Oct 082017 12 Responses

This Bad Habit Is Killing Your Relationships

Few things are universal, but there is a bad habit in relationships that is universal. We learn it at an early age. It’s unknowingly modeled to us by our first caregivers and then intentionally instructed to us by our earliest teachers. Yet even if we were raised in perfection, this bad habit would still be our greatest struggle because this tendency is as much the result of nature as it is of nurture.

We hide. That’s our problem when it comes to relationships. Yes, we have other problems, but none as prevalent or damaging as this. Anytime we feel threatened or ashamed (and often we feel both simply because of our past and not as a result of anything presently at play) we run from others.

Running from others is not always the wrong move. In many situations, we should run away. When others are emotionally or physically abusive, when they have violated trust, when it’s reasonable to doubt their kindness or good intentions, running away from others can be appropriate. However, in most situations we don’t run as a result of discernment, we do so as a response to fear. And it kills our connections with others. (See: 4 Lies to Never Tell Your Spouse)

Why Do We Hide?

Hiding is the natural human response to shame. While the immediate meaning of the English word shame means “to blush,” an earlier ancestor meant “to cover.” It ties into the story of our first parents. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they felt shame. In response to that shame, they covered themselves, ran from God, and attempted to hide. We do the same.

We hide because we think that if the source of our shame is seen by others, they will reject us. Fearing disconnection, we disconnect. The ridiculousness of that sentence should reveal how foolish our natural tendency is, yet we continue to repeat the behavior. Desperately needing connection, we disconnect from others when we ASSUME they will disconnect from us. Our greatest fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, we don’t realize that hiding will create disconnection. We think it’s preventing it. We believe that as long as we keep the source of our shame hidden, we can continue to relate to others. What we fail to realize is that our hiding kills our relationships.

What Hiding Does to Relationships

At a minimum, hiding strips our interactions with others of authenticity and realness. Whenever we are hiding integral parts of our heart, we are not truly interacting with others. We appear engaged, but we aren’t. Hiding demands energy. Whenever we are focused on not revealing ourselves to others, we do not have the ability to truly see the hearts, minds, and souls of others. We are so focused on hiding ourselves that we can’t truly see anyone else.

Even as we are hiding, others are often hiding as well. This means a good number of relationships consist of one person concealing their true selves attempting to interact with someone else who is concealing themselves as well. Our relationships are often two fake people trying to interact with the fake persona of one another.

Beyond the minimum worst-case scenario, hiding is regularly associated with other destructive behaviors. One way to hide our shame is to point the spotlight of shame on other people. To cover our weaknesses, we scream “Hey, look at the mistakes that person is making.” Of course, this shaming of others just further convinces us we must do everything possible to hide our shame.

The result is a splintering effect. We don’t just quietly run and hide from others, sometimes we do so violently and loud. We take our shame out on others. We embarrass, embellish, and erupt. Instead of loving others, we use them in the midst of our own charade. Hiding prevents our relationships from being real. So even when they feel warm, loving, and kind, we know it’s a mirage because we assume if the other person truly knew who we were those relationships wouldn’t have those strong traits.

A New Habit Your Must Develop

When an alcoholic takes a drink and they know they shouldn’t have, they are tempted to tell no one and vow never to do it again. Of course, they will do it again unless they get help. What a recovering alcoholic knows is that if they take a drink they must tell someone and preferably they will tell someone as soon as they are tempted to take a drink. The difference between active addiction and recovery is whether or not one tells their secrets to another. (See: Secrets Kill–Choose Life Through Honesty)

This is a habit you must develop. In order to have a meaningful connection with others, you must learn to turn toward others rather than to run from them. You must learn to reveal yourself rather than hide. This takes courage.

Our temptation is always to hide. We often hide by running. So instead of having the tough conversation, we bury our emotions or allow them to erupt, some stay silent while others yell, but we all hide. Instead, we must learn to calmly and confessionally communicate our thoughts, feelings, fears, and failures.

