Learning to open up

Questions and discussions about relationships: girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, partners, friends, family or other intimate relationships in your lives.
Raffles
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Learning to open up

Unread post by Raffles »

In almost all of my relationships, I feel a lot of pressure to be constantly positive and strong. I'm the friend people turn for emotional support when things are bad, the voice of logic for difficult decisions, and a laugh in stressful times. Toxic positivity is the norm from my parents, to the point that they don't even believe that toxic positivity exists. I've written before about how I feel guilty about telling people what's going on because I'll become a burden and my various botched coming out attempts. This is all to say that I avoid vulnerability at pretty much all costs.

Some things happened/circumstances shifted a bit, so I recently admitted a very dark secret of mine to someone I've come to trust over the years. When I finished talking, I looked up to see a reaction. There was no fear or judgement, just calm and acceptance. It was so overwhelming, I had to look away. I don't think I could keep eye contact for longer than a second. After everything I told them, they just said, "Okay." And then asked if there was anything they could do to help me.

I don't foresee myself ever actually asking for help because my brain says that will make me a burden and then everyone will hate me, but it's nice to know it's there. I wish I could enjoy it, but I'm kind of just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm waiting to be told that I'm too much trouble or that I'm not doing enough to help myself (both are probably true).

Does acceptance/trust ever stop feeling like a horror movie? I get that vulnerability is necessary for building trust and deepening a relationship, but I don't think I could do this/feel like this on a semi-regular basis. I'd really like to have some sort of a life partner someday (romantic or non-romatic is fine), and I had a counselor tell me that they'll want someone who is in touch with their emotions. I'm very much not, and I worry about how my inability to trust/show vulnerability will affect my future relationships. I'm okay with being alone, but I don't want to be alone because I have no other option because of my inability to trust. Is there anyway to practice this in an environment that feels safe? Or is it always going to be scary (as in, had a panic attack the night before because of stress scary)?
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Carly »

Hey Raffles -- up top I wanted to say that I really related to some stuff in your post and I'm sorry it can feel like such a struggle to be vulnerable with even people you trust. The questions you're asking are subjective to one's own experience and may be tougher to answer, but I hope what I have down here helps a little or makes you feel comforted even just a tiny bit.

You nailed it - vulnerability is necessary for building trust. I think trust and vulnerability gets easier, but when that happens is a little different for everyone. And how it happens is also a little different for everyone. Though a potential partner may want a partner who is in touch with their emotions, I don't think it's a good approach to want to change and learn only for someone else, even if they're hypothetical. You're worthy of the investment on your own. I don't think it will always feel so scary to be vulnerable, this is something you haven't ever felt very safe doing. It sounds like you were very brave with the conversation you had recently. When it comes to practicing and learning about trust, I wanted to offer that perhaps this person you talked with is someone that can be trusted to help you when you want it. Maybe accepting that help or continuing to be open with this person can be a good way to practice?

Something else that coincides with trust and vulnerability are boundaries. Boundaries might help you feel a little safer when you're learning to trust others. Have you ever set boundaries with someone in your life before?
Raffles
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Raffles »

I've been generally unsuccessful with boundaries in the past. I used to really hate having my back touched, so I told my parents. They didn't really care and kept doing it until I got over it. I also have misophonia (a really intense negative feeling about a specific sound). The sound that sets me off happens during meal times. I suggested eating in a different room or at a different time or with ear plugs, but I wasn't allowed to so I just had to learn to be in aural distress privately.

I haven't really set boundaries after that because it felt sort of pointless if they were just going to end up being ignored.

The one time I successfully set a boundary was in a sort of emergency situation. I ran into friend A who dated friend B, and I had a good conversation with friend A. B started asking me really in depth questions about what we'd talked about, and I had to tell friend B that I felt like they weren't respecting my friendship with friend A. Friend B accepted that and didn't ask again.
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Heather »

I'm really sorry to hear about how your boundaries were dismissed and disrespected by your parents growing up, Raffles. It can be really hard to have faith that we can create different patterns -- let alone learn how! -- in our elective relationships than we had in our family relationships with some things. We also may find that we unconsciously, quite in spite of ourselves, seek out or create similar relationship dynamics as we had growing up and so this may all feel extra impossible.

