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They're Called "Personal Issues" for a Reason

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"Everyone has something at home they don't want anyone to see; that is one of the functions of a home, to provide a spot to keep such things."
Nero Wolfe, The Red Box

Keeping Secrets Sucks. We all know that. However, sometimes, the only thing that sucks more is telling those Dark Secrets. Not as common as some other Stock Aesops due to its status as a somewhat Hard Truth Aesop. It serves as either a subversion or aversion of the common belief that friends don't keep secrets from friends. The idea behind this is that everybody has certain things that they'd really rather not have to say, and it isn't right to force people to say those things just to satiate one's curiosity. Say The Atoner wants to start over after his Dark and Troubled Past, for example. Or say someone doesn't want anyone to find out about a tragedy that affected them previously and offer undesired sympathy. On the other hand, this usually does come with an exemption for if there's something they're keeping secret that affects you directly.

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It can also be used as a handwave in order to keep The Masquerade going. Basically, a stranger comes to town and ingratiates himself in a group. Usually, this will be a main character. In order to explain why no one in the group is curious about just why this person Walking the Earth has just wandered into town, this aesop is invoked. Sometimes, this can also be the explanation for an Unusually Uninteresting Sight.

See also There Are No Therapists. Compare and contrast to Somber Backstory Revelation.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle:
    • Suzu and Matsuri have been close friends since early childhood, but Matsuri never bothers to talk about his personal life apart from what she directly sees. For instance, Suzu had no idea Matsuri's mother moved away for work—even though he stayed to be with Suzu. She finds this a bit irritating, feeling as if Matsuri doesn't want her to be part of her life. The reality seems more that Matsuri is so overfocused on Suzu, he doesn't treat his own life as worth bringing up.
    • Despite Suzu and Matsuri both being her close friends, Lu doesn't care when people start realizing that they're in love with each other because it's not something they've brought up with her.
      I have no comment. People are free to love who they choose.
  • In Bleach, when Ichigo finally learns that his father is a Shinigami, he quickly figures that Isshin must've had a damn good reason for not telling him, and agrees to wait until he is ready to tell him the truth (that they're in the middle of fighting Aizen also helps). When we finally learn why, it turns out Ichigo was right, since it ties in to the real reason behind the death of his mother, Masaki.
  • Cowboy Bebop. Everyone on the Bebop has issues (except Ein). Everyone knows that all the other people have issues too, but not what caused them. And none of them ever pry because Jet and Spike both believe heavily in this trope, Faye and Ed don't care, and Ein's a dog so it's not like he can just play therapist. The overall arc of the show is seeing how their old deeds come back to haunt them and how this slowly, gradually, makes them open up to each other.
  • At the end of Eden of the East, after Saki successfully finds Takizawa's mother, who abandoned him when he was five, she vanishes without a trace. Saki brushes this off with "I guess she has reasons she can't tell anyone."
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Paz's Day in the Limelight episode revolves around his habit of sleeping around and a girl he wanted to stay with but couldn't or so he told her. He basically tells everyone it's a personal matter (when he realises what's going on) and leaves behind an address so they can clean up the aftermath:
    "It's a personal problem. I'll deal with it myself. If I become an embarrassment to Section 9 you can cut me off."
  • One Piece:
    • Luffy makes it clear that he doesn't care about the past when it comes to his True Companions. This tendency is so strong that on the couple of occasions when a character's backstory has to be related in order to explain the current situation, Luffy simply falls asleep, not to bother waking back up until the talking's over. This was first seen in the Arlong Park arc, when Nami's sister, Nojiko, prepares to explain Nami's past to the Straw Hats, only for Luffy to say that he doesn't care before immediately leaving on a walk.note  When Luffy's own past is revealed, it turns out this tendency has roots: his first set of True Companions were his two surrogate brothers — one a nobleman in a setting where Aristocrats Are Evil, and one the son of the infamous Pirate King — who were raised by Luffy's grandfather, a Marine hero, alongside a dreaded mountain bandit. Because of this unusual background, Luffy firmly believes that a person's past doesn't matter at all.
    • Sanji is particularly dodgy about his past and, for a long time, he's the only member of the crew who's backstory isn't fully fleshed out. He's also the one who is the most vocal about a person's right to keep their past hidden. When his past is finally revealed, he takes a leave of absence from the crew to deal with it solo, claiming that it's his problem and no one else's. The others, who take Undying Loyalty as their ethos, are not amused and chase after him anyway.
