Becoming more comfortable talking about myself
January 7, 2017 11:31 PM   Subscribe

How to start opening up to other people?

As long as I can remember I've been quiet and avoided sharing anything about myself with others. I'm fine listening to other people and making jokes and so on, but it's all very shallow. When the attention turns to me I clam up. Even a simple "How was your weekend?" or something shuts me down.

I assume it goes back to my childhood where if I expressed any thoughts or opinions of my own it was usually the prelude to ridicule and/or physical attacks. From my older brother, not my parents, so it wasn't normal abuse or anything, but seeing as they were divorced and working he kinda raised me and they did little to stop it (I think at the time they saw it as simple sibling rivalry, but with time and talking to other parents they seem to be coming around to the fact that it was much more extreme). That went on until he finally moved away for school and we do have a better relationship now, but he still has serious anger issues.

I think I internalized that constant criticism and learned that the safe way to exist is to never reveal anything about myself to anyone. And it's made it very difficult for me to have relationships with other people. It's tough to do a normal back and forth when I'm so closed off. So I have few friends (thankfully there are a couple that stuck by me despite myself since they're the ones that do all the work at maintaining contact) and at the age of 32 haven't ever had a real relationship (brief high school thing, but nothing since. My one attempt at an OKCupid date went poorly and it's been years since then).

How do I get more comfortable with this? I know I need therapy (which, considering all of the above, the idea of talking about these things with another person is frightening beyond belief). But what small steps can I take in the meantime to start opening up and hopefully get me to the point where that's an option?

(Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
To start off, therapy is going to be a game changer. Just know that you can always try another therapist if you don't click with the first one you try. Also, the best place to start in therapy is wherever you feel like starting. It's much less scary in practice.
As for small steps to start opening up and feeling comfortable, how about self-immersion therapy? Start out small and talk to store clerks. Go clothes shopping and tell the sales associate what your favorite colors are while looking for a sweater, tell the grocery store stocker that you love rasberry jam and are looking for a good brand to try. Go to a bookstore, and ask for a recfomendation, by way of revealing a small personal fact (I love historical fiction, etc) Just familiarize yourself with interjecting small facts, and don't worry about the outcome. It will feel weird to do this, but it will help get the ball rolling. You could also try taking an exercise class (You'll have lots of company with the January resolution crowd). You could strike up a conversation with a fellow classmate or tell the instructor after class that your neck bothers you because you sit in front of a computer all day at work, and what stretches could you do to alleviated neck strain. Once you get comfortable with that, or if these sound too easy, try volunteering. It's a great way to meet people with a common interest, as well as having genuine conversation, with an easy jumping off point (how did you get involved with volunteering here?). I hope this helps, and feel free to memail me any time!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 12:28 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Call your local women's shelter and see if they can recommend a therapy group for abuse survivors. I've watched several people get so, so much out of that.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:32 AM on January 8, 2017

Therapy can be quite an intimidating prospect, but I think it is amazingly useful for this kind of thing. The main thing I've taken with me from my spell in therapy wasn't necessarily that I "dealt with" particular problems or issues of mine, but actually that I learned how to simply be able to be in a room with another person and to be comfortable talking, expressing feelings and opinions, and being open and honest with them. Therapy really is ideal for this, as you don't have to worry about social consequences which might come with learning how to be open in "real life" with people who aren't trained and paid to work with you. Also, simply having someone who you know won't be judging or thinking poorly of you is a great feeling, and makes it easier to overcome social anxiety about the consequences of self-exposure. A good therapist who is invested in developing a therapeutic relationship with you and who will be attentive to where you "are" in a session will be amazing for you, I think. It is hard work and scary, and might take a long time, but it's so worth doing.

If you find that therapy or whatever other technique you use to overcome this starts to work, it might be good to start a new hobby or join a group that will introduce you to a new bunch of people, with whom you can practice being more open. New people let you make a new start, and you don't risk the difficulties of trying to change your way of communicating within already-established relationships, while it's still a difficulty for you.

Source: With therapy and "real life" practice, I went from being a super-secretive human mirror to someone who can talk about myself with ease to new people; and I have got so many more, more varied, and more enriching friendships in my life now as a consequence! Good luck!
posted by mymbleth at 3:17 AM on January 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

A few suggestions: one, start with very low-stakes interactions where you don't have to develop a relationship with the person. Like the checkout counter person that Champagne Supernova mentions above. Two, maybe try a setting where you have some subject to talk about, like a book club, which might ease you into having conversations that involve your opinions but aren't that personal. And three, could you enlist any of your friends to help you? If any of them are close enough to talk to this about, maybe they could try to help you have a more involved conversation, or if one of them is very chatty and social, they could invite you and another easy-to-talk-to friend of theirs and you could get some practice. Also, you could practice answers to "how are you" and "how was your weekend."
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:58 AM on January 8, 2017

Before you learn to be more comfortable, you need to learn to be less frightened of the imagined discomfort of showing yourself. You assume it goes back to your childhood, but you are no longer a child. A CBT person would tell you that you have a distorted understanding of how relationships work, but I think you need a kind of therapy that is less confronting. A good therapist has the job of making sessions less frightening than you are imaging it. If you try someone who makes it scary, try someone else.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:34 AM on January 8, 2017

This is something I'm actively working on, too, so I'm gonna be following this thread closely.

I'll mirror everyone else's suggestion, and say that therapy is really useful. I have found that my therapist has been able to keep me accountable, and provide scripts, guidance, and validation in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten. It hasn't been a panacea, but it's supercharged my own ability and desire to change.

I've also found some of Brene Brown's writing and talks to be helpful. This book, in particular: ( YMMV, I found her a bit trite in places, but there are plenty of videos of her speaking on Youtube, so you can know what you're in for before diving into a book. (
posted by Zuph at 8:14 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm like this and it's a hard habit to break. Therapy helps for sure.

Otherwise, something I try to do is give myself conversational micro-goals that will try to encourage me to share something relatively low-stakes but still personal. I have a tendency to try to deflect attention away from me by immediately asking about the other person, so one I often use is I have to say two things that I'm thinking or feeling before I can turn the conversational focus back on the other person. So, if someone at work asks how my weekend was, instead of saying "Fine, and what did you do this weekend?" I have to say "I'm good - my mom is in town and we're having fun but she's driving me a little crazy," or whatever thing is only a mild admission but still slightly personally revealing and possibly an invitation for follow up conversation. Doing this doesn't come naturally, but it can be surprisingly rewarding to chip away at - over time, particularly with friends I see somewhat often, it helps kick down the barrier a little and make it easier to share more.
posted by superfluousm at 12:04 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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