RSS Feed

Search Results for: self-disclosure

Self-Disclosure, Part 2

self-disclosure part 2

Therapists are in that category of people who aren’t supposed to be real–right along with teachers, priests, and parents. They shouldn’t be at UVA football games talking smack with Tech fans. They’re not supposed to have divorces. Plural. (Usually one is acceptable.)  And they certainly aren’t supposed to struggle with anxiety and depression. Even my niece was surprised to learn that psychologists who treat depression can be depressed, and she’s only 8.

Freud is mostly to blame for this. He thought psychoanalysts should be a blank screen onto which patients projected all of their repressed sexual and aggressive urges while he sat behind them smoking cigars and snorting cocaine. And even though I wasn’t trained as a psychoanalyst, in grad school they discouraged us from using self-disclosure and from crying in session. (I really have a problem with that last one. I can’t help it. Sometimes I’m really moved by what clients say.)

But even Freud and my grad school supervisors did not say I should be a blank screen in all areas of my life. I guess it just felt safer to do so because I am terrified of judgment and criticism. That’s why I want to be perfect. That’s how my inner critic is able to manipulate me. That’s why I have developed such good empathy skills: if I can tell that the other person is upset with me, I can change my behavior before they have a chance to say anything.

I started this blog as a way to test out Brene Brown‘s claim that having the courage to share our vulnerabilities with others leads to engagement and meaningful connection. Some posts are still scary to share, but those seem to be the ones that people are the most thankful for because it makes them realize that they are not alone in their struggles. And it has made people who I don’t know very well feel closer to me. There’s this positive energy between us now when we interact. Sometimes they share their own vulnerabilities, which further strengthens our relationship. It really is a nicer way to be in the world.

After almost a year of blogging, I am finally taking the plunge by telling students about my blog. This is the one place where I have been reluctant to share my vulnerabilities because it could potentially undermine my credibility. But it will also serve as evidence that the people who they perceive as having their lives together are dealing with the same issues they deal with. Normalizing their experience, as therapists say.

But normalizing our experience takes practice. We need to be reminded over and over again. We need to repeat it to ourselves with every thought, feeling, and action that makes us worry that we’re crazy. And while everyone doesn’t need to blog about it, it certainly helps me to accept myself as is. So self-disclosure is as much a gift to myself as it is to anyone else who enjoys reading my blog.

 

Self-Disclosure

I started this blog as a way to put Brene Brown’s claim that vulnerability leads to connection to the test. I believed it in theory but now I have empirical evidence that it works. But self-disclosure is still scary.

It’s still a challenge to write about myself in a way that doesn’t out all of the people in my life who have not chosen to be vulnerable. So I try to talk about myself without blaming anyone else for my problems–in public, at least. Which is a good approach to life in general, I think.

It’s still hard to be open about my weaknesses, although people’s responses have been positive. I freak out a little when people remark on how honest a post was, because that means I said something that they probably wouldn’t have shared about themselves. But mostly I take it as a compliment.

There are still some posts that I have the urge to take down.  I haven’t done so yet, because then it will take me longer to get to 100 posts. Luckily I have enough posts that only the most dedicated readers will find them. And if they like my blog that much, they probably won’t judge me for them.

I still haven’t told clients about my blog. Partly because I’m not brave enough, but also because therapy needs to be about them. Usually they come to see me because they don’t have anyone else who will give them their undivided attention. If I were to say, Hey you know what? I wrote a blog on that very same problem. Here’s the address, that seems a little self-serving.

It’s hard to draw the line between unburdening yourself and burdening someone else. The best part about blogging is that I don’t have to feel guilty about unburdening myself because if you’re reading this, you have chosen to give me your undivided attention.

And for that, I am thankful.

Four Years Later…

self-love2

My blog is 4 years old today! Can you believe it? That is a lot of writing. And a lot of self-disclosure. I’m relieved that you have to sort through almost 300 posts to get to some of the more personal ones. If you’re that dedicated to my blog, then you’re entitled to hear my deep, dark secrets. The ones I’ve written about, at least.

