In light of the recent dissolution of a relationship I still value but cannot continue to engage in; I’ve been thinking a lot about openness lately. How people react to past dysfunctional relationship dynamics and how they perpetuate them.
I’m noticing a pattern to the experience of previous relationship pain. It seems to me that people, after a dysfunctional or to go further, abusive relationship, tend to react in one of two ways. (I’m sure, given the very ambiguous nature of existence, that it’s not that black and white but for this exercise, it’s going to be.)
First reaction: to become more open. To want openness and honesty. To crave that. It’s the reaction of saying too much, telling too much, not wanting to be the person who hides things. At it’s extreme, of radical honesty, at all costs.
Second reaction: to become less open. To withdraw. To want to keep things private. It’s the reaction of hiding, unconsciously closing off, not wanting to disclose. At it’s extreme, of lying, at all costs.
I’m seeing this pattern play out in several relationships, right now. The “Opener” vs. “Closer” interaction. I’m seeing that people with wildly opposite coping mechanisms for past pain are often attracted to the opposite, thus perpetuating a cycle of mistrust, on everyone’s part. I am an Opener. I abhor secrets, even as I can see the value in them. I am a queen of TMI. I have to be consciously mindful of not only my own privacy but of others.
It’s normal to have a pejorative response to the other’s reaction to their experiences. That Openers view Closers as inherently untrustworthy. Closers, I imagine, view Openers as not respecting privacy. It can be so difficult to appreciate another person’s coping mechanism and by not understanding that both reactions are valid, continuing the pattern of resentment and distrust.
What is the answer? How do we break out of these patterns — to stronger, healthier relationships? To finding a balance between being open and being closed? How do we keep our personal doors unlocked and yet still protect what is inside? I believe there are several ways to address this dichotomous interaction. The initial step is to let go of the idea that someone who reacts or copes differently from us is somehow negative. Then there is self-awareness (Am I an Opener or a Closer?) and convey that information to the person with whom we are attempting to relate. Hopefully they will have cognition of how they operate. From there it’s a matter of compassionately negotiating boundaries. What is acceptable disclosure? What is uncomfortable? How does each person involved define deceit? How open is the shared door and how open is each individual door? If these topics have been broached and agreements made, then much of the work is already done.
What I am learning from my current experience is that compassion is often the simplest solution to the big issues that arise between people. I forgive, not for someone else, but as a gift I give myself, so that I might grow from painful situations.