To share or not to share?
- Published: 27 December 2011
- Hits: 7983
Revealing your ‘dark’ side is a risky business that can result in being rejected or branded a ‘whiner’ or ‘attention seeker’. But, while there is a fine line between sharing and ‘dumping’, it takes more courage to share your fears and insecurities than to hide them behind a veneer of arrogance and superiority, writes Katrina Fox.
27 December 2011
Connections – whether they be with family, friends or lovers – are forged by sharing. Sharing fun times, political views, activities, affection, passions are all ways of bonding with other people. We start with the polite and ‘safe’ conversations around someone’s work and general lifestyle, then as we become more comfortable around them we may feel brave enough to reveal more intimate information. I say ‘brave’ because it’s a huge risk to make yourself vulnerable by sharing parts of yourself that you usually keep hidden, lest folk run a mile.
“Too much information” or requests to “stop your whingeing” are all too common responses when someone decides to drop their charade of making out they are ok and be upfront about who they are or what they are feeling.
“Stigma is a big deal,” writes blogger Bettie Brimstone, on why many people are afraid to share their mental health issues. “The biggest form of it I see in my reasonably politically correct, kind, thoughtful friendship networks is the expectation of ‘polite holding back’. You know, the concept that talking about how shit everything is, is self-absorbed and gauche.”
And while there is a fine line between sharing and ‘dumping’ relentless negativity on someone, Brimstone reminds us that “this form of stigma is what stops people from posting on Facebook at 4am that they’re dreadfully lonely and depressed and kind of want to die ... It means we’re forced to laugh off, and make light of, things that make our lives really hard … I don’t talk about self-injury. I don’t talk about suicidal plans. I keep it light, or if I can’t, I spin it just enough so I’m not de-friended by people sick of my ‘whining’ or freaked out by my ‘overshare’.”
I can relate to this – from both the perspective of being freaked out or irritated by endless social media updates about people’s lack of wellbeing, and from having people freak out or be irritated by my own ‘oversharing’, online and off. Such is human nature that the very things we abhore, are uncomfortable with or reject in others are often those we abhore, are uncomfortable with or reject in ourselves.
As a result, we invariably take on a ‘harden the fuck up’ philosophy, thinking that people should just ‘Get over it’, and in some cases telling them that, often dismissively. The thing is, there is no human being who hasn’t at one time or another suffered in some way. Sure, many people benefit from various forms of privilege (race, gender, sex, class, ableness etc), but I’d wager it’s impossible to find anyone who hasn’t had low points in their life.
Some of us do ‘get over it’ – sometimes with the aid of therapy, personal development, meditation, medication or love. And because we have found a way to cope, to overcome adversity and live differently, we are sometimes less tolerant of those who are still struggling. In fact, it speaks volumes about our need to do more ‘work’ on ourselves, because if we can’t open our hearts to be compassionate towards someone who is at a different stage of their journey, we still have a long way to travel ourselves.
“The critics are probably fighting hard battles too, if we’re honest,” writes Brimstone. “Telling you you’re less for speaking [out] is a good way of bolstering their sense of being strong. Of getting through stuff without ‘needing’ feedback and care. That’s how they cope.”
She’s got a point. Arrogance and superiority often mask a great deal of fear and insecurity. It’s far easier to label someone an ‘attention seeker’ and put them down for sharing their perceived ‘weaknesses’ than to admit to your own vulnerability. It’s safer to put up barriers with the justification that it’s to ‘protect’ you than to be honest about your fears and insecurities.
But erecting a hard shell around ourselves and ‘toughening up’ is not a feat of strength or bravery. It takes far more courage to allow ourselves to be softer and kinder. As Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron says, “The essence of bravery is being without self-deception.”
Having said all the above, I mentioned earlier that there is a fine line between sharing and ‘dumping’. This is an important distinction. Being there for a friend or loved one when they are feeling low is one thing, but it doesn’t mean having to put up with continuous negativity or with someone setting you up as the person who will ‘save’ them from their circumstances.