Like the title of my blog says, my goal has been to practice self-acceptance. To accept that I don’t have to try to fit myself into some narrow definition of what it means to be normal. And I think I’ve come a long way. I’m kinder to myself and others. I’m more accepting of the curve balls that life throws at me. I worry less about the future and other things I can’t control.

Patience is still not one of my strong points. It drives me crazy how slowly change occurs. I went to a meditation conference this summer and the presenter said some quote about how changing ourselves through mindfulness is like changing a mountain with a feather or something really soft. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember thinking, seriously? It takes that long? Why not just blow the freaking thing up? I need progress and I need it now, gosh darn it!

But I guess we’ve seen what happens when our strategy is to blow up the things that we want to change. So I’m slowly learning what my mind and body need, how to soothe myself, to set boundaries, to say no. I try to pace myself, to be realistic about what I can accomplish, to accept all my feelings and flaws. But I make a lot of mistakes. So I also practice forgiveness, remind myself that I’m doing the best that I can.

I’m still not in a relationship, which sometimes feels like an accomplishment and sometimes a failure. But I guess it’s not something I’m graded on. I’m proud of myself for breaking the pattern of needing to be in a relationship, no matter how unhealthy it was, as though my life depended on it. I haven’t given up hope on the possibility of finding a healthy one. But it’s difficult to imagine how I can carve new neuronal pathways in the Grand Canyon of my mind. I don’t want to keep going down all of those well-traveled routes that have led to so much heartache. In the meantime, spending time with my friends and playing tennis will have to suffice.

Living with my brother has helped with practicing mindfulness and gratitude. I feel especially thankful that he has taken over most of the cooking responsibilities. It allowed me to come home last Monday night after a weekend of tennis at sectionals and a full day of clients and go to bed early without worrying about what and how I was going to eat. So even though I took him in a year ago to take care of him, he is taking care of me, as well. A good reminder that things really do turn out OK, no matter how dire they seem at the time.

A few weeks ago, in an effort to teach her how to practice self-compassion, I told one of my clients that everything about her is ok exactly as it is. Every thought. Every feeling. Even as they change from one extreme to the other, moment to moment, day after day. Even if they don’t make any sense, last longer than she wants them to. That she can accept every flaw, forgive every weakness, because all of this is what it looks like to be human.

This would actually be a good thing to repeat to myself. My personal affirmation. I am, and will always be, a work in progress. But the more I write, the more I believe that I am ok, exactly as I am.

 

Prince Eggshell

Humpty Dumpty

I have another guest post today from one of my former clients, Elizabeth Barbour, who also wrote the post Self-Disclosure is the Hardest Work I know. In today’s post, Elizabeth talks openly and honestly about the dark side of knights in shining armor and rescue fantasies.

***

A previous entry in this blog identified a tendency to judge ourselves harshly for negatively judging the inappropriate behavior of our romantic partners. As if forgiveness trumps self-preservation. As if our emotional freedom and mental health are not in the balance. As if denial is an option. As if yelling is not…well, yelling.

But enough is enough. I have learned that verbal abuse is dangerous to my emotional freedom and mental health. After decades of robust living, four careers, adopting a child during a 20 year marriage that ultimately ended, earning a couple of advanced degrees, and a lot of therapy, I feel blessed with a sense of entitlement to living without being anyone’s emotional hostage or whipping boy. Like the Princess and the pea I developed a feeling for eggshell in my slipper.

My post-divorce Prince swept in on a white horse, a Mercedes and a Porsche and sent poems. Dressed me from head to toe. Added to my larder. And my coffers. He asked me to marry him after, three weeks.

