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Becoming Open to Others


Students smilingThe word "open" is really used a lot. Many of us first heard it when we were very small and someone was hovering over us with a spoonful of strained food in their hand and urging us to open up wider. You've probably heard "open up" in many ways too, over the years. Open your hearts, open your minds. It’s used in many, many ways. Probably most people would like to be more open than they are right now. We know it feels good to share with others. It’s really a nice feeling to get things off our chest, to get them out in the open. We sometimes use our friends and families for this purpose. If feels good to talk to somebody about things we’re concerned about. It’s good to be able to trust somebody.

What do we really mean by becoming open?

Well, trying to talk about yourself in such a way that something of the inner person, that is you, is communicated to others might be one way of being open or at least thinking about being open. That inner person is a complex person who has a variety of thoughts and also feelings. So, wanting to share with other people these inner feelings and these inner thoughts is one way of becoming open. Being open is a kind of invitation to others. What you share about yourself should encourage others to come in, so to speak and make contact with you. To involve themselves with you. Being open is difficult. It makes us feel vulnerable, psychologically naked and usually anxious. But it also is important in terms of really letting others get to understand how we think, how we feel and what we believe. We often hide our inner thoughts and feelings because we’re concerned how well excepted they’ll be by other people. But we also shut out other people from knowing and accepting us by not being open. We also are really saying we don’t fully accept ourselves if we won’t be open with others. We’re denying ourselves that chance to speak out, to declare our inner thoughts and feelings. It’s up to you to decide just how you’re going to talk about yourself and what you’re going to say. Telling somebody where you bought those new pair of shoes might be one way of being open. However, it might be more meaningful to share why clothes are important to you. What is it about those pair of shoes that is important to you? Another example might be saying that school or work is terrible, it’s horrendous. Well, maybe it’s more important to share why you’re saying that about school or work. That’s at a little deeper level. There are probably more risks attached to sharing that. Probably most important is an immediate here and now honesty that goes along with being open. For instance, sometimes when I resent someone I smile and pretend I’m happy. Well it might be more honest and open for me at that time when I’m right there with that person to share my resentment openly. And that way the situation and my feelings can be changed. Another example is being bored but expressing it. Telling someone that you’re bored is risky, but it takes courage to say, "I’m bored, why don’t we do such and such?", or "let’s change topics." For me, declaring your boredom or resentments also means I’m responsible for suggesting alternatives to change my mood. You have the power to change things by being open and sharing things. Keep in mind also that being completely open with everyone in every situation may be very inappropriate. You may want to be more open with your spouse or close friends, but not with your boss or people you don’t know as well. You may choose not to be open with people you don’t fully trust, because to be open is to share vulnerable information about yourself. And if you don’t fully trust how someone else will use that information about you, you may choose not to share it. Also, some people may be very uncomfortable with too much openness and you may not want to be as open with them. Openness is making your outer world as similar to your inner world as possible. When you’re feeling jealous, happy, anxious or sad why not share with other people what you’re really feeling, that is jealous, happy, anxious or sad. We call this being congruent. That is letting what shows, your expression, frown, words represent what you actually feel and think. That takes hard work and a lot of honesty. A caution about being open is that sometimes we can be too open. In the name of being open we say everything we feel or think to others. But fail to be sensitive to others feelings about our openness. We may make them feel very uncomfortable or say something that hurts them. Being open also carries a responsibility with it and that is to be aware of others reactions to us and to respect their reactions. This may mean not disclosing everything with some people out of respect for their feelings.

Becoming open also means becoming open to what others are saying and sharing about themselves. Learning to be a good listener. An example is someone talking about doing badly on a test. Try to be open to what that person is sharing about their feelings. Be sensitive to their feelings. Understand it’s importance to them and their trusting you with this feeling or their this thought. Trust will be very important for you also in what you’re willing to be open about. By building mutual trust you and your listener will share a great deal more, so be sensitive to others and try to be open and receptive to what their sharing with you. By being sensitive to others you’ll avoid making three common errors. You will not share your feelings or thoughts too quickly and thereby push your listener away. You will not bore your audience and you will not have someone listen to you too long, without giving them hints about the kind of listener you want them to be.

Here are five ways for you to be more open

  1. Try to make your outside behavior the same or congruent with your inside feelings and thoughts. Remember we were talking about that.
  2. Focus on feelings. It’s usually easier to share opinions or thoughts about something. Everybody has an opinion. It’s harder to share feelings. Be in touch with how you feel. Share openly the feelings as much as you can. Some feelings cover or come from other feelings. Anger may come from hurt. We might find it easier to show the anger. However, if we work really hard and try to understand the hurt, if we share the hurt and are open about the hurt we are actually being more open at a deeper level.
  3. Try to change your questions into statements. We sometimes have an attitude or feeling about something and we’re afraid to share it, we’re afraid to be open. Instead we ask a question. We might say for instance, "do you love me?", when instead we want to say I love you. Change your questions into statements you can make about yourself.
  4. Try to make your communication in the first person. Begin with sentences with I instead of you. You might say, " I feel happy that you’re here," instead of asking, "Are you glad that you’re here?" Begin your sentences as often as possible with I.
  5. Try not to say, "I don’t know." This generally means I don’t want to think about it anymore. You’re probably getting to a level of being open that makes you anxious. Decide what it is and whether you can really trust it with the other person or persons.

A final point is that some ways of being open are more helpful than others. When you’re angry for instance there’s a difference between throwing a book across the room and talking out your feelings. Both are certainly ways of being open about the anger. However, if other people are with you, talking to them about your anger is probably easier for them than ducking from a book you just threw. It might also be more helpful. Remember also, that the extent to which others are open with you will depend on how open you are with them. Many people find that most of the relationships that they're involved in become much more important to them the more they to be more open in them. When we stay open to learning, new experiences open up for us. Perhaps the same can happen for you.

Counseling and Wellness Center
3190 Radio Road, PO Box 112662
Gainesville, FL 32611-2662
Phone: (352) 392-1575
Fax: (352) 392-8452 

Office Hours:  Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm

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