General Question

wundayatta's avatar

What are the pros and cons of publicly being who you are?

Asked by wundayatta (58599points) September 4th, 2008

Rich, poor, gay, passing as a member of the dominant culture when you really aren’t, a confidence man, abused, mentally ill, an artist, a deviant, a cancer victim, an ex-con, an adulterer, a pregnant teen…..

Often, it seems to me, that it is safer to hide who you are, than to come out about it. Most of the things I mentioned have been stigmatized at one time, or still are stigmatized to a greater or lesser degree. Even if you’ve reformed, it may not be safe to come out. A reformed adulterer? Who will believe you?

It seems to me there are many reasons to hide things, and most of them have to do with the way people treat you when they know. It also seems to me that it can be very healthy not to hide things, and to fully be whoever you are—if it doesn’t cost too much.

I carry big secrets, and I am very afraid to let people close to me know about them, even though they are no fault of my own. I know they would shun me. But it would be such a relief not to have to hide what’s going on with me. Not from my parents and siblings, not from my employer, not from my oldest friends. In truth, only people who know can be close to me. So it hurts, but still some contact, even in a limited way, is better than none at all, although I can’t be certain that would be their response.

A lot of people say they don’t care about what others think. I wonder how they get to this place. I’m not sure I believe it. But they seem so strong, and comfortable with themselves. I can’t imagine that. I would not be able to survive without other people. They seem to be perfectly content to be pariahs.

So, what am I missing here? On both sides. What are the benefits about coming out, and not hiding yourself. What are the potential dangers. How do you balance them and arrive at your decision?

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26 Answers

torisecret's avatar

Its always scary to expose your self completely to others..there should definitely be some privacy. I think its horrible how some celebrities cant even go to the market with out being swarmed by paparazzi.

augustlan's avatar

Daloon, I know you’ve been suffering with these issues for quite a while. I think you should take it slow, and start with the people that love you the most. Tell one or two, and take a wait and see approach. While it can initially be difficult, for both givers and receivers of such news, I really believe that most people will quickly come to terms with your news. In fact, I’d go so far as to say many will be relieved to finally know what you’re all about. The fact of the matter is, the people who really know you, will already be aware of your “quirks”, and will now know the reasons behind them, as well. As for work, unless you need medical leave, I’d not necessarily tell your employer or co-workers, as it just isn’t any of their business. Now, on to the actual question: The biggest benefit to being your authentic self is coming to terms with your authentic self. If you keep hiding behind a facade, you are only reinforcing the idea that the real you is something you need to hide. Stop hiding, and you will see that you’re not such a bad guy. Anyone you may lose on the way, due to their inability to accept the real you is either someone the real you would not be friends with anyway, or is not worthy of you in the first damn place.

oceansmist's avatar

If you are living a life in hiding, not being true to yourself, then you are not being true to the people you have relationships with and while society unfortunately has placed stigmas on various things that you mentioned in your question, really ask yourself if living a lie is worth it.

I realize that the fear of rejection or being shunned or ridiculed or outcast by your “friends” if you tell them whatever you need to tell them, but do you really want friends that would reject you for being honest and true to yourself and simply being YOU? I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do. It may not be but then again, it may not be as big a deal as you might think with the people that truly matter and care for you. I would just hate for you to live the rest of your life being miserable all the while trying to hide who you really are, whomever you are. You deserve better in this life than what you’re getting by not being your true self. Be proud of who you are because you are a special person as is everyone. You have talents and gifts and skills to offer this world and being “you” is special period. You don’t have to justify anything to anyone and sometimes by being honest and being your true self will show you who your real friends are anyway.

That’s just my small opinion and also some real life experience with one of my family members who felt they had to move thousands of miles away from our family in order to live their life being WHO they are and being true to themselves and when they finally told me their “issue” it was no big deal and we found out we’d wasted years and years of being a family because of this one “issue.”

marinelife's avatar

This is a very complex question. In my family of origin, the “truth” is not valued. I spent many years being ridiculed for attempting to batter down the barriers and convince people to see the “truth.”

Finally, after a lot of therapy and work on these issues, I became very comfortable with the idea that as long as I know the truth, I am OK. Oddly, that turned out to be very freeing, and I now speak my truth to them at will. I don’t care how they react any more. That has actually changed the way they react.

