I was in a situation recently that caused my mindset to shift. I was asked a question which, to most people, was quite a standard, harmless conversation-starter. To me, however, it was actually quite personal and referenced a part of my life that I keep sheltered from most. I smiled and delivered my rehearsed, disengaged reply. Despite always detaching myself from chats like this, it still leaves me feeling somewhat guilty and shameful that I lied, even if it was a form of defence. This was a group situation and someone else was asked the same question. They were clearly unsettled by it and vocalised this by saying that that was where their boundaries lay and they didn’t feel comfortable answering. I was struck by their honesty and picked up on the respect everyone else had for them. No one pushed this person or made assumptions – they just let it go and took note to steer away from that area of their life in future.
In my head, I had always thought that saying ‘I’d rather not talk about that subject, to be honest’ would draw attention to myself and make feel really awkward. Whilst it definitely takes practice and a bit of learnt self-assurance, I realised how much better I would feel in myself if I followed in this person’s footsteps.
There are some things that I’m not even comfortable talking about anonymously. Even here I am using words like ‘talk about’ and ‘discuss’, but it feels more like ‘reveal’, ‘divulge’ or ‘disclose’. The topic at hand is information that you find sensitive and have concealed from a lot of people, potentially for a long time. There are socially sensitive topics that I’m very open with and will chat freely to most people about, unirked. On the other hand, the things that I keep private, I have heard others discuss uninhibited. This isn’t a matter of what is universally deemed as sensitive or not – it is down to you and your individual circumstances. They can be ok with their situation whilst I am not with mine. This does not mean that I should come to terms with it and be more than happy to talk to strangers about it – it just means that we are in different places. Maybe we’ve processed something similar in different ways or they’ve just had longer to process it than me. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is: my point is that we all have the right to not be ready – yet or ever!
There are no T&Cs around this right. It doesn’t have to have been a traumatic experience; it doesn’t have to have happened recently; you don’t have to tell your closest relations about it as a minimum. At the same time, you are allowed to wake up one day and randomly feel ready to talk. Healing or getting to a point of okay-ness happen at their own pace and you should not feel any pressure around this. If you would like support, reach out. If you feel you can healthily work through your thought processes and feelings in your own company, then give yourself the space to do just that. If you can work out how much you are comfortable sharing and with who, then this can be helpful for you to identify where your boundaries are right now so that you can respect these. These will naturally change over time so feel free check in and address any alterations at intervals you deem appropriate.
If someone asks you a question which pushes your boundaries, you have a choice about how you answer. You don’t have to choose between lying and divulging, as I once thought. You can actually just say ’I don’t want to go there’. This can be harder in practice, especially if you have people-pleaser tendencies. It may be uncomfortable to begin with and it would probably be helpful to prepare a follow-up question or statement that steers the conversation in a different direction. When I was younger, I used to feel I was in a safe space with most people, so I chose to divulge; as a teenager, I simply didn’t want to anymore, so I chose to lie. Now, I recognise that I can stop and just change routes altogether. I’m still practising this, and it doesn’t feel natural yet, but I come out of the conversation feeling like I was my authentic self and that’s important to me and my values.
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