  • Kaoru says something along these lines at the beginning of Rurouni Kenshin when she invites Kenshin to live at the dojo with her, basically saying that what happened in his past is none of her business.
  • Averted in Saiyuki, surprisingly. At first glance, it seems like this would be the case since all four main characters don't always get along and all have some extremely fucked up issues they definitely keep from everyday conversation. A couple situations help subvert it though. The first is that Goku HATES people keeping secrets from him, as seen when Gojyo's backstory is revealed (though it is Hakkai that tells that particular tale, Gojyo isn't the type to mind Goku knowing). The other is that the one who's most touchy about his issues, Hakkai, and who tends to bottle things up had all the others playing active roles in his backstory. In a profile of Hakkai, Minekura did state that Hakkai desperately wishes he could employ this trope sometimes.
  • Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun:
    • This is the personal philosophy of Amaryllis Asmodeus, Lord of Lust and one of the strongest demons in the series. Her son, Alice, is best friends with the titular Iruma. Iruma, having been sold to an elder demon by his greedy, abusive, bastard parents and that demon raising him as a beloved grandson, keeps the fact he is human from most everyone. This is because some demons might try to eat him because of the belief doing so will make them stronger. Iruma is keeping hidden him being human from Alice and another friend Clara. While at Alice's house, Iruma worries about keeping this secret still from them after so many months together with his friends. Amaryllis only overhears that he has a secret and helps calm him by stating having secrets doesn't mean the relationship is weak. There are sometimes things which are fine to be kept secret even between lovers. Iruma takes this to heart and understands.
    • Iruma repeats this concept later when Alice admits to having a secret, namely that fire magic isn't his bloodline power but he is uncomfortable telling Iruma his true ability. Iruma sees the distress on Alice's face and assures him it's okay. After all, Iruma notes he has a few secrets he is keeping and guesses their friend Clara has her own. This doesn't mean they aren't close friends because they don't tell each other everything.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Bug Princess, Lydia is not in the least afraid to hang out with a bunch of dead people, nor even to be partially turned into one through a Magically-Binding Contract. What does she fear? Nothing she's willing to discuss.
  • but you gotta get up at least once more: After finally confronting Bakugou about his bullying, Izuku needs time to process what happened. Unfortunately, Ochako isn't willing to give him that time or space, driven by a desire to find out exactly what happened between them out of the belief that knowledge could help her fix matters. This refusal to be Locked Out of the Loop ultimately hurts far more than it helps.
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Jean-Paul does not like talking about his past or, indeed, anything personal, and wears multiple masks to that effect. Even Harry's talents for getting under people's skin only reveal so much, and bring out his more dangerous side.
    • Harry doesn't particularly like talking about various things he's gone through, mostly because they're hideously traumatic. Therapy, however, helps with this. That and a psychic connection with Carol.
  • Phoenix's Tear: Reignition: Golem isn't bothered by the revelation that Hare was keeping some pretty huge secrets from the rest of the Searchers due to this, reasoning that they all have things that they'd rather not share with each other. Reminiscence goes on to highlight some of the things Golem has chosen not to share with the others, such as how he ended up as the only guardian of the ruins or the fact he's killed humans in the past.
  • In The Teacher of All Things the events of V-Tamers have left their mark on all the previous chosen. This is most visible in Tai who is unable to trust the rest of the Digidestined at least in part because he always had to save the day on his own before.
  • All Mixed Up!: Odd Squad has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding agents' parents. Agents can't ask other agents about their parents, nor are they allowed to tell other agents about their own parents. Because of this policy, Otto, despite being close friends and work partners with Olive, is unaware of her life at home, and doesn't know what her parents are like, either (if she even has parents, that is). It's unknown why this policy is in place, but it's possible it may have something to do with Odd Squad's dislike of adults.
    • Patterns of the Past continues on this policy, with Oprah not being used to the now-retired Olesya talking so freely about her life before joining Odd Squad. As such, she's horrified to learn that her parents died when she was young and shortly before she joined the organization.

