“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.” ~ Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc.
We live in a culture in which self-revelation and the exposure of our inner feelings is often perceived as being inappropriate and of making us dangerously vulnerable to the judgments of others.There are certain risks involved when we expose intimate, personal feelings and thoughts to others, and we certainly don’t recommend unconditional exposure of intimate personal thoughts and feelings to everyone that we meet. The revealing of such experiences requires a certain degree of discretion and discernment in assessing another’s trustworthiness when it comes to their ability to respect and appreciate information about ourselves that we have share with them. The set and setting of our relationship is also an important aspect of the the degree of revealing that we choose to do with them.
In a setting in which sharing personal feelings is inappropriate, such as when making a transaction at a bank or in getting technical support for a computer issue, making reference to one’s fear of abandonment, probably would bring about a different response than it would if they were to bring the subject up with someone with whom they had a close relationship. In a relationship in which there is an intention and mutual desire on the part of both parties to promote understanding and closeness, it is generally a good rule of thumb to “reveal, rather than conceal.” Most of us have the tendency to conceal personal information, sometimes even to our closest confidantes. This habit becomes our default mode when we practice it over time. And habits are heard to break.
Even when we consciously desire more closeness and intimacy in our primary relationship, revealing intimate details of our experiences can feel unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable.There are, however some real benefits in breaking the withholding habit, and some potentially problematic consequences to the tendency to continue to default to concealing. Bringing greater transparency and authenticity into relationships promotes feelings of enhanced trust, goodwill, intimacy ,mutual appreciation, honesty, integrity, warmth, and gratitude. Choosing to conceal rather than to reveal diminishes these feelings and also does damage to the foundation of the relationship which depends upon the reciprocal and honest sharing of both partner’s inner experience.
This does not mean that we need to share every thought that pops into our mind and every emotion that we have. Even if that were possible, which it is not, that would neither be necessary or beneficial.Even in our closest relationships, we need to be discerning as to which experiences to share and which to keep to ourselves. When we are more concerned about getting approval or agreement than we are about integrity and truthfulness, we’ll be more likely to opt to conceal. The difference between concealing and revealing is in the nature of the criterion that we use to make that call. Concealing has to do with an intention to withhold information in order to control another’s impression of us or to have them see things our way. The criterion that we use in deciding how to relate is is based upon our assessment of how the other person’s perception will affect us personally. When we relate from a commitment to our relationship, we are more likely to choose to reveal. Another way to put it is that when our image-conscious ego is running the show, we are more likely to default to concealing. And when we do, the result will probably be a diminished level of mutual respect trust, and good will with our relationship.
One of the primary distinctions between a good relationship and a great one is the degree of intimacy experienced by both partners. Revealing our inner experience will expose our innermost thoughts and feelings, and will enable others to see and feel into us and with us. This requires a willingness to risk vulnerability. The root of the word “intimacy”, which we define as “in-to-me-see”, comes from the Latin “intimus” which means, “innermost”. When we feel secure within ourselves and safe enough in our relationship to reveal, the possibility of authentic and deep connection grows exponentially. Opportunities to make this choice occur on an ongoing basis. Other choices that are available to us are whether to accept or reject, to express or repress, and to connect or protect. We are not suggesting that it is always preferable to do the former and not the latter. Not all relationships are sufficiently respectful and safe enough to share our innermost experience.
Authenticity and exposure is fine, but it needs to be balanced with discernment and discrimination because some people may not be able to appreciate or respect our authenticity. Although the idea of sharing your experience may sound like a good idea, there can be a huge gap between an idea and the taking of an action that embodies it. That gap is usually characterized by a willingness to risk something. In this case the risk is one of vulnerability. In dropping the defense of concealment, we are exposing the truth that lies below our protective image. This leaves us vulnerable to possible rejection, disapproval, or punishment from others. But as with most risks, there are potential benefits to our willingness to take them. The greatest of those benefits is that what we stand to gain is a relationship characterized by truth, authenticity, respect and loving commitment. Such a relationship not only enhances the quality of our life and the lives of others with whom we are closely connected, but the good will that it generates spills over to the lives of countless others, many of whom will pass their gratitude and happiness on to others, ad infinititum.
And so, yes, you do have a choice, and it’s yours to make. Not just once and for all, but in any moment of your life. So next time you notice that choice in front of you, don’t automatically go to the default of concealing. Don’t go on automatic at all. Just take a moment to pause, take a breath, and look inside to see what you really want at this particular moment and choose. You probably will sometimes choose to conceal, and if you do, see if you can forgive yourself. And sometimes you will choose to reveal, and when you do, see if you can acknowledge yourself for taking a risk that could have inconceivable repercussions in your life, in your relationships and in the world. And then make your choice.