Yesterday, I had a conversation with friends about how we become known inside our relationships. Where and with whom can we be truly ourselves? How much do we share? What parts of ourselves do we keep hidden?
Loneliness and social isolation pose serious health risks. So the question of how we share with the people around us matters to our longevity and overall well-being.
In my Tuesday morning cardio class, hilarious thoughts spring to mind. The shared misery of burpees takes me back to embarrassing 7th grade gym class moments or a random image of Will Farrell in a Little Debbie Costume or what my butt looks like as I lumber from squat to thrust. Sometimes I share, but in classic introvert style, I keep far more to myself than I ever let loose with anyone. Anyone.
While we all keep quiet volumes locked inside, in relationships, most of us yearn to fling open the doors of our souls and let someone know us completely. This is pretty much universal human need. But we hesitate, analyze, stifle. Relational-Cultural Theory describes this process in detail. We wish for deeper sharing but we keep our most interesting thoughts and feelings unspoken, protecting ourselves from potential rejection and shame.
Even old friends and long-married couples hold back from each other. We fear rejection, hurting each other’s feelings, starting an argument, or just being wrong. Sometimes I coach partners to trust the material that bubbles up inside them. As I do, I realize I need the same kind of coaching to support courageous connection. I grew up with the religious teaching that women should be quiet. Add that doctrine to an INFJ temperament and you get a girl who rarely speaks.
In fact, I still have trouble coming up with spoken words on the spot, especially if I’m standing up and balancing a plate of appetizers. If I could sit and write my part of a conversation, I’d be fine, but who wants to wag around a notepad and marker at a party? As I move through middle age, I need a strategy for sharing more of myself, aloud. It always pays off in the long run: I make a new friend or deepen an existing one; I learn something about myself; I feel less hidden.
So, I say (to both of us): Go for the Mistake: Trust it, and say it Out Loud.
Here’s my plan for letting people know me.
- Cartoons: I pledge to draw more cartoons of myself in awkward social situations, especially if they involve verbal faux pas. Use my creativity to turn embarrassment or aloneness into art that can be shared.
- Slowing Down: I pledge to take my time and find the words I need in the moment. Keep breathing. Learn to savor saying it…even if it’s wrong…even if people yawn and squirm.
- Journal Sharing: I pledge to read selected chunks of my Morning Pages to my partner; maybe even to my friends. Maybe this will encourage them to share their journal writing with me.
- Self-Acceptance: I pledge to enjoy my social bloopers and embrace that they’re part of me. Remember that time I said Save the Cork at your son’s bar mitzvah and your family thought I was talking about pig meat? I pledge to take these moments less seriously.
I need to remember: when I set out bits of my inner life, it’s like feeding the neighborhood cats. I give a gift and an invitation to my friend, my partner, my acquaintance to go deeper with me, trust our connection. I take a risk. And if nothing else, I help somebody else feel better about their gaffs by making a well-intentioned ass of myself.
Writing and EMDR therapy help this process along. Contact me if you’d like to learn more about how life-writing and EMDR therapy can help you strengthen relationships, tap into your creativity, and deepen your knowledge of yourself.
(An earlier version of this article was originally posted on http://www.howtowinamansheart.com/blog/)