Do You Expose Yourself to Everyone? How to Reclaim Your Emotional Dignity


Here's a scenario that might sound familiar. You have a problem or worry. Maybe you are angry at your spouse, or you've done something embarrassing, or you feel particularly insecure. So you pick up the phone and call a friend. You are feeling vulnerable and unsure, so you spill the beans. You lay it all out there. You expose yourself emotionally.

I am an emotional stripper.

If something is going on in my life, those close to me (and even some total strangers) know every gory detail. I feel agitated until I can verbalize my inner churnings and bounce my thoughts off another person. I need that emotional and verbal give and take to process the situation. Most of the time, these conversations are just what the doctor ordered, especially when I'm sharing with a dear and trusted friend.

But boy oh boy, that unfettered emotional regurgitation can really backfire on you if you are not careful.

(A little aside here first. If you are  a man reading this, you might see this as a problem/situation exclusive to women. Women talk. Men clam up. But please read on, as I think this will be useful for you, particularly if you have an emotional stripper in your life.)

The downside of being an emotional stripper is the potential for getting really hurt. Inevitably, you will encounter people who don't share your open heart or who view your exposed underbelly as an opportunity to draw a little blood — or at least to gain some level of emotional control. For someone who is real, open and emotionally trusting, this can come as quite a shock.

Here are some of the types of people who can strip your dignity and take advantage of your vulnerability:

The Emotional Voyeur

This is someone who enjoys hearing juicy gossip or looking into someone's soul out of fascination or curiosity. They might feign real concern, or even feel some real concern, but at some point you feel a shift from an engaged listener to a peeping Tom. You feel more like a sideshow than a friend.

The Teaser

The teaser is a person who is a fair weather friend. When things a going great, they are right by your side. But if your life becomes difficult or you go to them for help, they quickly become unavailable or uncomfortable. You don't feel safe to share the full spectrum of your life and emotions with them.

 

The Stonewaller

You share everything with this person, but they open up very little of themselves to you. They might be great listeners or give useful advice, but they create a dynamic of power or superiority by closing their own life off to you. This person becomes less of an equal friend or partner and more of a counselor or even a Svengali. You might feel manipulated or controlled.

The Fixer

The Fixer might be very well-intentioned, but they don't give you space to think through an issue and come to your own conclusions. They seem to know the answer for you and want to provide the solution. Sometimes we may want someone to offer a fix for us, but most of the time, we just want to be heard. The Fixer can make us doubt ourselves and our own judgment. We feel confused.

Are you living with an emotional abuser? Click here to get your free Emotional Abuse Test. Find out your personal score.

The Bait and Switcher

This is someone who invites and encourages you to share what's on your mind. Once you've presented the issue and laid yourself bare, they find a way to claim the problem as their own — but worse. Instead of listening, they seize the opportunity to present their latest crisis. You leave this conversation still burdened by your own concern, but now irritated and further overloaded by the bait and switch.

The Gossip

The Gossip is a close cousin of the Emotional Voyeur. A Voyeur often can't wait to share your salacious tidbits with others, even if they've promised to be discreet. Somehow they let it slip or say something to another person out of “real concern” for you, but mostly because of the delectable power a secret-bearer carries. It's just too good to hold in. The Gossip will use any irritation with you as justification for spreading your stuff. When this happens, you feel used and betrayed. Your trust is undermined.

The Wounder

The Wounder is a Gossip on steroids. The Wounder is either deeply wounded themselves or just plain mean, and they have no qualms about using the private information you entrusted with them as a way to hurt you. They will throw it back in your face, share it with others, or dismiss it as drivel. Not much is sacred with a Wounder — they will lash out like an animal when threatened or hurt and go right for the jugular. This is the deepest and most shocking of hurts.

If you are emotionally over-exposed like me and have been hurt by one of the characters listed above, you can learn strategies for protecting yourself while still getting your emotional needs met.

One or two bad experiences might have made you wary of sharing too much of yourself, but it has taken me a long time to learn that there should only be a handful of people with whom you can stand completely naked and vulnerable.

Here are some of the lessons I've learned:

1.  Develop a relationship with a really good counselor. They are required to keep your confidence and are trained to listen and respond in appropriate and emotionally healthy ways. Plus, they are not personally involved with you.

2.  Know your friends really well before you share. I have had the temptation to share something in a crisis with someone who happened to be handy and available. It takes self-control, but wait. Wait until you are with a person you trust without reservation. Then you won't have regrets.

3.  Share sparingly with developing friendships. Trust must be established over time. You build trust by mutually sharing and honoring the information that you share with each other. As time goes on, you may begin to feel more trusting and more willing to open yourself to this person.

4.  Be trustworthy yourself. You can't expect others to treat your problems and secrets with dignity if you don't do that for them. Don't gossip about other people to your friends. Err on the side of reserve if you don't know whether information is or isn't private.

