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How to Confide in a Friend
September 28, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Why does my friend want me to confide in her? What are the benefits of disclosure for oneself and for a relationship?

So, I have a friend that I have known for one year now. She is a great person with many admirable traits, the kind of traits that one would look for in a friend. But based on my past experiences (family drama that's existed since my adolescence, bullied during a year in high school, and an emotionally isolating experience in first year) I have a very difficult time talking to any one (usually even my therapist) about any feelings that are emotional. I am terrified about the idea of sharing my emotions with anyone else because I fear that they won't care enough, won't provide me with the advice that I need, and more than anything else, I am terrified that they will see me in a vulnerable state by seeing me cry and won't be able to comfort me. A large part of me is also scared of being verbally attacked or not receiving good advice. I say this because I have tried to confide in my roommate whenever I need to talk to someone about "smaller" things in order to get a second opinion, but my roommate barely says anything and it feels like a one-sided conversation. Based on these experiences, I try to avoid talking to anyone about my emotions and count on myself as a support system. I realize that this is unhealthy in a sense because it's important to have someone else that you can trust. I don't have the support system that I would ideally like to have, and I realize that a large part of this is because I have a difficult time confiding in someone. I am not worried about someone leaving the friendship because I would take that as a learning experience, but I just don't know how to talk to someone about my feelings and I feel like I cannot verbally get the words out even when I want to talk about things.

This friend that I mentioned earlier in the post probes me in order to get more information and yet I still avoid talking about my problems even if I have to use a white lie in order to attempt to change the topic.

This week we were texting and I asked her if we could talk about something and she said sure and that she would call me. I told her that I changed my mind and didn't want to talk about what I was feeling and then she told me that she finds it tiring of forcing information out of me and that if I want to talk then she's available. The reason why I didn't want to talk about it was because I realized that it does not involve her (at all) and so it would be a waste of time for her to listen to me confide in her. Her message has made me realize that if I continue to avoid disclosing anything emotional (for the reasons stated above) that I will end up without a support system. I usually have a short cycle when it comes to making and keeping friends because I don't know how to disclose anything at the right time (but more often than not, I never disclose anything too in-depth besides giving very brief snippets of information when probed).

My Questions:
1. How do you confide in a friend?
2. Why does my friend want me to confide in her? What are the benefits of disclosure for oneself and for a relationship?
posted by sincerely-s to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live my life as an open book, so I'm not sure I can really help you on question one, but as for question two, much of what we gain in exposing ourselves to others is gained through being vulnerable with them. These shows of emotion and honesty implicitly state that you trust the person with your feelings--trust their judgment, trust that they'll keep them in confidence. It makes people feel close to you, and it makes them feel included. Asking for advice--even if you don't take it--shows that you value their judgment and perspective. By sharing, you'll be rewarded with deeper, and better-informed friendships. People often don't open up themselves if another friend is emotionally closeted. Are your friends sharing information about their own lives? Ideally all of this should be reciprocal.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:04 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


1. How do you confide in a friend?

Little bits at a time til you are confident she's worthy of your confidences.

2. Why does my friend want me to confide in her? What are the benefits of disclosure for oneself and for a relationship?

Because that's how you build intimacy. If she is the only who ever shows vulnerability it makes for a shitty-feeling power balance in your favor, and that is not how most people like their friendships to work.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:05 AM on September 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


Sounds like you had a good realization, that disclosure is how you build closeness, and that it will give you a support system you want.

You're right that someone could give you bad advice or be a bad listener. One way to deal with that is to confide in more people, so that you start to get a sense of whom you prefer to share your thoughts with. If you share only with one person, then if they are a jerk about one topic for some reason, you don't get the kind of attention and empathy that you need.

I think you do a good job of sharing what's going on for you here on Metafilter. I know the text / question format is different than real life discussion, but I just thought I'd throw that out.
posted by salvia at 8:22 AM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


In my experience, friendships develop as people share things about themselves that don't directly involve the other person. Anything less than that and I'd consider the other party to be an acquaintance or an activity partner rather than a friend.

So:
1) You open up little by little, being conscious of how you feel about sharing and being responsive to the other person's reactions.
2) Because that's how you become closer. This person wants to be closer to you, wants to help you if you need it because she cares about your well being. She wants to be a good friend to you and that's difficult if you don't open up. The benefit to you is that -- if the friendship grows -- you have someone to share your good and bad experiences/issues with who will listen, try to help, and share in your joy/pain.
posted by cranberry_nut at 8:23 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


What are the benefits of disclosure for oneself...?