    Film 
  • The Body (2012): Álex is so smitten with Carla that he breaks his silence and tells her about his Dark Secret, the hit-and-run car accident he caused. Little does he know that Carla had been in that car witnessing her mother die.
  • In The Italian Job remake, Left Ear refuses to deal with the guard dogs because of an unspecified bad experience.
    Charlie: What happened?
    Left Ear: I had. A bad. Experience. Damn it, I'm deaf!
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men: First Class: There's a hint that Charles had an unhappy childhood, when he immediately picks out a young Raven's impersonation of his mother by the fact that she was being uncommonly motherly towards him in the prologue, but he otherwise simply chooses not to speak of it. After Erik makes a snide remark about his friend's wealth, Xavier's expression is a mixture of annoyance with a little bit of hurt, and Raven steps in between two men as if to "shield" her brother from Erik's not-so-nice comment. Although she says, "It was a hardship softened by me" in a light tone, there is no sarcasm in her voice, and Charles kisses her on the cheek as a quiet "thank you" for her support and understanding in what is a very sensitive matter to him.
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past: By 1973, Charles had never revealed to anyone — not even Raven, Erik or Hank — that as a nine-year-old kid, he thought he was going insane after his telepathy became active, and he didn't learn until he was twelve that he could in fact read other people's minds.
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    Literature 
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: This gets defied. When Myne is so worried about a conflict between her best friend Lutz and his parents that it distracts her from helping her mentor Ferdinand do his paperwork, Ferdinand decides it's his business and helps Myne figure out a possible solution.
  • Callahan's Crosstime Saloon has a strict "no snooping" rule about the guests' personal issues, which is enforced by the pianist's blackjack. If anyone wants to share their problems (whether it's about their messy divorce or the alien armada poised to annihilate Earth) they are welcome and even invited to do so, but get pushy and you'll end up face down on the driveway with a nasty welt on your head.
  • During Dr. Franklin's Island Semi and Miranda become very close, culminating in their first meeting in the white space. They'd had basically no secrets, but in that place, everything is laid bare. Semi is angered to find Miranda is so much less confident and more desperate and pitiable than she had believed. Miranda is frightened by Semi's anger at this and at people who seem more confident than her. They reconcile but don't like to be in the white space. Sometimes, you don't need all your secrets shared.
  • In Inheritance Cycle, Murtagh was fully prepared to spend his entire stay with the Varden in "some rat hole chewing on hardtack" due to his refusal to allow them to read his memories. Although he had confided in Eragon beforehand, he didn't want the knowledge to spread that he was the son of Morzan, the Rider who helped bring Big Bad Galbatorix to power.
  • In The Kingkiller Chronicle, a great deal of the problems that the hero, Kvothe, has with his close friends and Love Interest Denna stem from the fact that the evil group he's chasing isn't just terrifyingly powerful and to all appearances immortal, but so determined to staying secret that most people think they're mythological bogeymen. As such, none of his friends know the secret that is driving him. He also hides his money troubles and his history as a miserable, orphaned street child from his friends for fear of it colouring their relationships; for their part, they know he has some sort of Dark and Troubled Past but choose to respect his privacy.
  • In Redeeming Love—set in the Old West during the Gold Rush—once she's reformed and in love with Michael, Angel refuses to tell anyone about her past career as a prostitute. She deliberately dances around the subject when they meet their new neighbors, or when she acquires a job as a cook. They know she's hiding something, but are mostly kind enough not to press her too hard. it eventually turns out that almost all of the people she deliberately hid it from found out at some point along the way and never held it against her.
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, the sheriff makes the case for this on Boo Radley's behalf, arguing against making a heroic deed of his known to the rest of the town on the basis that he really does just want to be left alone and would not appreciate even exposure to public praise. Everyone else concedes the wisdom of this, and the exact nature of his Dark and Troubled Past is never made clear, which suggests this is the author's opinion as well.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Barrier: Rosa, the head servant of the house in which Hugo and Julia are part of the help, considers that personal problems are allowed to exist, but should stay at home and not affect one's work.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine has Rosa, who loathes telling people anything about herself. She'll mention personal details in the context of giving her opinion to other members of the precinct but goes into crisis mode when faced with the prospect of a dinner party where she'll have to talk about her family extensively.
    Rosa: (with visible effort) I have...two sisters.
  • Morgan from Criminal Minds is willing to risk jail time and the destruction of his career rather than admit to his teammates that he was sexually abused by the UnSub of the week. They figure it out anyway.
    • Discussed Trope at one point:
      Hotch: There are larger implications. I can't have someone on this team who keeps secrets.
      Gideon: Come on, Hotch, we all have secrets. Would you want us profiling you?
  • Was sort of the aesop of a How I Met Your Mother episode where Robin didn't want the group to know why she hates malls. Her secret eventually came out anyway thanks to Barney dredging it up, but she gets over it pretty quickly. So... the episode was about this but in the end, there wasn't that much a point made either way because Robin ultimately didn't seem to mind that much that everyone found out.
    • A straighter example is when Robin finds out that she's infertile. She doesn't want to tell anyone because she thinks that their sympathy would just make things worse.
  • In the third season of Leverage, it turns out that Eliot used to work for the Big Bad that they've been chasing for most of the season and has not seen fit to enlighten the rest of his crew. He's not willing to elaborate on the details.
    Eliot: The worst thing I ever did in my entire life, I did for Damien Moreau. And I-I'll never be clean of that.
    Parker: What did you do?
    Eliot: Don't ask me that, Parker. Because if you ask me, I'm gonna tell you. So please, don't ask me.
  • Mad Men: Joan forbids the Sterling Cooper secretaries from crying in the break room because she believes that personal issues are meant to be left at home.
  • Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation loathes getting familiar with people so much that he even had his personnel file completely redacted so that there is nothing available about him in the public record.

