Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Spilling the beans

In this era of supposed personal frankness, when people gush out their intimate thoughts and feelings to any passing journalist or TV presenter, you might think that no one has anything left to hide any more, that it’s all out there for instant public consumption.

I think not. For every person who spills the beans, there are ten others who’re more reticent and still keep an awful lot to themselves. Most of us don’t trust other people to be sympathetic to our innermost secrets, be they embarrassing, weird, disgusting or just incomprehensible.

The fact is that there are plenty of people only too willing to exploit other people’s weaknesses and eccentricities for their own personal gain or entertainment, and those uninhibited souls who lay their entire life on the table for others to pick at should either have a very thick skin or be prepared for a rather painful public mauling.

Even routine oddities like fear of flying, or fear of public speaking, or a passion for pickled onions, are often concealed in case of scorn or ridicule. As for the more rarified traits like social phobia or aversion to sex or hating to be watched, very few people would be trusted with those. Maybe only our partners, who’re going to find out sooner or later anyway.

It may be that other people are more sympathetic to those things than we imagine, but we daren’t risk telling the wrong person and being treated as some kind of freak show.

It may be that our shameful secrets are not as shameful as we think. But the longer we hide something, the more we prevent others from accepting and neutralising it, the more peculiar and monstrous it becomes, until the very idea of exposing it to others is unthinkable. We convince ourselves we’re so warped that if we confess all nobody will ever speak to us again.

We probably all need a personal therapist, someone we can confide in without fear of a negative reaction, someone who’ll listen without judging, someone who’ll help us to understand what we are rather than expecting us to be normal. With the best will in the world, even the closest and most trusted friend isn’t necessarily that dispassionate and all-embracing.

21 comments:

kylie said...

i think i can say with a totally straight face that very very little shocks or disgusts me.

i have heard some odd stuff in my time (probably done some too)

Bijoux said...

I think it's okay to have secrets, but I don't dwell on my own. I've seen too many people focus on issues that are better left forgotten. If one can't do that, then yes, it's time for some therapy.

Nick said...

Kylie: I'm not easily shocked either, but I'm regularly shocked by the utterly depraved and deranged things that other people do. Like the shootings in Colorado.

Bijoux: Dwelling on things that are best forgotten, or at least got into proportion, can poison your psyche. But I think Brits are still a bit dismissive of the benefits of therapy.

Grannymar said...

A friend with 'one ways ears' is a treasure and we all need one at sometime.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Yes! We all need a personal therapist!

Ahem.

Since I make my living hearing and holding other people's secrets, I'm generally even keel about what most people reveal to me. And for most, finding out that their secrets aren't so outrageous after all helps connect them to the larger world and takes away the power of the secret. And I'm fairly open myself. Not in my work, since that wouldn't be appropriate, but with people I know outside work. In particular, I have a handful of friends I can tell anything to. I don't like having secrets, so it helps to be able to hash things through. (And, incidentally, like any psychologist worth her or his salt, I've been in therapy myself, with three different therapists.)

Jenny Woolf said...

I do think Nick that many people think that their blogs or Facebook pages are a bit like a friend. Which is mostly true - I mean, I think people are friendly. But there are always some horrid folk out there who are just as likely to be reading. I wonder when this kind of thing will become a sixth sense. Not that long, I guess. I imagine the new generation is very much more media savvy.

Nick said...

Grannymar: Not just one-way ears but the ability to listen without judging.

Agent: Good to know that so many supposedly awful secrets aren't that outrageous in reality. And you're very lucky to have a few friends you can reveal absolutely anything to. I find most people have limits on what they're prepared to listen to.

Nick said...

Jenny: I'm very hesitant about revealing anything really sensitive on Facebook or my blog, given I'm never entirely sure who's reading it and whether they're sympathetic or not.

Rummuser said...

I had my wife as my personal therapist and now have my siblings. There is little that I need to hide from them.

Nick said...

Ramana: That's good to know. They must be very tolerant of whatever you happen to tell them.

John Gray said...

We ALL need a "stranger on a train"

Cheerful Monk said...

When I have something to hash through I write in my journal. It's always there, day or night. I have spent many an hour listening to other people though.

Nick said...

John: The strangers I meet on trains are usually either screaming bigots or thumping bores. Sympathetic listeners are thin on the ground.

Monk: I don't find writing very therapeutic myself. A non-judgmental third party is more helpful. But as I say, they're thin on the ground.

John Gray said...

oh nick
a sympathetic ear can be found in the oddest of places!

Nick said...

John - Clearly I'm not in the oddest of places often enough!

kylie said...

now you are just being insulting! i am far from normal

Nick said...

Kylie: Hey, how am I being insulting? And I never said you're normal, sweetie, I know very well you're anything but....

Wisewebwoman said...

Funny this Nick, I'm the person that people tell everything to, dirty knickers'n all.
One of the reasons I keep my blog anonymous.
As for myself? I always say my life is an open book.
I think there is no such thing as 'normal' and the more we tell of our own peculiarities or foibles, the more comfortable we, and others, feel.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - My life is far from an open book. There are aspects of my personality I've seldom confessed to anyone, as I have no confidence other people would accept them or understand them. Which means I don't usually feel comfortable with other people, but there it is. Perhaps I need to find a therapist....

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Nick said...

Bike Hike Babe: Glad you've enjoyed reading it all. My gravatar often goes missing from other blogs as well....