Open and Close

Lots of evidence and experience back the ‘open is good’ position. I don’t want to deny any of this. I do want to say that it may not be the right position everywhere all the time.

Being shut out of a relationship can be painful. Whether it is unreturned phone calls, being looked through and ignored, or being told in no uncertain terms that someone no longer wants anything to do with us, it is painful.

Ignoring parts of ourselves can lead to foolish behaviour. Not taking account of our need to rest can lead to unrealistic goals. Ignoring our feelings and valuing only our thoughts will usually have a detrimental effect on our relationships. Not taking account of the childlike part of ourselves will often lead to a joyless experience.

Being closed out of relationships or closing our awareness to parts of ourselves is likely to be painful — which can lead to the position that ‘open is good’.

When we are open to others we can discover unsuspected gifts. We can be very pleasantly surprised. When others are open to us we are usually more relaxed and happy — we can be less stressed, and we don’t feel pressured to live up to the standards or ideals they have for us. When we are open to each other, there is the possibility for ‘magic moments’.

When we are open to all the parts of who we are, then we are likely to have more joy. The sense of all of us being involved in something is usually pleasurable — even if we are not focussed on the pleasure at the time. We may be enjoying ourselves so much that we are just focussed on what we are doing.

Lots of evidence and experience back the ‘open is good’ position. I don’t want to deny any of this. I do want to say that it may not be the right position everywhere, all the time.

With our relationships it can leave us open to exploitation. It seems to me that there are people who will exploit and take advantage of our vulnerabilities. There are people who seem to function without much of a conscience. I don’t mean that these are ‘bad’ people or that they can’t change. I do mean that they may be dangerous to us. To be open to these people may be a very bad idea.

To be open to all parts of ourselves may be a problem, too. In an emergency, we may need to ignore our feelings, or thoughts, our ability to generate alternatives, and much else in order to react quickly. A personal story: I was once cooking and spilt hot fat on my shoe, and I wondered whether the fat was hot enough to penetrate the shoe and still burn. Within a second or two I had the answer. As the blisters about half an inch high (about 1cm) between my toes reminded all that night, and for several days: this was not the time for disinterested observation. It was the time for instinctive action. I should have ignored my curiosity and just acted.

Likewise being open to all the information on a topic will probably lead us to paralysis. There is likely always to be fresh information coming, different perspectives, more to know. If we are going to take action, at some point we (at least temporarily) put an end to information gathering.

So it seems to me that being closed is helpful and advantageous sometimes.

It seems to me that life is a flow of opening and closing. When hungry we open ourselves to take in food, then close our mouth and chew, then stop eating and digest. We take in air and then stop taking it in and breathe it out. We engage with others and then take time for ourselves. We engage with our surroundings and then stop doing this to sleep (and if we don’t stop doing this we usually don’t sleep well). Living is a rhythm of opening and closing.

Which brings us to where the rubber hits the road: how do we know? We might be guarding ourselves from damage in a relationship or robbing ourselves of a whole new depth in it. We may be not eating a food we are uninterested in or excluding new and interesting foods. We may be getting on with what we need to do or have stopped short of learning a way of doing something that would have been so much easier and better.

What to do? Firstly, I don’t know everything, and it’s likely you don’t either. There are no guarantees. We probably won’t get it right all the time. We are destined to have more to learn. Personally I relish this, others may find it tiresome or anxiety inducing. I don’t think any of us really have a choice about it though.

Secondly, we likely know whether we tend to be overly closed or open. If we are unsure, our friends will probably have some ideas. It is likely that we are more open or closed in different situations, so it may be worthwhile getting opinions from people who know us in different ways.

Thirdly, we can observe our own experience. It is very likely we all have a sense of how we like to open and close in some areas of our life. Our breathing is pretty automatic — although we can control it. Our eating perhaps is more voluntary. Our relationships perhaps offer more choice again. In all of these things we can watch for the signals that we have had enough of being open and need to close, and then that we have been closed enough and need to open once more. Once we know how we do it in one area, it is possible to extend this to other areas too.

How to observe ourselves? For me the best way is to keep a journal and to write in it at least daily, about whatever I am observing. This is because words are how I understand. You can also use diagrams or drawings in a journal. If you are more into action and sensation then there are other ways: tuning in to body cues, establishing routines and then modifying them for instance.

What have you found about being open and closed? Do you prefer one or the other? Have you had trouble due to preferring one to the other? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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