Meeting People: Emotional Openness
Leaving Loneliness: A Workbook: Building Relationships with Yourself and Others”
by David S. Narang Ph.D
Meeting People: Emotional Openness
As you develop a posture with which to touch the world, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, you also need a mind with which to “touch” the world. There are reasons we retreat emotionally, often out of fear. We do not want to be misjudged or misunderstood, stepped on, disliked by others, and so we may present a false self (e.g., arrogant “expert,” comedian, etc.), withdraw, or simply stiffen/freeze and present a cardboard version of ourselves. None of these types of retreating ultimately nourish the other person in much depth, because there is too little of us exposed for the other person to attach to. Thus, unless he/she solely wants to use us as a “tool” for meeting his/her needs (e.g., for material gain, for sex, for a consistently one-way listening ear), there is no reason for him/her to further seek us.
Rather than working at being incredible at providing, becoming the “best tool” for those who want to consistently use you, you could alternately open yourself to balancing a reasonable level of providing for others’ needs while adding the possibility of being liked genuinely for the person you are, and thus risking the possibility of rejection. You could work at the practice of “making friends with fear,” beginning to free yourself from fear so that you can become vulnerable enough that others can truly begin getting to know you. To assist you in loosening, opening, and risking rejection, you might use the following self-talk: “I open myself to this situation. As I do, I am vulnerable. The worst possibility is that this person/these people may not like me. If the worst happens, I’ll nurture myself rather than kick myself about it. Now, with my open posture and my open heart, I open myself to this situation.”
Obviously you use discretion and do not open yourself to a room of social vultures, nor do you sit back forever and play safe. Rather, you decisively conclude when there is reasonable safety, and then take your chances, ready to pick yourself up in the event of injury. Also, you take social conventions into account, so that as you release your own fears, you do not inspire unnecessary fear in others. To clarify, an open stance does not mean telling your life story to a mere stranger. You do not inappropriately change the boundary with a new person so quickly. You simply react to things in the moment (e.g., to what the other person says) genuinely as who you are instead of reacting based on the motive of producing a response intended to make the other person like you or think highly of you. This, of course, can require practice over multiple occasions, so encourage yourself when you get a glimpse of this presence. If you tense up, take a moment to breathe, ask yourself what fear is triggered, and then take care of yourself.
1) Meeting People. What is the nature of my social fear/s (e.g., being judged, not being good enough socially, losing my reputation, etc.), regardless of the specific people around me at a given occasion?
2) Meeting People. How do I respond when I experience these fears (e.g., stiffen like cardboard, withdraw, become overly accommodating, become pushy, forceful, arrogant, present a false self, etc.)?
3) Meeting People. How would I like to respond when I have these fears?
4) Meeting People. Examples of self-talk to use in the social moment, as assistance to opening yourself and to become more present, are provided above in quotation marks. To experience how it feels, please revisit that section now and slowly, and deliberately, repeat it to yourself (altering it to fit your style as desired). Afterward, how do you feel?
5) Meeting People. The attitude of genuineness is essential. To be known, work at being yourself while you are with somebody, responding and reacting as you would if you did not fear their opinion of you, and maintaining adequate interest and curiosity about others. This is distinct from arrogance, as arrogance is needy and tries to produce an impression that one is perfect and flawless. How can you overcome your fears, to become more increasingly genuine in the moment, genuinely yourself and curious about others, instead of fearful for yourself?
Remember, if you stay open and you encounter trouble or pain, you will likely have a sane response to that trouble (e.g., licking your wounds if a friend is mean that day versus trashing the whole relationship, leaving the situation if someone is routinely cruel to you and will not change, etc.). If you remember that you have felt pain before, lived to tell the tale, and know that you can recover, that fear of pain becomes less potent to stop you from connecting to others.
Meeting People: Replacing Self-Consciousness with Curiosity
Now for practice! Notice and accept any anxiety you have about meeting others, and let’s replace being focused on those concerns with getting curious and focused on getting to know them. Become a casual detective. Remember, it is fine (and usually best) to keep it simple, especially when just getting to know somebody. Over a conversation in the near future, find out a bit about as many of the following topics as seems natural/comfortable:
Meeting People. What person did you choose for this activity?
Meeting People. What activities does this person enjoy most in daily life?
Meeting People. What sports or hobbies does he/she like?
Meeting People. Does this person appear to enjoy his/her profession, and how could you tell?
Meeting People. If the conversation continues, you might learn about this person a bit more in depth. For example:
Meeting People. What are his/her biggest satisfactions?
Meeting People. Where do members of this person’s family live?
Meeting People. Based on your own impressions/intuition, what are the most courageous aspects of his/her personality?
Meeting People. Based on your direct knowledge or your intuition formed by what he/she had to say, what do you imagine his/her dreams consist of?
Be ready to give others the same information about you. No fair becoming a ‘television interviewer ’ with others while hiding yourself. Also, you will be lonely if you hide, even if you do learn about others. Did you enjoy getting to know this person? If so, what did you enjoy about him/her, and if not, what turned you off? If you would like to meet people similar to this person (or if you want to avoid people similar to this person), you need to know how to spot them. What sort of behaviors or things a person says (or intuitive reaction that you have) would help you know that his/her personality is similar to the personality of the person you have described in this exercise?
This exercise involved two primary components: The first was replacing some/all of your social concerns and anxieties with curiosity about the other person. In the course of becoming curious about others, you can begin to develop and/or hone the second component, mind mapping. The last question, and also the two questions to which you responded based on “intuition,” are based on this skill (i.e., mind mapping) of using the data in front of you (e.g., a person’s behavior, body language, and statements, as well as how others who have known the person over time seem to respond to him/her) to understand their personality and to make intuitive guesses about what their thoughts and feelings may consist of.