Sometimes just being able to speak aloud your problems/fears allows a release, no matter the ultimate response from the friend. It's a way to bring about catharsis, and sometimes the reasoning it takes to pinpoint your fears and worries enough to voice them aloud help you reach a new understanding of them. Sharing your vulnerabilities with another is as beneficial for you as it is for them - for what do they get out of it? They get to know that they are useful in your life and trusted, both of which are important parts of feeling a relationship is grounded in mutual respect.
posted by Windigo at 8:23 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I am terrified about the idea of sharing my emotions with anyone else because I fear that they won't care enough, won't provide me with the advice that I need, and more than anything else, I am terrified that they will see me in a vulnerable state by seeing me cry and won't be able to comfort me. A large part of me is also scared of being verbally attacked or not receiving good advice. I say this because I have tried to confide in my roommate whenever I need to talk to someone about "smaller" things in order to get a second opinion, but my roommate barely says anything and it feels like a one-sided conversation. Based on these experiences, I try to avoid talking to anyone about my emotions and count on myself as a support system."

Are you sure you aren't picking people to confide in or seek support from whom you know won't be able to do so? You may on purpose be selecting people like your roommate whom you know will reject intimacy so that you can say to yourself, "See? No advice. Sharing my emotions is a terrible idea."

"What are the benefits of disclosure for oneself and for a relationship?"


For the discloser, increased intimacy and the relief of getting something off your chest and sharing a burden. Also sometimes the perspective of someone less-involved who can see a stressful situation more clearly, and sometimes sympathy, and sometimes reassurance that your reaction was correct or understandable. If you've done something embarrassing, reassurance that it wasn't that bad or at least the ability to share the humiliation with someone, which often lances the wound and makes it hurt less.

For the disclosee, greater knowledge and understanding of your friend and what makes them tick. More sympathy into their life. The satisfaction of being able to help someone else out, even if only by listening.

Start small, and really, crying in front of someone is not the worst thing in the world. In high school it makes you a target, but 99% of people outgrow that pretty quickly. Even not getting comfort isn't that bad -- I like to tell this story, about a friend of mine who doesn't cope well with emotion. She came over one day about five minutes early for a party, with another friend, and I was sobbing (everything went wrong last minute, I was overwhelmed with other things) and while friend 3 rubbed my back and made soothing noises, my non-emotional friend said, "Um, I'm going to go in the other room because crying makes me uncomfortable. I feel really bad that you feel bad? But I'm going to go in there until you're done since I'll just make it worse." I actually started laughing through my tears because it was just such a HER reaction. We joke about it all the time now. She just doesn't DO overt displays of emotion, though she can keep a secret like nobody's business and gives good advice and is a do-er when you have a problem (best person to call for emergency runs to the grocery store when you're dying of the flu). Anyway, friends can give you support in different ways, and you should give them room to do that and try to understand their modes of support. I'm a great listener, but I'm not so good at things like organizing the casserole brigade.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


If she is the only who ever shows vulnerability it makes for a shitty-feeling power balance in your favor, and that is not how most people like their friendships to work.

This is very true, and I'm speaking from personal experience. I seem to be drawn to people who aren't as much of an open-book as I am, and it's something that frustrates me about our friendships because I end up feeling like a basket case while they're all perfect (I mean, they must be perfect because they never mention feeling sad/afraid/angry). Or I feel like they don't trust me with these kinds of confidences, and I feel like I've been found generaly untrustworthy.

This doesn't necessarily mean that your confiding in your friend is the only way to handle this, however. Two of my friends who did this to me most took slightly different approaches, and they've helped; both of them reassured me that it's not necessarily something they do just to me, it's something they do to EVERYONE. They're just close-to-the-vest people.

But then one made a point of asking me for concrete help on things now and then -- they didn't really open up on emotional stuff, but they did still let me know that they needed me in other ways, and that helped the imbalance I was feeling. The other took on a really, really "active listener" approach when I was confiding in him, which also helped tremendously; I went from feelng "oh, jeez, he's probably annoyed I"m complaining again" to "no, it's okay to confide in him becuase HE CARES that much."

I'd have a long talk with your friend about why you may be personally less comfortable sharing some details of your feelings with her, and why; emphasize that it's not about HER as such. And then together you can come up with a conclusion that satisfies both of you. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the benefits of friendship is the feeling that "we're all in this together". You get that by sharing the ups and downs of your life with each other which reinforces the feeling that we all suffer from similar hardships and rewards in the world. For example, you're having relationship troubles and when you talk with your friend, he/she draws parallels with a relationship issue they had in the past and how what they learned might help you. Being vulnerable with others is scary because you can get hurt, but it's also a necessary step to forge a deeper bond.

