Real Talk: Four Types of Self-Revealing Personal Conversations that Lead to More Closeness and Calm

Several years ago much to my surprise a college senior who came to see me because of his ongoing issues with depression – and feeling profoundly lonely in spite of having friends – shared that he never had engaged in self-disclosure when talking with friends. What do you talk about?, I asked. We joke around, talk about news, our classes, our friends. Do people confide in you? Not really, he answered.

Many of us grow up in families where we talk about events and other topics but not about our feelings and internal judgements and evaluations and this has a huge impact on our sense of connection, feeling supported and our capacity to feel good within ourselves.

From birth the people in our life provide care that is soothing and calming. Our need for others to help manage and regulate our emotions and well being continues throughout our lives. Regular companionship and conversations is better than being isolated but there are particular kinds of conversations that get below the surface and are beneficial emotionally.

1. Venting – here we just tell someone about something that is troubling to us. We share our perspective and our feelings about an event or experience. The act of putting into words what happened and describing it from our own vantage point can be an act of letting someone into our inner world so we feel less alone in our experience. The feeling that someone is with us in it can be very comforting in and of itself. Often we discover that people can relate to and understand both how we are feeling and why. It can feel good to feel heard.

2. Confession – in this type of self-disclosure we admit some deeply held experience, feeling or belief that we don’t often share and that perhaps carries some shame or vulnerability. We often are afraid that the things we don’t want to reveal will cost us someone else’s esteem of us. There can be enormous relief and freedom in revealing and sharing these deeply concealed thoughts and feelings and finding out that others can be supportive and accepting of us even with this new knowledge.

3. Between Us – this can be the most challenging of self-disclosures and usually requires the most skill. It often requires some training to learn how to bring up the interpersonal conflicts that inevitably arise in closer relationships where we discuss misunderstandings, disappointments, hurt feelings, annoyances that can come up. When managed skillfully, these types of conversations can lead to more mutual insight, understanding and a feeling of being cared about and for in the relationship.

4. Exploration and problem solving – this is the type of conversation when we request help in solving a problem, often one that has an emotional component. It can be so comforting to feel that someone else can help us figure something out. This kind of conversation can help us feel less overwhelmed by opening us up to incorporating other ideas and perspectives. Where we might have felt stuck in a particular problem or emotion we now have new options – which can feel very freeing. The kind of self disclosure and process also leads to more closeness with the person who we are talking with.

All of these types of real talk are present in good therapy. Learning how to have these types of conversations with the people that matter in our real life is essential to overcoming loneliness and to feeling that we have close relationships that bring more meaning, comfort and calm to our lives.1

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