You get to build trust -- and thus, also be vulnerable -- at as slow a pace as you need when you're building elective relationships. If you need to really test the water wen it comes to a little vulnerability and a couple boundaries for a while before you loosen any boundaries and be more vulnerable? That needs to be okay. Not every relationship or person will be right for our pacing needs, but that's kind of part of how finding our people goes, you know?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
Raffles
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Raffles »

That makes sense. Honestly, hearing that it's okay to go at my own pace helped a lot. I often feel cruel and manipulative when I "test" boundaries and vulnerability, but it does help me to feel more at ease (or know someone it's trustworthy with minimal damage on my end). I tend to wait literal years before I feel remotely okay with opening up. Compare this with a friend who proclaimed I'm one of her best friends a year after I met her and tells me pretty much everything about her life. I think that the people who will turn out to be the most trustworthy in the end are the people who will be willing to wait for me and be patient while I learn.
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Elise »

Hi Raffles, you can rest assured that having boundaries and trying to see how people will respect them is okay, particularly as you've have people in your life not respect those in the past.

We actually have an article about intimacy on Scarleteen (and as you mention, trusting someone in and building intimacy is an act of vulnerability), that I think you might find useful: Intimacy: The Whys, Hows, How-Nots, and So-Nots, and also this one that has some advice and scripts on setting boundaries: Be Your Own Superhero: Learning How and When to Stand Up for Ourselves. Take a read and feel freed to let us know any thoughts or questions that arise after reading them 😊

I'd agree that your instinct is right that patience for you to build trust in your own time is a green flag where friends are concerned! Would you feel comfortable telling us how you feel when people, like your friend you mentioned trusted you within a year, open up to you? Are you comfortable with that and talking with them about their things, or wish they wouldn't share these things with you? Have you ever had to or wanted to communicate with someone about the fact that you need a bit more time than they do to build trust, but this doesn't mean you don't enjoy their company?
Raffles
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Raffles »

Hello!

Thanks for the article links. They were both very interesting and helpful, a lot of things I hadn't really thought of before or hadn't been able to put words to.

I'm glad that people see me as approachable and caring so that they are able to talk to me. I'm fine with my friend opening up to me, but it's occasionally boarded into "using me as a therapist" territory (I wrote about that in a different post, so I won't get into it too much here). I've thought about setting a boundary, but it seemed cruel at the time. Things are a bit calmer now, and we will see each other a lot less this coming semester (different classes), and then we will graduate and move to different places so I'm not putting a lot of pressure on myself to do anything about it.

My friends are generally very accepting that I don't talk about myself a lot, but I think part of it is because they see me as the friend who has it together. Why would someone rely on peer support if there is nothing in their life that requires support? I also have a big fear of becoming overly dependent on the support of others and not being able to do things by myself. I fear that if I start asking for help, I won't be able to stop. Especially because there really just this one person right now, and it's a lot like a situation I got myself into earlier that ended sort of poorly for the both of us.
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Carly »

Hi Raffles -- I see where your concerns are coming from. Something I do want to offer is that from what I can tell from your posts in this thread and in others is that you are very self-aware and often pretty in touch with how you're feeling with something or where your limits are. I think because of the bad experiences you've had with giving support, you'll be very deliberate with the person you might approach for support or start opening up to. Even though you're working on trusting and being vulnerable with others, something that may come along with that is learning to trust yourself as well. Does that resonate with you at all?
Raffles
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Raffles »

Yes, it does. I worry a lot about making the same mistakes I did when I was in high school, but I know better now. I just have to trust that I have learned.
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Raffles,

If trusting that you've learned is kind of hard for you, something that might help is to literally write out reminders of examples of what you've learned or how you've grown. That can feel a little odd at first, but the act of sitting down and writing out those examples can help make them feel more "real," and even just give you something to reference when you're doubting yourself.
Raffles
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Raffles »

I've been thinking about that conversation that started this post (opening up to someone about a dark secret). Lately, I've felt really anxious and doubted my judgement regarding that decision. It's not that the person I opened up to is untrustworthy. It's more that I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea that there are people out there who Know about It. The only other person who knew drifted out of my life once they moved away. It wasn't a big deal, but I still weirds me out from time to time. These people could do anything with that information (I know rationally that they wouldn't, but they could and that's what bugs me). The other thing that really bothers me is that maybe these conversations mean nothing to me, to them, to everyone in the grand scheme of life. We will never speak of It again, we will grow apart, and I've done it all (and made them sit through listening to me) for nothing.

There is a part of me that really wants to be surrounded by people who Know so I could feel seen. Ideally, these people would around me because they really want to be even though I have that dark secret. The other part of me feels like I'll always regret any bit of vulnerability to some degree. At best even if I don't regret it, I'd feel guilty about it.

