting out of concern and friendship (and I do realize I'm being very generous in that choice of beliefs, but that works for me); but many people feel criticized or some such when others share concerns about their children. It is very tricky. You tried your best. What she does with it is on her.

elizabeth, you're cracking me up. And now we're ALL in the position of keeping William's secrets ;)

squirl, this whole thing is hard for me sometimes because I'm of two minds: I love to be in-the-know, too, LOVE to hear people's stories, preferably in great detail. And sometimes half the fun would be passing the story along . . . but I try to just do that with my own stories. I would trust you with my secrets. Hell, I probably have :)

ladybug, oooh, your MIL is getting on my nerves with that crap. What would happen if you just told her, "I trust you to handle such things, and we can just leave it at that. As long as it's handled satisfactorily, I don't need to know." BUT on the other hand, I don't know that I'd like her colluding with my kids to keep things from me. AND is she telling you this to say she handled it because she can handle it better than you, or to impress you, please you? You're driving me NUTS, ladybug! No, really, life is tough when you can see many sides of an issue.

As for me and WTF, I don't have ANSWERS, per se, but I had a good appointment, with a smart doc, who is doing more tests and research, and who said that she will stick with me until this possibility is thoroughly explored. I think that's about the best that could have come from a single appointment :) Thank you for your love and prayers.

ck, see, there's the two being one thing. I like how you explained that.

erin, yay, Mike, and amen :)

t.o.m., get OUTTA here! I did KNOW it would work out, but I did not imagine it working in quite that way. I am so tickled for you!

lynn, secrets rarely lead to anything good. And they're rarely as "secret" as those who keep them think they are.

nilbo, hmmm, I think you're talking about at least a couple of different things here. First, I dare say that anyone here (and anywhere else) has at least one secret that would BLOW YOUR MIND, except that of course, the person whose mind you think you would blow probably has a more mind-blowing secret than you do. Speaking of the "collective you."
"one of the problems we have nowadays is that there's just too damn much honesty running rampant" Now that might be a Canadian thing. We don't seem to be afflicted with that problem here, these days.

This, though, with this I agree 200%: "I don't want to live in a world where everybody needs to know everything.

Some things are on a "need to know" basis." I definitely don't need to know everything. And certainly don't tell everything. But IF I do tell, I won't try to make you not tell anyone else.

Blogger Susie said...

hi, traci, you snuck in there while I was confusing myself with my reply to Nilbo. What's your Susie shirt? WTF? Rat's ass? Either way, I'm sure you're HOT.

Anonymous Ortizzle said...

I think Nils is right, but so is everybody else. A person who says that something they are going to tell you should be kept from other people should give you a warning before they disclose that information so that you are allowed to say right back, "I'm sorry, but anything someone else shares with me is subject to MY discretion on how I wish to treat the information. If you wish to continue...." Basically, what you said right back to her.

Which brings me to what I consider the real issue: the mode of communication. Putting that sort of directive in an email is a total cop out. That is the kind of exchange that should be handled over the phone or in a face-to-face 'let's have a coffee' setup. I really believe there should be a set of New Rules written for which forms of communication are appropriate for which situations. Anything that is sensitive and requires an instantaneous 2-way dialogue is not appropriate for email. IMHO, as they say. And a lot of people take advantage of email to write things they would be afraid to say to your face. I think you handled it perfectly, though. And I understand the delicacy of it all, since it involves a friend of LG's.

Blogger Momentarily_Distracted said...

You know, as much as I love my mom, she does that from time to time as well. Especially when it comes to stuff like that. It's either that or no information at all to the point where I have to play detective to find out what is going on under our roof.
That being said, she is a wonderful person. She's just got that one certain quirk. meh

Blogger Nina said...

So Sneezer's mom is a scarecrow and doesn't have a brain? She says that like LG isn't going to remember who she told those six words to? Of course LG will know, even if she told more friends, hello, she knows her friends well enough to know. (sigh)

In the professional area I don't have to worry much about that anymore. Except for being the therapist to a psychiatrist, I'm sure you know what I mean.

If someone confides in me, they should know that also includes John. It doesn't mean I will go running and spilling everything to him. But someday it might just come out just in normal conversation.

I very seldom do anything that is imposed,and I have no problems saying so.

I think it is great that you told her what you will accept and what you won't.

Blogger Robin said...

what were the "six words"?? i'm dying to know! (and i PROMISE not to tell anyone else - unless, of course, you say it's okay)

seriously though, i don't let others dictate to me what i can and can not say to other people (in a non-professional capacity, of course). if someone says to me "i know something about so and so, but you can't tell anyone else" then i tell them i don't need to know - frankly, i have enough on my OWN plate. if a friend, however, tells me something of a personal nature they want kept private...i respect that because of the value of our friendship.

those six words are really bugging me though!

Blogger Susie said...

ortizzle, the comments on this post remind me of one of the things that I really enjoy about blogging. Bright people, sharing opinions. You make excellent points here. If the woman had called and said, "I'm going to tell you something about LG but you can't tell..." I would have done just as you say. I tell clients all the time that anything personal and important should not be communicated via email. Anything subject to any emotional interpretation at all. I must confess, to my detriment, I have not always followed this rule, but it remains a wise rule.

