An interesting thing often happens when you start to open up to people…
You get to a point where you feel reasonably comfortable opening up to new people. You feel comfortable with them because they don’t know what you were like before.
But when you’re with your friends and family, who’ve known you for a long time, things are different.
Talking with your friends and family brings you right back to your old socially anxious self.
And you start to feel like a fraud.
You start to feel like you’re not good enough again.
You close up and hide your feelings. And there’s a good reason why.
You’ve built your relationships with your friends and family as a different person. As someone who doesn’t open up and share themselves.
You’re worried that they’ll think, “This isn’t what you’re like. Who are you? I know what you’re like: socially anxious, reserved, quiet, etc.”
You don’t want to risk losing your relationships with your friends and family by suddenly opening up to them. You don’t want to make them uncomfortable. You don’t want to lose your identity.
You might even think that they don’t want to open up with you.
Can you relate?
Why Is It So Difficult To Open Up With Friends And Family?
According to emails from you Beard Strokers, these are the main reasons why we’re scared to open up with family and friends:
- Environmental relapse
- It’s too late
- They won’t understand me
Perhaps looking at these ideas a little deeper will help us work out what the heck we should do in these situations.
Idea 1 – Environmental relapse
M* says: “While I’m an introvert, I’ve become totally comfortable with meeting strangers and having conversations. But for the last 10 days since coming home to my parents’ place I’ve done nothing!
[A different] M* says: “It’s so easy to sell myself as a charismatic and charming person to new people. But when I get back to the family apartment, old M* is on display: little empathy, monotonous voice.”
[Yet another] M* says: “I’ve lost 50 lbs and gotten a lot more social, but I just can’t seem to break free of my quiet and awkward self at home! It’s actually affecting my new-found confidence. I can’t think of a solution other than to move out.”
Seems like this issue is particularly common among people whose names being with M… so try changing your name first, then keep reading if that doesn’t work ;)
The thing with environmental relapse is this: it’s not simply being in a certain place that triggers the relapse. It’s the routines that you adopt when you’re in that environment that turn you into a less-than-optimal version of yourself.
When you visit your parents, what do you do that’s the same as when you were a kid?
What do you do that’s different to your normal life?
Do you wash the dishes? Or do you let someone else do them?
Do you sit on the couch and watch TV?
Do you cook for everyone?
Do you talk in a monotonous voice?
Do you organise family activities? Board games? Whatever?
Do you bring them gifts?
Do you lead the conversation at dinner?
Do you constantly check your phone or computer?
If you act the same way you always have, you’ll be treated the same way you always have.
You’ll feel like a fraud when you try to open up because, as far as they can see through your actions, you’re still the same as you always were.
But if, all of a sudden, you start mowing the lawn without being asked (for instance)… well shit, something’s changed. Pete is not Little Pete anymore. Your parents will expect you to be different, because they see a difference in your actions.
So when you open up to them now, after changing your actions, they’ll be eager to learn who you’ve become as a person.
You might meet some resistance though, because sometimes parents don’t want the relationship to change.
Mum might make fun of your efforts to cook dinner and suggest that you let her do it. That’s her way of telling you she’s scared of losing her little boy/girl.
If you give in, things will go back to the way they were. If you stick to your guns and change your actions, your parents will see you differently.
Idea 2 – It’s too late
J* says: “I think what stops me opening up is a feeling that my social anxiety and poor social skills have ‘botched’ the relationship at the beginning. We didn’t hit it off early on in conversations and the interactions were awkward. After this, there’s a pervasive feeling in my psychology that there’s no way back, and I find it difficult not to interact defensively and closed.”
R* says: “I’ve been learning Japanese for about 1.5 years now and my family still doesn’t know. I was always afraid of rejection or resistance because it’s a more obscure and geeky language to most people where I live, so I kept it secret. Now it has kind of grown out of control.”
If you’re at this point you’ve probably spent so much time thinking “It’s too late to open up”, that you’ve ingrained that belief pretty deeply. It’s going to be really difficult to push that belief out of the way and say something real to this person.
Perhaps you’ve got something you want to share with them, but you’ve kept it to yourself for so long that saying it now would feel kind of like an admission of guilt. Like you’ve done something bad by not opening up to them.
And because you feel like that you can’t figure out a way to say it without sounding guilty.
And if you sound guilty then they’re going to think you ARE guilty.
So what do you do?
You need a wedge to help you get into the cracks. To create an opening in your deep-seated belief that “It’s too late to open up”.
Here’s your wedge.
Ask them something like:
Do you feel like you’ve changed in the past (length of time)?
Do you feel like people see you differently than they did (length of time) ago?
If they hesitate to answer meaningfully… that’s your opening to share first.
If they do answer wholeheartedly… that’s your opening to share second.
It’s easier to open up with them now because you’re not blind siding them with what seems like an admission of guilt. Instead you’re bringing up the topic of change. Then you’re opening up because it relates to the topic: that something about you has changed.
Idea 3 – They won’t understand me
M* says: “I suspect my old friends can’t handle the new me.”
K* says: “I fear that my parents will find some way to blame themselves for my anxiety because of the way they raised me.”
[Another] K* says: “They are unapologetically mean when I open up. They hate that I usually have a different opinion so, at least for family, I stick to things like the weather.”
Firstly, let’s assume that these fears are indeed rational and not just in your head. In that case this issue comes down to one of two things. Either…
1) Opening up to this particular person is actually pointless,
2) You’re miscommunicating with each other.
Some people are just vampires. You’ve met them, right? Every time you speak with them they make you feel worse.
Perhaps they have a heart of gold buried inside somewhere… but it’s buried so deep that it’s really not worth your effort to dig for it. And it’s not your job to either. So go dig elsewhere.
Sometimes though, we can be too quick to assume that someone’s a vampire.
As you get better at communicating your thoughts and feelings clearly, you find that you meet less vampires. Because the problem was often actually your communication skills.
If you haven’t practised improving the way you communicate with others, to improve the reactions you get, then you’re bound to have negative interactions more frequently.
Here’s a simple example of miscommunication:
Lisa: I feel anxious.
Carl: Why do you feel anxious?
Lisa: Because there are so many people around.
Carl: Why do you get anxious around people?
Lisa: Oh I’ll be alright.
Carl is trying to understand Lisa and get her to open up. But the way he phrases his questions makes Lisa feel like he believes there’s something wrong with her. She senses this and decides that Carl might be a vampire, so she closes down.
What if instead the conversation went like this:
Carl: What’s making you feel anxious?
Lisa: It’s all these people.
Carl: Yeah there are a lot of people. Is there anything in particular that you’re anxious about?
Lisa: I don’t know how to start a conversation. How do you do it?
Again Carl is trying to understand Lisa, and he’s asking similar questions, but his phrasing this time makes her comfortable enough to open up.
It’s not just the way you convey your messages either. It’s about recognising how the other person is interpreting your messages, and making sure you’re interpreting their messages correctly.
You can learn these skills and use them to help people understand your opinion instead of attacking it.
To help people hear where you’re coming from, instead of jumping to their own conclusions.
To disagree with people, to be different, and still remain open with each other.
Small Steps Will Get You There
When it comes to opening up with family and friends, you don’t have to jump off a cliff with them right away. Take small steps and see what happens.
Picture yourself opening up from the other person’s perspective. Actually see yourself opening up from their eyes. How would they feel if you were the first one to do it? Appreciative? Loving?
And about the people who don’t seem to want to open up with you… Picture THAT from their perspective. What’s stopping them from opening up? Is it the same fear that you experience?
Underneath it all, do they actually share your desire to open up?