Some people over-share, which can make social interactions awkward or emotionally draining.
On the other end of the spectrum, some people don’t open up to others hardly at all.
Whether you’re having trouble opening up or getting someone to open up to you, we’ll explore some reasons why some of us are more guarded than others:
1. To Avoid the Drama
Rehashing bad days or getting involved in family/friend disagreements can cause some people a lot of stress and anxiety.
Some people over-involve themselves in the drama. They thrive on discussing various interactions, who said what, and what this may mean going forward.
Other people find these interactions draining, and this sort of gossip can even cause massive levels of anxiety in some people.
This isn’t to say that these folks don’t have opinions about situations happening around them. They don’t feel the need to share them, and that’s okay.
Boundaries are critical for maintaining one’s mental health, and choosing not to open up about things can be a key boundary for some. Even if you want to chat to a friend or family member about something that’s happened lately, if they’re not forthcoming about it, try to respect that it may be better for them overall.
2. A Burden Shared Isn’t Always a Burden Halved
Sharing their bad days means some have to experience them twice for some people.
We all have bad days. It’s just a fact of life, but people deal with them differently. Some have a glass of wine and some popcorn, practice meditation, or go to the gym.
Some people call friends or family members and get comfort from their loved ones. After all, the adage goes, “A burden shared is a burden halved.”
And if you’re a person who finds sharing cathartic and healing, it may not be easy to understand why someone wouldn’t open up to you about things bothering them. However, we all handle things uniquely.
As long as the lack of sharing isn’t causing severe mental strain, some people find it either to let things go.
Setting boundaries around gossip and family drama can sometimes be the best thing for someone’s mental health, letting bad things go without speaking about them.
3. They’re Seeing a Professional
If a person is in counseling, talking about their emotions can be enough.
Everyone can benefit from a professional relationship with a licensed professional counselor. Some are eager to talk about what they learn with their therapist.
Others may feel that their time in the room (or on Zoom) is enough for processing and perspective. Those with a counseling relationship may find it unnecessary or even difficult to open up to friends and family about the same things they talk about in therapy.
After all, therapists have specialized training in getting their clients to open up and helping them work through their issues from a place of vulnerability.
4. Lack of Good Listeners
Not enough people practice listening to others is a skill that makes opening up incredibly difficult.
They don’t teach emotional intelligence in school, so many folks end up unsure what to do or how to react when someone opens up to them. Their uncomfortable body language or rush to change the topic can make people wary of opening up.
Taking a risk on someone who isn’t a good listener is in and of itself a form of rejection, even if the listener doesn’t mean it to be.
Practicing active listening, especially if a friend or relative is sharing something personal, will signal that you’re there to hear them when they’re baring their soul to you.
Some tenants of active listening include:
- Attentive body language
- Paying full attention (not distracted by your phone, etc.)
- Summarizing what your friend is saying (“So I’m hearing you’re struggling with your class load this semester, even though you’re taking the same amount of classes as you have before.”)
- Validating their feelings (“It’s okay you feel like this.”)
- Listen in a non-judgmental way
One of the things about active listening boils down to a single distinction: you’re listening to understand what the other person is saying instead of listening only to respond.
If you’re unsure how or if you do this, it’s a skill worth developing. It can strengthen all of the relationships in your life.
It Might Not Be So Intentional
In other cases, people may be unable to open up based on some of their past experiences.
Someone may want to open up to their friends or family, but that’s not always possible for reasons we’ll explore below.
5. Fear of Rejection
Opening up can be a big hurdle for people who have social anxiety and have been rejected in the past.
The first examples described people who would rather not open up about things for their mental health. On the other hand, some people want to open up but are stopped because of fear.
Emotional validation is important for human development. We all crave it. It’s key to a healthy mental state, and most of us receive that validation from an early age.
But unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have that validation throughout their life. They may have been rejected by one person, like a parent or romantic partner, or they may feel as if they have been consistently rejected or ignored.
Like burning your hand on the stove will make you more careful around burners, bad experiences leave people more cautious. Before you think that emotional rejection couldn’t be that bad, Judith Glaser writes in “Psychology Today” that “rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain.”
This isn’t to say that children shouldn’t be taught emotional regulation. Adults who aren’t in control of their emotions are not healthy or fun.
Teaching a child to recognize and regulate their emotions isn’t the same as teaching children or young adults not to have emotions.
It’s hard to get over those experiences of rejection, no matter where that rejection comes from. Rejection can have lots of knock-off effects.
6. Low Self-Esteem
If people struggle to love themselves, they’ll struggle to understand that others can love them.
Low self-esteem and insecurities can be born from any number of situations. There are many ways to incubate insecurities, so even if the person who isn’t opening up to you appears to have self-confidence, they may not.
They could also have generally okay self-esteem but still struggle when it comes to opening up.
Those who have issues often feel bad about their circumstance, especially when they internally compare themselves to “other people” who “have it worse.”
This isn’t constructive, of course. While excessive complaining can harm your mental health, pretending like you don’t have any problems because those unknown and ever-present “other people” have problems isn’t helpful, either.
7. Family or Culture of Origin
The apple doesn’t fall from the tree, and the apple tree can’t get out of the orchard.
It’s very hard to overcome the socialization that you were born with. Whatever constitutes “correct” behavior is taught to us as children, and it’s hard to unlearn those lessons.
Some families or cultures are much more open than others. If someone didn’t grow up in a family that encouraged sharing, it could be difficult to change that habit as an adult.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t trust you. It means they were taught different things and likely punished or shamed for expressing their emotions.
8. Gender Comes Into It
Many young boys get told to “man up” and “stop crying like a girl,” and that rhetoric turns them into emotionally repressed men.
Most of us have spent time around a little boy who is told to hide his emotions. From a young age, it’s ingrained that boys aren’t supposed to cry. Girls cry.
Hopefully, younger generations will continue to break this ideal, but progress will likely be very slow.
Boys are told not to act like girls, and girls are emotional. Therefore, boys learn to pretend to be emotional.
It also kind of backfires. Many women also shut down their emotions, especially in professional settings or around people they don’t know very well so that they don’t get labeled “hysterical” or “hormonal.”
Getting into the habit of repressing your emotions, for whatever reason, isn’t one that promotes strong mental health.
Opening up to those we trust can be healthy, but it’s not always easy.
If you’re struggling to open up, it may be worth exploring why.
If someone you know is struggling to open up, understand they may choose to keep quiet or need help overcoming their circumstances to share healthily.