“The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.” ~Deepak Chopra
The root of my inability to be open stems from my childhood. (I guess much of who we are comes from childhood, right?)
I remember around the time I was eight years old going to a party at my aunt’s house. Even though I don’t remember the details of the party, I do remember what happened after.
We got home that night and my dad asked me, ”Don’t you think you should be a little more reserved or have a little mystery to you?”
I was thinking, “Huh?” What did I say or express at this party that made him say that?
I’m sure I needed to hear that, because who knows what the heck I was saying. And I do believe having some boundaries is important.
But I was a little expressive girl sharing my insides and sharing what I saw and experienced. I don’t believe we should share everything with everybody and “emotionally vomit” on people, but for some reason, that moment really defined me.
I looked up to my father, and since I grew up without a mother, I looked to him for guidance.
But now as an adult, I realize that my father was a private, closed person himself. So he was projecting that onto me.
As I got older, I continued little by little closing parts of me off.
People used to always tell me, “Lisa, you are such a great listener.” And yes, that is one of my best qualities, and I truly do enjoy people and want to see and hear them. But I rarely give people the chance to see me and hear me.
If someone I don’t know very deeply asks me a question, I usually think before answering and feel uncomfortable talking about myself. Even if there is an opening or opportunity to share one of my experiences in a social setting, sometimes I choose not to.
Why? Some guesses I have are:
- I didn’t want to be judged.
- I didn’t want to give up the illusion of having it all together.
- I didn’t want to be seen as weak or needy.
- I didn’t want to be vulnerable.
- I didn’t want people to not like the real me.
And I’m an extrovert! I have always made friends easily and have always had friends. But recently, I took a look at my adult friendships, and I discovered that I only have a handful of friends that I would consider deep and extremely connected and meaningful, where I can totally be myself and feel comfortable completely trusting them with everything.
Yes, I know many people say they don’t need a lot of deep relationships and only need a few. But is that BS we tell ourselves? Is that really true?
Why can’t every relationship we have be as deep and connected? Aren’t most of us mirrors of each other and struggling for the same things?
The reality is that I don’t want distance between me and anyone in my life. What I really crave is closeness to others and my community and many real connections.
Being more open at the same time I feel vulnerable is like learning a second language for me.
I know I will never be the person to spill my guts and be expressive the way others can be, and I’m okay with that.
But I know it’s possible to open up your blinds for all people to see while remaining authentic.
Here are a few strategies that have worked for me that may also work for you.
1. Determine what masks you wear and why you truly are guarded.
Did you have a bad experience as a child? When you open up, do people receive it negatively? Do you have certain insecurities that hold you back? Are you an introvert and really have a different process for connecting with people?
Asking yourself these questions will help you get to the root of your insecurities. Just like doctors don’t treat illnesses before they understand the cause of your symptoms, you can’t change yourself without knowing why you are the way you are.
Take some time—whether it’s just a half hour or a full weekend—to self-reflect. Consider writing down your feelings if you think it will help. Use this time to learn more about yourself and figure out why you’re guarded.
2. Notice when you become closed, shutdown or guarded.
Now that you know why you’re guarded, it’s time to become attentive to it.
A few months ago, I went to a conference and had the opportunity to meet all kinds of amazing people. When the part came toward the end of the first day to “network” and talk and meet people, I ended up going to get a drink with someone I already knew because it was easier and I didn’t have to meet anyone new.
But what made this time different was that I noticed and became aware of it in the moment. I completely shifted my mindset while I was there, and I can’t say I regret it.
I met the most amazing people. We got past surface and business talk quickly, and I still keep up with many of them.
You may find similar experiences equally rewarding. If you can’t work up the courage to take action yet, that’s okay. At this point, it’s about becoming aware of yourself.
3. Let go of control.
It sounds counterintuitive. How can you take off your masks if you aren’t in control? Let me explain.
I’m reading this book called Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously by Osho. In it, Osho says:
“If you understand, insecurity is an intrinsic part of life—and good that it is so, because it makes life a freedom, it makes life a continuous surprise. One never knows what is going to happen.
It keeps you continuously in wonder. Don’t call it uncertainty—call it WONDER. Don’t call it insecurity—call it FREEDOM.”
It takes courage to dig into who you really are and share that with other people, to completely cut yourself open to others. But it means you have to let go of being in any kind of control and trying to predict the outcome of what happens.
When you’re in control, fear consumes you, and you follow it. Be courageous and let the situation control itself. Then your fears and masks will subside on their own.
4. Be unattached to the possible outcomes when sharing your thoughts and feelings.
It’s one thing to let go of control. It’s another to become unattached to the outcomes.
It’s tough, I know, but when fears of what might happen next are holding you back, you have to stop worrying about the outcomes.
It’s not about what people think of you. It’s not about whether they judge you because you are stating a truth and being yourself.
It’s about your own personal growth. The only outcome that matters is the strength you gain from opening up. Remind yourself of that and all other possible outcomes will worry you less.
Share yourself and your voice and let go.
5. Take action in small steps until you become more comfortable.
The tips above simply won’t happen overnight. You aren’t expected to let your guard down immediately and magically become willing to share your feelings and your voice. It’s going to take time.
That’s where baby steps can help you.
Instead of throwing yourself head-on into sharing your feelings or conversing with strangers, start out small:
- Attend a social event, such as a party or conference, but bring a friend along for support. Make it a point to pitch in a comment or a strong opinion and talk to someone you don’t know.
- Make it a habit to write in a journal every day for two weeks. Then, read excerpts to someone close to you so you can practice sharing the deeper things that you are thinking about.
- Join a group where sharing is part of the platform, such as a business mastermind or hobby associated group.
As you get more comfortable in these situations, take bigger steps:
- Strike up a one-on-one conversation with a stranger. If this scares you, you can minimize some of your fears by talking to someone you know you’ll never see again. That way, the possible outcomes won’t scare you as much.
- Share your story with a group of people. Talking with a supportive group of people or to your spiritual leader is a good place to start because these are safe environments where people won’t judge you.
- Write about your experience and share it online—even if you publish it anonymously or under a pseudonym.
- Write an article for a community like Tiny Buddha about an experience you want to share.
Lowering your guard and being completely vulnerable in a meaningful way is incredibly difficult for people like me. But when you have a desire to change and you look inside yourself for courage, becoming the person you want to be is far less frightening.
Man with mask image via Shutterstock