If you notice that you have difficulty sharing your feelings or getting close to people, you might think of yourself as a closed-off person.
Some people are less open than others for various reasons, and being closed off is not a value judgment.
It doesn’t make you a “bad” or “broken” person, but being closed off can negatively impact your life. We’ll explore why you may be closed off and how you can begin to open up.
Your Life is in a High-Stress Period
Stress ebbs and flows, and many people find that when their stress levels are higher, they find it difficult to forge new connections or withdraw from current relationships.
Emotions are a lot of work. They take a lot of energy. You may not have a lot of energy to spare if you’re already dedicating significant energy to other areas of your life, such as caregiving for family members, increased job intensity, or global events like a pandemic or war.
If you have anxiety or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, these periods of stress in your life could cause those feelings to become more intense. A stressed and anxious state can cause social withdrawal.
This is especially true if you’re the type of person who offers a lot of support to others. When people lean on you as their support system, you can easily feel the weight of that when you’re also carrying the weight of other stressors.
You may instinctively try to protect yourself by pulling away and closing off.
You also may be less likely to go out with friends, not return your family’s phone calls, and not share details of your day with your partner. It’s important not to get defensive if people bring this to your attention.
If they’ve noticed that you’re pulling away from them, there’s a good chance that they love you, and they want you to know that they’re still there for you.
You Have Low Self-Esteem
Having a negative view of yourself can impact your ability to connect with others because you don’t feel worthy of their love and affection.
It isn’t a pretty thought or feeling, and it isn’t something that people like to speak about. You’re not alone in your feelings of unworthiness.
Reasons for low self-esteem are many and varied, and low ideas about yourself can have huge impacts on forging relationships. If your family or previous partners have torn you down and made you feel insecure, it’s easy to think that everyone will view you the same way people from your past viewed you.
If you struggle with feelings of imposter syndrome or self-imposed perfectionism, you can feel like you are constantly falling short. This may be at odds with reality, but it’s very difficult to see if you suffer from low self-esteem.
It can be difficult to accept love, platonic or romantic, if you feel as though you’re not worthy. This may lead to one-side relationships, where you’re the emotional caregiver and provide support but don’t accept it in return, or it may lead to very few relationships.
You Didn’t Have Positive Emotional Role Models
More and more, we understand that emotional intelligence is a skill that needs to be taught. If the people in your life don’t have good relationships, it could be hard for you to know how to have them.
If someone ever shames you for crying or expressing your emotions, it could be difficult to shake that shame as you grow into an adult. How would you know what to do if your parents or guardians struggled to open up?
Our family of origins and cultures greatly impact us, and fighting against that ingrained sense that emotionality equals weakness is a difficult task.
Again, the opposite can also be true. If you were around someone who was constantly pouring out their emotions or oversharing, you could come to resent that behavior.
You then don’t want to be a burden on other people, like that friend or family member was to you. Those things become a part of you that’s difficult to untangle, especially if you’re still in those communities and around that messaging while you’re trying to be more emotionally healthy.
Tips For Opening Up:
Read on for ways to begin the process of becoming more vulnerable and emotionally available:
1. Learn to Trust Yourself
An old saying states that a bird doesn’t land on a branch because it trusts the branch. It trusts its ability to fly, and you can, too.
Not every person in the world is deserving of your emotional vulnerability. As you work on opening up, there will likely be people who will react badly and disappoint you.
The important thing to do when this happens is to realize that you as a person can handle their bad reaction or outright rejection.
Going through a bad breakup and getting into a subsequent relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re trusting your new partner not to break your heart. In a healthy scenario, you’re trusting yourself to go through any heartbreak and come out the other side.
Keeping a journal can help you sort out your emotions and discover what you want. You can write out a plan and then write about it if you saw it through.
Work to silence that inner critic by saying or writing things down that you like about yourself or areas where you excel.
There’s also a key difference between learning to trust yourself and learning to distrust your anxiety. We often find ourselves living out scenarios in an anxious state, and none of them ever come to fruition.
It can be difficult to differentiate, but with practice, you’ll learn which thoughts and behaviors come from a place of anxiety and are not to be trusted and come from a calm mind and can be trusted.
2. Practice Being Vulnerable
Vulnerability is the practice of “emotional exposure,” according to Brene Brown, and you can treat it like cold exposure.
If you’ve ever tried to take cold showers or seen YouTube videos of Wim Hof submerging himself in an icy river, you know there’s a lot of research around cold exposure.
Generally, there are a couple of ways to do this cold-water therapy, but the one most relevant to emotional exposure is the idea of gradually building up your tolerance.
So like you may turn the shower knob down to the lukewarm, then cool, then cold as you get out of the shower, you can practice vulnerability in stages. This may be doing things like being vulnerable in online forums or with casual strangers.
The point of the exercise is not how they react but how you deal with the uncomfortable feeling of sharing.
Your tolerance for this discomfort will shift and change as you practice. You’ll begin to open up to people and forge meaningful relationships.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
Giving yourself some latitude as you’re learning and growing can help you achieve your goals.
Vulnerability is difficult. There’s a reason why many people don’t like the feeling, but it can strengthen your relationship with yourself and others.
However, you’ll likely make some mistakes along the way or slide backward. It’s very hard to unlearn what we’re taught from the cradle. So as you’re going on this journey, practice compassion around yourself.
Just like you would have compassion for your friends and family struggling, you can turn that empathy on yourself. Of course, this is another example of things easier said than done.
Especially for those who have anxiety, it can be very difficult to break out of those negative thought patterns.
Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you see things as they are and change your perceptions about yourself. Working on your mental health and being an open person is a large undertaking, and you deserve to give yourself credit for even starting to address this issue.