A long lead-in. I apologize. The situations are not exactly the same, but I wanted you to see that I have some idea of where you are coming from. When you become comfortable with yourself and with the truth of who you are, when you accept it, you will care less what others think and say.

That said, there is no reason to toss yourself to a pack of wolves. With my family of origin, I do not discuss some things that are very much part of who I am. I don’t talk about my writing, for example, with them. They tend to be pretty judgmental.

For someone you really care about, you must be who you really are or there can be no true intimacy.

Before telling someone, ask yourself carefully why you want to tell them, what your hope is for the revelation and its aftermath. Be gentle with yourself. Protect yourself. Make sure you are not giving away your power to anyone.

Take care.

osakarob's avatar

“I carry big secrets, and I am very afraid to let people close to me know about them, even though they are no fault of my own.”

Trust me, you don’t.
You are being melodramatic.

tinyfaery's avatar

Well I can only speak from the perspective of being gay. I am out to my family, my friends, and my co-workers, and so is my wife. Everyone in our lives knows who and what we are. Frankly, it was for my sanity that I came out of the closet, and decided to be out of the closet in all aspects of my life. It was too hard to lead so many different lives, to remember to switch pronouns, to not talk about the most important person in my life…

However, I know when not to let on to strangers. There are places where I don’t feel safe being out, but honestly, when this happens, it is a rare occasion. Admittedly, I live in L.A., and it’s not so huge of an issue here; plus, CA has laws that prevent discrimination. Were I to live elsewhere, I might not feel so free to be who I am most places I go .

Ultimately, you have to live with whatever you choose. When you come out (whatever it might be), you trade in one set of problems for another. Ask yourself what problems you would rather deal with. The problems associated with hiding who you are, or the problems associated with being who you are? Only you can choose.

JackAdams's avatar

The more folks know about you, the more easily they can attack you and hurt you, over such petty things that they already know about you, like the fact that you are not a Christian (for one example) or that you wish to place a time/date notation after everything you post (as a memory enhancement tool).

Many of the “people” in here (whose names I won’t mention) attack you because you are “different,” or because you stand up for yourself and respond WITH an insult, TO an insult, or because you don’t conform to what THEY think is “normal” or “correct” social interaction practices.

These are the same “people” who torture baby animals and “laugh & point” whenever they see a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, or a blind person with a white cane and a guide dog.

Our prisons are full of them, and they are full of “it.”

So, just why do I and several thousand others in here, not divulge their true identities and locations and other personal information?

Speaking only for myself, if my true name and address were revealed to everyone in here, at least two or three of my fellow Flutherers are emotionally unstable enough, that they would probably come over to my place and murder everyone in my household.

At least, that’s the impression I get, from some of the lunatic PMs I have received from them, just because I am “different.”

I’m in very good company, actually. George Carlin, Einstein, Lenny Bruce, Stephen Hawking and Jesus Christ are/were “different” and LOOK what happened to the LAST person on that list.

He should have stayed anonymous, too.

September 5, 2008, 1:40 AM EDT

tinyfaery's avatar

Is there something I am missing?

wildflower's avatar

If you hide behind a facade, any attacks on you will only be on the facade. Unfortunately, same us true if any acknowledgements or praise.
On the other hand, if you’re open and honest about yourself and let yourself be exposed, any attacks will be on your exposed person and hurt like hell! But, the feeling of acknowledgement or praise from someone who truly knows you, is about the best you can get!
You have to be willing and prepared to take the good with the bad. You either let both positives and negatives get through – or neither.
Personally I think the hurt is worth the joy.

cookieman's avatar

Is it me, or did this thread become very obtuse and troubling.

Anyway, @Marina and @agustian pretty much hit the nail on the head.

Knotmyday's avatar

Depends on who you share your secrets with, Daloon. There is always a risk factor in disclosure.

For example, I was diagnosed with dysthymia, which is a kind of depression. The diagnosis was such a relief; if you’ve ever been in that situation you know what I felt.

I felt confident enough to confide in several family members, who promptly told me that “There is no such thing as depression, it’s just sin in your life!” then expressed that opinion to several other people- thankfully, most of whom dismissed them and were supportive.

In hindsight, they were the wrong people to go to in the first place; but it’s tough to “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” All depends on your ability to manage rejection and censure.

