Searching within ourselves and coming to terms with the issues and habits that have perhaps hindered us (and those that helped us) can be transformative. While it’s possible to do this introspective process on our own, there are a number of important reasons to divulge our secrets to someone else:
1. We may have a skewed view of ourselves, either minimizing, exaggerating, or misinterpreting our actions and attitudes. Another person who has our best interests at heart can gently point out where we may be rationalizing or where we may be beating ourselves up, either of which can block us from moving forward.
2. We may be too close to a situation to see it clearly. Another person can help us “back up” and see the bigger picture. For instance, reframing our past or current situation may reveal that where we’ve perceived ourselves as the victim or a terrible person, we were in fact a survivor or someone standing up for his or her rights. We no longer have to be bound to our old and limited (and limiting) stories.
3. We feel understood. We realize that we aren’t the only ones who have felt or acted this way.
4. We feel accepted. It’s one thing to believe that people like the parts of us we choose to show them. However, when we reveal an edited version of ourselves, the question lingers as to whether others would accept us if they knew all about us. When we choose to let someone else into our world – all of it – and they hear us without judgment, we are more likely to begin to accept and forgive ourselves.
5. We demonstrate that we are courageous — sharing intimate information about ourselves takes guts.
6. Another person can be a model of love, wisdom, and compassion, and in time we can adopt their attitude toward us into the way we treat ourselves.
7. We are made for relationships. “No man is an island.”
8. Confession teaches us humility. The concept of confession is central to numerous religions, and for good reason. Humility means that we gain an accurate view of ourselves, not that we’re humiliated. Humility entails our seeing ourselves as no better nor no worse than other people. We gain a better perspective of our role in this world.
While self-disclosure offers many benefits, do choose the person to whom you’ll disclose sensitive information carefully. If you’re in a 12-Step program, doing a moral inventory and discussing it is usually done with your sponsor. If you have a religious affiliation, you might speak with your pastor, priest, or rabbi (etc.). You could also speak with a psychotherapist.
It may be that in some instances your past actions or patterns have affected other people in problematic ways. If so, you may prefer to go directly to the individuals to whom you feel you may owe an explanation or apology. In such case:
1. Try to approach the matter in a thoughtful manner that shows some preparation on your part. It’s hard enough to talk about sensitive matters. Writing down some notes beforehand and organizing your words may help to reduce the chances of your becoming over-wrought and not being able to express yourself well. You might also begin the conversation with a statement of gratitude, such as thanking them for taking the time to talk with you or for another way in which they enrich your life.
2. Focus on your part, not the other person’s behavior. Try to avoid statements such as, “You made me angry when you…” or “I don’t understand why you…” Take responsibility for your attitudes and actions, in an assertive manner. Groveling or verbally beating yourself up won’t be productive, either. You can be courteous while also standing your ground.
3. Show interest in the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and choices, but don’t let them dictate your reality. Be open to feedback that may not be exactly what you’d like to hear. However, recognize that the other person may see things in a different way and may make decisions that aren’t in line with your values. Certainly try to clear up misunderstandings, but accept that sometimes you may need to agree to disagree. Wonderful relationships often come about because we are curious about and value the ways in which other people differ from us.
The important thing is to communicate honestly and openly, in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance. It takes practice, but don’t worry about being “perfect”. We’re all learning and growing — and it helps to have other people on our team.