Staying safe with personal disclosure

In the midst of a crisis, be it long or short, personal disclosure can be a confusing and troublesome area, so I urge you to think carefully about what you disclose and to whom. 

When our lives are in acute disarray there may be a tendency to 'spill' very personal information at length to all manner of contacts; at such a time our boundaries are likely to be in tatters and the internal pressure to talk about our troubles intense.  Yes, it's a good idea to talk, but it is in your best interests to exercise care and restraint as to who you choose to do that with for two reasons: firstly, too much information about our troubles swamps people who may not have earned that place in our lives, or want it, and who may then begin to distance us; secondly, in some instances it gives those in authority levers of influence they wouldn't otherwise have.  Further down the track when you've cooled off a bit you'll be glad you did, or possibly regret that you didn't!  I've made this mistake repeatedly and seen others do the same.  If you're upset and indisposed, there are very few people to whom you actually owe an explanation.

If you have good reason to disclose more than superficial detail it may be useful to start by describing facts rather than feelings, for example not getting enough sleep, or having a lot of headaches, or noticing that you've been 'a bit irritable lately', and so on.  These are ordinary things that most people can relate to and aren't all that personal.  In my search for the right doctor I repeatedly found myself tied up in anxious inarticulate knots and gabbing on about personal issues which often reduced me to tears, when I could have made myself very much clearer - and got better help, by describing physical symptoms instead.  Regardless of who you're talking to, if you take this approach it will give you time to see what sort of response you're getting and also time to decide whether you then feel safe saying more - if you want to, or if it seems likely to be useful. 

A word about answering 'official' questions, particularly on forms and in interviews: be aware that it may be simpler to decline to answer some questions than to sort out later whether or not certain personal information is kept on file.  A decline may not be challenged whereas getting information removed when you later decide you don't want it kept on record may be impossible.  Having said that, some agencies may find that they are 'unable to provide the usual services' unless 'mandatory information' is provided.  Well, so be it, but you may wish to find out exactly what is mandatory, how your information is to be stored and for how long, and so on.  Most people don't ask these questions but it is reasonable to do so - it's about you.

At the more mundane end of the scale are the small, usually inconsequential exchanges we have when we greet each other.  Being asked how we are is part of this and in New Zealand it's usually a greeting and a conversational gambit only, not a real question at all.   The accepted response is "Fine, thank you" and if you're really polite this is followed by "And you?" Everyone is usually "Fine", a polite fiction which we exchange along with polite smiles.  

While I must say I find this sort of exchange somewhat bizarre it works well enough most of the time with the exception of when we are quite otherwise.  At such a time saying we are fine is likely to make us feel positively surreal, so what can we say that isn't going to make us feel a whole lot worse?  The odds are that we won't feel inclined to talk about how we really are.  Think about what works for you and have it ready so that rather than feeling cornered, you can pick how much you want to disclose and to whom.  Bear firmly in mind that most people really aren't interested - and may even become alarmed if you tell them more than they are expecting! 

People who are nosy and not concerned about our well-being at all can be difficult to deal with.  If you're off work and don't want to disclose that you're unwell you could say that you have leave of absence from work; are taking time out; have retired; are on sabbatical, or writing a book...  This last one can be particularly handy as writers don't usually talk about what it is they're writing!

If conversing with someone who makes you uncomfortable by trying to look you in the eye, you may wish to focus your gaze on the end of their nose; this gives the appearance of meeting a persons gaze while giving you a little more personal space. 

I find it hardest to know what to disclose to long-term acquaintances such as my landlord and neighbours, people I like well enough and chat to fairly often but would not describe as friends.  Do they need to know about my personal life?  The answer has to be 'No', but it can be helpful to acknowledge in part why certain things are the way they are, and in my case this has resulted in offers of help - which I usually don't accept, but it's nice to know who I could call on if I chose to. 

Sharing a modicum of information eases things for everyone and reduces our isolation.  The better acquainted we are with those around us, the more worthwhile it will be to put some effort into getting this level of communication to where it's comfortable - for you.  You're in charge.  Go gently, stay safe.

This is the end of Part 1.  To go to Part 2 click this link:
Part 2 ~ Medical and health considerations


maytey said...

I found that a good greeting to fellow travellers in the wasteland is "Good day or a bad day?" :)

Leigh said...

Nice one! :-)