(CNN) -- Strangers often trust Edward with theirsecrets, whether it be on planes or walking down the street. He evenbecame a confidant in one place that he doesn't want most people to knowhe spent time: prison.
Edward's biggest secretis that he is a convicted felon, having been arrested twice for drivingunder the influence of alcohol. The second time, he spent 90 days behindbars contemplating his life.
Those reflections helpedhim make better life choices in the 10 years that have gone by since, hesays. But he belongs to a professional organization that would boot himimmediately if anyone there ever found out about his conviction, and hestill fears that someone in it will discover what he's hiding. Edward,and the others who agreed to speak about their personal experiences forthis article, asked that their real names not be used to protect theiridentities.
"It's not shame that'sthe reason I'm holding secrets in, especially with the DUI," saysEdward, 35, who lives in the Midwest. "It's more about, I don't feellike getting into the story again to have to explain why I'm not yourtypical felon" -- a violent or sexual offender.
While he says he feels noguilt or shame about his criminal record, he laments he can probablynever run for public office because his secret would emerge.
People keep secrets for all kinds of reasons.
Sam von Reiche, psychologist and success coach located in northern New Jersey, believes everyone has secrets to some extent.
"We all end up with somesense internally that we've done something wrong, or that there'ssomething wrong about us and a little deceptive," she said. "I thinkthat's just part of the human condition."
Generally, says vonReiche, "secrets do create a lot of separation from other people, andthey also prevent you from feeling truly authentic." But psychologistssay there are also situations where it might be better to withholdinformation from people, even close friends, if the revelation ofsecrets would cause more pain to you and others.
Nancy, 21, is stilldealing with her feelings toward her ex-boyfriend, who physically abusedher. They were together for four months in college and then broke up --at least, that's what Nancy's friends thought.
But secretly, Nancy wentback to him after one week. She didn't want her friends to know becauseshe knew they would think it was a bad idea.
"I was just convinced that he was going to change, and it was my fault," she said.
But he didn't change.Three months later, Nancy's relationship ended when, she says, she hadto call the police because of his abuse.
Nancy, who also lives inthe Midwest, has seen a therapist, but secretly longs for her exdespite the abuse. She found a website called Secret Regrets where people can anonymously share situations that no one knows about.
"I regret not being ableto let you go," Nancy wrote in a post. "I came back to you for thesecond time when I knew exactly what was going to happen."
Kevin Hansen, whofounded Secret Regrets, has collected about 25,000 confessions frompeople who are hiding something from a lot of people. The sentimentamong many of them, he says, is "nobody else could possibly understandwhat I'm going through, so I'm not going to tell anyone."Anonymity makes it more comfortable.
Hansen "has always beenpassionate about helping people," according to the website. He studiedpsychology and human behavior while earning a business degree, "and now,he's discovered an amazing way to reach people struggling with thebiggest regrets of their lives, and connect them with others who knowwhat they're going through."
The feedback from otheranonymous users has helped, Nancy said. Some of the messages said thingssuch as "you got out a lot sooner than me."
Anyone who has secrets about abuse should seek professional help, says Bobbie McDonald,a psychologist in Newport Beach, California. Revealing details of anongoing situation can be risky, as an abuser's behavior can beunpredictable. A counselor, psychologist or expert at a hotline can help put the person in touch with the right resources.
Irene, 23, found out shewas pregnant in August 2009. Her boyfriend at that time didn't want herto keep the child. Initially she wanted to go forward with thepregnancy, though she later changed her mind.
Irene, who lives in theSouth, didn't tell anyone in her family about the pregnancy until afterthe fact. Her mother didn't speak to her for two weeks, but eventuallycalmed down, she said.
Everyone she has toldhas been supportive about it, but it's not something she shares witheveryone. Her grandparents, for instance, still don't know. Like Nancy,she found support on the Secret Regrets website, where women in their60s tell her things will get easier with time.
The pregnancy andabortion used to be a source of shame, and Irene used to cry about it alot. These days, she is able to tell herself that she made the rightdecision. She was able to finish school and move on from a dysfunctionalrelationship with her former boyfriend.
"Self-forgiveness isalways critical to helping someone move past whatever secret that is,"von Reiche said. She sometimes gives clients take-home exercises --write down 15 reasons that you forgive yourself, for example.
The skeletons thatRachel keeps in her closet are actually costumes. Tucked away in herstudio apartment are a wolf's head and a full leopard outfit.
Rachel, 26, doesn't want her co-workers to know that she's a "furry."
Portrayals in popularculture may suggest the furry movement is about having sex in animalcostumes, but for some people that's not part of it at all, she said.
Individuals may define"furry" differently, but in Rachel's view, furry fandom consists ofpeople who enjoy cartooning, fantasy and humanized creatures. It's a wayof identifying yourself through animal characteristics, she said, andsome furries just appreciate the artwork.
Rachel herself lives inthe Midwest and is an artist on the side, drawing humanized animalcharacters. She particularly identifies with the hyena that she draws alot.
As much as she enjoysgoing to furry conventions, she tries to keep that under wraps at work.She's a manager at a Web software company and wants to maintain acertain level of professionalism.
"If people knew I hadthis whimsical side that likes to dress up and goof off, and that I drawcartoons in my spare time, that might seem kind of off-kilter," shesaid.
It's important forpeople to be comfortable and confident with all parts of themselves,McDonald says. But there are situations where revealing part of youridentity would do more harm than good.
"It can be unhealthy toreveal certain parts of ourselves if there are people close to us thatwould be very unaccepting of it, because of the pain and the separationthat that would cause to reveal that," McDonald said.
"My biggest regret isthat I ever started cheating on my husband," says a post on the SecretRegrets site. "Every time I do it, I say it's the last time, but itnever is. I don't know how to stop, and I feel so guilty about it."
It's a secret that psychologists often hear -- that someone has cheated on a spouse.
If it's a one-timetransgression -- perhaps a fling on a business trip -- it might be worthkeeping that a secret from your partner, said Karen Sherman, a psychologist in Long Island, New York.
Some therapists mightsay honesty is important if there is to be healing in the relationship,Sherman said. But her own view is that it depends on the individualcase. "Sometimes there really is more damage caused by telling it," shesaid.
However, if you'reinvolved in an ongoing affair and living a duplicitous life, you shouldend one relationship or the other, McDonald said. "I think it'simportant to really take the time to introspectively look at all aspectsof your situation."
The purpose of secrets
Shame, fear of embarrassment or fear of not being accepted often are the motivation behind keeping something secret.
But the anxiety thatcomes with some secrets isn't entirely bad, von Reiche said. Likenausea, "anxiety is your mind's way of telling you that something youare carrying needs to be purged," she said.
In other words, you mayfeel better if you get it out in a safe place, such as by confiding in atrusted friend, family member, community leader or mental healthprofessional.
Therapists will keepyour secrets except under certain conditions, such as if you areendangering yourself or others -- that's mandated by federal and statelaws. If you are having suicidal thoughts, this is not a secret youshould be alone with. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
But the main message inmany of these scenarios is that you should weigh the consequences --both to you and someone else. Think about whom you tell, how that personwill react and whether you will both be better off.
"If the world were readyto be accepting of everyone, it would be a better place," McDonaldsaid. "In an ideal society, we would have no secrets. Do I think that'slikely in your lifetime or my lifetime? No."