5.  Forgive an indiscretion or two. But after that, call it quits on sharing info with this person. We have all gossiped and revealed things we shouldn't have, but a history of this behavior is fair warning that you are going to get burned. Don't keep going back for more.

6.  Learn some self-coping techniques. I get all discombobulated if I can't talk to someone when I have a problem. But when a trusted friend or counselor isn't handy, I've learned other ways to coach myself through a situation. I journal, write down pros and cons, ask myself coaching questions and write the answers,  or distract myself with exercise. I have even had an imaginary conversation with my deceased mom, who always listened and gave great advice.

If  you are authentic, open, and trusting, nurture those beautiful qualities. Many people will be attracted to you because you are warm and real and wear your heart on your sleeve. But those same qualities also can leave you exposed to others who don't share your tenderness. Protect this unique side of yourself by creating boundaries, developing deep friendships with trustworthy people, and by being the kind of friend to others that you want for yourself.

 

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Comments

  1. Barrie, you offer phenomenal advice here! A counselor and/or trusted friend can be a safe haven – I’m still leaning to keep quiet or contained since I tend to speak before I think – and when shared with the wrong person it can be quite an awful experience.
    .-= Aileen Mahoney´s last blog ..Kaizen Vision Guest Appearance at Live Bold and Bloom =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Aileen,
      I’m so glad you like it. I’m still working on being quiet and contained! I’m trying to remember that I can treat my own confidences with the same dignity that I would offer one of my friends.

  2. Great advice, Barrie. I too tend to be an emotional stripper, but I’ve learnt to talk only to a few – very few! – trusted friends.
    Counsellors are an option, as you say – at least they have to keep what you say confidential! But I had a bad experience with a counsellor when I was in my twenties – she listened and then started listing all my mistakes/faults in a very patronising way. I didn’t go back, obviously, but it wasn’t a nice experience…
    I prefer talking to a trusted friend, and if I can’t, I pour everything over a journal. And exercise works, too.
    .-= Cristina´s last blog ..Style-guide of the week- pillows- cushions and fabric =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Cristina. What would we do without our trusted friends? I am so glad you have someone who respects your confidences. A bad counselor is almost worse than a gossipy friend. You gave them money to let you down. I’m sorry you had that experience. There are good ones out there — so don’t give up on it if you ever need it. 🙂

  3. Offbeat Woman says:

    Great post Barrie! I am also guilty of emotional stripping but having been scalded a few times I have learnt! It is amazing to watch the voyeuristic gossipy type’s eyes light up when they think they have a really juicy morsel. I think it’s best to keep your problem sharing to family or friends who are so close that they are almost blood tied to you. I also agree with you about exercising being a help…maybe mowing the lawn or a long tramp through the woods or on the beach shouting at the sea. Quite often by the time you get back home there is no problem to share and you feel as if you’ve shaken the monkey off your back all by yourself! :0)
    .-= Offbeat Woman´s last blog ..A Brief Guide To Going Over The Edge =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I love the idea of “shouting at the sea” to shake the monkey off your back! That’s exactly what it feels like sometimes! Thank you for your wonderful comments. I can’t wait to read your guide to going over the edge! Great title. 🙂

  4. What a wonderful guide Barrie.

    You have really touched on something few people admit. I too have experienced someone taking advantage of my emotional vulnerability. It’s as though they receive some sort of entertainment from this. I’m learning to listen to my inner wisdom and stay clear of toxic people who only what to take pleasure in my shortcomings.

    Thanks for sharing a helpful and powerful post.

    Alex

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Alex,
      I really appreciate your sharing that. I am glad you have become more discerning, and I am learning to be as well. Thank you for your kind comments as always.

  5. Tough life lessons for some of us. I often find it helpful to share, but regret it later. I think the regret comes from the loss of integrity – we know we crossed a line and talked about someone and that never feels good. I try to wait until I’m less invested emotionally and then talk reasonably to the person involved. Obviously, stripping feels a whole lot better in the short term. Great post, Barrie. Makes you really look at your motivations and your friends.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..If Babies Could Talk What Would They Tell You =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Katie,
      Yes, that self-control in the moment of need is hard to muster. But if you’ve been burned or felt that loss of integrity, it’s a good reminder to hold it in until you can talk with someone you really trust.

  6. I used to be the very same Barrie but I found that I became over emotional and prone to outbursts, happy and sad. People thought me a bit whimpy as anything used to set me off and I’d open right up and let the cat out of the bag. These days I’ve developed the ability to have a conversation with myself first and talk out what’s really going on. Now most situations are self-sorted without dramas. But I am happy to say that every now again when I have need of it I strip away a few layers and show some nakedness. My emotions aren’t worn on my sleeve anymore but I’m not so naked on display either. I’ve stripped myself bare and I’ve learned to like what I see.
    .-= John Sherry´s last blog ..Life Is A Search Engine =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Great comments John. Sometimes when we strip bare, we need to see tougher skin. That is the challenge for “emotional strippers.” Maybe we need to start an emotional strippers club!

