The Secret to a Secret Life

Pssst, wanna hear a secret?  Dr. Gail Saltz writes about people who have kept secrets from spouses, family members, friends and themselves.  That is not all though, she is an okay writer and the book was a solid read but it left me ever so wanting for a few more secrets.  Pass it on!

Scherzo di Follia; Accession Number: 2005.100.198 (detail) metmuseum.org

Scherzo di Follia; Accession Number: 2005.100.198 (detail) metmuseum.org

By way of a full disclosure, I have written about secret lives before in my blog: How to Disappear – When you Really Need to Go!  That read was more of a how to book to disappear when you don’t want others to find you (e.g. after winning the lottery and avoiding your dead-beat relatives).  Saltz’s book provides an alternative perspective of living a secret life, the psychological impact.  Her biography lists her accomplishments as “Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, columnist, bestselling author“.  This book is based on her experiences with the first two: Dr. Saltz, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.

From these experiences she provides a series of pseudo-case histories from her own practice including a matronly shop lifter, a happy married sex-addict and an upper-middle class tax cheat.  She also introduces some of the famous people who have lived secret lives such as:

  • T.E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia; military hero and sexual pervert.
  • Charles Lindbergh: american hero and polygamist.
  • An assortment of rogues-galley such as Ted Bundy.

Not every secret of course is as pathological, immoral or criminal.  In fact secrets are part of childhood.  According to Saltz, keeping secrets establishes an identity outside that of your parent’s.  The secrets start with playing peek-a-boo, evolves to secrets about possessions (including secret friends) in mid-childhood and then secrets of shame in adolescents.  Secrets are part of an adult world ranging from passwords, PIN numbers, sexual tastes of your spouse, non-disclosure agreements or even your own self-talk about whether or not to kill your SOB-boss.

These secrets, through our life-journey, are necessary or largely harmless.  There is a tipping point when a secret goes from a protected password to gnawing at one’s psychological health.  Saltz lists the cost of keeping these types of secrets both in the book and in two appendices (there are two Cosmopolitan Magazine like check lists for determining if someone you know has a secret or whether you have one); symptoms include:

  • Moody, nervous, temper, beleaguered, preoccupied
  • Acts suspicious such as unaccounted for time away from friends, family or work
  • Missing money or unexplained bills
  • Depression, physical ailments or exhaustion

In other words, it may be the flu, a bad weekend in Las Vegas, over spending for a surprise birthday party or there may be a dark secret.  This is hardly a convincing list and this is where I find Saltz’s book a bit disappointing.  Saltz’s remedy for most secrets in the book is to go and see a shrink for absolution.  As well, although she introduces some historical secret keepers, she missed some real whoppers.  Folks like high-ranking Nazi officials living in Argentina, Alan Turing living with both a war and a homosexual secret life or even ex-CIA or secret agents living with the actions demanded of them by their country.

In other words, Saltz’s book is good, but not great.  The psychology she introduces seems a bit to pop-psychology like and a little too good to be true.  I would have liked a bit more meat to go with the secret-sauce Saltz was serving up in the book, ‘Anatomy of a Secret Life’.