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Icebergs make Titanic friendships


Dr Barton Goldsmith

What lies beneath ... friendships the develop over time are often stronger than those forged immediately.

What lies beneath ... friendships the develop over time are often stronger than those forged immediately. Photo: Stock image

People are like icebergs: they will only show you 10 per cent of who they really are. You have to do some deep investigation to learn about the other 90, and most of us never do.

Regardless of the circumstances - to the people with whom we work, to someone we're dating, to our teammates, and so on - we rarely show our vulnerabilities or what we are really feeling.

Being truly open can be a difficult way of life, but for some people, it is perfectly natural to wear their hearts on their sleeve. Those who do this are rare and confident individuals. When one shares feelings rather than expressing an opinion, it shows depth.

Unfortunately, most of us are uncomfortable sharing what is really going on for us. And that is both a good and a not so good thing. It is a circumstantial decision that we are constantly making. "How much should I really reveal?" is a question we all, whether consciously or unconsciously, ask ourselves. The answer is, it depends.

If someone makes you feel safe and comfortable, you will tend to be more open with that person unless you've been told that he or she is out to get you. Then you'll clam up emotionally and verbally. It's human nature.

If you want someone to be open with you, the best way to do it is to slowly show him or her more of who you really are. If you do this too quickly, you can come off quirky or, worse, someone who has poor boundaries. Generally, you will get back what you give out, unless you're too pushy.

You need to pace yourself when it comes to getting to know other people. We are all different. You may be someone who is comfortable sharing your life story, or you may be shy about revealing family secrets. Whichever the case, you have to be careful to filter your words and try not to give or get everything out in one sitting.

The longer you take getting to know someone else, the stronger your relationship can be. Friendships that develop over time tend to be longer lasting than those that move quickly.

It is also wise to check your expectations from the other person and take a look at their expectations of you as well. If we want something from another person that he or she is unwilling to give us, it will put a strain on the relationship.

Learning to respect someone else's limits is part of maturity; if you cannot do this, your ability to form and keep relationships may be diminished.

People tend to like others who like them, unless they sense something is inappropriate. If you think that someone you are involved with is backing off, politely and kindly ask if they want to talk about it. If so, you can discuss how to improve your connection. If they don't want to talk, however, don't push it. Wait for the right time. Your friend may just need a moment to think about things.

* Dr Barton Goldsmith is a California-based psychotherapist and author.



  • I think that for the modern man revealing what he really feels on a daily basis doesn't look very masculine or attractive at all. So I tend to keep those thoughts to myself, for better or worse. I'll only let people hear the positive feelings...

    Date and time
    August 13, 2012, 12:16PM
    • I think the key point is allowing people to see every side of you, at different times and depending on the social situation or context - but maybe not all at once, all the time or with all people. It shows that you're a real person and not just a walking stereotype of other people’s expectations of you. There are so many individuals with lots and lots of friends who never know the real person, underneath it all. I want people to know the real me, not some idealised version of me. Nobody can judge me unless they know me, unless they judge me by my actions. Confidence is being happy in your own skin and accepting you’re not perfect so it’s useless trying. The best thing and most unique thing you can be is you.

      Black Palm
      Date and time
      August 13, 2012, 1:29PM
  • I get pulverised either way.

    What this article is missing is that we need to respond appropriately to the situations without compromising who we are.

    I've been struggling with this recently and came to the conclusion it was due to a lack of mindfulness, that is, recognising what is actually happening rather responding to preconditioned patterns of expectation and either blathering idiotically or shutting down and appearing to sulk.

    So this article has good advice about how far you should or should not go but doesn't suggest a mechanism for how you either moderate or open yourself up or how you pick the right time, place and person to do this with.

    I've alienated tonnes of people whom I liked and respected by going too far over the top, mainly due to anxiety and panic.

    The advice here boils down to moderation, well I only do moderation to excess.

    What I'm trying at the moment is the practice of Mindfulness Meditation - I'm not far into it and I'm not sure how it will work but with my incessant mental chatter I'm finding it difficult equally though if can't be present in the situation then you can't read the boundaries or know how to pace yourself.

