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The Power of Self Disclosure: Stories from Your Journey

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Getting Naked: On Being Emotionally Transparent at the Right time, the Right Place, and with the Right Person.

Note: over the next few months I will publish here some of the content of this book as it relates to your path to optimal living, and the clients you work with as well.

Dr. Pat

The title of this chapter comes from my experiences of times in my life when emotional nakedness had good results…. eventually. This is what I want for everyone who reads this … to either remember, or to create now in your life, positive outcomes from careful self-disclosure. These experiences might be memories of bumps and bruises along your journey, but they no longer need to be painful. Just as scars are visible reminders of an injury or wound we once had, hopefully the pain that accompanied them is gone. But scars are also metaphorical and psychological reminders for those memories, experiences, and challenges that have stretched us to fully experience life as it happens, good or bad, positive or negative, challenging or inspiring. Our life gives to us experiences…what we make of them is the key, and we don’t have to do it alone. Take what life gives you, learn from it, and move forward with the help of a committed confidante or two.

Life is like a camera. Focus on what's important. Capture the good times. And if things don't work out, just take another shot. -Unknown

One of my major beliefs for much of my life has been that personal and spiritual development is a process, that you can either just let happen and be an observer, or you can be more purposeful in your personal exploration, and be a participant in the unfolding or emergence of your being.

My earliest memory of learning the value of self-disclosure for the purposes of experiencing and claiming what is unique about others and me was in my Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) group at age 14. Our youth minister would have us do some games that were geared to learning to express ourselves and learn new and unexpressed aspects of ourselves and our friends in safe and fun ways.

For example, I remember all of us being in a circle and being asked, “if you were an animal, what animal would you be?” We were then to choose that animal and explain why we chose it and what characteristics of the animal might also be similar or desirable in our personality. Then the others in the group would comment on what they saw in me related to that chosen animal, or if they saw me as a different animal and why. We would then go around the group and repeat this process. It was fun and revealing, without being deeply emotional. Other games and experiences like this in a safe and trusting environment, not confrontational one, led to increased self-awareness. Within an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration, experiences like these were a major influence in my life-long quest to be self-aware and to assist others to know themselves more fully.

As I matured into young adulthood, I was an average athlete, sitting on the bench in basketball, and doing well in track and field, pole vaulting, and running. But I discovered I was accepted more for being a leader in student politics to influence a positive atmosphere for all students. I was pretty well accepted by the various cliques, groups and races, I guess, because I cared and was curious about different human experiences while suspending judgment. (I learned this early as my father would frequently have foreigners stay with us for several weeks when they came to Wichita, Kansas to learn management skills or manufacturing from the Coleman Company, where my father was the Personnel Director and later Vice President of Labor Relations). Those experiences with people from India, China, Mexico, France and others instilled in me an appreciation for different perspectives and viewpoints without being judgmental…. just curious and fascinated.

This was tested in a very memorable way when Martin Luther King was assassinated and the black students in Wichita rioted…I was at a state track meet and remember being hit over the head with a pipe. But my black teammates came to my aid and saved me from further damage…an act of kindness that impacted me greatly. And in the weeks following, I used my leadership and communication skills to be part of community discussion groups for quelling the racial tension and hearing from Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics anything they wanted to share. It was one of the best experiences of my early life. Those discussions, with an adult facilitator but with high school students having a voice, were eye opening to me. This was an early and influential experience of being naked and vulnerable and listening to others sharing their truth and experiences in a safe environment.

As I entered college in 1968, it was a time of great transformation in me and in society. I entered as a freshman wearing dress slacks and sweaters and by 1969 was wearing John Lennon glasses with longer hair, hippie beads and going from drinking beer to smoking pot and experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. Yet I didn’t over indulge…to me it was an experiment in living and trying new things without becoming obsessed or overly distracted. (I still made straight A’s and graduated with honors). My partying was planned to not interfere with learning. Not everyone was able to do that. College was that place between the safety of home, and the real world of working and living responsibly, which I knew was just around the corner. College in the late 1960s allowed me to experience lots of new learning both in and out of the classroom.

I chose Psychology as my path, not to become a psychologist but to explore more about what made people tick, and to learn about the good and bad, the healthy and the unhealthy of the human experience. Psychology 101 introduced me to lots of theories of human behavior and much of those theories of child development were based on Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Karen Horney, and others who extolled what is called a psychodynamic perspective. Freud’s theories based on the belief that instincts of sex and aggression were our two main unconscious forces driving our behavior did not excite me nor resonate with my intuitive belief about being a human. And the other prevalent psychological viewpoint from Behaviorism of B.F. Skinner and his followers and theories highlighting the power of operant conditioning did nothing in my view except make humans sound like unconscious robots.

