Sunday, May 8, 2016 9:00:00 PM Australia/Sydney

How To Be Less Closed Off To Others

You can learn how to be less emotionally guarded with others no matter what your age and no matter where you are in your life.

Take your mind back to a time when you were very young; before anybody got into your ear and started telling you how you should behave.

Odds are you were happy, carefree and totally free of inhibitions. Young children are spontaneous, open-hearted and brave; it never occurs to them that others won’t be absolutely enthralled with what they have to offer.

Pretty soon, though, our society slaps down our carefree disposition by teaching us how we ‘should' really behave. For example:

  • Keep your cards close to your chest;
  • Don’t be ‘loud’;
  • Modify your behaviour so others will like you;
  • Maintain an air of ‘mystery’

The reasons why we are emotionally disconnected with other people

As we grow up, we learn that revealing too much about ourselves can get us hurt; on many occasions it invites judgment. We don’t want to appear weak or needy, so we pretend we have it all together; we shut down. Being vulnerable is seen as scary or undesirable.

Yet ultimately we are human beings and we thrive on connection and interaction with others. In order to do this, we have to be real; with ourselves and with others.

So this is the dichotomy; there’s a fine line between protecting yourself and shutting your heart down.

As such, you may find yourself wanting to connect with other people and yet in the same breath behaving in ways that discourage connection, all because you’re terrified of being rejected. This is a recipe for a very lonely life.

ONE: Get To Know Your Baggage

Do you recall what happened in the past to make you close yourself off from others? Maybe you were ridiculed as a child or had a bad experience with a certain teacher at school. My client Annie found it very hard to make new friends in her adult life as a result of an experience in her childhood.

“When I started school, I had a lovely teacher who was very kind to me. But what I didn’t realize was that despite her good intentions, her attempts at making me feel accepted actually made things worse for me.

She used to say: ‘you’re such a good, shy girl….'’’ As Annie and I talked more, we discovered that through associating being shy with gaining praise, she had subconsciously held onto this shyness well into her adult years; this made it almost impossible for her to connect with others and form meaningful relationships.

Yet once we named the problem, she almost immediately let that old label go. By working through her past baggage, Annie was able to reinvent herself. She began being open and friendly to those around her and was delighted at the number of people who wanted to get to know her. Slowly but surely Annie was able to cultivate strong friendships and caring relationships.

Just like Annie, you can take some time to learn more about yourself and discover why you’re guarded. When you do this you can consciously choose to let go of the old programming that isn’t working for your any more.

(The music in this clip is by Longzijun)

TWO: Pay Attention To The Moments When You Are Shutting Down

The best way to solve a problem is to become aware of when the habitual mind patterns are arising; only then can you take steps to break the habit.

When you’re shutting down, what is happening around you? What are the feelings? Is there fear? Is there anger? Where is the felt sense in the body?

Your habitual guardedness is just another way for you to numb out from your unpleasant emotions, rather than letting them be there and creating space for them.

You won’t always catch yourself and your awareness may not (initially) stop you from shutting down or closing off from other people. But as you learn to connect with those feelings rather than trying to push them away, you will eventually learn better ways to manage your emotions.

Yes, the feelings are unpleasant – but they always pass and they don’t have to stop you from living the life you deserve.

THREE: It’s Okay

At the end of the day, the best position to be is caring…but not caring at the same time. The fact of the matter is you’re just not going to get along with everybody you meet. There will be some people with whom you connect instantly and others who leave you cold. It’s okay!

Approach other people with an open heart, but let it be okay if they don’t like you. As long as you’re being true to yourself, you will find far more people who do like you and who do want to spend time with you than who don’t.

Living in this world means being brave and opening yourself up to the possibility of hurt and rejection. You can learn how to be less emotionally guarded by taking a risk; this can be scary but it is the only way to live an engaged life.

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