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Want to know a secret?

We all have secrets (that is not a secret). Having secrets can be very disadvantageous for your well-being. Especially if it is a heavy secret that is consuming a lot of your time, thoughts and energy. Even though research has shown that it can be beneficial for your well-being to tell your secrets to somebody, it appears to be important to whom you tell your secret. If it is not the right person, telling the secret might result in even more worries. “Will he keep it a secret?”, “Can I trust him?”, “What if he tells everybody?”. Thus, it is important to find the right person to confide in. But who exactly is this person?

The Confidant Type

Last year, Slepian and Kirby published their article “To Whom Do We Confide Our Secrets?”. Through peer- and self reports, they examined which interpersonal traits participants preferred in their confidant, and which interpersonal traits actually predicted being confided in. The four traits that Slepian and Kirby examined were:

  • Compassion (e.g. empathy and longing to help)
  • Politeness (e.g. desire to follow social norms- and rules)
  • Assertiveness (e.g. the drive to actually help)
  • Enthusiasm (e.g. just positive sociality)

Note that compassion and politeness are both related to the Big Five personality trait agreeableness whereas assertiveness and enthusiasm are both related to extraversion.

Slepian and Kirby asked participants to think of a secret that they have, and which qualities the person they would trust should have in order to confide in them. Results indicated that participants tended to prefer a confidant who was assertive and compassionate. In line with this, Slepian and Kirby found that this is also the type of confidant that receives more secrets as compared to the type of confidant that is enthusiastic and polite.

Are secrets a burden for both?

As mentioned before, research has shown that having a secret can be disadvantageous for your well-being. But what is it like for the person who receives your secret? Is there such a thing as the “confidant burden?”. Not many studies have focused on this perspective, but as far as we can tell, receiving secrets appears to be both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, being a confidant is a good thing because sharing secrets makes your relationship closer. On the other hand, you might feel the pressure of having to keep the secret.

Perhaps there are individuals who are less sensitive to the burden of being a confidant. This could be, for instance, due to their personality. Intuitively, somebody who is more neurotic probably experiences more stress from keeping a secret than somebody who is more emotionally stable.
But it might also be a matter of getting used to; the more the people confide in you, the more familiar you are with keeping secrets and the less of a burden it is. But for now, it is clear that more research on this topic is needed to draw conclusive answers!

What other qualities, traits or aspects do you find important in a confidant? And what do you think about the “confidant burden”? Let us know by leaving a comment below!  

If you are interested in reading the literature used for this post, references and links are provided here:

Slepian, M. L., & Kirby, J. N. (2018). To Whom Do We Confide Our Secrets?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0146167218756032.

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