The Jewish Podcaster with too many secrets

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The Jewish Podcaster with too many secrets

Hundreds of people have confided in author Andrew Gold. In his new book he shares what they told him

Alex Galbinski is a Jewish News journalist

Author and podcaster Andrew Gold who is spilling the beans on the psychology of secrets
Author and podcaster Andrew Gold who is spilling the beans on the psychology of secrets

I’m really bad at keeping secrets,” admits Andrew Gold as we chat about his book, The Psychology of Secrets: My Adventures with Murderers, Cults and Influencers. “My brother was coming to my dad’s surprise birthday and I had to keep it quiet, but I slipped up. Luckily my dad didn’t seem to twig, but it was such a relief when my brother turned up.”

This type of “prosocial” lie or secret is a very different proposition to a “negative” one, Andrew says, “because it wasn’t based on guilt or shame – just a concern about spoiling something.” Those involving humiliation or criminality can eat away at a person – and he should know, because people have confided hundreds of secrets to him, and those he does not share.

“People keep secrets all their lives, while some people confess just before going to their grave,” says Andrew, who is an investigative journalist, podcaster and film-maker. “The secrets can be related to financial impropriety or cheating or even, what a lot of people have, romantic desire for others they’re not telling their spouse about.

“The more secrets you have – and we are each said to hold around 13 secrets at any one time – and the more they directly relate to your identity in particular, the more difficult it becomes. So you can [keep the secrets], but become extremely stressed. And it can affect not just your mental health, but your physical health too.”

Andrew, who describes himself as an “atheist Jew” and speaks five languages, examines the world of cults and religions that are usually closed to outsiders. These include the strictly-Orthodox Jewish world as well as Mormonism and Scientology. He speaks to Chasidic Jew turned Netflix reality star and fashion mogul, Julia Haart (of My Unorthodox Life fame), who had what could be considered an abusive childhood.

Growing up in Monsey, New York, Julia’s parents treated her almost like a Cinderella and she had to look after her seven siblings with no emotional support. “Everything she does appears to be in defiance of her authoritarian upbringing,” he writes. “In escaping the extreme secretive collectivism of the Charedi community, she has embraced the expressive individualism of modern America.”

Andrew believes the Chasidic community is interesting because it’s so closed. “It thrives on secrets and they’re used to keep the outside world at bay, so that few of their members feel an urge to leave,” he explains. “Like most high-control groups, they teach from a young age that curiosity is a bad thing. God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge… all these years later, the Chasidim teach their members not to own or watch a TV. In that sense, they’re not all that different from other high-control religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists or Mormons.”

But he emphasises that Julia’s anger is only one side of the coin. “A lot of the Chasidic people I spoke with told me of the joys of community, tradition and storytelling. Many of the women seem genuinely happy in their roles and it gave me food for thought. Julia said that many women in the States didn’t want the vote. And that’s fine – they don’t have to vote. But they do need to have the choice. And that’s how she feels about the Chasidic women. It can be a fulfilling life for many women – but they need to have the choice; and many don’t.”

His YouTube podcasts, Andrew Gold (293,000 subscribers) and Heretics (more than 92,000 subscribers) brought him into the orbit of a host of extraordinary characters. These include exorcists, cult members, Guantanamo Bay prisoners and those charged with heinous crimes; many
of whom shared some weird – and downright horrendous – secrets.

He tells me about the ‘fever model’ regarding the keeping of secrets. “It’s thought that the secret infests your mind in much the same way as a fever; it makes your body difficult to inhabit and it becomes really hard to live with that secret.

“A lot of it comes down to shame from the discrepancy between the identity you present to the world and the secret one inside. There’s also some stress from not wanting to give something away, not being able to talk about it and reframe what happened.”

As to why he wrote his book, which was published last week, Andrew says: “I came to realise they were all keeping secrets of some kind and were all suffering in different ways. It made sense to investigate why people were revealing their secrets to me, but also to others,
such as hairdressers and psychologists.”

Andrew out on book signings and hunting for more secrets

A surprising thing Andrew, 34, discovered when researching the book
was that psychopaths are not better at cheating lie detectors than regular people and that most people do, in fact, tell the truth (although we lie to ourselves). “We think everyone’s lying a lot. You think about politicians and things, but the reason those stories are so big is because they’re the exception. Evolutionarily, it doesn’t make sense for us to lie often because we will eventually be found out and kicked out the tribe. And I think a very small percentage of people are actually doing most of the lying.”

He has also tackles thorny subjects, including radical Islam and trans ideology, and has spoken to paedophiles and psychopaths. He has been ‘cancelled’ and uninvited to events and I ask if he’s ever scared he’s putting himself in danger.

“Always! I live in a state of perpetual fear,” Andrew says, laughing. But he is fascinated by people and loves what he does. A fan of Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson, Andrew has made and presented documentaries for the BBC and HBO – but the impetus for Heretics came after 50 production companies gave him short shrift, telling him that, although they loved his ideas for shows, they wanted someone from an ethnic minority to present them.

Andrew’s ideas include a programme about a region in Bolivia where adulterers are made to stand in anthills as punishment, a blind football team in Argentina and a competition for fat women in Paraguay. Luckily for us, his commitment to delving into fascinating worlds continues.

The Psychology of Secrets by Andrew Gold is published by Macmillan, £20 (hardback)

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