Do you have someone in your life with whom you “just don’t go there?”
We’ve all experienced a compartmentalized conversation at some point. Usually, it shows up like a taboo topic that’s not really taboo, yet you can’t discuss it with a certain person in your life. Perhaps you skirt around politics when chatting with your parents, or avoid anything remotely sexual when talking with your ultra-religious neighbors, or maybe you don’t mention words like “chakra” or “intuition” when talking with anyone at work.
I have a friend who went to great lengths to avoid anything even remotely related to fuel or automobiles when talking with her in-laws. “If you give them any opening at all, they’ll spend hours discussing the price of gas and how expensive it is, and I just can’t stand to hear them go on and on about something so trivial!”
There are a number of reasons why we tend to avoid certain topics around certain people. Most of us want to peacefully go about our day, so we’re not inclined to strike a match too close to a powder keg. Likewise, we’d rather not subject ourselves to an opinionated lecture or sermon, be bored to tears, or open a can of worms that’s sure to end with our feeling judged by others. So, as a coping mechanism, we limit conversations with certain people to certain “safe” topics. But what is the overall effect of this self-limiting behavior?
If you have just one or two people in your life who you handle with compartmentalized conversations, it might not be noticeable or pose any real nuisance or impact. But if you have several people in your life with whom you can’t be fully self-expressed, what does that do to your ability to thrive?
Compartmentalizing conversations with too many people in your life is the equivalent of walling off certain parts of your life for certain people. It requires a lot of hidden energy to maintain these discussion do-and-don’t lists. But more importantly, it makes you feel smaller. If this happens a lot in your life, how does this impact your feelings of acceptance and personal power? How does it impact your view of the world?
Most people count themselves lucky if they have just one or two people to whom they can say anything, without fearing being judged or attacked or criticized or converted. Tolerance is something that seems to be lacking in our culture these days. Why is it so hard to accept someone else’s views as theirs, without feeling the need to make them bad or wrong or try to convince them to see our side of things? People are very vocal on social media, but are they as willing to be as vocal in real life? Facebook arguments aren’t changing anyone’s mind; they’re just creating division and polarity and pissing people off.
If you are limiting yourself inside to a significant degree, you may find you feel confined and constricted. You can’t have freedom if you must constantly censor everything you say, especially if it means avoiding topics that are of great importance to you. Sure, it pays to think before you speak. Let’s not drop the F-bomb in a eulogy, or insult a friend’s profession. Instead, look for ways to express yourself without creating walls or compartmentalizing friendships.
If you have a hobby that many of your friends don’t understand or support, seek out new friends who share this interest. It doesn’t mean you’ll drop your old friends (although that is an option if you’re feeling especially constricted around them), but rather, you’re more likely to expand your social circle in delightful ways.
You can also gently push the edges with your friends. If you’re totally honest, you might be surprised by their response.
For example, let’s say you have an odd hobby that your friends tend to tease you about. If you were to speak your mind when they start ribbing you, most friends worth keeping would appreciate your honestly and drop it. You might say something like: “Stop it. This is important to me. I know you don’t like it or get it, and we don’t need to be into all the same things, but I enjoy this and I don’t appreciate you knocking it.” Likewise, if you can’t discuss an important life topic with your friends or family, you might push the boundaries like this: “There’s something I’d love to talk to you about, but I don’t want it to turn into an argument. Do you think we could have a frank and open conversation about ______?”
Take a chance, engage in some authentic conversation, and give people the opportunity to pleasantly surprise you. It almost never turns out as badly as you fear!