It was revealed recently that Huma Abedin, the estranged wife of disgraced ex-Congressman, Anthony Weiner, is writing a tell-all memoir – in which details about her husband’s sexting scandal will likely be exposed.
Abedin joins a group of public-eye individuals who’ve turned to writing “tell-all” books to share their personal side to a story, or reveal things about their past the public has never known.
But what makes someone want to “tell-all?” And why does it seem that people will still tell-all, even when their stories make them look bad or include compromising details about close family members or friends?
We looked at the psychology of why and how you can spill a secret of your own (plus why you probably should):
The desire to “tell-all”
The motivations for “telling-all” can be linked to how people cope with stress and our behavior.
Psychologist James W. Pennebaker explains how confessing secrets improves our mental health; specifically noting how much expressive writing plays a role.
He explains that expressive writing (which we see evident in the form of tell-all books), “encourages individuals to explore their deepest thoughts and feelings about upsetting experiences.”
The act of putting our most stressing experiences into words changes how we think about those experiences, and we begin to see them in a “less menacing context.”
Expressive writing also forces you to focus on other things. After putting an experience into words, we “we tend to ruminate about them less,” which frees our minds to have other thoughts.
Many of us have seen the memoir section of a bookstore. The tell-all’s almost always have a backstory to them in which the individual went through a traumatic or difficult experience. And while every individual will have his or her own motivation for sharing a personal life story, perhaps we can assume that one of the reasons would be to reduce stress and come to terms with the experience; as our understanding of psychology shows.
Ready to spill your secret?
Most of us have kept secrets of one kind or another. You might have gone through a divorce that was nastier than other might have thought, or have a criminal conviction from your past you’ve been hiding, or you’re really living a double life… Often, keeping these secrets makes us feel uncomfortable or even guilty and can have negatives consequences on our mental health.
If you’re ready to tell-all, here are some tips to help you get the words out:
Start a journal
We talked about how expressive writing helps reduce stress and puts experiences into perspective. So, break out a piece of paper and pencil, open a blank document or get yourself a leather-bound diary and write out your feelings. It might take time to get used to expressing yourself this way, but it works.
Be honest with yourself
Before you can be honest with others, you must be honest with yourself first. As Pennebaker said; “For such emotional purges to work, people must be completely honest with themselves.”
Decide whom to tell
Difficult and yet liberating it will be to confess your secret to another human being.
Studies show that telling stories builds empathy. Telling your personal story or experience to someone you trust and have a strong support system with is a key step to relieving yourself of the shame and discomfort that comes from keeping a secret.
There are good reasons why “telling-all” can be a positive thing. Confessing a secret or telling your side of a story can help you come to terms with what happened, reduce your stress and allow you to move on with a freer mind. You don’t have to be in the public eye to write a tell-all book. Start with a journal, and seek the support from the people in your life you trust the most.