Archetypes of the Secret

Arthur Panaro - February 28, 2013

On secrets and flaws

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack

I. Official, Classified, Restricted, Confidential.

Most of the goings-on of the Secret Service, CIA and FBI can be described by the poetic phrase “cloak and dagger” and surely “top secret.” The State Department and the military conduct a lot of classified, privileged and “eyes only” activities. The shadows of these organizations are the bungler, the spy, the mole, the traitor and the whistle blower. Hello Julian Assange and others. . . 

Corporate trade secrets are shielded as if they were national security matters. The anxiety and paranoia of executives is played out painfully, but comically by actor Paul Giamatti. In the film "Duplicity," he is the dupe of two corporate spies who collaborate to steal a product formula.

The dealings with lawyers are protected by “client-lawyer privilege.” School records, credit history and institutional records of all kinds are classified.

In the medical world there is the rubric of “doctor-patient privilege” with the regulations of HIPAA—the acronym for the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”. This was passed by Congress in 1996. HIPAA does the following: provides the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage for millions of American workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs; reduces health care fraud and abuse; mandates industry-wide standards for health care information on electronic billing and other processes; and requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information. (

Psychological diagnoses and counseling treatment are covered by HIPAA. All helping professionals, however, are legally bound to break confidentiality if they become aware that a client is likely to harm self or others—the duty to “warn and protect.” The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics states, “When a client’s condition indicates that there is a clear and imminent danger to the client and others, the licensed counselor must take reasonable personal action or inform responsible authorities.”

The ethics code is based on the 1969 case, Tarasoff vv the Board of Regents of the University of California. Prosenjit Poddar, a student at Berkeley, revealed to his counselor that he planned to kill Tatiana Tarasoff. Many steps were taken to deal with Poddar—campus police were alerted for instance. Tarasoff, however, was never warned and unfortunately she was killed. Since then, the code of confidentiality has been altered to protect possible victims by suspending the right to confidentiality of the potential perpetrator.

Religious pastors keep to themselves what the flock reveals. Catholics trust their priest will honor the “seal of confession” a phrase aromatic with the magisterium of Rome. You can almost smell the incense.

Initiatory protocols of societies such as the Freemasons are kept secret. Myself, I attended a weekend retreat which produced an initiation into my “mature masculine”—for many of us older men coming years after we missed getting it right as adolescents. The retreat, New Warrior Training Adventure, is run by the New Mexico / S. CO chapter of the Mankind Project. We promised to hold in trust the details of the various protocols in order to allow future initiates to experience the vigor of the processes on their own. Though if a man were to attend a weekly support group, he could get a notion of the challenges and exercises.

II. The Personal: “The unconcealed” and “the secret”.

The “concealed” refers to the deliberate hiding of “what actually is, what is going on or what has happened”. Secrets live in the mind, in sealed documents, or in encryptions, or buried somewhere.

“I've learned that we're all entitled to have our secrets.”— Nicholas Sparks, "The Notebook"

Some matters regarding what is happening may not be actual, but rather personal perceptions, a delusion or an illusion. In the film, "A Beautiful Mind," this is vividly illustrated by the paranoid imaginations of the mathematical genius John Nash.

In any case, the secret has an ethereal reality. It takes many forms, depending on the nature of the something that is held hush-hush.

My Secret / Our Secret

“A good friend keeps your secrets for you. A best friend helps you keep your own secrets." — Lauren Oliver, "Before I Fall" 

In the drama of one’s personal life there are various scenarios of secret sharing. The secret is the back stage of the public play.

“I thought about how there are two types of secrets: the kind you want to keep in, and the kind you don't dare to let out.” ― Ally Carter, "Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover"

Scene I -- The person with the secret enlists his ally who says “Yes. I promise not to tell.” This may entail everything from just being a shoulder-to-cry-on to hiding the fugitive. The secret hold ideally must understand the level of need of the secret giver.

“A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

What about a cover story , which constitutes a strange kind of secret in itself, a kind of meta-secret.

Scene II -- The “confidant” alerts the secret giver: “Yes, you can tell me. I don’t foresee a reason to reveal. However, if some situation warrants, I won’t keep the secret. You are forewarned.”

Scene III – There are people who do not want to keep secrets, especially about grave matters. They would simplify matters by declaring “I don't want to know.” “I never lie," I said offhand.

"At least not to those I don't love.” ― Anne Rice, "The Vampire Lestat"

Scene IV – Lovers share their hidden and personal accomplishments and sensitive, bruised and aching pasts. They reveal the tenderness of their souls, the hopes, dreams and wishes—but only between each other.

“Street angel - house devil” and Skeletons in the Closet

The “family secret” is the fleur du mal of a injurious occurrence or chain of events. This “secret” is enmeshed in self-defensiveness, in a cocoon of silence and fear.

It might be that Aunt Minerva never really did marry Uncle Punk. Cousin Harry relates with men and not to women. Dad didn’t commit the crime, but took the rap and did hard time. The child knows not that his aunt is actually his biological mother.

