It’s a complicated thing, sharing how we feel. Many things get in the way. We may feel protective of ourselves, or of other people. But there comes a time when keeping things in is worse than letting things out. What kinds of things determine whether we choose to speak, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of sharing?
TRUSTING THE OTHER
If we don’t have trust in the relationship, we won’t share. On the one hand the lack of trust may come from us. We may have grown up with parents or carers who didn’t want to hear us. If so, our bodies are set up to hold stuff in until it becomes almost unbearable. On the other hand, our lack of trust may have a grounding in the other. Perhaps the person we are with is unsympathetic, or hasn’t got time to listen; worse, perhaps they are likely to misuse the information we share. If we can’t trust that things will go well, we may choose not to begin the process.
Some of us try to share small things, to give us clues as to how bigger things will be received. If the response to a small piece of sharing is negative, we are much less likely to progress to bigger things. There is a Christian text which reflects this: “Whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10) I don’t really like the judgemental aspect of this text, but it does seem to reflect the way we manage disclosure on a social level.
FINDING THE WORDS
Another thing people often worry about, is finding the words to say what they feel. Words are fickle things – they can mean different things to different people. Just look at how we all respond to text messages differently, depending on how we are feeling. So sharing in words is a potentially dangerous thing – a lot of misunderstandings can happen.
FINDING THE TIME
Time spent together can help enormously. If we only have five minutes in a busy family setting to share how we feel, we may be acutely aware of all the competing interests overlapping at that moment, and the chances are we won’t easily share how we feel. In contrast, if we are on a walk, with a friend who is attentive, and yet has no vested interest except our happiness, then it may be easier to share.
DISADVANTAGES OF SHARING
It’s not always the best thing to share everything. If what we are thinking may be offensive to others, and cause distortions and distrust, then we may be wise to hold back, or share confidentially elsewhere until we can trust the environment.
If we consider ourselves capable of processing things in our own minds, we may choose to do this instead. Sharing can cause unforeseen consequences, and use up energy we may not have available, especially if we are feeling low.
Additionally, we can’t take back what we have shared. If what’s on our mind is important or deeply felt, but we feel things may change, then we may not want to cause irretrievable harm or confusion unnecessarily.
ADVANTAGES OF SHARING
On the other hand, if we hold back for fear of being offensive or causing problems, we can cause ourselves enormous pressure in terms of bottling things up inside. Our behaviour will tend to leak out hints anyway, confusing other people. They will begin to think: “So-and-so is behaving strangely! I wonder what’s wrong? They sound fed up or angry. I’m not sure which. But they don’t seem open to talking about it. I don’t know what to do.” We can end up in a Catch-22, where we don’t talk, and others, for fear of upsetting us, don’t talk either. This can eventually put great strain on both sides.
Also, if we rely too much on our own minds, and avoid using social energy, we can get out of the habit of sharing. We lose our social courage and skills, and end up even more lonely and isolated. Sometimes it’s worth trying to share, as others may have surprising wisdom we didn’t think they had. I have often found this.
Finally, although it’s true we can’t take back what we have shared, it’s also true that we may regret holding back on the important stuff. Perhaps we actually need to hear what someone else thinks. Perhaps we actually need to ask for a change in how things happen. Perhaps we actually need to burst the bubble of our own tension by opening up to the mutual flow of conversation.
Overall, sharing how we feel can stop us stereotyping the world. Some racism works like this, for instance. We hold unchallenged prejudices in our minds, and never expose them to the light of day. So we never get to ‘equalise’ ourselves and others, never get to iron out the differences with mutual understanding.
In relationships, we can be holding some terrible wrong assumptions about other people. We can think they are hostile when they are actually feeling vulnerable. We can think they don’t care, when really they are not sure how to help us. We can think we are done with others, when really we were over-reliant on them, and just need to learn to collaborate with them on more equal terms.
SOME THINGS TO TRY
If you find it hard to share easily, then perhaps try asking yourself a few of the following questions (take your pick):
- Have I learned to ‘keep it all in’ from my childhood?
- Am I really justified in not trusting another person with my feelings?
- Can I think of a few small feelings to share, and try those, just to get me started with sharing?
- Can I practice finding the right words by talking with a counsellor, or writing in a journal?
- Can I find more time to communicate with others?
- Is tensely ‘bottling things up’ worth the strain on myself and others?
- Am I losing my social skills, and do I need to work a bit to develop them?
- Have I stereotyped those around me as uncaring, when actually they care?
It’s hard to share, but by doing so, we can sometimes create more happiness.