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The Secret World of the Tight-Lipped Person (Part 1)

Some people just simply do not talk about themselves. Their inner world is a mystery and they are hesitant to let their guard down. Have you ever asked your partner “Why don’t you tell me what is wrong?” or “Why are you upset?” Perhaps you are asking your child “Why won’t you tell me what is bothering you?” It seems that no matter how hard you try, there is no response and a resolution seems far off in the distance. What is going on here?


Safety is Key


To gain a better understanding, let us take a moment to deconstruct how we ourselves share. When we are upset, how do we decide who we want to share with? Evidently, we would consider how well we know the other person – but is that really the deciding factor as to whether we would decide to share? Some people even share deep, painful experiences with acquaintances or even strangers. In fact, I would argue that we consider not only how well we know the other person, but also how safe we feel when in the presence of the other person.


Safety is an interesting concept that can be interpreted in many ways. I would argue that the feeling of safeness is defined by our perception of the possibility of being harmed.  Firstly, I would like to note that harm can be physical, but it can come in other forms as well. Think of emotional harm – being judged, belittled, manipulated, shamed, laughed at and lied to can be very painful. Secondly, the possibility of being harmed is perceived differently by each individual. One person might perceive the risk of getting into a car accident very differently than the next person. Similarly, one person might perceive the risk of being judged by others differently than the next person. How might this affect an individual’s ability to share?


Past Influenced, Present Focused


We as humans are creatures that have been shaped by our past experiences. Think about your past experiences of when you have opened yourself to others. What was it like? What were some difficult or awkward moments? What were some of the moments that you have been judged after sharing? Have you regretted sharing with others before? How has this shaped your perception of safety and your willingness to share in general? Now, take a moment to think about partner or children and their past experiences. How has their past experiences influenced their willingness to share with us today? How have we ourselves contributed to these past experiences?


For the purposes of this blog, let us take a step away from the past and into the present. What is preventing others from sharing with us now? Perhaps the emotions are currently heightened (and the perception of physical or emotional safety is not present). How might we be reinforcing the barriers that prevent communication? Do they (both children and adults) have the vocabulary to share with you about how they are feeling? How are we currently supporting them, and is there anything that we can we do to improve? How can our own reflections on these questions change the dynamic of our relationships? In part 2, I will discuss one method that I personally utilize to support others positively.


Steven Ngu, MC, is a Registered Provisional Psychologist with College of Alberta Psychologists. He has extensive experience in the area of confidence and motivation, plus many more.  For more information about Steven, click here to link to his full bio page.