You should start this "opening up" process slowly and try not to be too rigid about the kind of response you're expecting. Tell your friend about a small personal issue....what happens? Does she just listen, does brainstorming a solution happen, do you feel better or worse for having disclosed this issue to her? People have a variety of communication styles in this area so you've got to be open to that. Just know that being able to trust others, share yourself and become a trusted confidant to others is a wonderful gift and you should have the chance to enjoy it.
posted by victoriab at 8:28 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you had the experience of showing vulnerability and/or close confidences only to be betrayed or have it used against you? Some of us have parents who do this to us. And MANY (most?) of us have had this experience in junior high or high school. It can be hard to trust again after some bad experiences.

Also, someone who confides too quickly and/or presses for instant disclosure can be a very bad bet for a confidant. So if this person wants YOU to disclose while remaining distant herself, or is pressing you to be instant BFF and tell her all your secrets, it's OK to be wary.

A confidant and close friend is someone you cultivate, not something that instantly happens. It's OK to go slowly and start out with small confidences before going on to big ones. But as other posters have pointed out, good friendship requires mutual vulnerability - not one person being vulnerable while the other comes across as someone with no troubles at all. We all feel more comfortable with those we see as human and flawed like ourselves.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:43 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even if you just tell your friend what you have written here, she would probably consider it to be a pretty big "disclosure," as you put it, on your part. It's okay to feel a certain way about things, but it's not okay to leave a friend wondering why you're acting strangely. This would clear the air and help her see that you do consider her to be a friend.

And hopefully sharing your issues with sharing will help you realize that discussing personal information with someone you trust is a way to make you feel closer to that person.
posted by angab at 8:45 AM on September 28, 2011


Another thing to think about - there are families, and entire cultures, where one is brought up to only confide in close family. It's much more expected in mainstream US culture (assuming you are in the US) for friends that are not blood family, spouses, or "close-as-family" friends from early childhood to share confidences. That's something to keep in mind, if you were inculcated with the belief that disclosures are to be kept within the family.

It can be hard for people from some backgrounds to confide in friends because of this - is this you? Again, it's perfectly OK to take baby steps.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:14 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with small_ruminant... it's not so much about another person laying-in-wait to betray/disappoint/abandon you with this ammo or anything like that, so much as maintaining an equal footing in an intimate relationship.

Consider this: there can be no trust without the risk of betrayal. There's just no way around exposing yourself without the risk of getting hurt. Even if you become the world's top leading expect on emotional disclosure EVER, some people will still f*ck up their end of it. Your friend doesn't sound like one of those... consider taking a baby step with her, see how it suits you, and go from there. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 9:23 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Realising that something doesn't involve a friend at all is not necessarily a reason not to confide in them. They may be able to offer many things, such as an impartial viewpoint, emotional support, solutions... all of these things can contribute to building a stronger relationship. All the people who have said that this should be a two way thing are absolutely right, but somebody has to take the first step. It doesn't have to be a big one. I think victoriab's suggestion is superb.

I too have issues opening up. It's affected all my intimate relationships to date and I'm determined to break the trend. I'm going to follow victorab's advice to help me out too.
posted by fearnothing at 9:27 AM on September 28, 2011


2. Why does my friend want me to confide in her? What are the benefits of disclosure for oneself and for a relationship?

Because when we care about someone we want to help them with their troubles. You're narrowly focusing on whether something involves her or not, but sometimes that's the best reason to talk to someone about something - to get input from an uninvolved party.

That person has a million ways they can help you. In the simplest way they're simply a fresh perspective. They may have dealt with similar issues. They may know someone who can help, or of recent pertinent news. Sometimes they help simply by listening to you and hearing the way you describe something - a well-placed "you didn't mention anything about Mr X, he didn't have any problems with this at all?" can help you understand how you're framing something.

tl;dr - the benefit is that they're not us, with our special hang-ups and baggage, so they can help with their strength, knowledge, and perspective.

As far as the benefits of doing the helping? We learn for our own benefit and we share, which helps us bond and be a part of something. A friendship, a family, a community. Connections are gratifying, and not only when they're purely pleasant and easy.
posted by phearlez at 9:36 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a lot like you. I got bullied a lot when I was young, for fairly long periods almost my only interactions with anybody my own age consisted of getting bullied. This makes it really hard to learn to trust people.