    Sure: moderation, caution, pacing, filtering, maturity - but - openness, sharing, confidence, connectedness: How?

    Saying be mature is the same saying as just grow up.

    People have good social instincts as well, they might not know to that you're trying to reprogram and resocialise yourself but will pick up on a gut feeling that you're weirder than usual.

    Anyway if you have spent a lifetime straining relationships, coming off as quirky, appearing to have boundary issues then something has to give and to protect others you might just have to give up yourself.

    Bob Rhino
    Date and time
    August 13, 2012, 12:44PM
    • The Mindfulness Meditation sounds like a good idea Bob. Openness and sharing are good, but just a little bit at a time. It's more interesting to find out about a person gradually. Someone you've only just met may not be interested in hearing your whole life story right away. I try to approach conversation with someone I've just met by trying to put them at ease, thinking about whether the other person seems to be enjoying the conversation or not (you can often tell by their body language and tone of voice) and trusting that if I have good intentions then what comes out of my mouth won't be offensive to them. If they seem to be taking issue with something I've said, I try to explain right away that I didn't mean to offend them and focus on some common ground.

      Date and time
      August 13, 2012, 1:03PM
    • Mindful meditation is like seeing the forest, rather than just the trees around you. I'm a strong advocate of it. Life changing stuff!

      Date and time
      August 13, 2012, 3:18PM
    • I think I know what you are saying, Bob. I am not sure that I know how to open up gradually and have boundaries. I either open up too much (quirky/trying "too hard") or get scared about opening up too much and so remain aloof (seeming uninterested even if I really like the person). I find this whole making friends thing very complex.

      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 6:03AM
    • Good luck with the mindfulness exercises. It does work if you persist. Once you strengthen those mental muscles sufficiently, all that mind chatter just falls away into the void and you can see the world, and other people, so much more clearly. As well, you'll find that the importance of defining and promoting "who you are" decreases as you spend more time in the now. Your true self is currently obscured by the artificial labels of identity that clamor so insistently in your inner thoughts. While such labels can be a useful tool in navigating social conventions, they will not help you to find your inner self. If, for example, you define yourself in your mind as an accountant, or a father of three, or a victim of some crime, or a person with such dark thoughts that nobody could ever love you, then your actions and experiences will be distorted by those beliefs, and you will never be able to see past them to the light of truth, let alone share a truly genuine interaction with others. So do away with the labels, jettison the need to pigeonhole yourself and everyone else, get rid of any mental baggage that does not contribute to the now. Instead, define yourself anew in every moment of the day, define yourself as a collection of living moments rather than static tags and labels, and you'll find your true identity.

      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 9:29AM
  • You have to be careful. Some people can seem to be really friendly and open, so you trust them and eventually confide something personal in confidence and then they use it against you by telling others (or threatening to).

    been burned
    Date and time
    August 13, 2012, 12:49PM
    • Well said! I thought the same thing when reading this article.

      I made quick friends with a wonderfully warm, friendly woman who was an enthusiastic open ear to all and everyone. She would casually pump everyone for all their intimate details and be really sympathetic and give the impression she would go to the grave with any intimacies divulged to her. Then I found out she was discussing my problems (minor financial and family issues) to her other friends who I didn't really know that well.

      I realised I had been foolish so I held my own counsel more often. She soon made it clear that she was frustrated with this and she announced one day in a churlish manner that "you know how emotionally closed you are" (I had once said that I thought I was emotionally untrusting of others due to childhood issues). I turned around and told her "well, you know, you once said you were emotionally manipulative, and you are" (she had once told me proudly she could manipulate men really easily by flirting even if she never had sex with them).

      The friendship never survived that little encounter. I learnt a life lesson - don't tell anyone anything you wouldn't want published on the front pages of a newspaper, even people whom you think you can trust. Sometimes the most friendly are wolf in sheeps clothing.

      Beware the manipulative
      Date and time
      August 14, 2012, 11:45AM
  • @been burned this has been my experience also especially in the workplace. I never talk about deep, personal stuff anymore. It always backfires on you eventually.

    Miss Demeanor
    Date and time
    August 14, 2012, 8:19AM

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