Being Honest: The Difference Between Privacy and Secrecy


“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~Ernest Hemingway

When I was a child I was part of a family that didn't communicate beyond “pass the salt.”

There was no confiding of fears, sharing of hopes, and encouraging each other’s dreams. It was a superficial and empty existence but one that was completely normal to me.

Fast forward numerous years, add in three children and a loving partner of my own; now I try to create a childhood for my own kids that is a polar opposite to my own experience. To have proper conversations with them every day, to make sure they know just how loved and important they are, not just to me, but that the world is a better place for having them in it.

It can be really hard not to provide stock answers to my partner’s questions. I am “fine,” all is “okay,”‘ I have “everything” I need.

To realize that I can contribute to a conversation—that I am valued, and somebody actually wants to delve inside my head (which can be a scary place), and yet love me and want to know more—is an exhilarating, sometimes terrifying experience.

Practicing total honesty doesn't always come easily, and it is something I have to consciously work on. I have spent such a huge proportion of my life feeling I am not worth listening to and I have always classed myself as a very private person, used to keeping my thoughts and feelings inside.

My partner gently encourages me to share all aspects of myself, and although initially this made me feel really vulnerable, it is becoming more and more natural for me to do so.

I have felt a huge shift lately. The more and more transparent I get, the bigger the sense of freedom I feel. There is a huge difference between privacy and secrecy, and that has been a lesson I have had to learn.

I acquired a disability after an accident, and it is something I tried to keep hidden for a long, long time. People who didn’t see me in a wheelchair (Facebook friends, old school companions, for instance) had no idea of the extent of my physical impairment.

It would have been okay had I not wanted to talk about my disability for privacy’s sake. But secrecy is something very different entirely, and predominantly fear led.

Keeping a secret is about hiding something from the world, separating yourself, and that takes a lot of energy.

I had tried to keep my physical health hidden as, ultimately, I realize now I felt ashamed because my body no longer functioned in the way I thought it should.

Through being more open and honest and exploring my feelings I feel such a sense of peace and acceptance. I realize the human body is just a place we inhabit in this lifetime. It doesn’t actually define who I am.

I call the body the “little me.” Me, the actual “big me,” is something beautifully whole, intangible and perfect.

It is perfectly okay to be private of course; you don't need or have to share any more than you feel comfortable in doing.

To lay yourself open sometimes takes courage, but when there is nothing left to keep hidden, nothing to fear, it can be one of the most liberating things you can do for yourself. I live from an openness that can't help but transmute into love and it’s beautiful.

This is the way I want to be, the only way I can be. If, at times though I feel old habits reappear and find myself keeping things inside I ask myself the following:

What am I afraid of?

I was afraid of being misunderstood or having my feelings dismissed, but being more open has been so empowering. Hey, I'm important and worth listening to.

What do I think I will lose by being honest?

I feared I would lose respect if everyone knew about my physical health, as I felt ashamed, but everyone has been really kind and supportive. Fears magnify at a terrifying rate when they are locked inside the mind.

Can I retain my privacy without hurting feelings?

It can be hurtful to those close to you if they realize you are keeping something hidden. Know that those who love you want to understand and support what's going on in your world. 

Is this detrimental to my physical and mental well-being if I do not share?

Emotional stress really impacts on my physical pain. Talking through issues can really rationalize and dispel any fear surrounding them. Nothing is as frightening as keeping it all inside.

Do I need to keep this a secret?

If so, why? It's never healthy. Honesty sets you free.

If you find yourself worrying, hiding, and feeling afraid to voice what you really need, stop and ask yourself why.

Living this way and encouraging my children to live this way has resulted in an amazingly consistent, chilled out atmosphere at home. There is no pent-up stress.

Absolute honesty, in a gentle respectful way, has generated a totally safe environment for any family member to unburden themselves, if they choose to do so, without fear of blame or recriminations. Total trust has evolved into a love so pure, it's beautiful.

I am glad I found my voice. Do you have yours?

Photo by F. C. Photography

About Louise Jensen

Louise Jensen is an award winning holistic therapist. A regular writer, Louise has overcome living with a disability and has 12 years of experience helping others to heal. Louise recently co-created The Happy Starfish, an online community dedicated to celebrating health, happiness and peaceful living.

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  • Dochy

    This is such a beautiful post Louise! I’m seriously happy for you having found yourself especially after such a different childhood. It is indeed exhilarating to be able to be yourself! I have this friend of mine, who I’m totally myself with – and I mean, absolutely no masks on! That is one relationship I treasure… Its a beautiful feeling to have at home! Kudos to you and your husband!

  • Lisa

    I absoutely love this post! I love that you found your voice! Your quote, “The more and more transparent I get, the bigger the sense of freedom I feel: is so true! This post is inspiring! Great job.

  • Fabulous post, as the past couple of years I’ve “come out” about some of my own struggles with depression and OCD. Instead of pushing people away, it truly drew people in and granted me a freedom I didn’t know I even needed. Of course there’s a fine line to walk, but it’s personal for each individual. In the end, I’m me–a constant work in progress, and you can either accept it or not.

    I’m so happy you’ve found peace and can share that as well.

  • rosemary bruton

    Thank you for your inspiring post

  • Louise Jensen

    Thank you Rosemary.

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks Abby. Glad you are being open and allowing yourself to be loved.

  • Louise Jensen

    Thank you Lisa.

  • Louise Jensen

    It’s beautiful to find that kind of relationship and one to treasure for sure.

  • Baerbel

    Thanks for your inspiring words. I think this is an important topic with that I’ll be dealing this year. To come out into the open, with what I really am. Living with my vulnerability, maybe getting rejection sometimes, but seeing life goes on…and I will grow more+more into freedom and love.
    I will keep your post as a signpost for my journey. All the best to you!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your inspiring post and I must say, I absolutely love your site the Happy Starfish…. The quotes and articles and photos are so inspiring and beautiful to see/read! Thank you!

  • vernette

    I really liked this post! For 2013 I want to focus on “truth” living, walking and speaking my truth, whatever that means.

  • I grew up in that of family too so talking about things, especially private things is something I find very difficult. I too find myself thinking that I’m not worth listening to. It’s something I’m trying to work on. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Then you should have a great year 🙂

  • Thanks Baerbel. All the best to you this year.

  • Thank you. We are relatively new but feedback has been lovely so far.

  • Thanks Vincent. Keep working on it. The sense of freedom that comes will be truly liberating 🙂

  • jin

    I, too, grew up in a family where communication wasn’t encouraged and criticism was commonplace. As such, I have developed a habit of repression and being afraid of showing who I was because of the fear of being criticized and disapproved of. Years of doing this has prevented me from having a strong sense of self and has instilled a sense of shame that is preventing me from showing my true colors to others. I focus too much on my negatives and reject myself before others can judge me for who I am. I have always been a bit of a closet-case, and I have come to realize that this is very unhealthy and prevents my inner-self from growing. At the same time, I have always admired those who were very open and honest in their ways–as if they had no shame. Thank you for bringing up a difficult and important subject.

  • it’s a good article regarding our own feelings regarding secrecy vs privacy. however, i would like to read a version of how we are to deal with OTHERS secrecy that THEY refer to as “privacy.” i call it being sneaky and my ex had the url history to prove it.
    so, we are forced to be a sneak to catch a sneak. secrecy, privacy, semantics.

  • lv2terp

    That’s fabulous!! Thank you for sharing your story, and wisdom learned! 🙂