MoDis, well, if that's her only flaw, Mom sounds like a keeper ;) We all have our quirks.

nina, yes, I like what you say about the "coming out in conversation." Like you, I don't think, "Oh, I must run and tell John!" But I'm not going to censor my conversation with him, either.

robin, ha, I'll email you the words. I don't want searchers for them ending up here. I do the same, with the "I don't need/want to know." Like you, I have enough going on without containing drama that I can't do anything about. The keeping something private . . . I'm thinking of some things that fall outside what I see as this secrecy thing. For instance, if someone tells me they are 2 weeks pregnant, and they aren't telling others until 12 weeks, of course I don't tell that. Private information like that is not a burden to me, causes no ethical dilemmas, doesn't frustrate me because my hands are tied from doing anything about it. That sort of thing is in a different category.

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Susie, listen... I just *have* to share this with you. I can't tell you where I heard it, but you can't tell anyone else, ok?

*looks around furtively, whispers*

Nils is really a skeevy, old guy named Eugene who lives in Oregon with his mother and her pet poodle "Bitsy."

If he ever found out I told you, I'd be in BIG trouble...

Blogger Susie said...

ck, not a peep out of me.

Anonymous LadyBug said...

Hmmm...I just reread my comment, and I think I sounded more perturbed than I really have a right to be. Now that I think about it, I honestly think my MIL just tells me about those incidences because she knows I'll want to know. She never does it with a "this is how you should be handling these things" attitude or even with an air of "just LOOK how your savage children are behaving at my house!". She just tells me what happened, and tells me how she handled it, and then we discuss it. She and I are very close, and we frequently discuss all three of the kids; we not only chat about the negative, behavior-related stuff, but also the sweet, cute, or just downright funny stuff.

So, actually, I guess the only thing that annoys me is the "Now don't say anything..." part. And I usually take that with a grain of salt, anyway. If the incident was a minor one, I just forget it; but if it was something I feel I need to address with the girls, I do, usually by asking them, "Did you get in trouble at Nanny's house?", and getting them to tell me about it.

In other news, I'm fairly certain this is the longest comment I've left anywhere in quite some time. :)

Love you, Susie.

Blogger Nilbo said...

HA! We fooled her, Eugene. But now that she's on to us, we must ask her to "go for coffee" because we're "just passing through town and thought it might be fun to meet someone we feel like we already know." Then, of course, we divvy her up.

Heads or tails? I'd prefer her head, because ... well, I'm travelling light.

Blogger Susie said...

ladybug, see, I was just trying to cause trouble where there isn't any! I'm glad you and MIL have a good friendship. I have a pretty good one with my MIL, too. She has her moments, but then we all do.

nilbo, Eugene has left the building.


Blogger Karen said...

Hmm, well, basically I can handle secrets in everyday life on an individual basis. But when I was working, it really bothered me that one of our bosses thought it was a really good idea to warn half the staff ahead of time that the others were getting laid off. Then that same boss when he left only wanted certain people at his good-bye lunch, so the event was kept a secret from the people who weren't invited, and they only found out about it when the invitees all disappeared one lunchtime without saying where they were going. Those kind of secrets I can live without.

Blogger ieatcrayonz said...

I have a pretty good mom, but you, Susie, are a great mom. This made me think of a secret I tell my daughter every day.

"Hey L, I have a secret!" She walks over, get her ear close to my mouth, and I whisper, "I love you."

I have to keep a lot of secrets in my current job because it's all about information exchange and keeping your sources as trusted sources. If it's something that I deem is necessary to talk out, I call the parties into my office and talk it out. It's not always pretty, but most of the time, we all feel better afterwards.

It's amazing that I haven't picked up smoking or drinking as a result.

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

This post is so interesting as I was JUST talking about this in therapy the other day. I can and will keep confidences that make sense. Like somebody trusts my view about something going on in their own lives but doesn't want that something known all over for whatever reasons. But don't ask me to keep a stupid and senseless secrets because I don't like to perpetuate that kind of crap. I have just recently realised that if somebody asks me to keep something a secret I don't have to agree to if it makes me uncomfortable. Sounds obvious but I always felt obligated to keep bad secrets. My family is full of them. Not going to be a part of that anymore.

It is great that you stood up for truth in your family. Sounds like that mom wanted to offload some anxiety onto you about how she and her daughter avoid conflict.

Blogger Susie said...

karen, ugh. That kind of manipulative, self-serving secret crap sucks. Relieves the boss of some of the burden while burdening you.

umutha, thank you, but I'm so not great. I aspire to be good enough, more days than not. I like the secret you share with your daughter, except it's not really well kept, you know :)

kranki, well, that's just it. If it makes some damn sense. But not if it's unhealthy, unproductive, creepy. And isn't that curious how those of us who might say that no one tells us what to do, we're independent thinkers . . . we somehow misplace that stance where secrecy is concerned, and think because someone tells us we "can't" tell, we are obligated to do as we're told. Eff that. It's very odd, we temporarily lose our ability to think independently or be assertive where secrets are concerned. I don't like that.

Blogger mrtl said...

Secrets suck. That is all.


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