Disclosing a personal secret is always a daunting experience. So today I want to share some tips with you that might make the process a little bit easier. Whatever the secret, the tips still apply, so read on.
If you look up the expression “coming out of the closet” you will read about the concept of disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. After years working with the LGBTQ population, and after coming out myself, I can tell you, that particular secret feels like a doozy when you are getting ready to share. However, working with people who struggle with addictions, or mental health problems, or who have done awful things in their lives, I can also tell you that there is enough shame, fear and anxiety to go around. And stigma makes revealing certain things much harder.
Despite all of that, I think that the prospect of “living two lives” almost always ends up weighing heavily on the other side of the scale. Living one life for yourself and living a different life for others is no way to live. It is exhausting. It is lonely. Eventually we get to the point that we need to share, to be authentic, to experience being known, and feeling understood.
If you want to share something important, here are a few things to consider:
What do you want to share?
- Try to be as clear as you can about what it is that you are revealing.
- Find words that are clear and that the person you are speaking to is likely to understand.
- Being vague or evasive only leads to confusion and can end up being much harder in the end.
How much do you want to share?
- You might want to just make a general statement. Or also share some of the details. Or you might want to share as much as you know yourself.
- You might want to have written information ready.
- If you think that the person you are disclosing to, is likely going to be looking for more information, you can provide some, without explaining it all right then and there. The odds are that you’ve already done some of this research yourself and found the better sources of information.
- You might want to have someone else there, or available, to further explain or answer questions.
- Therapists, doctors, nurses and peer support workers often serve in that role.
- You might want to share different amounts of information with different people.
- You don’t have to share more than you are ready to share now.
- It is ok to share bit by bit. Just as you came to understand the situation bit by bit yourself, the other person might also benefit from taking it in, bit by bit. You might not have all the answers or be prepared to discuss some of their questions, answering: “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure yet” is better than making stuff up.
Who to share with? Who first?
Those two questions go well together.
- Who is likely to respond well, to let you get the words out before reacting?
- It is always good to speak to someone you can more easily speak with first.
- Think of it as practicing on someone safe and keeping the more difficult disclosure(s) for when you have had some practice getting the words out and also had practice dealing with the various reactions you might anticipate.
What do you want from them?
They are going to want to know that.
- What can they do to help? Why are you telling them? (Those two are big ones.)
- Do you need their help or are you just telling them so that you can be more honest with them? If you can use some help, do you have something specific in mind that they can do? Not everyone is equipped to deal with every part of someone’s problem but they might be equipped to help with one part.
- Do you want them to keep the information to themselves?
- Are you ok with them sharing it?
- Who are you ok with them sharing it with?
- When is it ok to start sharing it?
Be kind to yourself
Disclosing a secret is emotionally charged and can be draining. Make sure you are prepared and that you have something nurturing planned for after. Give yourself what you need to help you recover from the stress.
Some people will surprise you and be amazingly supportive. That in itself might be a shock for you.
Some will not react well. Brace for that. But also make sure that you give them time to come around, to get to being ok with the news. Maybe a few days, or even weeks. Remember that you’ve had a while to process this and that it is all new to them.
Get help if you need it
Preparing the answers to these questions can be done alone but it can also be done with the help of a therapist, or another trusted health care provider.
You don’t have to go through all the hard stuff alone.