Do they really need to know? <always helpful criteria

oceansmist's avatar

I think going with your “gut feeling” about who and what to tell will guide you. Opening up yourself will put you in a very vulnerable state, which, in itself, is can be very scary. For most people, no matter what the situation (big or small), feeling vulnerable puts you in a position open for all sorts of situations (rejection, personal attacks, etc.), but I, for one, have always been a person who accepts people unconditionally and with no judgment whatsoever so be who you are but just be careful who and what you tell to people. Listen to your heart. It will tell you which people you can safely tell your information to and I wish you nothing but the best because that is what you deserve. Take care and know that you have at least one person here in Fluther that will never treat you negatively or offer any judgment, not matter wjat you have to say. I wish you only the best.

SuperMouse's avatar

Like it or not there is still a stigma attached to some kinds of illness (especially mental illness) that comes mostly from the ignorance of others. You might want to share with those who you are most intimate with, but when it comes to co-workers, acquaintances, etc., there is really no need. You are not denying your true self by not sharing this information, you are just keeping your private life to yourself.

I used to think that I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. As I have matured I realize that there are people whose opinions I care about. The opinions of people I respect do matter to me, that is just the way it is. I have spent a lot of time over the past nine months being judged by these people. What I realize is that their statements are worth listening to, but that everyone filters things through their own biases, and ultimately my decisions are mine to make and their opinions are not the be all and end all.

One thing I have run into recently is that people make their judgments and form their opinions based on what they see on the outside. I have been done a huge disservice by constantly putting my best face forward and pretending that was all there is to my life. When things shifted dramatically, those on the outside looking in (everyone but the two adults in my household), were shocked, stunned, and in complete disbelief over a certain turn of events. For me that adds another layer to consider in this whole equation. I’m still not exactly sure what to do with it.

Bri_L's avatar

I think it is a very personal thing by nature. There are things people are uncomfortable knowing about you depending on how long they have known you. Trust your gut.

wundayatta's avatar

@everyone: do you think that once I might ask a simple question? Hah!

These answers have been very well thought out, and seem honest and open to me, and I am very grateful to you all for that. If anyone wants to react to anyone else, or build on other people’s answers, or add any more detail or personal circumstances, I’d appreciate that, too.

Well, here are a few reactions to the whole gestalt. I guess the who is my parents and siblings. The what is that I’m bipolar. The fear is that my parents will react the same way to this that they have acted to me or anyone else who shows any sign of a lack of mental discipline. They get holier than thou. The problem is that all my life I’ve wanted my parents approval (and never got it), and, despite thinking that I didn’t care about it any more (for the last 30 years), the truth is that it still matters. Just once, I’d like to hear a “you done good, daloon” from them. daloon = the loon = the crazy dude but is also colored by the fact that we do vacation on a lake with loons each summer, and that the family motto is something like “we are weird.”

Now, you might think that sounds promising, but they mean weird in a kinder, gentler, more creative way, not in the out of control, anti-social behavior way that comes along, often, with the disease I have. They don’t believe in “out of control.” They utterly disrespect it. This makes me really sad. But why do I expect any different? They’ve never known who I am—not fully, anyway. My aspirations and methods of living are too unfamiliar to them. Already it’s as if they wonder how I could be their son. They tolerate me, but don’t enjoy me, as it is. And if I want to be appreciated, this is not going to help. No way would I break down in front of them, but that’s what I wish I could do.

I guess I’d say the chances of a favorable response are in the 20–30% range. I’ve played those odds before and won big. And I suppose there’s not much else to lose. If they’re mean to me, they won’t get to see their grandkids as much. It’ll be too uncomfortable to arrange visits.

Of course, there’s also this: I’m not a person who can be confident although, I think, I can still fake it. However, I don’t trust myself because this is all too new, so how can I expect anyone else to trust me?

marissa's avatar

Daloon, my heart goes out to you. I have not read the previous posts, however, I just read your above post, I just want to quickly say this. I think that you could benefit from speaking to a therapist before you decide who to tell what, this could help prepare you for possible reactions and long term consequences. I also think it would be good to find a support group of people going through the same situation, they would be able to offer ‘This is what happened to me’ stories for you to consider. {{{hugs}}}

SuperMouse's avatar

It is my belief that it can be the hardest to be yourself around family. I find that when I am with most members of my family (not including gimmedat), I play the role I have always played. As much as I know that I am NOT that person, that is how they will always see me and there is really honestly nothing I can do about it. I have come to look at this as their problem not mine. The people who matter to me most, the people who love me most are the ones who know me the best and love me anyway.

