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The Fear of Self-Disclosure🗣

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In most cases, like most of us in the social and professional world, I am communicating lessons  I’ve learned from lived experience.

Regardless of my role, I am communicating an important message. In most cases, when a message is received, we get feedback. Sometimes people will like what we have to say, and others 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 disagree with the statement, but if we genuinely prioritize the act of communication over the importance of the reception of the message, we take one giant leap closer to getting over our self-importance in our interpersonal landscapes. 

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

However, I am suggesting that this fear is misplaced. IF you are fearful of people disliking you because of what you have to say, think again. 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. 

I mean 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.

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, and everyone are more concerned with people’s judgments and biases that we lose sight of our mission to share the message. People don’t have to agree or like you, but sharing the news is more important if they listen. 

With this said, prioritizing the message’s clarity needs to be the primary concern for helping professionals. No question sharing the news and communicating it the right way needs to be what’s doted upon by helpers if help 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. 

If people appreciate you, authenticity, honesty, and candidness are better qualities than just telling people what they want or what you think they should hear. In the helping profession, where authenticity is also scarce and needs to be a commodity, we are doing others a disservice that we can learn from our lived experience.

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

People appreciate honesty. People appreciate candidness, not artificiality or assumptions of their particular likes and dislikes. My head spins when I discover a common fear of sharing specific aspects of their past after speaking with other peers, friends, family, and all those involved in the helping process. 

Not everything is relevant to go ahead and disclose. The fear or primary concern of the person sharing should constantly 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 genuinely recovered, is in recovery, or a person interested in having people benefit from your life’s lessons, then 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 within a better position to begin learning from your lived experience, but you also included them in your path to healing. The very act of having your peer, friend, or family member in your approach to recovery is healing. 

Your path to healing isn’t just healing in and of itself. It is a simple step further in the way to sustainable recovery. Indeed, recovery and our belief in experiencing positive change in our lives need to be authentic if we begin and stay healed. The omission of truth is a disservice to peers and those who risk making the same mistakes. 

Share, feel free to disclose all aspects of your lived experience and mental health history. The moment we begin limiting the self-disclosed lessons, we genuinely put a roadblock on communication and the possibility of people learning from our lived experience.

About the Author

J. Peters

Max Guttman is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice in New York City. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist, and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a ‘2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10’ award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association.

Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes about his lived experiences with schizophrenia.

‘I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery,’ Guttman says. ‘After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my ‘break,’ I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others.’

‘In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity, and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and Recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients.’

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