A Prince coming to my rescue fulfilled a story I had inside about being a damsel-in-distress who needed to be rescued. He was as charming, as the sky is blue.  As accommodating, as the day is long. His smile could melt a sidewalk in January. His European accent rang my bell. For a while there was no eggshell in a stocking, on the floor, or anywhere at all.

Then came a few tantrums which my self-possessed teenage child and my wise-best-friend overheard. They both assessed the Prince as needy and over-sensitive. I began to think I was being backed into some kind of submission. The Prince has broken horses and trained hunting dogs and has bred, raised and trained racing pigeons, too. He called me every morning at 8:30 sharp, because it made him feel less anxious about our relationship. He called every night at 9:30 sharp or as soon as I returned home. The reason he gave for this was that as a child his father had beat his mother most often at night, so knowing I was safe allowed him to rest easy. I began to feel over scheduled. He was paranoid and anxious if I did not return his calls or texts right away—and snippy about it happening even when at the time of the not-taken call or text I had clients in front of me. Nipping at my backside, eggshell in my shoe.

Eggshells chaffed the soles of my feet as he talked non-stop for an entire surreal day about our future together. The present moment was nowhere in sight. I felt controlled and exhausted by his incessant chatter and could not claim any inner peace. From the bottom of my soles I said firmly—Enough. Enough. Enough. Stop talking. This was met with a lengthy, heated diatribe about my breach of manners.

Over 16 months a pattern arose of romantic dinners, shopping and gifts, trips to sunny places; and, occasional royal hissy fits over petty items, a few stern talking-tos about what will not do; and, heightened insight into the Prince’s emotional makeup.

On the last day of our union, I mentioned my hope to go on an adventure in a foreign country with my daughter next summer.   The Prince blanched and proceeded to label me too financially reckless; and, therefore fatally flawed to be his wife. My financial state has never stopped me from traveling. If it had, I would never have used a passport. He nearly blew smoke out of his ears as he yelled at me for 30 minutes before he stormed out of my life. I know he was yelling because I worried the neighbors would complain. It wasn’t the first time I knew he was yelling, because several times before I worried about others overhearing his outbursts.

The Prince has shown a pattern of reacting in a hot-tempered, hostile, vitriolic and condemning manner when he does not like what I say. I am not in this lifetime to be upbraided. Nor, am I a damsel in distress. I can meet life on its own terms. The Prince is out of my life and so is the damsel.

Elizabeth Barbour is a perennial student of Life, recent law grad, avowed Late Bloomer, proud Mother, and writer coming into fruition. 

Self Disclosure is the Hardest Work I know

Christmas gift

I have another guest post today! This one is from a former client who was different from the students I usually see–older and more worldly with lots of interesting life experiences. I am finally at the point where I feel like I have something to offer students in their 20’s, but not someone like her. She seemed so confident and poised. I was actually kind of intimidated by her in the first session. What could I possibly have that would be helpful to her?

It’s nice to be reassured that giving someone the opportunity to be authentic truly is a gift. And it is a gift to me, as well, to work with people who are willing to take the risk of being vulnerable.

***

I am like a Christmas present. Shiny, alluring; and, there for the taking. What’s inside is a mystery. All wrapped up, I look really good. All wrapped up I am…the full package.

If Christmas morning never came no one could open me and reject me. No one would know I can be snippy, selfish, anxious, needy, human. No one would learn sometimes I am distant, selfishly desirous of the solitude of the privacy of my own mind; sometimes I have anxious feelings about what is between us; sometimes shiny me has a complaint, sometimes there is navigating to do. If Christmas morning never came, no one would find out who I am. All wrapped up, I am the full package all the time. I would rather gird myself in duct tape than disclose my feelings to you.

Fortunately, therapy has given me the vast perspective it takes to find the reasons why doing the business of feelings is complex for me and why I work so hard to perpetuate the illusion of perfect satisfaction in my outward appearance. In lieu of being fully human I am a picture of calm. The pay-off from learning what I have learned through therapy is that this Christmas and in this New Year I will give myself the gift of feeling human through disclosing my feelings to others.

