You find out — long after others already know — that a close friend has decided to adopt a child. Or your cousin is getting a divorce because she's been having an affair you didn't know about. Or maybe a co-worker told everyone but you that he is getting promoted.
Sometimes you make the discovery when the person (finally) lets you in on the news. Or worse, you discover it from someone who was trusted with the information. When people find themselves out of the loop, it can leave them hurt and confused, and maybe even angry at the person who decided not to trust them with the information.
"When you are left out of a secret by a close friend or family (member), your reality about the relationship you thought you had instantly changes," said life coach Jaime Kulaga, author of Type 'S'uperWoman — Finding the Life in Work-Life Balance. "You might feel a loss, anger or jealousy, and you have to deal with it."
Part of the reason for feeling betrayed has to do with the bonding that comes from sharing secrets in the first place, said neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.
Secrets stem from our deep need to connect and confide in other people. "The two great themes in human life are autonomy and intimacy," Hanson said. "On the one hand we think, 'I've got to be me,' but there's also a need to be part of 'we.' "
John McGrail, author of The Synthesis Effect: Your Direct Path to Personal Power and Transformation, said being trusted with a secret produces feelings of validation. "When we are let in on something, we feel empowered or trusted," he said. "That's a sign of your integrity and honor. It shows that you do esteem yourself, and that's a really good thing."
But naturally, that feeling can go in the other direction when you discover you've been left out of a secret. The experts we talked to offer some ways to react, and cope, without ruining your relationship from the withholders.
Don't take it personally. "Often times, when someone doesn't trust you with a secret, it could mean that they themselves aren't able to be trusted. So it's not that they don't trust you; they don't trust themselves," said McGrail. "It still hurts, but their behavior has nothing to do with you — it's about them."
Furthermore, Hanson said, in some cases people may feel they are doing you a favor by not telling you. "It's appropriate to respect other people's boundaries and not to assume you know why they are keeping something from you," Hanson said. "Sometimes they don't want you to worry. It could be because they think they want to protect you, like with an illness or loss of a job. They may have a very good reason for not sharing."
"What if they're ashamed of something? What if they're worried about the way you're going to react?" Kulaga asked.
They might even be keeping the information from you because they feel it's in the best interest of your relationship.
Retreat, rethink, react. "It's important not to react too quickly when you discover you are the last to know about something," Kulaga said.
"So first, you need to retreat from the situation because you are fuming with emotion over the secret," she said. "You are dealing with a loss, and the things that you might say and the ways you might say (them) might not be based on your value system — so you're probably going to make the situation worse. Back out, and get your mind right.
"Then we move to rethinking things, and usually a journal can help with this," she said. "When your mind is clear and you've had time to cool off, you can come from a good place to react. The more you can train yourself to do these steps, the better off you'll be."
Ask why you weren't told, or told sooner. "After you've cleared your head, I do think you should try to get some answers (as to why someone didn't share a secret with you)," Kulaga said, "but there's a difference between approaching and confronting the person."
Better to gently approach someone with kindness than angrily confront them, Kulaga said. "If you are confrontational, you might put the person on the defensive, asking them 'why' questions and pointing fingers. Approaching them (will create) a back-and-forth conversation, and that's what this needs to be about."
Rethink past behaviors. "If you do find out that someone doesn't trust you, maybe you need to look at your behaviors and see if there's any truth to (their concern)," McGrail said.
Have you revealed secrets in the past? Have you been judgmental about things other people have confided to you? Maybe there are some things about yourself that you need to change, McGrail said, and if you're honest with yourself, you can really grow as a person.
Reassess the relationship. "I think any time we're given an opportunity to look within ourselves and be mindful - you thought a bond you had with someone was at a certain level, and (it wasn't), which happens a lot — then it's a great time to reassess that relationship," McGrail said. "Maybe you put too much stock in a relationship that doesn't really deserve it."
Respect their decision, and move on. "A way to accept a decision you don't understand is through forgiveness and empathy," Kulaga said. "Empathy is when you have the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. It's different from sympathy, where you just feel bad for someone."
Even if their intentions come from an unkind place, though, it's out of your hands. "We can't control anyone else's perceptions in the world," McGrail said, "or how they view reality or their insecurities or their narcissism."
Let it go. If you do feel mistreated, again try to be forgiving, Kulaga said. "Forgiveness isn't a feeling; forgiveness is an action. You just have to do it ... whether you're doing it for them or doing it for you."
Finally, remember that being left out isn't always a bad thing. Hanson said that, although everyone has a desire to be a confidant, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Kulaga agrees. She used the example of a friend with car trouble at 1 a.m.: You don't want to go get him or her, but of course you do — that's what friends are for. Likewise, she said, being told a secret you would rather not know can be an unpleasant responsibility — and may even put you in the position of being entrusted with information that's being withheld from others. "Unfortunately, you now have to cope with how you're going to manage how you keep that secret," Kulaga said.
"For some people, some secrets are a burden," Hanson said. "You know something, you're not allowed to tell anyone else and it's a heavy load. ... It can be a heavy brick secret."