flameboi's avatar

Pro: Very nice and Interesting life
Con: Surrounded by hypocrites

wildflower's avatar

Just a thought, but it might be easier for you to handle their responses or reactions if you work on recognising and accepting them for who they are, flaws, limitations and all!
Perhaps they’re not good at giving you the acceptance and recognition you would like, but are your expectations of the acceptance and recognition they’re able to give, realistic? Or based on the notion that they’re your parents and should understand you?
They’re people with strengths, weaknesses and flaws too.

marissa's avatar

Here is a copy of a private comment I sent daloon, I am posting it here becaused he asked me too :0)

“I’ll tell you what I won’t post on a public forum (because I don’t want to get into a debate about mental health issues with folks), you are in a very difficult situation (like you didn’t already know that ;0) ), many people are unsure how to react and interact with someone who is bipolar, there is so much misinformation and misunderstanding out there. Hopefully, you have a few people you can count out that won’t treat you any differently, however, you will have a variety of other people who will react differently.
– those that treat you with kid gloves and won’t tell you anything negative (like bad news), because they don’t want to be the one to ‘push you over the edge’
– those that will treat you as if you are weak or like it’s ‘all in your head’, as if you could control it, if you really wanted to
-those that will distance themselves from you
-those that will treat you differently, like when they see you instead of saying ‘how are you doing?’ in a normal tone, they will say it with that hidden meaning tone ‘how are you doing?’
-those that will overlook you for promotions or projects, because they are afraid you’ll ‘crack under pressure’ (of course they will never admit this)

However, the upside is that you are free to be yourself and discuss your condition with others when you choose. Just know that, if it is of any help, I am here as a sounding board. :0)”

Babo's avatar

It’s not easy being little and blue…

cwilbur's avatar

It comes down to two things for me: need-to-know and risk.

Does the person have a legitimate need to know? My friends and family need to know that I’m gay, if only so they don’t ask why I haven’t met any nice girls lately. The waiter at the restaurant needs to know about my food allergies. My doctor needs to know about any medication I may be taking. Someone who wants to send me a birthday card needs to know my real address; someone who wants to get together when s/he is in Boston needs to know my phone number.

Is there a risk to the disclosure? Well, what’s the worst that can happen? I don’t mind being publicly out as a gay man, because there’s no way that can be used to hurt me. On the other hand, I’ve had harassing phone calls before, so I’m careful about who gets my phone number.

tinyfaery's avatar

Wow. Maybe it’s because I work with those who are diagnosed with “mental illness”, but I do not know any people, even in my personal life, that attach such stigma to those who have psychiatric diagnoses. So many people either experience such symptoms, or know someone who does. The more you and your ilk “come out”, the more others will understand and gain tolerance for those who suffer with mental illness.

—Disclaimer: On the phone. I have no idea what I wrote

scamp's avatar

I have a question for you. You’ve told us you are bipolar, but I don’t see anywhere in your post whether or not you are getting treatment for it. Are you taking meds or seeing a therapist? If not, I think it would be a great idea for you. the meds will help you feel “more in control”, and a therapist can help you understand that you cannot change your parents or their attitudes, only yourself. The sooner you realize that one fact, the sooner you can get on the road to recovery.

As far as coming out to others, I don’t see how that would benefit you. People don’t understand what mental illness is, and it would only serve to make you feel more alienated if you were to tell them you are bipolar. The only people who will truly understand is those who have been there themselves. I wish you all the best, and hope you are able to find some peace with this.

marinelife's avatar

I also have a concern that if you tell people who will not make the effort to learn about being bi-polar and what it means that your every thought and action from this point on will be attributed not to you, but to you being bipolar. That can get very annoying.

gailcalled's avatar

Personally, I have never had a mental illness, but I am open about my cancer and my psychotherapy and the antidepressant I take. Several other extremely personal pieces of tragic info I give out very, very selectively. When the abovementioned tragedies occured, I lost several friends who got scared. I was surprised but my therapist said that it was common for some people to run from bad stuff. I would find someone trained to talk with, if you haven’t already.

I had a bipolar aunt and a bipolar friend. The issue wasn’t who knew about their condition but their extreme and unpredictable behavior when off their meds.

I hope that you can find some peace, daloon. (I love loons; they are versatile, loyal, beautiful and mysterious – and can hold their breath under water for a long time.)

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