Then I was fortunate enough to take a class entitled Psychology of Satisfaction, an experience that, to this day, was a turning point in my education and career path. It was a class about research the professor had done on a South Pacific island regarding happiness and satisfaction and what factors were influential for that to occur. In this seminar, I was introduced to the theories of Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung, four of the influencers of the human potential movement, later the branch of Humanistic Psychology, which looked at people less mechanically and studied the farther reaches of the human experience.

That of course led to lots of learning opportunities in this growing human potential movement and led me to attending two week-long workshops at Esalen Institute in California. Esalen was a hub for the Human Potential movement of the 1960s and 1970s and opened my eyes and ears to new possibilities. These forays into self-exploration included everything from yoga and meditation, to research on psychedelics, encounter groups, dance, art, music, and of course, clothing optional hot tubs later in the evening at this Pacific Coast paradise. Needless to say, this was an eye opening experience for me at age 18 and 19 and also a transformative experience in understanding myself more in the larger scheme of things. I began to see the power of self-disclosure and experiences with being naked (figuratively and literally) in a safe and accepting environment, and I believed this was a key learning for others seeking to be more fully alive.

As I continued my studies in college, I took several classes in what, at the time, was called Sensitivity Training. We did things to enhance the senses, smell, touch, quiet listening etc. And of course, encounter groups were the rage. I even experienced a nude encounter group as another way to lose one’s masks and discover what’s behind them. Again, I don’t share this as a way to suggest you need to get naked literally, but at those times, it was a direct link to getting naked emotionally…. And it did open my eyes to the varieties of the human experience, and finding ways to feel free to take off our protective armor.

Some of these experiences were not so good as a motto of the time was “let it all hang out” or “tell it like it is.” Sometimes these groups were an excuse for people to be mean and attacking but I survived…. and there were many other times when tender and deep emotional sharing took place that engendered, even more, my desire for exploring the human experience as fully as possible.

Surviving and thriving in the 1970s experience (yes, there were many lessons) then took me to the real world for a year of working for Hallmark Cards Crown Center Project in Kansas City…I could not stand it…corporate culture, office cubicles, management hierarchy…and so off I went to get a Masters degree in Humanistic Psychology at University of West Georgia in Carrollton, GA, a town of 12,000 mostly Southern Baptists and rural folks who had a tolerant relationship with the college psychology students who were studying “weird things”, in their estimation. And yet, I met many locals at antique fairs and country jamborees, and immersed myself in the southerner experience for the two years I was in Georgia.

The humanistic psychology program at University of West Georgia was a continuation of exploring human potential in multiple ways from Eastern philosophy, Jungian psychology, parapsychology, and other studies in consciousness. And I was taught by luminaries in the field and many visiting scholars of renown…. it was a hotbed of humanistic psychology.

A transformational experience that took place and impacted my world ever since was my meeting Sidney Jourard, (a famous Canadian Psychologist) at a fish fry at one of my professors’ house. He had come to guest lecture and was famous for his theories on the importance of self-disclosure, as expressed in his book The Transparent Self.

He was staying in town for a while and I handed him my copy of the book for his signature, which he gladly wrote. Then I stated how much I liked it and that I wanted to write a book someday. He said, “Give me the book again” and then wrote, “Pat if you never write your book, you have no one to blame but yourself,” signed Sid. It was as if in those few minutes he had gone from Dr. Jourard to Sid and left me a personal message that impacted me then and now.

But the real story is that the next day, my professor shared the sad news that while Sidney was working on his car outside his home in Tallahassee Florida, the jack collapsed and the car fell on Sidney, killing him!

You can imagine how his message to me revolved in my brain for years until I published my first book in 1980, Transpersonal Psychology and the Evolution of Consciousness, which was designed for an introductory course on Transpersonal Psychology. I sold thousands of copies over a few years to colleges and then it became outdated and is out of print today.

In 2002 I co-authored my first professionally published book with Norton Books, called Therapist as Life Coach: Transforming your Practice, which I dedicated to Sidney Jourard. Since then I have co authored six other books which all sold well but they are all professional books.

This book, Getting Naked, however, is the book Sidney Jourard was challenging me to write!