    Manhwa 
  • Anaak from Tower of God keeps it a secret that her mother was a Princess of Jahad who eloped with a man and her parents were assassinated for that reason. Khun finds out and only indicates that Anaak has some issues. Shibisu tells her it's alright to keep those secrets with her.

    Play-by-Post Games 
  • In-game at Absit Omen the greatest example would be how Casey O'Doherty keeps his backstory hidden. Being born Wrong Genetic Sex and physically weak in a family of stereotypically evil Slytherins prompts an attempted super masculine outward persona in most of his interactions. This is coupled with different gendered personas as a form of mental rebellion. No matter which identity he acts under, Casey doesn't want anybody to find out who he really is.
  • Doubt Academy's Akari sincerely believes in this. This leads to her lashing out at her classmates during their first trial, as they get sidetracked by her wanting to keep some personal items to herself and out of the spotlight. This directly leads to her being falsely convicted of the crime and executed.

    Podcasts 
  • The Magnus Archives: Martin presents himself as the sweet and slightly awkward assistant to all of his coworkers, but he has a lot of problems in his personal life that he keeps from them. He lies about his relationship with his mother to Jon when confronted, saying that it's difficult but he takes care of her, when in reality she emotionally abused him throughout his childhood and now as an adult wants nothing to do with him but still relies on him to pay for her nursing home and medical expenses. In addition, throughout season 4 Martin keeps the fact that he's working on ways to stop the Extinction and slowly becoming a servant of the Lonely from the rest of the institute by isolating himself from them.

