Social media tells us that we need to be more social by telling the world our every thought. Scrolling through newsfeeds you are given insights and glimpses into the minutiae of people’s lives, so they become familiar, friendly faces and you become invested in every moment of their lives – which they will happily share with you every moment they can. For those who fear disconnection with others, this type of connection with others is priceless and shows very clearly how connected we all can and should be. It’s wonderful.
Sharing a thought that is not fully formed, or giving a glimpse to others of the beginnings or stirrings of thoughts that will later form into your potential goals, dreams or aspirations can come with hidden dangers. Once something is shared with others, it loses something. It loses the wonderful moment when something is truly yours and yours alone. I remember this moment from when I found out I was pregnant – although the majority of my brain was immediately picturing what my husband’s reaction would be when I told him and the rest of the world, there was a moment where it was something known only to me. I realised that those moments are extremely precious. You know that your life will never be the same, and it is a moment you will never get back. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle once that first person gets told. But for those few minutes or hours, you get to fully embrace its beauty.
You lose that full ownership of something the second someone else knows. Now with some pieces of information, that’s a blessing. At the moment I was told I had breast cancer, having that news shared with my husband was a relief because it felt too heavy a burden for me alone to bear. Telling others helped eased the weight of having to cope with it. When we need people’s support and – crucially – they know how best to support us, it is a powerful connection and one to be cherished.
But not everyone knows the right way to respond, or the right thing to do and in some cases, there is a painful realisation that this is so. When I fell pregnant, everyone around me was excited, ecstatic and ready to congratulate – it was wonderful. When I had to tell them about the cancer, there was awkwardness, a mixture of sympathy and compassion and I realised that this was new territory for all of us and we all didn’t know what to do.
Once people know your news, your secret, they try the respond in the ‘best’ way but instead, usually end up responding in their best way. So when I announced my pregnancy, they wanted to be happy about it so that is what I got given. This to me was bittersweet because I had suffered a miscarriage only months earlier, which many of them knew. But they looked at the pregnancy through their lens, not mine and so forgot the painful times and focused on the good. Good, happy news is comfortable and safe – pain and loss are not. When I spoke to people about the cancer, again they saw it through their perspective – many had other people in their lives who had suffered similar or worse conditions, many had had scares of their own. The response they gave wasn’t to me or for me, it was for them and what it meant to them.
I learnt from these experiences that when you give information to others, you are also giving them permission to react in their own way to it and in many cases this comes back to you as opinion, analysis or judgement. In situations as above there are some fairly typical responses that I got and so nothing was particularly unusual or startling.
But the same thing applies when you share information that is not so typical or not what they are expecting. and that is where you can feel that what you have to say must be wrong because the reaction you get from people is so untypical as well.
If you can see that people respond within their context, and not yours, some of what you share may come as a shock or feel to them as if it from someone they barely recognise. The shock then leads them to react in a way that is more visceral and unguarded – and that might hurt.
But it doesn’t make what you shared wrong. Only that you shared it with the wrong people.