One of the greatest honors you can give to a person is to confide in them. This is what takes a relationship above the level of acquaintance to actual friendship. When we share things with a particular individual that we are not comfortable sharing with others, it says to them, “I trust you.” Self-disclosure is risky because you are exposing yourself to others with the hope of building a relationship at the risk that what you say will be used against you. We’ve all experienced rejection at one time or another which teaches us to wear mask, conceal any weaknesses or blemishes, and project the best image possible. Therefore, for the most part, we have all learned to be incredibly superficial. As a result, we have also become incredibly lonely while longing for true acceptance while rarely experiencing it. So, when a person choses to confide in me, I consider it one of greatest gifts I can receive.
It can also be quite insulting when a personal relationship exist and pertinent information is withheld. A number of years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a chapter in his book, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” called “Hide and Seek” that has stuck with me ever since I read it. It is a simple but profound chapter comparing the childhood game with the adult practice of hiding ourselves even from those closest to us. Our intentions are pure. We want to protect those we love from information that will cause them pain and anxiety that they usually can’t do anything about. But instead of protecting our love ones, we insult them. Instead of honoring them, we dishonor them. Instead of building a relationship we build a barrier. Fulghum writes:
A man I know found out last year he had terminal cancer. He was a doctor. And knew about dying, and he didn’t want to make his family and friends suffer through that with him. So he kept his secret. And died. Everybody said how brave he was to bear his suffering in silence and not tell everybody, and so on and so forth. But privately his family and friends said how angry they were that he didn’t need them, didn’t trust their strength. And it hurt that he didn’t say good-bye.
Do we really protect our loved ones by keeping information from them, or are we in fact insulting them? One of the things I have noticed about war time veterans that actually experienced the fighting is that they rarely talk about it. As a former Marine, I know they condition you with the idea that a real man keeps things in. Talking about feeling was a sure sign of weakness. As a result, those most devastated were incapable of receiving the help that they so desperately needed. Instead, they pulled away from loved ones. Quite often they turned to alcohol and drugs while turning away from those who cared about them. In their attempt to be strong and self-sufficient, they often brought about their own demise.
Even though I have long believed in the power of self-disclosure, I recently unintentionally insulted somebody I love very much by withholding information in order to protect her. I now deeply regret this. When I lost my job last September, word got out quickly through Facebook. But I didn’t want my mother knowing because I didn’t want her worrying about me in the midst of the problems she was already facing. Plus, I was just embarrassed and ashamed. Since she doesn’t have a computer, I asked relatives to not mention it to her. There wasn’t anything she could do anyway I reasoned.
I finally, got around to telling my mother about a week ago when I was traveling through her area and I wanted to stop by and see her. In the process I really hurt her feelings especially when she found out that others had known for quite some time. I felt bad for hurting her, but I don’t think I really personalized until the other night when I discovered my own child wanted certain personal information withheld from me. It was then that I learned how she felt. OUCH!!! Message received.
Of course it is our right as individuals to decide what we disclose or withhold from whom, but it this element that may determine the strength of a relationship more than anything else. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” we may think; but, I’m not so sure about that anymore. It really hurts when people we care about do not think we are capable of handling personal information. If you’ve taken the time to read this, I would like to hear your thoughts as well. Truth is I have mixed feelings about all this. We live in a culture that promotes independence, self-sufficiency, and privacy to the point that personal relationships are incredibly rare. We may have hundreds of friends listed on Facebook, but we can’t find a single person to call when we are heartbroken and hurting.