The Fear of Self-Disclosure

We all talk about ourselves to other people in our lives. We talk about the day-to-day bullshit, the victories, however small, the good, the bad; all of it. As a therapist, peer, disability rights advocate, and just plain people person, I love talking to people about just about anything. Despite my love of talking, as with all communication there is a purpose. The point is there is a message I am trying to get across to the listener.

In most cases, like most of us in the social and professional world I am communicating a message learned from lived experience, sometimes learned, from observation, other times from research, as well as experiential knowledge. Regardless of the signal or role I am in or hat I am wearing in my job or professional work, or friend I am speaking with I am communicating an important message. In most cases, the message is received, and we get feedback. Sometimes people will like what we have to say, and other times, people will disagree.

How we signal, that is, send the message, depends on our skills as communicators. While everyone processes the same content differently, it is in our hands as communicators, regardless of the hats we wear, to communicate the message in a manner in which people will understand it. The person may not agree with the message, but if we really are truly to prioritize the act of communication over the importance of the messages reception we take one giant leap closer to getting over our own self-importance in our interpersonal landscapes. This includes our jobs, our social circles, and all things involving interacting with the people in our lives.

In a world where diversity can sometimes be a scarcity, there is no reason to take further steps in limiting our ability to reach people. In my profession particularly, the helping field, and for all of us that simply enjoy time spent in the company of others, there is an unspoken fear that the person we are speaking to wont listen or isn’t listening.Even worse, we perhaps fear the listener, client, or friend will dislike us because of what we are saying.

I am suggesting however, for all of you that are fearful of people disliking you because of what you have to say, that this fear is misplaced. In fact, there is no such thing as a misuse of self-disclosure or the act of revealing your history to other people. Instead, there is only the possibility of miscommunication. What I mean is that the fear of people knowing more about you, at least in my opinion, shouldn’t be the priority in the helping profession, instead, the fear of not signaling or sending the right message needs to be the concern.

Why? In a world of increasing tragedy and unfortunate circumstances, we should be out there helping people learn from our lived experiences. Instead, helpers, friends, family, ands everyone is more concerned with the judgments and biases of people that we lose sight of our mission to share the message. People don’t have to agree or like you, but if they are listening, sharing the message is more important.With this said, prioritizing the clarity of the message needs to be the primary concern for people in the helping profession. There is no question that sharing the message and communicating it the right way needs to be what’s really doted upon by helpers if helping is, in fact, the primary goal of what we are setting out to do.

Instead, our fear takes over and we put these self-imposed limits on our communication that we feel people will respect more. I am suggesting that if people will respect you, authenticity, honesty, and candidness are better qualities than just telling people what they want or you think they should hear. In the helping profession, where authenticity is also a scarcity, and really needs to be a commodity, we are doing others a disservice that can learn from our lived experience.

What baffles me is that that there are so many peers, people with lived experience and those carrying a diagnosis, that are uncomfortable with their lived experience. These are peers that limit and self-impose boundaries around what they share about their history depending on the hat they are wearing, whom they speak to, and how the person they are communicating with with might perhaps appreciate what they have to say.

I just want to say people appreciate honesty. People appreciate candidness, not artificiality or assumptions of their particular likes and dislikes. This is why my head spins when I discover after speaking with other peers, friends, family, and all those involved with the helping process a common fear of sharing particular aspects of of their past. This is not say that everything is relevant to go ahead and disclose, or even if the person listening will benefit, but the fear, or primary concern of the person sharing should always be communicating their history accurately and effectively for the person listening to have the opportunity to benefit from it.

If you are a peer who has truly recovered, in recovery, or a person interested in having people benefit from your life’s lessons than who cares if the person listening doesn’t like you or what you have to say. Not only did you put that person you shared your history with in a better position to be begin learning from your lived experience, you also included them in your path to healing. The very act of including your peer, friend, or family member in your path to healing is healing. Including your peer in your path to healing isn’t just healing in and of itself it is a genuine step further in the path to sustainable recovery.

Indeed, recovery and our belief in experiencing positive change in our lives needs to be authentic and real if we are to begin and stay healed. Omission of the truth and all aspects learned in our path to learning is a disservice to our peers, ourselves, and those that run the risk of making the same mistakes. Share, feel free to disclose all aspects of your lived experience and mental health history. The moment we begin limiting our self-disclosed lessons we truly put a roadblock on communication and the possibility people learning from our lived experience.

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