Why? Because packaging how I feel, and not outwardly acknowledging my feelings or your feelings, being preternaturally centered at all times, has started to take a toll on my relationships. Before now, my feelings were kept prisoner in a shiny box and I thought revealing them would doom my relationship with others. Now, I understand that I must practice self-disclosure and feel my feelings in order to thrive. And, in order to be fully engaged in my relationships.

Experiencing the full range of human emotions cannot be done alone. Until I disclose who I fully am to those who I love and who love me, I am an unfinished gift. Pretty on the outside, and such a mystery that it amounts to an unknown inside.

Christmas is coming. I will be under the tree at the end of the day, finally open. My wrapping no longer encumbering me, my many colors of tissue and my many mysteries will be out of the box. All of me open and on display under the tree I will be like any other Christmas presents—some of them pure treasure, some of them so-so, some of them needing alteration, some of them more perfect than anyone imagined, some of them forever gifts, some of them for consumption now. All unwrapped, I still look really good. I am the full package.

Elizabeth Barbour is a perennial student of Life, recent law grad, avowed Late Bloomer, proud Mother, and writer coming into fruition. 

Ending Stigma One Person at a Time

Pathologically Helpful

Last night I listened to a panel of students share their stories about their mental illness before their peers. Stories about the darkest moments that they have never shared with anyone else. Yet there they were, saying them out loud, often through tears, to a room full of people they didn’t know.

Every year Active Minds, the student group that I advise, hosts two panels: one on mental illness in general, and one on eating disorders. Even though it often ends up being harder than they expect it to be, they tell their stories because they hope that it will help to end stigma by humanizing mental illness.

The closest I’ve come to sharing my deepest, darkest secrets out loud is when I told students in one of my Abormal Psychology classes about my first depressive episode. I had wanted to do it for some time, and it probably took me 3-4 years of teaching to work up the courage to do so. At the end of the semester, one of the students in that class thanked me for talking about my depression. But at the time I was still so ashamed of it that the reminder that I had said it out loud and someone heard it was so mortifying that I never shared my story again.

I started this blog because I read that this is the kind of thing you needed to do if you wanted to get a book published. My vision of the book was initially much more “how to,” with some examples from my personal life thrown in to make it interesting. But when I was researching blogs, I realized that there were already a lot of  “how to” blogs. So I decided that my unique contribution to the blogosphere would be telling my story. I could be a mental health professional who shares those deep, dark secrets that she has never shared with anyone else.

I have written often about how therapists are taught to use self-disclosure with caution to make sure that the focus stays on the client, but also because you want to appear as though you have your act together. But based on the feedback I’ve gotten from readers, perhaps therapists have been wrong about self-disclosure. It seems that sharing our humanity is one of the most healing things that anyone can do to help another person.

I have pushed myself to share my experience in far more detail than I ever imagined that I would. But I know I can push myself further. I, too, could stand before people and share my story out loud, in front of anyone who wants to listen. So now that’s what I hope to do. If writing a book will help me accomplish that goal, then I still want to write one, but that is no longer my end goal. My end goal is to do what those students did last night–to humanize mental illness with my story rather than my expertise.

Do Something that Scares You

Decisions

Sometimes anxiety is a good thing.

The other night I gave a presentation on anxiety to Active Minds, the student organization whose mission is to raise awareness and reduce stigma about mental illness. I began the presentation by reminding everyone that anxiety is not always something we want to get rid of. It motivates us to act. It socializes us. And it warns us when we are about to do something scary.

But sometimes it’s good to do something scary.

When I started my blog, it never occurred to me to use an avatar, because the point was to get people to know me so that they would buy my book someday. Plus, anonymously blogging about vulnerability seemed hypocritical. But I have to admit, sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doing, telling people all my deep, dark secrets, and I wish there were a way I could take it all back.