Your friend needs to understand that it's difficult for you talk about some stuff. But tell her why. That in itself is a self-disclosure. It may not be the kind self-disclosure she's expecting, but it counts, and it's pretty important. If she can understand that and respect it, then you can start to trust her enough to tell her more stuff.
posted by nangar at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2011


thank you for the great advice, as always! just to clarify, i don't know if there is a power imbalance since other people rarely (if ever) confide in me and i don't confide in others on a truly emotional/in-depth level. whenever my friend tries to ask me any emotional kind of questions i just provide answers in a brief and very matter-of-fact way. i really dislike doing this but i do it as a way to protect myself both internally and externally. internally, i have disassociated as a defense mechanism for the past three years. externally, i have tried to protect myself by avoiding intimacy. the problem is that attempting to "protect" myself has actually backfired since i have disassociated and don't have a support system.

i was thinking of basically telling her about what i discussed in this post and letting her read my paper from last semester which is about my personal crisis that i encountered during my last year of high school and first year of university. i figured that would help her understand where i'm coming from, would show that i trust her, and would help me disclose information without verbally saying much besides letting her know that she can ask me anything else that she'd like to know. hopefully that sounds like a good idea?
posted by sincerely-s at 11:18 AM on September 28, 2011


I would be uncomfortable with anyone who pushed me to expose myself like that. It's good to have friends who listen and give support, but this friend of yours sounds like she's prying. Her intentions may be great, and maybe she has her own problems with intimacy.
posted by mareli at 11:30 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


just to clarify, i don't know if there is a power imbalance since other people rarely (if ever) confide in me and i don't confide in others on a truly emotional/in-depth level.

I don't think anyone is saying that you have this kind of "power imbalance" in ALL of your friendships, only that this ONE friend may be FEELING like there is one in your SPECIFIC relationship.

But again, that's not necessarily cause for you to divulge more than you feel comfortable divulging at any different moment; it just means that the two of you have a difference of opinion about this kind of dynamic, and if you have a conversation about why you feel X way and she feels Y way, that will help you figure out the best approach unique to teh two of you.

For some reason giving her your papar as part of telling her feels like it might backfire; telling her about it is fine, but then giving her something to read may feel to her like you're saying, "I have prepared this press release that contains the only things I have to say on this matter and you're not allowed to ask additional questions". Just tel her what happened.

But, you may also want to tell her "I actually wrote about it for a class if you want to read it sometime," and if she says yes then share it. telling her about what you wrote that way is a different kind of intimacy -- sharing of artistic endeavours can also be a bonding experience.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on September 28, 2011


The reason why I didn't want to talk about it was because I realized that it does not involve her (at all) and so it would be a waste of time for her to listen to me confide in her.

As someone who is often in your friend's position. Let your friend be the judge of her time and how it is spent, not you.

Some people, myself included, live to give you a shoulder to cry on. We like listening to your problems, even if we can't help. Sometimes just talking and know someone heard you is comforting.
posted by royalsong at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2011


I would be uncomfortable with anyone who pushed me to expose myself like that. It's good to have friends who listen and give support, but this friend of yours sounds like she's prying.

I don't know; I didn't get that impression at all from the original post:

This week we were texting and I asked her if we could talk about something and she said sure and that she would call me. I told her that I changed my mind and didn't want to talk about what I was feeling and then she told me that she finds it tiring of forcing information out of me and that if I want to talk then she's available.

To me that sounds like someone who cared enough to follow up after the OP made a request to talk to her. Then when the OP changed his/her mind about talking, the friend respected that and indicated that she was available to talk in future, but was honest about this kind of dynamic being tiring.

Maybe you're referring to the part of the post that says "This friend that I mentioned earlier in the post probes me in order to get more information and yet I still avoid talking about my problems even if I have to use a white lie in order to attempt to change the topic." Of course if the friend really is being inappropriately pushy, then that's not good, and this friend would be someone to avoid. But if what's happening is that the friend senses that the OP is feeling troubled and is practicing active listening or gently probing to see if OP would like to talk about it/get support, then that is a different animal.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:35 PM on September 28, 2011


Talking about what's ailing you can be very therapeutic, if you have a good listener. That's why therapists exist.

A good friend will listen, sympathise, give their perspective if they can, and maybe relate some relevant experiences of their own.

I'm answering this question because it's very relevant to me right now. Just last night I called on a very good friend because I needed someone to talk to. I got it off my chest. He listened, gave me his opinion (which I agreed with - it helps if you're on the same general wavelength about life, and respect each other), gave me a somewhat different perspective on things, spoke about some similar experiences he'd been through, and we generally propped each other up and made each other feel better. And, I think, it made our friendship even stronger.

