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When and How to Share Personal Information

In my Manhattan practice I often see clients who struggle with finding the right way to share personal information with others, whether in a business or intimate relationship. It can be incredibly difficult to know when and how to disclose personal details, and many people find themselves in a precarious dance between sharing info too soon or struggling to open up at all.

Sharing information can be a way to increase an emotional connection in a relationship, but it can also lead to experiencing a “sharing hangover,” or that feeling of regret that you opened up too much about personal details in a situation that may not have been appropriate after all. At the same time, those who find it harder to open up about themselves or those holding information back may want to have more than extended superficial connections.

Granted, the boundaries between you and your boss are likely quite different than those between you and the person you are dating, but whatever the relationship, there is an optimal situation in which to share the right amount of information so that it is received as you would hope.

Whether you are scared to share a part of yourself or you find yourself blurting out personal details too soon, my W.A.I.T. system can help you learn how to balance over and under sharing, in any situation.

Dr. Chloe's W.A.I.T. System

Want to open up and share

The first condition that should be met when you are deciding whether to open up to someone is that you actually want to share the information. If you are having any doubts, or if there is any part of you that feels uncomfortable with the idea of sharing the information, never feel like you have to disclose anything that is personal.

That being said, there are of course situations in which you may have to disclose personal information even if you don’t want to; for instance, in cases where transmitting a virus like HIV is a possibility. Other issues, such as having significant debt or a criminal history, are important to share before you do anything to legally bind another person to you-- such as getting married to that person. This means that it's wise to share about these issues whenever serious talk of engagement for marriage should arise, if you're interested in marriage. Another issue that people often don't want to discuss is past sexual history-- perhaps you've had more partners than you care to disclose. The issue of past sexual history is more nuanced-- many people actually feel it's best to keep that information "private forever", and personally I think that's fine... as long as you're honest about it ("Sorry honey, but I think that's one aspect of our lives that I don't see a benefit to us sharing" is a fine way to tell the truth about your feelings without compromising your boundaries).

Caveats aside, so long as another person will not be harmed by you keeping the information to yourself, it’s generally okay not to share if you don't want to do so. Only you can judge whether the information can or will impact the present or future relationship with that other person.

Appropriate time and date

Before you disclose personal information it is always essential to make sure that it is the right time, place, and relationship in which to do so. This is when it is a good time to check-in with the relationship’s boundaries – real and perceived – to make sure that you aren’t crossing anything that may give you a sharing hangover.

The key is to make sure that the situation is appropriate for both of you. For example, you may be close with your boss, but it may not be right for you to ever tell him about your past sexual trauma, given the fact that you two mostly interact in professional settings.

Ensuring that the context is appropriate will also help make sure that the other person is receptive to what you have to say, and not distracted by something else. If you have been struggling with body image issues your entire life, calling your boyfriend to disclose this when he is on a business trip and in between meetings probably won’t make the conversation productive for either of you.

It’s always best to do a bit of planning before disclosing personal information, both so that you know you WANT to do so and so that you can find an APPROPRIATE and private place in which to share the information.

Inoculate others

Just like a vaccine slowly builds up immunity for disease, you’ll want to ease others into the information you are planning to disclose by inoculating them. Basically, by providing a “low dose” of the information, you can start to gauge how they will react when you are finally ready to share your experiences while getting them used to discussing the topic.

Remember, it took you a long time to process the information and get to a place where you are ready to talk about it, whereas for the other person, the topic may be brand new.

For example, if you are suffering from a major illness that may not be apparent in your day-to-day life, you may want to share your diagnosis with others, whether you are seeking sexual or emotional intimacy with them. Instead of blurting it out, you may find it easier to test the waters by slowly working health topics into your conversations. When a person you may want to disclose to asks you how you are, you can start by saying “Oh, I’m just a little tired, I’m dealing with some health issues.”

This gives you a clear way to judge how the other person feels about the topic. First of all, it gives them the option to ask you for more information, which may allow you to bridge into your own issues. On the other hand, if the other person looks uncomfortable or changes the subject, you know that they are not ready to be receptive to your information.

It is always a good idea to have a plan to prepare your audience, so that when you WANT to share and it is an APPROPRIATE setting, you’ll be able to slowly INOCULATE them to the topic.

Confirm the person is trustworthy

If you are looking for the most receptive response to your sensitive information, you’ll want to be sure that you trust the other person fully. Sometimes you may be able to figure out just how trustworthy the person is through the inoculation stage. For instance, if you mention health issues in general to someone and they respond with “Ew! Don’t get me sick!” they may not be ready to hear what you have to say, and you may not find the support you are seeking in disclosing to them.

Time is a big factor in establishing the right level of intimacy for a trustful relationship. You may get to know someone and feel an immediate connection, but sharing too quickly before really getting to know that other person may carry with it the regret of a sharing hangover.

Relationships take time to develop, and sometimes saving personal information can actually increase intimacy and provide the best context for both of you when you are finally ready to share. Generally, how long you wait will depend on the sensitivity of the information and how comfortable you are with the topic. For those looking for a concrete timeline, waiting between 30 and 90 days to establish further levels of intimacy – both physical and emotional – can allow for trust and understanding to develop between the two of you.

The key is making sure that the other person is authentic with you in person, so that you have a better understanding for the ways in which they will respond to your information. That way, once you WANT to share at the APPROPRIATE time, you’ll be confident that you can INOCULATE the other person that you TRUST, getting a reliable response to this sensitive part of yourself.

Getting close to others is a good thing, and in my practice I often see people who are struggling to find that right balance between sharing enough and not sharing too much. Luckily, my W.A.I.T. system has proven extraordinarily helpful, and can be used in just about any situation to make sure you are fully ready to share information while staying safe and supported.

1 Comment

Feb 08

Wow I can see where that would be awkward , but I guess you could never understand how unless you were walking in that person footsteps , I have never known anyone personally who was hiv pos but I feel empathy for that situation.

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