Some posts are scarier than others. The post that I wrote a few weeks ago, Undeserving, was one of the scarier ones, because what therapist admits to having the exact same fears that her clients have? Publishing it felt a bit like standing in front of people naked and saying, go ahead; judge my body.

Which nobody did, thank goodness. Not to my face, at least. Although the most vulnerable posts are always the most popular, knowing this won’t make it less scary to bare my soul the next time. Because anxiety has no memory. It does not distinguish between past, present, and future. It does not know the difference between reality and fantasy. In the moment, there is only fear.

Actually, I am growing accustomed to baring my soul before friends, family, and strangers. But the thought of standing naked before students and clients still terrifies me. Therapists are supposed to be blank screens. At minimum, they use self-disclosure with caution. They certainly don’t let clients know that they struggle with anxiety and depression and that they don’t think they deserve to be loved.

Last night a student from the school newspaper emailed me some questions about Seasonal Affective Disorder because she’s writing an article about depression. I realized this was an opportunity to publicize my blog, since my last post was on this very topic. But the thought of doing so gave me an anxiety attack, so I decided to sleep on it.

Plus it was midnight, and I promised myself I wouldn’t start working on stuff after midnight so that I don’t screw up my sleep cycle. Even though I ended up staying up until 1:30 a.m., anyway, doing pointless stuff like playing Sudoku and Minesweeper. What is wrong with me?!

But I digress.

This morning I answered the student’s questions and told her about my blog. Part of me hopes that it will lead to a thousand new followers, and a part of me hopes that she ignores the reference to my blog altogether. In any case, I did it; I pushed myself to do the thing I fear the most, as far as blogging is concerned.

And I have to say, it feels pretty good.

The Courage to Be Vulnerable, Part 2

I’m humbled by the feedback that I’m an inspiration, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure what people mean by that. I can understand how people could read my blog and think, wow! I’m not so crazy after all! But I don’t see how it can be an inspiration. Unless it inspires people to be honest about the stuff they are afraid to share with other people.
In one scene in the book A Fault in Our Stars, (which I love!), Hazel and Augustus are in the Anne Frank House watching a video of Otto Frank. After reading Anne’s diary, he concludes that parents don’t really know their children.  I would venture to say that we never really know anyone unless we have the opportunity to read their diary–or blog.

Our inquiries about people’s lives are fairly superficial. We ask people how they’re doing when we greet them, but any response beyond “I’m fine” would be TMI for most. Recently I asked a friend how her husband was doing because I heard he had been sick. She said he has his good and bad days. I’m sure some people don’t want to go into more detail, but maybe some people do. Maybe they feel like the person is just asking to be nice. To let them know they care without really wanting to hear the details.

I am one of those rare individuals who likes to tell people everything that’s going on in my life when I greet them. Well, not everyone. Just the ones who will tolerate it. I’ll even do it before they have a chance to ask me how I’m doing.  I’ll just bombard them with the minutiae of my day the moment I see them. Because I spend most of my time alone with no one to talk to, I am willing to break protocol. Admittedly, this stuff isn’t particularly inspirational, but at least I’m consistent in my self-disclosure.

I do think the world would a better place if we could all risk being a little more vulnerable. If we could all admit that we are human, I think people would feel a lot better about themselves. It does take courage to put yourself out there, but taking that risk also requires good listeners. People who are willing to be present and bear witness to our humanity without judgment.

So I am thankful to all of the readers out there who are willing to bear witness to my humanity. You are the ones who make courage possible.

Fatigue

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I have a tendency to be a little hard on myself at times.
 
Yesterday I had another one of those days where I slept 14 hours and didn’t get up until 4 p.m. And then I still went to bed at my normal bedtime (1 a.m.) and didn’t get up until 9:30. So as punishment for my excessive sleeping, I decided that I didn’t deserve a cappuccino today. My colleague thought that seemed a little harsh, but it makes perfect sense to me.
 
