How Can I Open Up to People?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Hi, I am 19 years old. One of my biggest problems is that i have a very difficult time being open and showing my emotions to anyone. I think it’s odd considering that I am a female, and women are supposed to be really emotional people. I’m more like a man in the sense of hiding any emotion whether it is happy, sad, angry, or excited.

I have an idea of why I act this way. Let me give you a little background of myself. I was raised by my great grandmother. My mother had me out of wedlock at a young age and was not ready to handle the responsibilities of motherhood. I’ve never met my father and I don’t know anything about him or his family.

While growing up I was living back and forth between my great grandmother and my mom and her husband. I think these circumstances contributed to my already shy nature. Not to mention that anger was a totally unacceptable behavior according to my great grandmother and I was always punished for showing it, not matter what age I was.

Ever since I can remember I’ve always been a very reserved person, always keeping things to myself. I was raised by all adults and rarely spent time with children my own age, considering I had no siblings, or cousins. This is why I’ve always been mature for my age. So considering that I was already a reserved type of person by nature, I think the unstable, confusing time of my childhood caused me to keep going deeper and deeper into my shell of solitude.

This problem has contributed to other problems in my life such as; an eating disorder that developed at age 14 and is still a daily struggle, my relationship with every single person in my family, the relationship with my boyfriend, and just day to day living. I feel like I have to be everything to everyone, live up to my families expectations instead of my own, and be perfect. I have intense fears of what people think of me, even strangers. I feel like I can’t live life normally.

I need to know what steps I can start taking to be more open with my feelings and to put aside the intense fears of what people think of me or my opinions. I just need to learn how I can be content with myself because I know I can’t please everyone and to be ok with the fact that not everyone is going to like me or approve of the choices I make. I’m so tired of hiding from everything; I just want to live life freely. If you have any suggestions, it would be really appreciated. Thank You.

A: Your letter shows you to be a remarkably insightful person for your age. You have put a lot of thought into the events that have shaped your life and what changes you would like to make as you launch into adulthood. Please give yourself a break. As a child you did what you had to do to get along and to please the big people who were in charge. Hiding emotions and acting more mature than you probably felt kept you safe. My guess is that you developed an eating disorder in order to feel like you were in control of at least something. It all makes a kind of sense.

Fortunately, we are not stuck with continuing the behaviors that were necessary in childhood. It takes effort, but people can give themselves a “personality transplatnt” if they want it badly enough. You’ve already found that the very tactics you used to stay safe as a child are getting in your way now. It sounds like you’re ready to confront your difficulties and make some changes.

One thing you can do is act “as if.” You are an excellent observer of people. Use that skill to watch people you think are more like the way you want to be. Then do a little role playing. Act as if you are like them. Believe it or not, by making a game of it and acting “as if” over time, you will start to incorporate those new behaviors. The song “Whistle a Happy Tune” is a powerful and fun statement about the usefulness of this technique. You can find several versions on Youtube. Let it be your theme song for awhile.

You might also find it very helpful to get involved with some group therapy. An effective therapy group gives its members a safe place in which to try out new behaviors and to get feedback from the other people. Rehearsing how you want to be in the group will help you get comfortable with sharing more of yourself.

I realize you are impatient with how you are feeling. Harness that impatience and direct your energy toward doing a little every day to make change. It will be difficult but, judging by your letter, you have the intelligence and motivation to try.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Mar 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). How Can I Open Up to People?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/03/24/how-can-i-open-up-to-people/