One of my more concrete problems is that I'd really like to continue to deepen my relationships, specifically the one with the person I opened up to. The problem is that I want to do so without making all of our conversations about It without ignoring it all together. How can the deep dark secret be present without being the focus?

Any words of wisdom? I know this is a lot and probably doesn't make a lot of sense because I'm feeling too many feelings to really type a good sentence at the moment.
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Urna »

Hello again, Raffles!

Everything you said here makes perfect sense, don't worry. Sorry to hear, though, that you've been having a hard time coming to terms with your decision to let that person know about your secret. I know how overwhelming the seesawing can be between "I'm so glad I was vulnerable with them!" and "oh my god they Know and I'm forever defined by this one thing, in their eyes". All the things we discussed earlier, about the necessity of being vulnerable with those we have decided to trust, still stand, of course, and the decision to trust someone is rarely free of doubt and anxiety, even if you rationally know that the person would never misuse the information. You said in your message that the fact that they COULD misuse the information is something that bothers you. I think that that's still a more concrete and addressable fear than simply being uncomfortable with the fact that your secret is no longer a secret because there are people in this world who know about it. The latter fear takes a bit more work to uproot, so good for you. As for vulnerability not mattering in the long run--while that's a distressing thought for sure, I believe that even if we drift apart from people, the experience of having witnessed someone else in a moment of vulnerability retains its healing impact on both the witnesser's life and the witnessee's. That experience is something that no one can take away from you, and it's useful to see relationships in terms of playing helpful roles in each other's lives at crucial moments, instead of in terms of false expectations of permanence.

I think it's wonderful that you want to deepen your relationship with this person! The good thing here is that your secret will not become the centerpiece of your relationship unless either of you make it so. Given their trustworthiness and accepting nature, I think it's unlikely that this person will define your relationship in terms of that secret, or, at the other end of the scale, that they will pretend it never happened. The terms and conditions re the role that the secret will play in the relationship are up to you, therefore. What do you think those might be?

Also, I didn't quite understand why you said you may feel "guilty" about being vulnerable. Could you clarify, please?
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Raffles
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Raffles »

Hello!

I have been trying to face my fear by rationalizing (scale of 1-10 how likely is it that this will happen, what's the actual worst case scenario), and it helps a little. I think it's just hard for me to trust with this specific secret because it was spilled at one point many years ago with pretty distressing results, so it's hard for me to trust anyone with it.

I'm okay with relationships ending an fading because you out grew them. I think what scares me/what I find upsetting is that I think there are a few relationships with people that I have so much to learn from, and they might end simply because of the distance and not trying hard enough to stay in touch (I'm not the best at texting out of the blue or using social media).

I do think that things matter even if they end. I guess I just worry that sharing this secret would be someone's main memory of me, or that they'll think I've used them to dump this secret, or that they might feel that I've shared this secret as a desperate last ditch effort to save a dying relationship. I'm pretty careful with the people I trust, and I hope I know enough to not be manipulative. I don't think that I'd intentionally do any of these things, so it's not a rational worry, but accidentally hurting people is always a concern of mine.

As for the role of my secret, I'd like to be able to get to a point where I'm comfortable talking about it or bringing it up without feeling like I'm derailing the event. I'd also like her to feel comfortable asking me about it if she were ever concerned or curious but not in an invasive way. Basically, it would stop feeling like a secret and more like any other detail of my life.

The guilt is from sharing the burden of the secret itself. It isn't a pretty thing that I am proud of, and I know it's something that's hard for people to hear and talk about. Part of what's hard for me is that I really want to prepare people for what they're about to hear, but I can't do that without giving away the secret. People might not realize that they weren't ready to deal with it or hear it until it's already too late, if that makes sense. So I feel guilty about telling people because it might be upsetting to them and they might feel like they didn't have a chance to opt out.
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Re: Learning to open up

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Raffles,

I totally get that fear that a relationship that you don't really want to end will do so because of distance or communication habits. If you want to, one thing we can talk about is things you can do on your end to preserve relationships that you really want to keep but are at risk of ending or those reasons.

With that guilt around sharing the secret, one thing that can help to remember is that we can't always predict who might have a strong reaction to what information or what kinds of things people have in their past. What we CAN do is trust our friends to tell us if something hits too close to home or is otherwise difficult for them to keep talking about. You can also do things like, once you share the secret, ask if it's okay to keep talking about it some. Depending on the details, you can also give people a vaguer heads-up like, "hey, there's something I want to talk about but it's kind of personal/tough/etc, are you in a place where we can do that?"
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