But in an effort to be kinder to myself, I’m trying to come up with alternative explanations for why I have been so tired, other than that I am weak, crazy, a bad person, etc. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
 
1.  I’m depressed. But other than the fatigue and excessive sleeping, I don’t really feel depressed. And even if it is depression, I’m already doing everything I can to treat it.
 
2.  I have some physical illness like chronic fatigue syndrome. This is possible, given that I didn’t know I had asthma for a long time, and it accounted for what I perceived as a lack of mental toughness on the tennis court. On the one hand, it would be a relief to have a valid excuse. On the other hand, there would probably be some medication that I would have to take for that condition, too, which would be annoying.
 
3.  I’m tired because it’s the end of the semester, and I’m always tired at the end of the semester. This would make the most sense, but it still bothers me because my colleagues don’t collapse from exhaustion at the end of the term, so that still makes me feel weak.
 
4.  I’m tired because I’m captaining and playing on 2 tennis teams and playing 4-5 times a week. This also makes sense. Until recently, I was only captaining 1 team and playing 2-3 times a week. But how lame is that to be exhausted from too much recreation? Boo hoo!
 
5.  My anxiety is leading to mental and physical exhaustion. This is also possible. But then I start beating myself up about not having a reason for feeling anxious. And I’m not really sure what I can do about that other than to take the Ativan sooner when I’m having an anxiety attack rather than suffering for several hours. But the Ativan might make me sleepy.
 
6.  Blogging is mentally exhausting. All this honesty and self-disclosure is pretty draining. And I hardly ever used social media before. Now I have to use it all the time as part of my blogger duties, which kind of feels like homework. Still, I’ve never heard of anyone needing more sleep from intensive blogging.
 
7.  I don’t need to know the reason why. My feelings are always legitimate. It doesn’t matter what other people are or are not able to do; I have to honor my own needs. I may really need more than 8 hours of sleep, and most of the time I don’t even get that.
 
If this were a multiple choice question where I had to pick the best answer, I guess I’d have to go with #7, because this is what I tell my clients, over and over again, until they believe it. And I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Because my inner critic would give me a hard time about that, too.
 

Losing Control

I am seeing a couple of clients whose lives revolve around not losing control of their emotions. They both have a parent who is very out of control–addictions, emotional outbursts, marginally functional–the kind of people who seem beyond hope. “Black hole people,” as my client calls them. These clients fear that if they let their emotions out, they will get lost in them like their parents.

This is a common fear. Most people think that having feelings makes you needy. Weak. Crazy. It’s better to do whatever you can to avoid feelings altogether. Ironically, it is the things that people do to control their feelings that brings them to therapy.

Eating disorders are a good example of this. Every client says that their eating disorder began as a way to have control. They can’t control any other aspect of their lives, but they can control what goes into and comes out of their bodies. Stuff down their feelings with food. Numb themselves by restricting and exercising. Get rid of feelings by purging.

At some point they lose control over this strategy. They think about food, exercise, bodies, and weight all day long, every day. They eat in isolation. They lose friends because they are constantly lying and hiding. When it gets really bad, a dean forces them to come to the counseling center. But no one can help them until they are willing to let go. Until they are willing to feel, to be vulnerable.

We all have ways that we try to control our emotions. Mine is to help other people. I don’t have problems. I don’t need anyone. I’ve got all the answers; I don’t need help.

A client recently asked if I had any flaws. I told her that I have all kinds of flaws. She seemed relieved. I almost told her about my blog–but I’m not ready to go that far.

So what do we do with all of these feelings if we don’t suppress them, deny them, or push them away? How do we keep from falling into the black hole?

One of my favorite movies is “The Matrix.” By the end of the movie, Neo realizes that all of his fears are an illusion. He has to die first to realize this, but once he is outside of the matrix, his fears no longer control him. Feelings are the same way. Your feelings are a part of you, and you are larger than any of your parts.

Sometimes you have to let go before you can discover that you have control.