Shy Bladder Secrecy: Coming out of the water closet

A big part of shy bladder syndrome for many people is the secrecy around it. We seek to avoid judgement and mockery, and pretend that we have no problem voiding in public.

shy bladder secrecy

Secrecy exacerbates shame

For many people, the shame surrounding their experiences with the seeming inability to void in public environments (aka paruresis) can lead to a deep desire to keep this issue as a secret. 

After all, this is a personal problem and is not anybody else’s business, so why let them know about it?

Whilst I have found no need or benefit to actively announce this problem to friends and family, there can be value in letting go of the need to keep this issue a secret.

Dr. Brené Brown once said “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.”

In other words, shame exists only in the dark. If you shine light on shame (by removing the element of secrecy) it begins to lose its grip on you.

Soooo should you just tell everyone about your experiences with paruresis? Not necessarily…

Let’s break this down a little further.

  1. In order to overcome inhibition, ‘you need to deliberately practice disinhibition’ (one of my favourite quotes by Maxwell Maltz). In other words, desensitisation via graduated exposure therapy is an integral key to making progress. 
  2. To start desensitising, you should start cutting down on coping behaviour such as seeking ‘safe’ restrooms without even having attempted to void in the closest restroom first.
  3. This means that in the process of gaining confidence and overcoming paruresis, you will likely experience misfires (when shy bladder syndrome keeps you from voiding).
  4. In turn, this may lead to occasions where people near you may notice your misfire.

If you are adamant on keeping your experiences with paruresis a top secret, you are increasing internal conflict when it comes to attempting to void in public restrooms. You know that you should attempt to void in the public restroom but your desire for secrecy will likely result in you not desensitising.

On the other hand, by making yourself open to the prospect that others may notice you experiencing some stage fright in restroom environments, you are reducing the heavy burden of secrecy.

Naturally, this is easier said than done. A way around this is to set yourself time challenges such as ‘I will attempt to void at the urinal for 2 minutes before leaving’. Over time, you can gradually increasing the time duration.

How to talk about paruresis

How to talk about paruresis may seem like a silly topic but hear me out.

Sometimes, serious problems call for serious discussions. However, for those whose lives have not been turned completely upside down by shy bladder syndrome, trying to laugh about it when it comes up in conversation rather than keeping it a secret can help offload some of the emotional weight.

For instance, instead of setting a meeting with a trusted friend, looking them deep in the eyes and giving them a 10 minute monologue about your experiences with this phobia, you could casually mention it in passing and laugh about how awkward it can be.

Of course, there is nuance to be accounted for. Different people with different experiences will likely have different ways of approaching this conversation.


Misfires are (more than) likely going to be a side effect of any progress made via exposure therapy. Consistent graduated exposure therapy can be made easier by accepting that those around you may occasionally notice your misfire.

When it comes to talking about paruresis, don’t feel as though you have to have a serious conversation about it. Casually bringing it up in conversation and throwing humour into the equation can ease the tension and make it easier to talk about.

Have a great day!

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