When was the last time you responded to a casual “How are you?” with, “I’m doing horribly, thanks.” You probably don’t feel compelled to confide your deepest, darkest feelings to the local barista during hard times. Don’t worry. It’s ok to fake it. When it comes to sharing raw thoughts and feelings, we have a filter for a reason.
We respond “I’m doing well, thanks, how about you?” when asked how we are, regardless of how we ACTUALLY are. It’s a part of many cultures' social norms, and although it’s absolutely, TOTALLY normal, social media psychology “experts” seem to want it to stop. They emphasize authenticity to the max and suggest that going along with social etiquette expectations equates to “faking it” or “wearing a mask.”
While this latest trend of encouraging being "authentically you" definitely has merit, there are some serious limitations to looking at it as an “all or nothing” situation. It’s true that letting go of the use of emotional armor can lead to great things such as deeper connections with others, improvements in self-esteem, and reduced anxiety, but like most things, it can also be taken too far. While it's important to get real with people you are close to, you can't just go around airing how you feel and what you think to everyone all the time–that is if you don’t want to end up in jail or the psych ward (or both!).
As a reminder, filtering isn’t even fully under conscious control. In the 1890s, Freud created the technique of “free association” in which he directed patients to say aloud everything that came to their minds without inhibiting anything. The idea was to explore the depths of the unconscious. The problem was (and is!) that resistance got in the way. The human mind has limits. The fact is, no matter how hard you try, you WILL cover up, hide, minimize, and outright lie, even to yourself, because it’s simply the way that the mind works. It protects itself. Some information is just too much…i.e. “you can’t handle the truth!”
Contrary to what you might read on Instagram, this tendency to deceive yourself and others isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact, it’s pretty important both for our own comfort and for sustaining relationships.
Think about it. We cover up our bodies for a reason…actually a few really good reasons. In addition to the law and the weather, we also refrain from showing all the cracks and crevices of our physical selves to the world so that WE can feel more comfortable. For most people, there are bits and baubles here and there that we prefer to keep concealed. Everyone has a different comfort zone. Yes, there are nudist colonies, but if you’re headed to one of those, you know what you’re getting into. It’s the same when it comes to bearing it all emotionally.
Another reason we hide our parts is as a courtesy to others. Certain situations and settings require different levels of coverage. You don't wear a swimsuit to a funeral, right? Most of us try to avoid being disturbing or disrespectful to others. Just because you’re ok with letting it all hang out doesn’t mean your rideshare is. There is virtually NO relationship in which sharing EVERYTHING (i.e. "stream of consciousness") is recommended… that is, if you have any expectation of keeping that relationship long-term.
For some people, there is a natural tendency to want to be "transparent" when emotions are high and feeling like you want to "get it off my chest." It may feel good temporarily, but It's not always best for the relationship. Recognizing and respecting the comfort zone of the other person (within limits) is part of the process of being in relationships. Taking it too far in either direction is where things can go awry.
There's a reason why we have a choice in whether or not we speak. Feelings, thoughts, and urges come and go, but spoken words have a tendency to hang around in the mind of the listener. Considering what your INTENTION is prior to sharing can make a huge difference.
When you consider your intention and ask, "what am I trying to bring about by saying this?" or "what am I hoping the effect of my saying this will be?," you are better able to make an informed decision. Consider the likely effect of what you have and to say and whether that is something you want. It's simple, but not easy to do when the moment is heated.
In short, it’s ok to set restrictive boundaries when it comes to sharing the inner workings of your mind and heart. Respect your own limits and don’t buy into the idea that there is something wrong with you if you’re more tight-lipped. You are the expert on you, after all.
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