If you’ve found yourself ruminating on a secret that’s causing you distress, one of the most effective ways to reduce its hold on you is to confide in another person. After all, a trusty confidant can create a helpful space for you to share what’s been taking up a lot of your mental energy; oftentimes, it can also help to hear advice from a novel, outside perspective.
The problem is, how do we know who to trust with a secret? Well, according to psychologist Michael Slepian, Ph.D., author of The Secret Life of Secrets, a specific personality type makes for a trustworthy listener. On the mindbodygreen podcast, he shares the three traits to look for in a confidant—you’ll find each below.
The personality types that are best at keeping secrets.
Slepian shares that the first trait to look for is compassion: “As you could imagine, these are people who are caring, nonjudgmental, and empathic,” he says. “These people have a lot to offer when it comes to confiding a secret.” It makes sense—a compassionate confidant is able to fully listen to your struggles with an intent to understand, without inserting themselves into the issue at hand.
Here’s where Slepian surprises us: The second trait he says to look for is assertiveness. “People like to confide in people they see as assertive,” he notes. “This is someone who’s going to push you to do the thing that you need to do.” In addition to sharing an outside perspective, these people can help motivate you to take action toward what needs to be done, which is especially helpful if your secret is weighing on your conscience.
Now, the last trait of a good secret-keeper is a bit more subjective: “You want to choose someone who will have a similar set of morals as you do. You don’t want to provoke a strong moral reaction in your confidant,” says Slepian. See, if someone is absolutely scandalized by what you’re telling them, they are more likely to blab. “If what you’re telling them is something they find to be morally reprehensible, they’re more likely to tell a third party about that secret as a way of punishing what they see as immoral behavior,” says Slepian. If you truly wish to keep your secrets under the radar, make sure the person you tell has no moral stake in the matter.
On a similar note, make sure your secrets do not entangle them in the problem. “Does the secret involve someone that they know, so now they have to watch what they say around people?” poses Slepian. “If that’s the only person you have to talk to, just know that you’re going to make things complicated for [them]. If you can find someone else, you can get around these complications by choosing someone who’s a little bit on the outside.” As gratifying as it may feel to confide in someone who’s in the know, if you really want that secret kept, it may be best to find a third-party individual.
There are many potential benefits of opening up to someone, including validation, advice, guidance, and emotional support. But as Slepian notes, “One reason people get so much out of confiding might be because they’re choosing the right people to confide in.” By looking for characteristics like compassion, assertiveness, and a similar moral code, you’re setting yourself up for a more positive outcome. To hear more of Slepian’s research on secret-keeping and how it can affect your health, make sure to tune in to the episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or check out the full video below: