Self disclosure: Friend or foe?

Over and over again, you hear the comment that having depression or feeling depressed makes you “weak”. As a nurse, one of the things you are taught, or one of the “rules” you are meant to abide by, is self-disclosure. Self disclosing information about yourself to your patients can be seen as a boundary crossing or violation. In some cases, I agree, yes it can, especially when you are using the information to gain sympathy or to gain something from the patient. However, I think when disclosing certain information to a patient to gain trust or develop rapport, when you think the information will benefit the patient, than I see no harm.

Empathy, empathy, empathy! We are taught and told repetitively, we are not to have sympathy for our patient’s, but we are to have empathy. What is the definition of empathy? – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Please tell me, to what degree are we supposed to understand the feelings of somebody with a mental illness, unless we have experienced it ourselves? How are we supposed to share these feelings, if we are not meant to self disclose?

I’ve often found, that sharing a small excerpt of my life with a patient in need, does a world of good. Do I share with everybody? No, of course not. But as a nurse, a woman, a human – you know who you can, and cannot share personal experiences with. But let me tell you, for all of the patient’s I have nursed, whom I’ve been able to share “I’m dealing with depression myself” – their eyes light up. Most of them look at me, and ask in wonder “but how?” “How do you have that, and work here?” My favourite question…

When I was a teenager, going through high school, one of my best friends was diagnosed with depression. Admittedly, and regrettably – I was one of those people who thought depression didn’t exist, it was in fact all in your head, and I even thought that awful, dreaded phrase “just get over it.” I hate the fact that I suffer from depression, but I have never been so humbled, or thankful, I that I completely understand where some of my patient’s are coming from. I know exactly, to the bone, of what it feels like to not want to get out of bed, to not see the point, to just have that, “I don’t want to do it anymore” feeling. Also, one of my most common responses is, “I get to come to work for 8 hours and focus on you, not me.”

I’m not ashamed to have depression. Depression has helped me so much in becoming a more empathetic nurse, a more empathetic being in society. So, I guess it’s true what they say….. every cloud has a silver lining.

“Without rain, nothing grows. Learn to embrace the storms of your life”.



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