For introverts, opening up is easier said than done. We would like to open up, we really would. But there just seem to be too many annoying obstacles. For one, there are all the memories of the times that we tried to open up, but we were interrupted by someone louder and more gregarious. Then there is our secret fear of rejection, which we expertly hide beneath a mask of aloofness. Now wonder we struggle to know how to open up!
On top of all this we also have our own unique communication challenges to deal with. We take more time to think before we speak, which can make opening up that much more challenging.
We worry that we won’t be able to find the right words at the right time. We wonder if the other person is even interested. To protect ourselves from possible rejection, we evade opening up through various clever means.
The sneaky way introverts avoid opening up
One of our favorite ways to avoid sharing our secrets is by keeping the conversation focused squarely on the other person. We pepper our conversation partner with questions, partly because we’re genuinely interested, and partly because we want to deflect the spotlight.
We might even endure boring small talk, which we despise, if it means avoiding opening up about ourselves.
Believe me, I’ve been there.
I’ve used all of the above tactics to sidestep sharing personal information about myself. But one of my all-time favorite ways to avoid opening up was to choose friends who would never give me the opportunity to do so. You know the type …
We introverts often attract and accept chatty extroverts who aren’t so great at listening. This gets annoying after a while, but it also keeps us safe and comfy in our cocoon of secrecy.
Because, of course, opening up would make us vulnerable. We would be risking judgment, rejection, and ridicule. Some of us may fear that the other person will use our secrets against us in the future. The bottom line is that many of us lack an essential ingredient for opening up.
How to open up, step 1: Trust
Opening up to another person — whether he or she is a lover, friend, or family member — involves a lot of trust. We have to trust ourselves enough to know that we can handle whatever reaction results. And we have to trust the other personal enough to believe that they will handle our disclosures with care and acceptance.
Again, easier said than done.
As an introvert myself, who has personally coached and taught hundreds of introvert students and clients, I know that the struggle is real when it comes to knowing how to open up. I also know that it can be so much easier if you follow the steps I share here.
Step 2: Allow yourself to fumble and fail
“There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. … Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Opening up and getting vulnerable with another human does not usually go as smoothly as it does in our head. This is normal! Life isn’t scripted. We need to give ourselves permission to fumble our way through the tough conversations, as we learn how to open up.
In fact, studies have shown that sharing your flaws makes you more likeable. People who seem too perfect come off as intimidating and inauthentic. When you allow yourself to share your imperfections in an imperfect way, you’ll start making more genuine connections. It’s like this:
I went to a new gym the other day and I tried out a piece of equipment I’d never used before. It was actually just a tilted mini trampoline that you throw a medicine ball at, which it then shoots back for you to catch. Ideally you catch the ball with your hands, and then just keep throwing. That’s not what I did.
After the first throw, I caught the ball with my face. It was embarrassing, and painful. But I decided to keep going because I knew that I’d get better. Gradually, I realized that if I threw the ball out from my chest, it naturally bounced back to the same spot, instead of slamming me in the face (which only happened the one time, thankfully).
When we open up to someone new, we need to be okay with a few awkward exchanges, as well as the occasional hit of rejection. Eventually, we find the sweet spot that creates a true heart-to-heart connection, without knocking us over.
The catch is that we have to be willing to take that first shot, even if we fumble, and feel like we’re failing. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that you have to share all your secrets right from the get-go. This brings me to my next point.
Step 3: Take a gradual approach
Many of us introverts are all-or-nothing people. We either dive deep into a meaningful conversation, or we stay quiet. When it comes to opening up to someone new, revealing too much at once can be jarring.
Let’s get one thing straight. Opening up does not necessarily mean throwing open the gates of your soul, and letting all your fears, and emotions fly out. That can be overwhelming, both for you, and the other person. Here’s what to do instead:
Gradually share more about who you are and what’s important to you. Your personal preferences are a great place to start. This sounds straightforward, but many introverts, myself included, resist sharing even the most basic information about ourselves unless we are explicitly invited to do so.
Go ahead and share your likes and dislikes without invitation. Later, you can share relevant stories and experiences. This is where you’re actually one step ahead of the average extrovert.
Many especially chatty extroverts seem to talk just for the sake of talking. A lot of what they share does not add any real value to the conversation. Because introverts choose our words carefully, we tend to naturally edit out irrelevant experiences.
To get even better at sharing only the most interesting and relevant stories, focus on experiences that excited, annoyed, intrigued, or touched you. Distinct emotions and imagery are the key ingredients. At the same time, look for common ground in what the other person shares. For example, if they love animals, talk about your own experiences with animal friends.
The important thing is to see the conversation as a step-by-step descent into more personal topics, rather than a free fall into your deepest, darkest secrets.
Step 4: Break down your walls
“Can one mask love another? Does a mask know how to communicate? Everything the mask says and does is for the purpose of hiding. But true communication is for the purpose of love. Each time we go to dokusan the implied question we are facing is: How much of your mask are you willing to relinquish? How much fresh air will you let into your life?” – Brenda Shoshanna, Zen and the Art of Falling in Love
Some of us are great at letting people in up to a certain point. But there is an invisible wall around our flaws, fears, dreams, and past hurts. We surround these parts of ourselves with prickly thorn bushes, which only the bravest people can navigate. This keeps us feeling safe, but there’s a problem.
Most people won’t bother fighting their way through our walls. We need to create some kind of entryway for them. Even a sliver of an opening will do. The key to letting down your guard is becoming comfortable with the aspects of yourself and your past that you are secretly ashamed of.
This is a multi-step process, which I go into in more detail in my confidence and connection courses for introverts, but the first step is simple.
Look your flaws and insecurities in the face. Call them out by name. Sit with them without running, or fixing, or judging. Be a parent to them, rather than a prison guard. See how this feels.
Next, download my free Introvert Connection Guide for step-by-step guidance on how to create meaningful friendships as an introvert.
Most importantly, know that you DO indeed having something of value to share with those around you. As an introvert, you’re brimming with inner jewels that the right people will treasure. Let them see a glimpse of your shining interior world, and you’ll be amazed at the magic that follows!
Over to you
Do you find it difficult to know how to open up? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please do share in the comments below. 🙂