“None of us deserves to be the dumping ground for someone else’s misery or frustrations. We must save others from our own worst moods. Often, too, we must save ourselves,” writes author Stephanie Dowrick.
This isn’t easy. Often you have to hit rock bottom to get the wake-up call needed to take responsibility for your life – for your decisions, relationships or lack thereof, career, emotional state and so on, particularly if you are constrained by old, ingrained, negative thinking patterns.
For years I’ve been one of those people who thought that I could never be truly happy. That’s not to say I was suffering from clinical depression (although I’ve had periods in my life when I probably was depressed, including a few years in my early 20s when I used self-harm as a coping strategy). It was more a general feeling of some people just weren’t ‘meant’ to be completely happy and I was obviously one of them. I’d coast along for a while, with a job I liked or a new project I’d thrown myself into, then when it ended or I got bored, I’d crash and hate my life. I’d also indulge in daydreams and fantasies for hours on end as an escape mechanism, or, earlier this year in particular, spent way too much time on Facebook.
The worst part was that I refused to take any responsibility for how things were. I blamed my partner for wanting to come to Australia (even though I came willingly and thought it would be an adventure), and spent years sub-consciously resenting her for (what seemed to me) ‘forcing’ me to leave my friends in the UK (but there was never any coercion on her part).
I blamed the job market and the journalism industry when I didn’t get the jobs/gigs I wanted (even though I didn’t really make much effort, especially in the early days, to ‘put myself out there’ and do what was required).
I blamed my birth mother’s rejection of me and my adoptive mother’s physical violence throughout my childhood for failed relationships and fear of intimacy.
And I blamed myself for not being ‘good enough’ to be able to happy and successful.
It can get better
This year I got a much-needed wake-up call. While ultimately a good thing for me, the downside was that others got hurt in the process. I didn’t give them or their feelings the due consideration and respect they deserved, and while I’m generally with Piaf on regrets, this is something I’m genuinely sorry for.
A conversation with a wise and kind friend lit the spark of realisation that we don’t need to be limited by or defined by old, negative patterns of thinking. A slew of personal development books and a couple of courses began to solidify what was once a truly radical concept for me: the idea that we can control our thoughts and how they impact us; that no one can actually make us feel bad, only how we choose to react to what they say or how they behave can – in other words, we can be in control of our minds and our lives. Suddenly the lights got turned on and somebody was home!
In saying ‘it can get better’ (an allusion to the ‘It Gets Better’ queer rights campaign), I’m not suggesting it’s as simple as reading a few books, attending some seminars and hey presto your life will be amazing. I acknowledge that I have the privilege and luxury of engaging in self-awareness and reflection and the means to do this personal growth work – and it’s a constant, ongoing process, with many ‘slips’. But even just being open to new possibilities and new ways of living can have a deeply profound effect on our lives.
One of the reasons I’ve written this piece on sharing is because I have a semi-public profile in Australia through my writing on social justice issues in mainstream and niche media and my Facebook wall. But like so many others, especially – but not limited to – women, that doesn’t always tell the full story or make up the whole person.
I was inspired by Australian writers Emma Jane who wrote this piece about living with depression earlier this year, and more recently by Clementine Ford who revealed her lifelong struggle with body image. Both these women are funny, confident, creative, feisty, feminist, talented writers, and they took a risk in sharing their ‘dark’ sides.
And while some readers may have cringed at what they perceived as ‘self-indulgent egotism’, or muttered the old ‘Get over it’ line (critiques that say far more about them and their own issues than the writers), many others breathed a collective sigh of relief that they were not alone in their fears and insecurities.
When we share, we lay the foundations for change and for the deep connections that sustain us as humans. Suffering in silence does no one any good. Neither does shaming or rejecting people for sharing.
A problem shared is a problem halved may not be quite true, but it’s a damn good place to start. Or as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous puts it: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”
On access, intimacy and vulnerability by Creatrix Tiara
The presentation of the everyday self on the internet by Rachel Hills
Katrina Fox is editor-in-chief of The Scavenger.