How to Turn Toward Others

As we turn toward others we must do so wisely. We should turn:

With Discernment. Not everyone is trustworthy. Not everyone deserves our unfettered heart. While everyone should be treated kindly, I would not be completely transparent with each person you know. My heart is valuable and cannot be fully given to whomever I come in contact with. Only after someone has proven himself kind, faithful, and true can I fully run to them.

With Courage. While we shouldn’t foolishly turn toward everyone, we should have the courage to turn toward people more than we desire. We should be willing to risk rejection. When in doubt, too much vulnerability is better than too little. It’s better to run toward people and experience some pain than to run from everyone in an attempt to avoid all pain.

With Imperfection. Only God is perfect. We must be gracious with ourselves and others. When we fail to be vulnerable, we must recognize it and choose a different action. When others fail to treat our vulnerability as they should, we must be understanding of their failure. When others show vulnerability toward us, we must protect their hearts. But even when the whole process fails, we must keep trying because connection trumps isolation.

 Without conscious choices, we will turn away from others rather than toward them. But as we see our failures and learn new ways to relate, we will come to believe that turning toward others is risky but worth it. We will know that there is no healing in hiding.

12 Responses to This Bad Habit Is Killing Your Relationships
  1. The Baby Mama Reply

    Wow! Just wow… Throughout both my blogs you’ll read about how tired I am of hiding. I hide mostly because I am embarrassed of who I am. It has taken me literally years to pluck up the courage to show even a tiny bit of who I truly am. And even when I do, I show who I am – then quickly retreat. But when I have, I have been pleasantly surprised at the results. People are for more kind and loving than what I expected them to be, even more than what I am to myself. And although I fear its all a little too good to be true, making that connection with someone – especially my spouse – is so great. It brings about a fulfilment that I don’t ever recall feeling ever in my youth. It still scares me – but I am definitely working on it!!

  2. Rod Reply

    I have great relationships with virtually everyone except my wife. I read this article hoping to find some nugget of wisdom or insight to make improvements in that relationship. However, I completely don’t get the point of this article…is there some barrier in my understanding that this just doesn’t connect? “Don’t hide”…”turn to others”…just don’t relate to it. Anyone else?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Sorry, Rod. Never every article hits every person. One thought–if you have great relationships with everyone but your wife, the temptation is to assume she is the problem (not saying you are doing this). Instead, I would consider that marriage is a much more intimate relationship than any other. It could be that the intimacy of a marriage is more difficult or scary. I would seek counseling to figure out why the connection with your wife is difficult.

  3. Niki Reply

    Wow, this one must be Pinned and read several times. Great, deep stuff here, Kevin. Thank you for making us think deep.

  4. Disappointed Reply

    I realise hiding can kill a relationship, but what happens when you turn to your spouse, and what you get is criticism and judgment for failing yet again? I know my spouse is not perfect either, but I am tired of disappointing my SO. I would like him to be the one person in my life I don’t disappoint.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      It’s a big issue. Need to get help on it. Life can dramatically change when the two of you create new patterns.

  5. Staci Reply

    I cannot begin to tell you how this article spoke to me. I am someone who isolates and hides. I have friends, a handful and out of that handful only 2 truly know me and my struggles. I’ve dealt with shame my entire life and at the age of almost 44 I am tired of living this way. This article was spot on for me and really made me think. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  6. So sad Reply

    My husband has a strong stance that “ALL emotions are chosen.”
    He found and pointed out to me your article “You Hurt my Feelings” from January 2014, which backs him up and absolves him of any responsibility for my feelings. I challenge him with “The Golden Rule”, and he says that you “treat others the way you want to be treated” ONLY because “it’s the right thing to do.” Why, though? I don’t understand treating other people as you want to be treated except in the context of “I know what makes me feel good, and I want you to feel good too.”

    I just don’t understand. Kevin, how do you reconcile the concepts of “You can’t hurt my feelings” and emotional abuse, which you acknowledge in the above article? Please clarify.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Sounds like your husband has forgotten one important concept–you have every right to say I’m choosing to feel hurt by what you have done because what you have done is wrong. You own it the feeling, but he has to own the actions.

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