Do You Have a Harmful Secret Life?

Do you struggle with a secret that evokes shame? I am not talking about hiding chocolate from your kids. I am talking about engaging in destructive and risk-taking behaviors that disrupt your intrinsic sense of self.  Living a secret life usually has to do with covert behavior that restrict personal freedom, undermines confidence or evokes guilt. If this describes your lifestyle—please know that you do not have to walk alone.

Conflicting Thought-Life

In social psychology there is term called “cognitive dissonance” which is about the tension that results when we are simultaneously aware of two inconsistent cognitions (thoughts/beliefs) (Myers, D, 2008, Social Psychology 9th Ed, McGraw Hill Company). It has to do with realizing that we have chosen to act based on thought processes opposed to our core values, attitudes or known facts. A good example is a person who acknowledges the harmful effects of illegal mind-altering substances but also wants to believe that statistics are not as a bad as research indicates. Conflicting thoughts and feeling about behaviors can lead to stubborn pride and self-deception.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive.” (Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, 1808).

This quote is often misattributed to William Shakespeare because deception is the theme in many of his dramas.  Both of these men were brilliant writers who explored the confusion and suffering caused by self-deception. They also wrote about the power and benefits of self-knowledge, honesty and private integrity.

Ask yourself if you are experiencing self-deception (dishonesty with self) . . .

Perhaps you believe that you are only harming yourself when hiding a dysfunctional behavior. In reality, the way that we take care for ourselves in private directly affects our loved ones who depended on us. Consider leaving a legacy for your children and grandchildren by seeking help now.

Ask yourself if you are deceiving those closest to you . . .

Perhaps you are fearful of being shamed, lectured or being forced into change. Professional counselors know that harmful addictions have short-term benefits with long-term negative outcomes. They can help you communicate with loved ones who may need time to adjust to the news of your secret life-style such as binge eating, infidelity, theft or parasuidal behaviors. Rather than telling yourself that your loved ones would never understand or forgive–think again—forgiveness is powerful and trust can be restored. In many cases, a secret life need only be revealed to the people who are part of the solution. There are others who have overcome the shame of their undisclosed behavior when they chose to end isolation.

Intentional Awareness

  • Self-knowledge/self-awareness is the key to making wise decisions…when experiencing cognitive dissonance (discord in our thoughts).
  • Be aware that influential people, media and cognitive distortions can persuade us to remain silent. Our practiced thoughts are shaped by life experiences, perception, attitude, emotions and prejudices.
  • Ask yourself if you have been deceived by your interpretation past events and are now telling yourself that you must maintain your covert behaviors to survive.
  • If you are willing to identify an area of detrimental preoccupation that preventing you from personal development—you do not have to walk alone.
  • Consider confidential counseling with someone who can help you connect your intrinsic values and the rest that comes with living a healthy life-style.


Author: Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA for Miller Counseling Services, PC

Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA

Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate and has more than 12 years’ experience in the mental health field. She has recently joined the Miller Counseling Services team and specializes in counseling individuals and couples who have experienced all types of losses including abuse, domestic strife, and trauma. She enjoys leading group therapy classes in the areas of Divorce Recovery, Spiritual Enrichment, Couples and Parent/Child Relationships, Grief Processing and Depression Recovery. Beth has had the privilege of traveling all over the United States and to more than 10 foreign countries and has been enriched by learning about people from diverse cultures and ethnic groups.

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