I once had an abscessed tooth, and in the absence of a dentist, I considered pulling it myself to end the intense pain. Secrets are like abscesses. They hurt when we touch them but we can’t stop touching them. When a secret is at the center of our integrity it produces excruciating pain. We long for the momentary intense pain that comes with releasing the pressure.
Each of us seeks to maintain a sense of internal integrity, while still making a positive impression on others. We are driven by a fear of being discredited. Sometimes that means keeping secrets, especially when the concealed information is sensitive. Concealment of sexual orientation requires considerable effort, constant vigilance, and behavioral self-editing. Although there is a wish to disclose the secret, the need to make a favorable impression on others often overpowers the need to disclose.
Coming out is a process of initiating forgiveness for what we or others may see as a serious mistake. Initiating forgiveness is associated with higher stress at all ages, but it is particularly complex for the mature man who has been living a heterosexual life. In the research for my book Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, I found that for mature men who have sex with men (MSM), initiating forgiveness creates one of the biggest barriers to their coming out. MSM have intense stress that may worsen their physical health and lead to depression, substance abuse and suicide. MSM may or may not feel guilty about their sexual behaviors, but most are tormented by the potential consequences of revealing their lies and deception.