Sometimes opening yourself up to others can be the hardest thing you can do. Here are 5 reasons why we find it so hard and don’t open up.
I recently posted an article entitled 7 Ways To Make Better Friends. I’m used to some of my relationship-related articles getting a few more hits, like The Source and Impact of Sexual Fantasy or What Men Really Want. To my surprise, this post about why we find it so hard to make friends has caused an equal amount of interest and a faster response than most of the things I’ve written so far. It’s a big issue for quite a number of us.
As I noted in the previous article, developing friendships can be difficult in your adult years. Many people struggle with meeting new people, and can also feel lonely even when they are surrounded by lots of people.
I thought I would write a followup to that post.
We all need friends in our lives. Whether it is the special friendship of marriage to your best friend, a close group of people who know everything about you, or even just people you hang out with every now and again, our hearts go searching for people we can involve in our lives.
Sigh, if only it were always easy.
This time I’d like to write about something that holds a lot of our relationships back and makes them more difficult, and that is the fact that we often find it difficult to open up to others. A lot of us know that we need to be more open to make better friends, to improve our marriage, and even sometimes to take those steps in the dance of romance. Being more open is also of great benefit to our family relationships and our prayer life.
So here are some reasons why we don’t open up.
You don’t actually have to pour out your deepest darkest secrets to absolutely everyone you meet. You don’t always need to be fully transparent with what’s going on in your head with just anyone. These are for making ourselves open to the right people in our lives. Many of us have let the wrong ones in and seen the damage of that, and sometimes we let ourselves go through absolute torture by remaining completely open with people who live out destructive lifestyles.
Balance being open with the wisdom of opening up to the right people.
And now with the list.
#1: Because of your upbringing and your parents
We’re not often very realistic about the impact our upbringing still has on us today. Most of us love our parents, or maybe we believe we are mature enough to have properly moved beyond the events of our childhood.
But ask anyone who studies children and they will often relay the reality that what happens in your childhood has profound and lasting impact on the rest of your life.
For example, if you were an only child, perhaps you are just used to living life by yourself most of the time. You keep to yourself, you don’t mind not really having to share a lot of details with a lot of people. Conversely, if you had lots of brothers and sisters, you may have felt overshadowed by your siblings, or found yourself able to make it through life by only revealing surface details about yourself.
Perhaps your parents were quiet. Or maybe they were loud. Maybe you felt like you didn’t get much of a say growing up. Maybe you actually got pretty hurt by your mother or father growing up and it’s affected how you relate to others. Maybe you’re used to an aggressive or destructive environment and don’t really know what life looks like apart from that. Or maybe your family was full of people who repressed how they really felt, and you have unknowingly taken on the same traits.
We all have good and bad elements in our upbringing, and it is worth noting that there are sometimes good and bad reasons for us not being as open with our lives.
The problem is that these things may be robbing you of even greater friendship and relationship in your life.
#2: Because of your “personality type”
Introvert, extrovert, doesn’t even matter when it comes to our distinctions when we say our reluctance to be open is “because of our personality”.
Usually we use this line to describe how we feel when we see how people seem to do something more naturally than we do. The introverts look at the extroverts and think that it is because they like to hang out with lots of people that they are more open. The extroverts look at the introverts and see the smaller groups of people they often hang out with and attribute that to the reason why introverts are more open. People who are shy blame their shyness, people who are loud blame the amount of attention they attract. We can also ring in our culture, sometimes labeling our race or society as the reason we act certain ways.
In truth, the art of openness is more about the actions you take, regardless of your personality. While it is true that we all have tendencies in certain directions, being open is a decision that goes beyond culture or personality.
#3: Because of “him”, because of “her”
Who are these people to you? If you didn’t think of anyone straight off the bat, then you may be doing okay in this area.
But a lot of people will replace these pronouns pretty quickly with the names of people who have affected their openness in the past.
It could be your first girlfriend. Or your last boyfriend. Could be an ex-husband. Could be a love unrequitted, rejected or dropped. Maybe it was a friend you trusted with a real secret who didn’t keep it quiet. Maybe someone exploited some things they found out about you to their advantage. It could even be a parent or relative who you associate with distrust.
We often carry the people we’ve had relationship with us into every decision we make, including our decision to open or close up with others. Even though sometimes these people and what they did or didn’t do is long gone, we still carry the past around with us into the new friendships and relationships we make, as well as letting them affect our current relationships.
Pastor John Burns often says that trust is a bridge between two people that takes a long time to build, but only a short time to destroy. Once bitten, twice shy is the expression. And we can enter into all our relationships that resemble something we’ve seen in the past and put up the same walls we put up back then.
Can’t tell your wife how you feel cause you had a girlfriend who paid you out for “being too emotional”. Can’t tell your father what you think cause he yelled at you before. Can’t open up with this new love interest because your last boyfriend shut you down and didn’t listen. Can’t be honest with God about how you’re feeling because no one else seems to want to hear you out.
These are issues we need to deal with head-on if we want to open up again with the right people.
#4: Because you don’t want people to see what’s inside
In the words of the Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris“:
And I don’t want the world to see me
Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
A lot of us don’t open up because we’re afraid of what people will think if they see what’s really going on on the inside. We self-reject before others are given the opportunity to do so. This is often born out of someone who broke our trust in the past. We think this new person, or this new group, or this new church, or this new man, or this faithful woman, will write us off or reject us if they know what’s inside of us.
This is true of the good and the bad in our lives. Sure, it’s easier to understand the fact that you don’t want to share your sexual history, your past disappointments, or the mistakes you’ve made in your last relationships, but we also hide the dreams we have in our lives, our true feelings on issues, the things we really would like in our relationships.
And maybe the next reason is why this one often has so much power.
#5: Because you don’t like yourself
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
Every day people spend a decent amount of time in a bathroom or bedroom making sure their attire is presentable and that they are well groomed for the day.
But what do you say to the person staring back?
So many of us are constantly belittling and negative about ourselves. We say things about ourselves that we would punch someone in the face for if they said it to one of our friends.
And maybe the reason you want to hide yourself from others is because you see what’s inside of you. You know what you’re going through. You know how you feel. And you call all your feelings stupid, irrational, selfish, dumb and that you’re an idiot who can’t do anything right.
If you believe that about yourself, then it might not be any wonder why you can’t open the door to someone else. Because you don’t want someone else to hate you too.
And maybe they will. Yeah I know, after that little buildup you might have expected me to lead in with the fact that they might not. But the truth is that people can be pretty horrible. Sometimes people really don’t understand. Sometimes the same people can listen one minute and then be hateful the next.
But not everyone you meet is like that bad experience that you carry inside of your heart.
It is not good for man to be alone. And we have been so blessed with so many great people in our worlds. Our friends, neighbours, employers, employees. Our wives, husbands, children, parents, uncles and aunties. Our pastors, teachers, leaders.
And I know that sometimes you can feel tempted to blame the world for what it did to you. And you may be fully justified in doing so.
But also recognize that it is you who holds the key to your own heart. You are the one who decides who comes in and who doesn’t. No one forced themselves into your life – you let them in. And you are also the one who may be keeping people out.
And perhaps you are actually alone by your own choice.
One of my favourite things about sharing relationship with God is I have someone in my life who knows everything about me. He sees the good, the bad and the ugly.
And He is still in relationship with me, through the choice of both of us. What a helpful foundation for life.
Even so, no matter what relationship we’re talking about, the choice to be open or closed to others is yours. I hope you find the freedom that your heart longs for and that you are able to let the right ones in.