Self disclosure — what I reveal about myself — is something I think about a lot, in my work as a group and individual psychotherapist and, now, here in the blogosphere.
Some people who comment to me about this blog have said, “You are so brave, revealing so much of yourself!” I don’t feel brave about what I am writing here. As I’ve said in several other posts, I choose what to write here based on What Will Help Me To Write, in the moment. One might call that selfishness, not bravery.
At the same time, I recognize that it does take courage for people to expose themselves — because exposure increases vulnerability.
And I do feel fear, at times, after I launch a post into the Blogosphere with the “Publish” button. Sometimes, before clicking that Blue Square of Publishing, I hesitate. And after the launch, several fearful questions can arise — ones that I witness people experiencing in group therapy — such as, Did I reveal too much? Have I put myself in some danger now? Will I lose some people? Will I get hurt? Will I hurt others?
In my work, I am not a “blank slate” kind of therapist. My style is to self disclose, in a thoughtful way. I do let people know what I’m thinking, authentically, usually focusing on their issues — on their journey. When I self-disclose as a therapist, I often ask myself this question first, “Who is this for?” and I let the answer, “For the other person” help guide my choices in self-disclosure.
But the truth is that the answer to that question, “Who is this for?” isn’t a simple one, because any self-disclosure I do is also for … me.
I also guide and limit my self-disclosures as a therapist in another way. I don’t tell people personal details about myself and my life outside of my work. I reveal “existential” information about myself — that is, how I experience and deal with primal, human issues, like dealing with loss, self-doubt, fear, the need to connect with others, and so on.
And I have heard from many clients, patients, and group members — people I’ve worked with in different ways — that the way I self-disclose has been very helpful for them.
But my self-disclosure as a therapist is something I have some fears about, because there are no clear rules. Or — especially in the Earlier Days of Psychotherapy — the Rules of Self-Disclosure can be very rigid, like “Thou Shalt Reveal NOTHING!” And psychotherapy is not a science, folks, as much as some practitioners may want to think that it is, or believe that it’s getting closer to a science. So, to a certain extent, those of us in the Therapy Biz are all making this up as we go along. (Mind-Reading Moment: I’m imagining other therapists reading this paragraph and getting angry.) (Catastrophizing Moment: I’m imagining losing credibility in the Therapy Biz because of what I’m writing here.)
Phew! As usual, catching myself Mind Reading, Catastrophizing, or engaging in any other cognitive distortion — like I just did in that last paragraph — helps me to let go of fear. And I feel better!
So where was I?
Here’s some self disclosure. When I ask myself “So where was I?” I am really asking, what did I want to communicate here? That is, What was my wish, my intent for this communication? Because that guides what I choose to write, even if I “veer off” along the way with extraneous thoughts.
Here’s some more self disclosure. I am a lot more forgiving of other people’s imperfections or humanity than I am of my own. People I witness often apologize to me about their asides, their digressions — how they get “waylaid” when they are telling a story, by “extraneous” thoughts. When they apologize, I often say, completely authentically — “That’s the way people tell stories.”
But yet, I have trouble forgiving that humanity — that we are not perfect, linear story tellers — in myself.
Which reminds me of one of the Antidotes (to Cognitive Distortions) I’ve been collecting:
- The “Double-Standard” Method. Instead of judging yourself harshly, talk to yourself as compassionately as you might to a friend with a similar problem. Also, ask yourself, “How would I react if somebody else did this?”
So, to go back to that “Where was I?” question — What was it I wanted to reveal here today? What did I think would help me to write? Which also includes this: What did I feel a yearning to communicate to you, my reader, today?
Here are some things I wanted to self-disclose today:
I wanted to let you know about other important members of My Team (people who help me survive in this world by giving me personal or practical support). The team members I wanted to tell you about today include Bob and Laurie, who work at the Pacemaker Clinic, where I go for periodic check-ups.
I wanted to let you know that I’ve felt connected to Bob for several years, and that I appreciate, so much, how he treats me with respect.
