Openness and Reservation: Understanding the Value of Both Disclosure Styles in a Relationship

I’ve read several blog articles lately on shyness and openness and how these impact both real world and blogging relationships.  I’ve continued to reflect upon these themes this past week as I watched “The Jane Austen Book Club” and “Pride and Prejudice-BBC version.”  An avid Austen fan (both the books and the movies), I understand that a characteristic of both her novels and the time period in which they are set, is the juxtaposition of restraint vs. openness; sound judgment vs. foolishness and prejudice; mistaken first impressions vs. insightful understanding of another.  And I marvel at the insight Austen reveals through her literature; that her themes are still applicable as evidenced by blog post discussions today is truly a testament to the ongoing nature of human relationships.

I am an introvert with a tendency towards shyness and social anxiety.  I have largely overcome the latter, having served in positions where I was required to have a public face and interact in very social settings.  Still, meeting new people can be very overwhelming for me, as I size up an individual and try to decide how to proceed in a relationship. Once I meet an individual, I assess their perceived genuineness and trustworthiness prior to disclosing, and I try to match my reserve or openness based upon their willingness to disclose and how safe I feel in the relationship.  With some people, I am quite open and honest; with others I am more reserved. I have made painful mistakes where I’ve assessed incorrectly, but more often than not, I’ve regretted being open when I might have taken caution in a relationship. With my blog, I’ve tried to err on the side of being reserved with some of my sharing, as I can’t see or experience who is reading or processing my disclosure to gauge how the relationship with an individual reader will unfold.   I sometimes worry that this inhibits the impact of my writing, as I limit personal revelation and sharing that might help me connect with others.

Many “shy” or “reserved” individuals describe a feeling of being misunderstood by others upon initial acquaintance.  They explain that shyness or reservation can be misunderstood as pride, snobbishness, aloofness, or superiority while in fact some shy individuals do long for social connection but are uncomfortable about opening themselves up through introduction.   Reserved individuals also may long for intimacy; they just may want to share themselves only with people who they trust deeply.  And true intimacy does take some time.

Here, I would like to differentiate here between shyness of approach and being reserved in general. While an individual can shy away from becoming acquainted with another out of feelings of discomfort, this is different than being an individual who is generally reserved and keeps feelings close to the chest.  While a shy person may find it difficult to approach others, once approached and feeling comfortable, many will be open and share with others.  A reserved person takes time to get to know; these individuals disclose less personally revealing information than those who are open with others.  A reserved person may be honest with what he or she shares, but may choose to share little unless they explicitly trust the other individual in the relationship dynamic.

This is what I find so difficult about the assessments that people sometimes make of a shy, reserved, or open personality.   People often assume that those who are “open” are honest, when really they may just be people who process everything verbally and in some cases indiscreetly.  People also judge those who are reserved, assuming that if nothing is shared, nothing exists to be shared, or that the reserved person finds his or her self superior to the open personality.   It may be true that open people share revelations that allow other people to feel more comfortable and accepting of their own difficult truths and that this openness may enable mutual sharing and relationship building to occur.  Openness in a relationship can keep harmful feelings from festering and can help clear up misunderstandings while reservation can create a feeling of uncertainty about how information will be received within a relationship.

But there is also value in reservation within developing friendships.  Reservation can protect an individual or a relationship from harmful or hurtful disclosure (from speaking without thinking).  Reservation can help people understand another and know the best way to approach a difficult topic. Reservation can allow individuals to build gradual and real trust that allows for deeper disclosure and keeps people from developing a false intimacy in which much is shared but much is secretly judged within the relationship.  Reservation can mean that a person is not constantly verbally dumping on another individual or drawing the relationship focus to his/herself in an inequitable manner.  People who are shy can be open or reserved when they progress with a relationship.  People who are open or reserved can be honest or manipulative with disclosure or withholding of disclosure.

We would do well to take a page or two out of Austen’s books when seeking to understand another individual.  A balance of both openness and reserve is important when building relationships and respecting the personalities of potential friends.  Reserved and gradual openness based on sound and honest mutual disclosure may be the best foundation for a long lasting intimate relationship.

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6 responses to “Openness and Reservation: Understanding the Value of Both Disclosure Styles in a Relationship

  • Shell Things (@shellthings)

    I’m definitely more reserved IRL. And have been called some not so nice names for it b/c I was misunderstood. But, it’s just the way I am.

    • Pamela

      I’m shy and reserved with people I can’t get a read on. And then excessively open with people I feel comfortable with. So I’m all over the place. I just think it is so interesting how what people disclose or don’t disclose can direct a friendship, and how misunderstandings (like those depicted in Austen’s books) can propel a relationship in the wrong direction. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sara (@mommysummers)

    I understand! I’m so not out going or loud nearly ever! It’s so wrong of people to assume you are being rude or something. I deal with this from my in-laws ALL the time.

  • becky gomez

    I’ve been there “shy and reserved” and being misunderstood as aloof, snobby, arrogant–but learn through time I can be open and reserved as I get to know a person gradually and establish a relationship. I (me) learned
    this through years of maturity, experience and self confidence.

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