I’d been planning to write about this for a while, when a few weeks ago, someone who follows my blog and is thinking about training as a therapist, sent me an e-mail asking about my considerations when sharing things so publicly, given my profession. This is a very valid question, and one that I’ve pondered many times over the years since I’ve started writing blogs. And since there is no time like the present, here it is. But first, like with most things, I need to go back to the beginning.
I grew up as a very self-sufficient child – preparing my own bag and clothes for school, never needing any prompts to clean or tidy up, always following what I felt needed to be done, as well as always doing what I felt like doing. My parents worked long hours, my brother was significantly older and in a completely different stage of development, and so my non-school hours were spent playing with friends, or playing on my own. I had a very active imagination, spending many hours reading books, or imagining worlds and stories far away from mine. And I spent a lot of time on my own. I always thought this was incredibly independent of me, but in hindsight, I can also recognise and acknowledge how lonely it was. And the impact this has had, particularly in relationships.
Whilst I was able to imagine dialogues between the characters I created during play, or in my stories, as well as with people in my life, I feel that I was never very fluent at saying things out loud. There are key moments in my childhood and early teens, that are burned in my memory as moments when my voice was silenced by others, or not listened to by others, or neglected by others. They weren’t many, but they were significant, and at some point in my development, I internalised the belief that what I had to say was not important. This was exacerbated when I began to realise that I was gay, which entailed the suppression of a wide range of feelings. My adolescence was spent reading novels, writing short stories, and listening and dancing to music alone in my room. The more feelings I suppressed, and the more times I chose to be quiet, the more inward I went and the more introverted I became. To this day, I am much better able to express myself in writing than through spoken words, as you may detect from my blogs. Except in therapy, interestingly enough. The self I bring to the therapy space for others is probably the best version of my Self. I am working on having that version show up in all the other areas too.
At 17 years old, after leaving Portugal, and living in the US, I met two people who told me, for the first time in my life, that there was nothing wrong with being gay. And they wanted to know what it felt like! Not generally, but they wanted to know how I felt! Me. They were interested in me, and what I had to say! In fact, because I was an exchange student, my whole experience of living in the US was foreign in more ways than one. People had never been so interested in me before! I began to find a voice I didn’t know I had, and began to fully feel how much I knew about so many things, after so many years of mostly observing and reading about the world around me. I had a lot to say! And this became even more noticeable when I moved to Scotland for my first degree, as a fully out of the closet gay man. I found power in my voice, but I also found that there was a lot of shame in my voice. Shame about everything – the things I said, and didn’t say; thought, and didn’t think; felt, and didn’t feel. But the dynamic between speaking up, out, and about, and the shame attached to it, was surprising: I realised that the more I spoke, the less shame I felt. To the point that shame doesn’t occupy much space in my life anymore. It’s still around, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t dictate many of my decisions anymore.
In short, this is why I share: shame. Shame has been the most destructive force in my life, the biggest barrier to developing connections and relationships, and the most powerful impediment to following my instincts. And from what I’ve heard from the hundreds of clients I’ve seen, shame has had a similar effect on their lives. I share because I spent most of my life not sharing and thus hurting myself; I share because I’ve done enough work to be able to really like myself and therefore be comfortable with my life story; I share because most people don’t, and I know that sometimes seeing someone else doing it, can give us the validation and permission we so badly need to share more of ourselves with others. I share because I want to live my life without shame, and I know that whenever I’m off balance, it’s because I haven’t shared something. In fact, these past couple of months, are a direct result of me not saying what I really wanted to say. I share because silence kills, and if I can speak for myself, and sometimes others, then I can bring a bit more life into this world. Sharing is my very own personal “Fuck you” to social codes of shame and silence. We are social beings that need connection with other beings. Not sharing, creates more shame, more loneliness, more death. I’m more than happy to tell all of them to fuck off.
The nuance of being a therapist is relevant, obviously. I don’t sit in my therapist’s chair and share about my life with my clients. I think disclosures to clients can enrich the sessions, but need to be managed carefully. In the 4 years since graduating, and more than 650 clinical hours I’ve conducted, I can honestly say that I’ve only disclosed personal details 3 times. I never had a client refer to my blogs, and I’m not sure that they’ve read them. Even if they had, there is nothing in the blogs I wouldn’t be comfortable discussing, if asked about it. For potential future clients, I am more than happy to talk about it with them, listen to their concerns about the stories I share, whilst reminding them that the therapy is for them. The therapy space is the only space where I’m not afraid to address any kind of issue. Let me tell you, once you’ve processed and managed a client’s erotic transference, there’s nothing you can’t discuss.
Additionally, I remember being with a therapist many years ago, telling him that I’d be attending Pride that year, and he said that he was too. And then he added: “if I see you, don’t take it personally, but I’ll pretend not to.” I get it, that’s the tradition. To be completely unknown to your clients. But something that day, deep inside me, said: “there’s got to be a better way to manage these dynamics. A more human way.” And before being a therapist, I’m a person. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that some people will not appreciate seeing a therapist who writes blogs about such personal insights. These won’t be the clients for me, and I won’t be the therapist for them. That’s how I see it. Part of learning who you are as a therapist, is to unlearn the theory in favour of learning about human interactions, including who you really are as a person. Being a therapist is an extension of me, not the whole picture.
Ultimately, I share because I’ve got nothing to hide, because I’m stable enough to do it, and because I also need it in order to be the best version of myself that I can be, and a role model for all of those marginalised people out there living under the weight of shame. I also only share that which I’ve processed or worked through in my own therapy, and therefore it’s absolutely shame-free. Trust me, there are plenty of things that I don’t share with the world.