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Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie Hardcover – April 11, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Says Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and a Today show regular, "Secrets... are maddening, thrilling, dangerous.... And every day, secret-keepers keep on doing what they do: living one life, and then living another." Creating and nurturing a secret self can be a psychologically normal part of a child's development, but when do secrets become destructive? Saltz takes us on an engrossing and voyeuristic journey through the secret lives of several people, some composites from her psychoanalytic practice: a lonely teen whose secret Internet life becomes deadly; a man whose wife catches him cheating the IRS; a woman shoplifting in her 50s. Even more fascinating are the accounts of famous secret-keepers: Charles Lindbergh, Tchaikovsky, T.E. Lawrence and sociopath killers like Dennis Rader (the "BTK" killer), among others. The difference between keeping a secret and living a secret life is one of degree, says Saltz, and the most malignant secrets are the ones that remain in our unconscious, causing us to repeatedly act out. While most people's secrets aren't as dramatic as the stories related here, this book serves as a cautionary tale of how a secret is formed, lived, justified—and eventually exposed. (Apr. 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Everyone is said to have a private side they reveal to few if any others. That's human nature, says popular TV psychiatrist Saltz, and can function as a healthy clearing in the woods that nourishes creativity and maintains sanity. But a secret life can take on a life of its own and threaten not just its keeper's sanity but his or her marriage, career, public reputation, and, in extreme cases, the lives of others. Saltz cites as examples the secret lives of Charles Lindbergh, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), and Dennis Rader, the BTK killer. Most secret lives aren't as dramatic as those, but they can be destructive nevertheless. Saltz profiles a handful of such secret lives (actually, composites drawn from the files of her practice) to illustrate how a secret life can begin innocently enough and mushroom into a destructive force. She also demonstrates how the secrets involved stemmed from unresolved childhood issues in what ends up as an argument for psychiatric intervention when a secret life goes out of control. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; First Edition edition (April 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767922743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767922746
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In my academic life, I was fascinated by privacy and secrecy and actually published some articles on those topics. So I was naturally eager to gain some new insights. Like many authors who are also psychoanalysts, Saltz raises questions instead of delivering answers.

Saltz organizes the book by categories of people with secrets: gay men and lesbians, lovers, addicts, and criminals. She illustrates with examples, composites of her own former patients, and sometimes with stories of public figures.

This technique represents the book's strength -- facinating stories -- but also weakness. One person's story rarely can be seen as an exemplar.

I can't help wondering how our views might change if we organized secrets by motivation rather than category. Some people have what Saltz calls malignant secrets, such as cheating spouses and criminals. Others have what she calls benign secrets, i.e., things we do that don't cause harm and aren't anyone else's business.

But we have other secrets that challenge us. Some people have secrets to protect their jobs and their lives -- and not just gay men and lesbians. Many years ago, I met a man who never told his employer he was Catholic.

Then we have secrets that represent simple on-disclosure and secrets that involve telling (and sometimes living) actual lies. We have secrets that represent discretion rather than necessity. I once knew a woman whose daughter was serving a long prison term. When asked, "Do you have children?" she had learned to come up with a story that didn't lead to more follow-up questions.

Some people keep secrets because they have inappropriate answers to appropriate questions. Casual acquaintances and coworkers feel comfortable asking most adults, "Where are your parents?
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Saltz takes a pinch of Freud with a dash of cognitive behavioral pyschology to create the framework of "Anatomy of a Secret Life." Two years ago, she published "Becoming Real" which explored the past of her clients to free them from their self-destructive behaviors of today. She utilizes the same formula in her new book to look at the very public and secret lives of Lawrence of Arabia and Charles Lindbergh among other case studies. Written in a chatty & readable style, she hammers home her point that secret lives are rooted in their childhood and are very destructive. M. Scott Peck makes the same point from a religious viewpoint in his 1983 book, "People of the Lie."
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Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a clear-cut, simple explanation of a universal human condition -- the need to keep secrets, and how those secrets can be helpful and necessary, or sometimes, risky and even deadly. The writing is clear and easily understood (even early explanation of the id and ego -- and the first time I think I've ever really understood either) and has a pleasant lack of judgement for even the basest behaviors -- seemed oddly humanizing to me.

I guess this book most attracted me because I really do take people at their word and am stunned with a friend's secrets come out -- shocking and hard to grasp. It's made me understand the whole phenomena more and really has me wondering: what secrets do I keep? Are they healthy or building toward disaster? I actually made a list of my secrets and was surprised at the emotional charge some of them had -- not so much my fear of discovery as the way they affect behavior. For example, I have a friend who I once -- years ago -- gossiped about viciously and as it turned out, incorrectly. I've never had the guts to confess and whenever friend calls, I work so hard to be her very best friend, not because we're so particularly close, but because I have this mean little secret driving me on. Interesting subject. Much to chew on.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I ordered this book because I wanted to understand Charles Lindbergh's secret life and, after reading Anatomy of a Secret Life, I did--somewhat. The author used other examples as well and clearly explained the reasons why people have secret lives: unresolved issues in their youth which lead to unconventional choices later on. Since no one really knows what went wrong in Lindbergh's young life, we can't pinpoint what led to his belief in eugenics and his decision to produce more children, but beyond this, to scrupulously nurture them too. Obviously, his pride inflated by excessive adulation played a part in his devotion to eugenics, but greater men daring greater feats have kept their humility and humanity intact. Nevertheless, the author does a stellar job, avoiding an overly academic approach while examining the underpinnings of what propels certain people into leading two lives. Still, unless a person chooses to be a spy, one double life seems to mirror the other: Lindbergh had four "married with children" lives at the same time and kept three of them a secret from his official wife, Anne Morrow. So, though I'm still a bit mystified by Lindbergh's bourgeois secret life, if I want to research his youth any further, Dr. Saltz has given me the key to unlock the secret. I thank her and highly recommend her fine book.
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Format: Hardcover
The best book Ive ever read on this subject. You wont put it down once you start. It really makes you think about the people you know.
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