Personal disclosure is often part of storytelling. It’s a way of opening up conversations, of building a bond, of setting a context for what’s being discussed. In informal coaching or mentoring situations, disclosure can be used to help individuals to share experiences and to work through problems.
Some time ago, i wrote an article about empathy and depression, exploring the benefits of experience and how, having gone through an experience oneself, it maybe developed a better platform for supporting others. I wasn’t looking for a silver lining in a cloud, but i do think that there is truth in the adage that shared experiences build understanding. There was certainly a lot of interest in the article, and it’s something that people come back to and raise with me regularly.
The idea that learning can be experiential like this, that having been through it somehow qualifies us to support others better, is not just true for someone seeking to learn about something, but also for the teacher. Much as a mentoring or coaching relationship can actually lead to development and movement in the attitudes and understanding of both parties, so any such storytelling that requires us to revisit harder or darker parts of our personal histories can be both cathartic and educational.
Most recently i spent time in a delicate conversation with a friend about miscarriage and abortion, a conversation that blended ‘facts’ alongside personal experiences. It certainly was an emotional experience, as well as being a challenging one, but maybe it resulted in a different, more potent form of learning? I think that, for me anyway, the fact that the conversation included such deep disclosure from the other person allowed or caused me to learn things in a very different, very emotional, but very compelling way.
In the article about depression, i may have come across as too optimistic, noting how many people who come through depression find that they have a greater empathy and ability to support others as they complete their own learning journey. I acknowledged that for some people the journey is too hard, and they are trapped for protracted periods of time in a difficult place. As i said, i am not looking for silver linings, but rather a period of reflection. Disclosure in storytelling is a powerful thing. It’s worth us thinking about this, seeking to understand how it affects us, and considering how we can be better storytellers and learners as a result.