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

J. Peters is the Editor-in-Chief of Mental Health Affairs.

Award-winning book author and Bold 10 Under ten award recipient J. Peters, LCSW. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mental health therapist and disability rights advocate Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various care systems, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health, or the city's Department of Corrections.

Mr. Peter's battle with Schizophrenia began at New London University in his last semester of college. Discharged from Greater Liberty State Hospital Center in July 2008, Jacque's recovery was swift but not painless and indeed brutal after spending six months there.

He has published several journal articles on recovery and mental health and three books: University on Watch, Small Fingernails, and Wales High School. He is also a board member of the newspaper City Voices. Mr. Peters currently sits on the CAB committee (Consumer Advisory Board) for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in NYC and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) as a peer advocate.

Owner of Recovery Now in New York, a private psychotherapy practice, Mr. Peter's approach is rooted in a foundation of evidence-based practices (EBP). Jacques earned a master's degree in Social Work from Binghamton University and worked as a field instructor for master's and bachelor's level students in NYC.

He is blogging daily on his site mentalhealthaffairs.blog, Mr. Peters regularly writes articles relating to his lived experience with a mental health diagnosis.

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