  7. Quite an authentic article, Barrie! I’m not really sure what category I fit in, but I am grateful that I have you for my emotional stripping!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Dearest Jeanne,
      You don’t fit into any of those categories! You fit in to the old and trusted friend category. Also, the weird and perverted category, but that’s why I love you!

  8. Tess The Bold Life says:

    Barrie,
    You’re brave revealing you’re tendency for being an emotional stripper and the pitfalls of the journey. Hubs has listened to so many of my issues that I’ve never tell anyone else much. (This puts me in danger of the stonewaller). When it’s about hubs I usually have one person I talk too.
    I also find my journal my good friend. I was struggling with an issue with one of my adult daughters and as mad as I was at her I knew it was my issue! I bought the new book “The Shadow Effect” and along with my journal made my way through the entire book in three afternoons and at the end the issue was resolved and I was at peace. Great article!
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..Dreams and Bamboo =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Tess,
      It’s great to have a spouse with whom you can share so much. A journal is good too, but it doesn’t come with a hug! Thank you for the book recommendation. Can’t wait to check it out.

  9. I liked the article, but please be aware that emotional stripping can be wearing on friends and family. I’ve had friends (and relatives) who seem to ONLY share their innermost and personal feelings and troubles. This leaves me drained and strung out from OTHER people’s problems. Have times when you lighten up and give the other person a chance to share if they want, or to just keep things fun and “friendy”. If you can’t do that, please find a counselor to talk to. They’re paid to be objective and to be a shoulder to cry on without burning out from the stress of being a friend.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are so right — overburdening your friends is a risk when you choose to share. I guess when you see their eyes glaze over or they start backing out of the room, you know you’ve said too much! Great advice — thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  10. Great article.

    Not sure if I like the term “emotional stripper” perhaps “emotional revealer” may be more neutral. I think “stripper” is a negative thing and all sharing is not negative.

    To me, when you feel vulnerable, calling your friend is a sign of trust. It is NOT the same as TMI that you get (which is often casual and not emotional stuff but is really more of a problem than actual sharing of significant issues) in everyday life. From coworkers, strangers, celebrities, etc.

    If someone is in my life, it is a privilege for me to be entrusted with that information. That’s why, of course, I am amazed to see how others abuse that trust. laying yourself bare in front of strangers is nothing compared to opening yourself up to those in your life who you love and value.

    As someone who has very very selectively shared emotional topics with friends (and some family), I think your list of types that make you feel emotionally vulnerable is brilliant. Sad, but true, many of the people who claim to love you and care for you often do not care or do not want to hear. (Although how you can care for someone and not want to hear what they are thinking is beyond me.)

    To me, the most difficult is The Stonewaller. When you are sharing and need/want a response to what you are sharing because, say, it involves that very person (as when there are issues in a relationship) and they say nothing, it’s devastating. You feel worse and you do just shut down.

    The Stonewaller, if questioned as to lack of response, has a set of excuses (that they, of course, do not view them as excuses), some of which are:
    * I’m not a talker. (Really? How about when YOU have a problem and we listen?)
    * My background is not to either hear such information or comment on it. (Cop out. I’m in your life and vice versa. I’m asking for your thoughts, given with respect.)
    * I don’t know what to say. (WIth nothing before or after it. It’s one thing to say: I hear your pain or concern, but right now, I don’t know what to say. That is VERY different response.)

    Got nothing to say? How about: I can’t possibly know how you feel. Thank you for sharing. What can I do to help you in this?

    To D, who made the comment about emotional sharing being very tough on family and friends, there are definitely ways to minimize this. First, there is the issue of whether a friend needs professional help, in addition to, or as a replacement for, having friends/family listen.

    When stuff comes up repeatedly and you have already offered suggestions, support, etc., you do have to find a way to politely and respectfully suggest that it’s hard for you to hear this and also that you feel that you cannot help as you’ve heard this before. (You don’t have to say you dont’ want to hear it. That’s just cruel.) My friends and I have a line we use in these situations should we fall into them. It’s something like: Ok. This isn’t the first time you’ve vented on this. NOW…what do you want to do about it? Cause if you don’t want to do anything, we need to stop having this conversation. It’s too frustrating and fruitless for both of us.

    This works well with nobody taking offense, cause we’re not judging, just saying: Here is where we are.
    Second, you don’t have to take on the emotions. I’ve just spent the past year listening to two people who are going thru a great deal. Actively listening is something I can give and in doing that, rather than “relating”, I can offer what they may need (an ear, a sounding board, possible solutions, etc.) at that moment. At the least, I can give support by being there to listen, hear and respond, where necessary.