“That, my dear, is what makes a character interesting, their secrets.” ― Kate Morton, "The Forgotten Garden"

Fear, Shame, Guilt under the Secret

It may dawn on me that I have done something “wrong” according to established norms which I affirm. If I have not been detected I can choose to keep this “wrong” secret. I can also decide to contract with another to hold my secret as a confidant.


A secret may be about: 1) being wounded from outside by others, or 2) having a sense that one is inwardly flawed. Here, the secret might be taking the form of the Jungian “shadow”.

In her DVD presentation, "The Shadow Effect", Debbie Ford explains two distinct contents of shadow: one content is guilt that I believe or have been told I've done something “dishonorable.” The other content includes wonderful things about myself that I have been told by others to, or I have decided to hide, deny or abandon because I have not measured up to social norms,or expectations of my care givers. Read Robert Bly's "A Little Book of the Human Shadow."

Woundings Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in it's most severe form, is defined as the aftermath of witnessing, experiencing or confronting a threat of death or injury to self or others, often associated with a single tragic event.

Another form of trauma goes by the name “ritual abuse” or complex / compound trauma. Harm, insult, betrayal and injury may be strung out over a long drama of painful childhood or relationship. Chinese water torture.

Commensurate with the severity of the trauma, the reactions can be as strong as shock, numbness, horror or subtle minimizing, outright denial or involuntary dissociating. There is often a self-protective need to keep the secret of the abuse. “I have been harmed. I have a feeling—rage, hurt, fear, and self-doubt.  I’ve been betrayed. How could they have done this to me?” Then shame and self-blame may arise. “I AM the mistake. Did I do something to deserve this? Maybe so. I hope “they” won’t tell anybody what happened.” “Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.” – André Malraux

“I’ll hide and tell no one.” A defensive, self-effacing stance becomes the style. The shoulders stoop. The gate becomes uncertain. Instead of offering a heartfelt reaction, one proposes a tentative opinion. Then comes depression, which is fear / anger, frozen or turned inward. One begins to doubt one’s feelings, one’s right to speak, one’s validity. There is hypersensitivity to gossip or curiosity. “Don’t you also betray. My victimizer has already betrayed me.”

The shadow of the wound (itself a kind of shadow) is disgrace, embarrassment.

The Personal Flaw: Shame, Sins, Mistakes, and Disease

Do we not all have flaws of one kind or another mingled with our powers? No one is perfect. We stumble and make mistakes. We screw up. We get ill. We become embarrassed and ashamed. We commit sins. “The best secrets are the most twisted” – Sara Shepard, "Twisted" 

Guilt is the feeling after making a mistake. But guilt allows for making amends. “I’ll make it right.”

Shame is worse than guilt in that shame says to me more than “I made a mistake.” Shame say “You ARE a mistake.” The mark of Cane! As in the case of the wound, life can become constricted. Liberty, self worth and the joy of living are stifled. The defensive attitude and deportment overtakes us like a gloom.

The greatest fear of the “flawed outcast” is the snoop, the meddler and the gossip.

Irony, mockery, derision and suspected ridicule are dreaded by the shamed one. “You cannot let your parents anywhere near your real humiliations.” ― Alice Munro, "Open Secrets"


“Once exposed, a secret loses all its power.” ― Ann Aguirre, "Grimspace"

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” ― George Orwell, "1984"

“I feel bare. I didn't realize I wore my secrets as armor until they were gone and now everyone sees me as I really am.” ― Veronica Roth, "Insurgent"

Google “health benefits of telling one's secrets” – there are tons of Internet sites.

There is the story of the Tibetan Saint, Milarepa, who met and faced his Demons. And this might be compared to facing the world with one's truth and hiding no longer. This parable of courage and bravery in Milarepa seems to me to be the applicable antidote and remedy of the destructive poison of our secrets, if you will.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, and very far from here, a great Tibetan
poet named Milarepa studied and meditated for decades. He traveled the
countryside, teaching the practice of compassion and mercy to the villagers
he met. He faced many hardships, difficulties, and sorrows, and transformed
them into the path of his awakening.

Finally, it was time to return to the small hut he called home. He had
carried the memory in his heart through all the years of journey. Much to
his surprise, upon entering he found it filled with enemies of every kind.
Terrifying, horrifying, monstrous demons that would make most people run.
But Milarepa was not most people.

Inhaling and exhaling slowly three times, he turned toward the demons, fully
present and aware. He looked deeply into the eyes of each, bowing in
respect, and said, “You are here in my home now. I honor you, and open
myself to what you have to teach me.”

As soon as he uttered these words, all of the enemies save five disappeared.
The ones that remained were grisly, raw, huge monsters. Milarepa bowed once
more and began to sing a song to them, a sweet melody resonant with caring
for the ways these beasts had suffered, and curiosity about what they needed
and how he could help them. As the last notes left his lips, four demons
disappeared into thin air.

Now only one nasty creature was left, fangs dripping evil, nostrils flaming,
opened jaws revealing a dark foul black throat. Milarepa stepped closer to
this huge demon, breathed deeply into his own belly, and said with quiet
compassion, “I must understand your pain and what it is you need in order to
be healed.” Then he put his head in the mouth of his enemy.

In that instant, the demon disappeared and Milarepa was home at last.

from Dwna Markova, Ph.D.; "No Enemies Within." Page 1 Conari Press