Most of us have a real problem with ‘self disclosure’ as the relationship gurus call it, and I have heard that there is a common dream, where we see ourselves walking through a crowded street. Everyone else is fully dressed, but we stand out because we are the only one naked and vulnerable. Sometimes we have to run the gauntlet before reaching shelter, other times we may seem invisible – but whatever the details, at the heart will be that sense of nakedness in a group of fully clothed people.
It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to recognise that our nakedness is a symbol of the fear we feel about opening ourselves up to the people around us. We can use a variety of ‘clothes’ to conceal the real person behind our façade. Some one who feels insecure can use humour to cover it; others cultivate an external aura of calm control to cover nervousness and sometimes a veneer of competency can cover complete confusion.
These are the masks we wear to facilitate social interaction. And there is nothing wrong with any of them. They can help us to forge social relationship which may or may not develop further into something closer. And it’s when this happens that we get that seductive invitation to “Tell me all about yourself” As a relationship deepens into closer friendship we want to know more and more about the person we are becoming emotionally involved in.
However, such self-disclosure can feel risky, and we are often reluctant to be truly open about who we are. And mostly this comes from fear – fear that if I tell you who I am you might not like me; I am afraid you will reject me; I am afraid that you will laugh at me and I am afraid that you will hurt me.
This is such a common reaction that I am sure that you will personally identify with at least one of the fears listed above. Fear of failure can stop us from even trying and fear of rejection can stop us from reaching out. But where does the fear start – does it start from the way we view ourselves? If we are happy with who we are is there the same sense of fear of rejection?
Let’s look at some of the first questions asked when two people start to feel a sense of connection. These are usually a version of “What do you do” or “How old are you?” and are often used to place the other person in context of our own experiences. But how many times if asked of you, do you feel anxious? Will they be impressed with my career; will they laugh at my job; Am I too old for them, am I too young?” In many cases just these simple personal questions can loom large and scary depending on the impression you want to make.
And just how much personal information is really required to be disclosed to build a solid foundation for a relationship. I may be perfectly happy to disclose that I have a real fear of heights but reluctant to admit that I have been fined for driving over the limit.
I can cheerfully admit to being a cat lover, and even if the other person loves dogs, I would probably not find that difference threatening. But what if I really wanted to continue my life foot loose and fancy free while the other person is seeking for a meaningful relationship with marriage and children?
Just how much and how honest we are about what we disclose can depend on the context of the sharing. This of course depends on the type of relationship we want to develop. Some very personal information maybe completely out of context if all you are trying to create is a friendly harmonious working relationship. To work with you I may not need to know that you dance on tables after two glasses of wine – unless we are heading for a business lunch in which case it might be vital information!
Each one of us makes these sorts of decisions daily – just how much information about ourselves is necessary in this present context. How much is relevant; and of course how much am I willing to disclose. The choice is yours, and the answer will probably be that it depends on how much fear I have of revealing myself – being naked among the clothed – in this situation. Only we can answer that.
So, let’s do coffee – and you can tell me all about yourself! And I might do the same, it all depends!
Michele @ Trischel