    Video Games 
  • Tragically used in BlazBlue. Litchi Faye-Ling presents herself as a kindhearted and all-compassionate doctor, but she has a personal issue of contracting the corruption of the Boundary in her personal quest to save a friend, Arakune, to absolve her guilt and grief of losing him and is in danger of becoming a blob like him. She absolutely refuses to tell this personal issue to anyone else to not let them throw themselves in danger to help her, to the point that in almost everyone's eyes that actually knows what's going on (Kokonoe, Rachel, and even a portion of fandom), she comes off as an obsessed, egotistical, selfish woman who is too blinded by love to the point of stupidity, and the enemy team exploited that to get her to join them as much as she didn't want to.
  • The concept is paraphrased by Medoute at the beginning of Blaze Union's B route when she's trying to dissuade Siskier from butting into Aegina's past. (Of course, Medoute has things that happened in her past that she doesn't want to talk about, either.) Since Aegina's personal issues start causing huge problems for the party later on, though, she winds up having to discuss them and the point becomes moot. It's also suggested that if the other characters had known a little more about Garlot's personal issues, he might not have taken such an emotional beating over the course of the canon route.
  • Alistair, in Dragon Age: Origins, is unwilling to speak about his past prior to joining the Grey Wardens. If the Warden asks him about it, he obfuscates with silly stories about flying dogs who hated cheese. The plot of the game eventually forces him to reveal his secret to the player. He's the bastard half-brother of the recently slaughtered king, and technically, the rightful heir to a throne he very much does not want.
  • Squall in Final Fantasy VIII takes this attitude for a good half of the game, believing that everyone has to deal with their own personal issues on their own and there's no point in discussing them. The rest of the cast disagrees.
  • Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days uses this as a handwave in Olympus Coliseum after Phil finds out that Roxas wasn't, in fact, referred to him by Hercules.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, Carth Onasi doesn't like to talk about his past precisely because of trust issues stemming from the betrayal of his mentor. It's not that he doesn't want someone to talk to, but that he's afraid of getting hurt again. Eventually he will come clean when he gets to trust you enough, but it will have to happen bit by bit as he'll always get defensive after a bit of talking.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Atton Rand really doesn't want the PC to find out about his Dark and Troubled Past. If you ask him to tell you about his past, he will say that he does not ask questions about the PC's past, so he should be left alone too. He is so unwilling to share that when Kreia digs up the truth via Mind Rape, he agrees to be her pawn so that she doesn't tell the Exile. He will get over it if your influence is high enough, though.
  • In Mass Effect: Andromeda, one of the colonies has a rule about "staying out of [other people's] grief". The logic being that if someone comes to you with the problem, then they're ready to admit they need help. Pushing them to open up tends to make some people close up further or lash out, especially since a lot of people in the Andromeda Initiative are dealing with the fact that they are light years away from home in a different galaxy on a mission that has so far been a disaster.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry there are two important examples.
    • First, nobody tells Keiichi about the town's rather dark past because it's frankly off-putting and embarrassing, but the mystery surrounding it sets off Keiichi's Hinamizawa Syndrome in Onikakushi-hen and serves as an introduction to the story.
    • In Tsumihoroboshi-hen, Rena is distrustful of Keiichi because she learns that before he moved here he started firing at little kids with an airsoft gun. He hadn't brought it up before because he was really guilty about it, but after this, he goes and tells everyone else. None of them wanted to know since it frankly has nothing to do with them, rejecting Keiichi's assumption that friends should tell each other everything. Mion flat-out states that if having friends means confessing every single wrong you've ever done (particularly ones that don't matter anymore), then she doesn't want any friends.
  • In Long Live the Queen, an event may have Arisse begin to mention what event it was that traumatized one of her younger sons so much, but she quickly stops herself and makes it clear to Elodie that she has no right to interrogate Arisse or her son about said event, and that if her son wants Elodie to know about it, he will come to her and bring the matter up himself. Justified, as the event itself didn't affect Arisse in the long run and no right to talk about her son's troubles without his consent. This includes that talking about the event that traumatized her younger son will also lay open the trauma that her older son, Kevan, has gone through.
