Relieve Stress: Share your Thoughts and Feelings

Common Fears About Sharing Our Thoughts and Feelings

When we are stressed  we sometimes keep our difficulty secret.  We are afraid that if our problems are known we will be more stressed.

Have you ever had something that you did not want any one else to know about?  It may be marriage problems, drinking problems in the family, some dysfunction or some major illness in your family, or even a chronic mental illness controlled by medication.  Very often we keep these situations secret because

  • we don’t want to feel “different” or “damaged.”
  • We are afraid of getting sympathy that we are not prepared to deal with, questions that we are not ready to answer.  We also may fear getting a negative reaction, perhaps even people physically backing away from us.
  • Sometimes if our situation remains a secret we feel protected, safe.  We are behind a wall and nobody knows of the sense of shame that marks our days.

Because of these fears we hide our stress behind walls, so that we look “normal,” in control, on top of things.

These walls take a lot of energy to maintain,  and sometimes they crack.

  • We may be moody, sometimes more irritable.
  • We may become sad, we cannot enjoy ourselves even though everybody else is relaxed and having a good time.
  • Quirks of other people bother us.
  • We may react physically to the stress of carrying the secret, perhaps getting headaches, gaining weight, feeling fatigued.

These are all signs of stress.  Something tells us that we need to tell the secret, but now we don’t know how.  How do we break that wall of silence, how do we share our secret with others?

The Common Fears About Sharing Stress

When I was working with groups of people who were dealing with dysfunctional families, alcoholism, abuse, illness, I often noticed common patterns of fears about sharing the secret.  For example when people are encouraged to attend a support group they often become aware of these fears.

A very common fear is that someone would go to a meeting and not know anyone there.  One example is Sharon.  Sharon had worked for years, hiding the fact that her son had died in an accident when he was drunk. She was embarrassed and uncomfortable about sharing this pain with strangers.  Sharon worked with other people for many years, but kept her pain, her stress, her sad memories to herself.  If she now went into a group, she would have to break the ice, talk to other people who didn’t know her, share her grief and her memories.

When you have spent your life keeping a secret you have learned how not to talk but you haven’t learned the art of casual conversation.  The social skills of casually meeting people and starting a conversation may be lost.

The second common fear is that someone would enter a group and they would know someone.  The secret would be out, shared with someone who they knew, maybe socially or through work.  The wall would be breached!  For someone like Sharon, this was very scary.  People who only knew her from work, who only saw her as competent, might now see her as troubled, stressed, sad and anxious.

When people experience a lot of stress, stress that they want to keep secret, they are often afraid that they will make a mistake, trip over something, spill a drink, say something “stupid.”  They believe that everyone will notice and will judge them.

Relieve Stress by Sharing It. 

These fears are all valid.  All can be recognized and accepted.  They are real and they are based on real experience.  Let’s deal with them one at a time.

The first Fear:  You don’t know anyone in the group.  You may be a stranger, and how do you allow anyone to get to know you?  How do you get to know them?  How can you trust them?  It helps people if there is a little structure, a plan to the group.  In any case, give yourself permission to say just a little.

Relaxed and Peaceful.

Relaxed and Peaceful.

Maybe  just your first name and a little bit about yourself, such as whether or not you are married, or in a relationship, whether you are employed, and if you have children.  These are universal experiences, and can be safely shared and accepted by most people.  Other examples of casual conversations are favorite activities or hobbies, or anything that you enjoy.

This will work in social groups, new work groups, and many typical situations, not only therapy or support groups.  Allow yourself to share just a little at first.

As you continue to get to know people, it will be a safer environment in which to share.  Some agreements are important:  especially one that ensures that whatever is said between people stays between the people.  Secondly an atmosphere of mutual respect is essential: put downs, name calling are not accepted.  Advice is only given if asked for.  Active and sympathetic listening provides the most comfortable atmosphere for sharing. If you value privacy and do not want your experiences shared, only share them with people who you know you and who will respect your need for privacy.  It is important to stress that what you are sharing is in fact private.

Ask for:

  • confidence:  what you are sharing stays between you and the people or person with whom you are sharing.
  • mutual respect.
  • listening that is sympathetic.
  • advise only if you ask for it.

The second Fear:  You enter the group and you do know someone.  Now your secret is out.  Someone knows you have a problem that you want help with; something to share.

However, you also know that about the other person as well.  That becomes an immediate bond.  You know each other, perhaps through work, and now you know that the other person has been suffering, perhaps in ways that you have been suffering.  One thing that you can take away from this is that you are not different, and your damage is shared by others.  You are part of the human race.  It is possible that you have also found an immediate support system, someone who knows that you carry a burden, someone who understands. (This is exactly what happened to Sharon, and she was reassured that a person who she had worked with for several years had in fact suffered similar difficulties.  The two women became an immediate support system for each other.)

A third fear is that a person will be expected to talk, and that person doesn’t want to talk. Give yourself permission to say very little, to wait until you are comfortable before you share personal information.

People who are experiencing a fear of talking often do not have the social comfort level and the experience to know what or how much to share.  I have often been surprised that persons who express a fear of talking in a group often share too much too soon when they do open up. This can be startling to other people.

There is a lot of room between sharing nothing and sharing everything.

Give yourself time and plan a structure of how much you want and plan to share.  If you are experiencing a lot of pain, or you are dealing with some problem that you consider embarrassing, let yourself go slowly. Remember the advantage of starting out with universal experiences: where you are from, what kind of work that you do, a few facts about your family.

There is no need to start off with a list of your diagnoses, or traumas. Such personal information may be uncomfortable for your listeners to hear before they know you.  Let people get to know your pain and your problems slowly, let them get to know you at the same time.

Give yourself time to feel comfortable with your company before you open yourself up.