In his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” Sociologist Erving Goffman uses the metaphor of the stage to argue that much of our self-presentation is performative. We have the backstage and the frontstage.
When working with professionals this is something I witness on a daily basis: the controlled professional frontstage owning their expertise versus the desperate individual backstage in my clinic – both the same person, just different contexts – what we show the world, and that, which we hide.
This week has been one of sharp self-reflection of how I am too hindered by this in a variety of ways: the expert Psychologist who is guiding clients through difficult divorces and equally the overwhelmed mum who is in the midst of her own difficult divorce.
To what extent is my own self-disclosure enhancing or contaminative for other’s opinion of me? Do I seem weaker or stronger for walking the same path as those I work with clinically? Do the professionals around me judge me or praise me for my openness? Is it wise or foolish to reach out to my professional network for help and guidance? Can I take the risk to show my fragile underbelly, or should I maintain an illusion of fictious ultimate strength?
We ask ourselves are we allowed to show our humanity and our vulnerability when we are in trouble? Can we allow ourselves the luxury of accessing the care and guidance of our colleagues, the expertise they provide to others everyday? Can we trust that their professional compassion will extend to us too, just as they extend it to their other clients? Can our ego cope with leaving our professional pedestal, even for a moment?
These questions are faced by every single one of us who relies on our reputation, our ‘safe pair of hands’, our ability to work objectively, our ‘having it together-ness’. Centrally, we are forever in tension about how much we can show of our ‘true’ selves.
I faced all these doubts this week. I chose to be open. To reach out. To tell my network I need help. It was a timely reminder for me of the bravery of every single client who does the same: the risk they take in asking for my support. I learnt a lesson in humility – I am not above the need for guidance.
I finish then with a thank you to all those of my legal colleagues who responded with warmth, care, and empathy – they reminded me that is only shame that silences us, and shame disappears the moment we give voice to our truth.
Sometimes, we just have to walk on the front of stage naked.