  • Umineko: When They Cry uses this as one of its main morals, especially late in, with the usual metaphor of reading someone's diary. In Episode 5, Erika read Natsuhi's diary in order to find a motive for her being the culprit. In Episode 8, Hachijo sets the entire audience into a frenzy by saying that she will not present to them Eva's diary, as she had announced, in order to keep Beatrice's catbox closed.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • This trope comes into play in Where the Bears Are, namely Todd's reasons for not wanting to talk to the police in Season One. In Season Two, we find out that his uncles were in the Mafia back in Philadelphia, he was in a gang, he has a record, and he came to Los Angeles to get away from all that.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Zuko Alone", the farmer who takes in Zuko says that his past is his own business. True enough, the revelation to the whole village that Zuko is the Fire Nation prince makes them all turn against him. In addition, while the Gaang know most of each others' tragedies, they have no idea how bad Zuko's childhood was (unless he told them offscreen).
  • BoJack Horseman finds this out the hard way when his tell-all novel gets published. Not only does it wreck his relationship with Diane, the ghostwriter who wrote it, but it makes BoJack wonder if if he's even a good person at all. He ends up going to Diane, literally begging her to tell him that he's worth something.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Bow has known Glimmer for years without giving any details of his background or family because Bow's fathers are pacifists who wouldn't approve of him fighting in the Rebellion. Glimmer doesn't have any problem with respecting his privacy, and when Adora tries to pry, she tries to stop her lest it damage their friendship.
  • Star Wars: Rebels:
    • The only thing the Ghost crew knows about Ezra's past at the beginning is that he's an orphan, and he's avoidant of talking about his past. The details come to light later in Season 1, when the return of a family friend who discovered the fate of his parents forces him to confront it.
    • Likewise, Season 2 and 3 reveal Sabine never told the Ghost crew about her past beyond that the Empire did something to her family and that she was a disillusioned Imperial cadet. When she's forced to return home for the sake of the Rebellion, she reveals with some prying from Kanan that she's responsible for creating a Weapon of Mass Destruction specifically meant to kill Mandalorians and that her family disowned her for deserting.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Despite being lovers for years and eventually having a child together, Greg Universe and Rose Quartz never learned much of each other's past, Rose even saying it was a good thing to know less about her. While everyone who knew Rose was at least shocked that she was actually the alien ruler the Crystal Gems supposedly saved the Earth from, Greg didn't let it affect how he saw her.
      Greg: Well, I fell in love with Rose Quartz, and she fell in love with Mr. Universe. Sure, she never told me she used to be Pink Diamond, but, heh, I never told her I used to be Gregory DeMayo.
    • In Steven Universe: Future, Steven only discovers months after the fact that Sadie and Lars not only decided not to hook up romantically, but that the former is dating someone else. Steven is distressed by this development, assuming they've been avoiding each other and that Lars is actually leaving town out of heartbreak. Both respond that they had been talking to each other the whole time and are on good terms, but felt no obligation to inform Steven of the details.
      Steven: But when did this happen?! I didn't see any of this!
      Sadie: That's because it was private.

    Real Life 
  • By all accounts, Richard Nixon never shared his personal issues with anybody, including his closest friends, or even his wife, saying, "Even with close friends, I don't believe in letting your hair down, confiding this and that and the other thing. I believe you should keep your troubles to yourself. That's just the way I am. Some people are different. Not me. No way." Considering how paranoid the man was - it was his paranoia that made him go through with the Watergate Hotel scandal - it makes a scary amount of sense.
  • Ann Patchett was subject to this after writing a memoir about her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy. Grealy's family was upset that Patchett wrote about the ways their friendship was sometimes exhausting and unhealthy and felt that it would leave a bad final impression of her on anyone who read it.

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