    By nature, I am empathetic. But I’ve learned that I’m more truly useful to another by not taking on their emotional cast, or over-relating to it. I try to listen as objectively and dispassionately as I can. I also accept that while I can offer suggestions, etc., I am NOT responsible for someone else’s life or pain and I cannot alleviate it.

    Once you give up your own ego in listening, and realize you neither can nor are responsible for, solving a problem, you can actually offer better support.

    I’ve found that barring someone having really serious issues, people who say that it’s draining to hear are those who perhaps over-empathize or frankly just don’t want to hear it. If you don’t want to listen, respsectfully, I suggest you address this issue upfront. If you don’t, it sets up an unhealthy dynamic that, guaranteed, will lead to a painful confrontation in the end. (Imagine if you are the person sharing and you find out somebody isn’t interested. You are more hurt by that than finding out, straight up, that this person does not want to hear it. You’ve been lied to, fooled, and embarrased. So be honest and tell someone you are not the person for them to share with.)

    To me, one of the greatest gifts of a very close friendship is the ability to open up and speak, without the listener judging you. I think there have been studies recently that showed that really sharing important stuff with friends is the sign of a strong friendship. (The study’s point was that casual conversation does not lead to closeness. But really opening up about what matters does.)

    To me, a close friendship is one where both parties have created an “environment” where it is a safe harbor to speak as needed.

    If you don’t feel that way about someone sharing in an appropriate manner (we’re not talking hysterical, middle of the night or other inappropriate times, with no respect for you and your life) is a part of a relationship, well, it is your loss.

    We share good times, but we bond by going thru fire, not light.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Wow Gemmond — you added so much more meat and valuable info to my post. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and wonderful advice. I totally agree, “we bond by going thru fire, not light.” Thank you so much for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I hope you will visit and comment again!

  11. Barrie,

    I really like the post. Is has a lot of value to apply to any relationship. I know for myself, I don’t have trouble sharing my emotions with those close to me, though it is really important to know someone is listening and willing to consider my ply. There is nothing worse then telling someone a very important part of your life, and them just disregarding it as if they cared less. I know that this is something I am certainly working on in my relationships. If someone shares something emotionally important with me, I do my best to validate what they said and let them know I was listening. A difficult situation can be made worse by just telling someone to “get over it,” when it really is impacting to them. Thanks for the post!
    .-= Joe Wilner´s last blog ..Feeling Tense How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety through Breath Work =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Joe,
      Thank you for being willing to share your struggles with sharing! I think women tend to do this more easily. Unfortunately, men are encouraged to hold things in lest they look unmanly. Finding someone who treats your confidences tenderly and with dignity is so important for emotional health I think. Otherwise our struggles come out in other less healthy ways — anger, self-medicating, anxiety, etc. Sounds like you are a good listener too! I really appreciate your comments Joe.

  12. Thank you for this post. I identified so many of my girlfriends and my husband in the “types” you described. I think it’s so healthy to identify them when you aren’t in an emotionally charged position. It makes it so much easier to understand their reaction/actions when life gets dramatic.

    Having many friends who have taken advantage of getting guidance from professionals, the safety and discretion you get in that environment is wonderful. I feel it’s such a needed industry especially for women.

    Many, many thanks again for your writing.
    Ms. Mig

  13. Hello Barrie, i am just now getting acquainted with your website and found this page in particular very helpful and interesting. I see others commented 4 years ago! I can tend to be an “emotional stripper” though these last few years, i’m very aware of it and try to stop myself. I have the “gift” of introspection, and so i know that i can unload too much on certain people. I have only 2 people in my life whom i would call “best friends”. One of them is herself a Registered Psychologist, and she and i share quite a lot. However, this past year or so i’ve found that she has taken several steps back, away from me, and so i can see that perhaps i have overdone it with her, to the point where she has stood me up for telephone dates (we don’t live in the same cities). This weekend, i am travelling with my family to her city, and i emailed her well in advance to ask if she would join us for lunch, and she has simply ignored my invitation. I have not heard back from her. I waffle between emailing her again to re-invite, and then i’m upset at her. In the past, she was what you have termed “The Stonewaller” – she did not open up to me for a very long time. I sense that she is returning to this stance. So my caution is this: leopards usually do not change their spots. Anyway, Barrie, i really am enjoying reading your website, have gained a lot of new knowledge and understanding, and am very appreciative of your help 🙂

    • Hi Marilyn,
      Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your story. Self-awareness is the first step toward growth and change. Maybe you can write you friend a letter and let her know your concern that you have over-exposed yourself with her and that you are willing to work on this. Let her know you value the friendship and would like to reconnect. Perhaps she will soften in time.

  14. You have no idea how much I needed this. I’m going to research more on how to completely reinvent myself. I’m so tired of being the way I am. Thank you!