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The Psychology of a Double Life

"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9

It is when the secrets that were once so innocent become more and more complex, the potential consequences more difficult to face, that a once rudimentary, traditional, and singular life becomes a double life that many close friends and family regard as implausible when exposed. Those secrets are difficult to confess because of the shame, anxiety and guilt that they are associated with. The compounding of those simple secrets to eventually complicated and desperate situations that they become creates a metaphorical prison for its creators. Keeping those secrets becomes a lifestyle that, with time, is more and more demanding of its keeper’s time and energy. It is stressful, frustrating and exhausting with sometimes devastating outcomes. It is easy to wonder “Why would anyone want to put themselves through such torture? Why not just confess and move on?!”

Can you tell when someone is lying to you?

Case Studies

More persons than you would imagine have literally gone down a path of destruction as a result of a secret life that spiraled out of control. Many of these persons were considered to be respectable members of their communities before the truth was revealed. Some notable examples are:

  • A respected pediatrician with a small child and a dutiful stay-at-home wife was regularly sneaking off at night to bars, rendezvousing with prostitutes and even getting into fights with some of their pimps.

  • Famed architect Louis Kahn had a wife and daughter, but he also had two other children secretly by two mistresses.

  • Renowned Chief Justice Judge Sol Wachtler, is accused of resorting to blackmail, extortion and threats of kidnapping when his former lover ended their affair.

  • Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, appeared in public and to his wife of 13 years to be a good husband father and employee, but in his double life he had assaulted and murdered at least 48 women.

The Psychology

Recent studies show that 70% of all males and 50% of all females will have an extramarital affair at some point during their marriage. This information suggests that most people will eventually lead a double life.

According to Dr. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, some people use online interactive games like Sims Online to create families and communities that they wish they had. She believes that there is deep psychological meaning in how persons are using online identities to express problems and attempt to solve them in a relatively consequence-free environment.

The Fears

Someone whose secrets have become a secret life will usually avoid revealing the truth to family and friends because they are afraid of:

  • Rejection – when those who are close to them realize that they are not who they said they were

  • Judgment – of being a ‘bad’, immoral person

  • Loss of reputation and income – if employers discover that employees' secret activities are not compatible with the image that the employer wants his company to portray

  • Incarceration – if the secret activities are illegal, a potential consequence could be time spent in prison.

These are understandable fears that nobody would want to face. The problem is that not facing them quickly compounds the likelihood of these fears being realized.

The Dangers

The longer someone leads a double life, the more serious the consequences can become. Sometimes in an effort to keep secret activities from being revealed, persons go to unimaginable lengths to protect themselves. Such efforts can include:

  • lying

  • stealing

  • abandonment of family members

  • suicide

  • even murder!

How to get out…of that self-imposed prison

It is important to find the quickest and most wholesome and effective way of putting an end to this dangerous spiral.

Inevitably, the double life will come crashing down when the person is caught and the secret revealed but there are some whose self-destructive actions may be an unconscious cry for help. For example, persons who engage in continuous high-risk behavior (having multiple affairs, unprotected sex with strangers, stealing from your employer) will eventually get caught and they will have to face what they feared for so long. Psychologists recommend taking certain steps to escape this dangerous prison:

  • Stop keeping secrets. Find at least one trustworthy, caring person who you can share that private information with.

  • Seek professional counseling if you find that you have a habit of keeping secrets and no-one who you can confide in.

  • Also remember that although this secret life seems beyond your control, the situation can be altered and improved.

  • Deliberately examine, and stop ignoring the consequences of your actions.

Have you ever confessed something that you were ashamed of to a friend or family member and even though there may have been repercussions, before you knew it, the situation was behind you and you had moved on to have a healthy, happy life?

It’s not just possible, it’s also likely!


The text on this page, unless otherwise indicated, is owned by happiness coach (Karen McGibbon) who hereby asserts her copyright on the material. Permission must be granted by the author in writing prior to copy or republish this article in print or online. Thank you.

© Karen McGibbon

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