As a psychotherapist, I’m often asked questions like, “Should I tell my co-workers I’m going through a divorce?” or “Should I tell my boss I was diagnosed with depression?”
A few decades ago, personal information like that was usually kept private. But today’s world is different.
Fortunately, we’ve become aware that you can’t compartmentalize your life. Problems at home affect your work. And your childhood influences who you are as an adult.
But, thanks to the invention of reality TV and social media, the line between private and public has become a bit blurred. Sharing your personal problems has become a lot more socially acceptable.
But in the past few years, many self-help books, blog posts and TED talks have centered on the idea that we should be authentic. While it’s refreshing to see that we’re valuing honesty and credibility over arrogance and perfection, the idea that you should own your story has led to some confusion. If I post my personal problems on Facebook does that make me authentic?
What It Means To Be Authentic
Authenticity is about being brave enough to be yourself and genuine enough to live according to your values. To be an authentic person, what you say you and what you do must line up with what you believe.
Somewhere along the lines, several aspects of authenticity seem to have become twisted. Some people have adopted the idea that “being honest” and “owning your story” means sharing your deepest darkest secrets with the world.
Using social media like a personal diary and treating acquaintances as if they were a therapist, however, can have serious consequences.
You might put yourself in physical danger by revealing too much to the wrong person. You could alienate people who feel uncomfortable by the amount of personal information you share. And recounting your problems to people who don’t have your best interest in mind may lead them to take advantage of you.
The Difference Between Being Authentic And Oversharing
The difference between being authentic and oversharing stems from your intentions. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown summed up the difference by saying, “Using vulnerability is the not the same thing as being vulnerable; it’s the opposite—it’s armor.”
Here are some reasons people cross the line (sometimes unintentionally) from being authentic into being an over-sharer:
• A misguided attempt to gain sympathy. If you share your mistakes in an effort to help others learn, you are being authentic. If, however, you share your hardships to gain pity, you’re oversharing.
• An attempt to fast-track the relationship. Authentic people build relationships first. Over-sharers blurt out personal information in an attempt to gain a sense of intimacy, without building trust.
• Your story still owns you. When pain is raw, it can feel like the whole world sees there’s something ‘wrong’ with you. For many people, that’s anxiety provoking. Over-shares relieve their anxiety by revealing their pain. Authentic people, however, tolerate that anxiety and carefully consider whether it’s good idea to share.
To Share Or Not To Share
Before you share information with other people, think about why you’re doing it. Are you telling your neighbor about your financial issues because you want to gain sympathy? Or, are you sharing it because she’s a trusted friend?
Are you telling your co-worker about your health problems because you want her to understand how it will affect your performance? Or, are you trying to reveal private information because you want him to think of you as a confidante?
Obviously, there are times when sharing comes out of necessity. Perhaps you need to tell your boss you’re pregnant so you can gain time off for doctor’s appointments. Or, maybe you’re going through a divorce and you don’t have childcare in the evenings and your inability to work late will affect your team.
But before you share your personal problems, think about your reasons and consider the potential consequences. Remember, you can still be an authentic person and maintain your sense of privacy
Psychotherapist and international bestselling mental strength autho