I also wanted to let you know that, until Thursday (when I took this picture), I feared working with Laurie, because I did not feel connected with her. Because her style is so different from mine, I projected judgment onto her, and mind-read that she was thinking negative things about me, like “This woman is a pain-in-the-neck patient.” “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
I wanted to let you know something else about Laurie and my encounter with her on Thursday: I expected to work with another person at the clinic that day, named Melanie, whom I’ve known, trusted, and pretty-much-loved for over 20 years, and when Laurie came to get me for my test, I knew that I was showing my disappointment. As Laurie was putting the electrodes on me for my pacemaker test (which, honestly, has scared me for each of the hundreds of times I’ve had those tests before), I felt so lousy — with disappointment, anger, fear, and disconnection — that I decided to do something new and be authentic with her. So I said, ” Laurie. I don’t feel a connection to you. I wanted to let you know that. I also wanted to say something, that feels important, to myself and to you, right now. It used to be important to me, when I was a kid, to feel connected to everybody who treated me medically. But I’m not a kid any more. I don’t need that connection with everybody who treats me.”
I don’t know if Laurie understood everything I was saying to her, but she was authentic with me, too. She told me, in her own words, “I know you don’t feel connected to me. I know you feel much more connected to the other people here. That’s why I offered you the chance to wait for Bob to be available. Not everybody feels connected to everybody else. Some people feel connected to me, others don’t.”
And that exchange with Laurie was one of the best things that happened to me that day.
It was also great to see Bob after my test (which showed that everything was working great, by the way) and to blab with him a mile-a-minute about birthdays, vacations, What’s Going On With My Pacemaker, etc. etc.
And when I asked if I could take a picture of both Laurie and Bob and put them in my blog, they both seemed pleased to oblige.
I also wanted to tell you that after I took this picture of Laurie and Bob, I met with Dr. Mark Estes, who is one of two Crack Cardiologists on my team.
The Lead Cardiologist on My Team is Dr. Deeb Salem, whom I’ve been working with for over 30 years and who I pretty-much-adore, because he, from the moment I met him — when I was interviewing cardiologists after I decided to leave Children’s Hospital, where I had been treated from birth — showed me how smart he was and also treated me with respect. He let me know that he would treat me as a partner and an equal if we worked together.
And — like they did in my first encounter with my mechanic, Mark — all my Trust Indicators came up green when I first met Dr Salem. And Dr. Salem has been incredible — the most appreciated Medical Team Member I could ever imagine — ever since.
But I wanted to tell you, today, about Dr. Estes. Dr. Estes — because his style is different from mine — is also somebody with whom I’ve Mind Read in the past. That is, I’ve projected judgment onto him, specifically fearing that he might experience me as a pain-in-the-neck patient. And this is totally unfair to Dr. Estes, which I’ve known before, but which hit me with a burst of new understanding on Thursday, when he sat down and talked to me for about fifteen minutes after my pacemaker test with Laurie.
Dr. Estes is a very smart, very well-respected pacemaker specialist. He is also kind, thoughtful, and — above all — a very modest guy. As he self-disclosed to me on Thursday, “It’s my Quaker background.” He did not want me to take a picture of him and feature him in a blog post because, as he said in his own words, I don’t want to do anything that seems like self-promotion.
Dr. Estes also let me know, in new ways on Thursday — which I was able to take in because of the work I’ve been doing on self-acceptance — that he really appreciates me as a patient. He acknowledged that other doctors might find me a handful, because — as he said in his own words — I’m intelligent, I ask lots of questions, and I am complicated medically — but he said this to me, very clearly, on Thursday: I really enjoy working with you, Ann, exactly how you are.
And those encounters I had at The Pacemaker Clinic on Thursday felt so important to me, so liberating, so moving, that I walked away from that appointment, with tears in my eyes.
And I have tears in my eyes, now, dear reader.
Okay. My work here is done today.
Thank you so much for witnessing, as I self-disclose along this always surprising, team-supported journey.
P.S. I don’t think I will hesitate much before pressing “Publish” today.
P.P.S. Which is amazing!