That's why good friends do this for each other.

I'm generally pretty closed off emotionally too. But I just had to find the right friend. Like others have said, it takes baby steps to build your friendship to the level you can do this. They open up a bit, then you do, then they open up a bit more, etc etc. It's taken me and my friend about 5 years.

For perspective, I'm a 40 y/o guy, he's 50. But we both joke that we're still mentally stuck at 25 (which is not true, really.... I think).
posted by Diag at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2011


Just wanted to put out there that if telling your friend you want to say something, and then pulling back, is a regular pattern she may be frustrated and feel that she is being manipulated by someone who loves drama - even if this isn't really the case.

It may be difficult for her to realise that the reason for backing off after dangling something like that out there is internal to you, rather than external and about her. So if this is a pattern she may feel hurt, used, untrustworthy etc.
posted by smoke at 4:44 PM on September 28, 2011


More than anything else, I am terrified that they will see me in a vulnerable state by seeing me cry and won't be able to comfort me.

I apologize if I am over-extrapolating from this sentence, but if the above is one of the main reasons why you don't like confiding in people, then I think your first step is to learn how to comfort yourself. Depending on other people is a weird thing, because it's true that they don't--and can't--fill all of your needs. You've got to make your peace with that, and the easiest way to do that, I think, is to sort out what needs a relationship should be able to fill and what needs you should be able to fill yourself.

I think one of the very most basic things that you need to be able to do on your own is to comfort yourself. While it's nice to have other people who can comfort you too, I don't think it's reasonable to expect that from them every time--

So figure out how to comfort yourself, or self-soothe. Figure out what helps you feel less upset, less angry, less scared, less trapped, less overwhelmed. Start learning to recognize when you're feeling any of those things and start saying to yourself when you do, "Self, what am I going to do to feel less like that?" Then make a plan and actually do it.

I'm still working on this myself, but a lot of my plans involve a combination of the following: comfy pants, my couch, my favorite sort of food, my favorite music, my favorite tv show. Another bunch of my plans involve pacing back and forth across my living room, while I play really loud music and construct imaginary conversations or dumb Facebook statuses like, "I'M REALLY CRANKY." The rest of my plans involve doing more research about something (more information about something often calms me down), or working hard for an hour on an unrelated project that I love. I also ask Metafilter questions. Sometimes these questions are real. Sometimes they're theoretical, because the Metafilter-in-my-head has provided such good suggestions that I don't need to bother the real Metafilter with it.

And, as an example of why it's useful to confide in people, I've realized a lot of my interior monologue when I'm trying to calm myself down comes from things my best friends have said to me. When I'm really upset, I don't always trust my own thoughts (because if my brain feels like the problem, then it's hard to trust that it can also solve the problem) but I trust the voices of my friends, who say things like, "No matter what happens, I know that you're going to be okay," and "You're not a moron for being upset about that."
posted by colfax at 5:55 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is hard for me too, but something else I have learned is that if my intuition stops me from confiding in a particular person who wants me to confide in them, my intuition is usually right. Just because you might like to have a trusted friend in whom to confide, doesn't mean you have to open up to someone who is pushy. One person in my circle who I've known for a while has an uncanny ability to ask me probing, personal questions about things I actually think I'd like to discuss with a trusted friend. But she's proven many times to not be a trustworthy person at all, only one who has no respect for boundaries and a love of drama. I'm just saying, sometimes this is another form of bullying. If you really feel that your friend is being nosy and not respecting your wish to NOT open up at a particular time, I would trust that feeling. If she can't accept that you prefer NOT to talk about something, that's disrespectful in my opinion. Use your own good judgement.
posted by citron at 6:24 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a rough time when I was a kid, too, and I wasted many years banging around by myself because I was afraid to open up to anyone for fear I'd just end up getting kicked again. I'm 65 now and I can promise you that I wasted those years as a shell of a human being, going nowhere, gaining nothing, and I never even succeeded in feeling entirely safe, anyway. I wish I had those years back now.

Eventually you'll find you have to trust someone and just let the walls down - a little at a time, yes, but you have to start somewhere because when you're 65, you want to be content, not fearful. It will help you greatly if you stop focusing on how hard your own life has been and feel the pain your friend feels from her background - even if it seems to be less evil than your own - if you can be a good friend to her, it will help you more than you can imagine.
posted by aryma at 12:00 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


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