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I've been criticized for being too reserved and guarded. I've spent time considering how to be more open and 'authentic' with others, but my experiences have only confirmed the necessity of keeping people at a distance.

For example, when I let people really know what I think about an issue, I've experienced that my opinion is mocked or distorted to mean something other than what I intended. When I do let me guard down to reveal something about my childhood or family, it ends up being used against me.

In short, I feel the majority of people I meet are potentially hostile and I prefer to stay quiet, keep my guard up and push people away as a result.

Is there a way to show interest in getting to know others while still protecting yourself?

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    Do you often have opinions or points of view that are different from the ones around you? For instance, are your opinions mocked because nobody around sees things your way? Or maybe you find that they misunderstand you, but agree when someone else expresses the same opinion? – yo9cyb Dec 14 '17 at 5:26
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    It also depends on where you meet people. Believe it or not people are not randomly distributed everywhere. Some places simply attract nicer people. – Nelson Dec 14 '17 at 13:19
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There are tons of ways to show someone you are interested in getting to know them without explicitly revealing things about yourself

Initiate Contact:

If you are the one to approach someone else this shows immediate and obvious interest.

Ask Questions:

Especially detailed or open-ended questions. This demonstrates interest by showing that you want to know what they think about X. While keeping the focus of the conversation away from your own private life.

Use body language to show you are listening:

After you ask them a question, show them that you are interested in their answer by: smiling, nodding, making eye contact and reacting to the things they say.

Be engaged in the conversation:

Laughing, varying the pitch of your voice and talking about things you are genuinely interested in will go a long way.

Show appreciation:

After the conversation with them where you have done all the above things, you can deliver the final blow by directly, or subtly telling them that you were glad to get to know them, while expressing interest to do it again in the future.

Don't let personal questions about yourself ruin the flow of the conversation

After using the above techniques enough, it is inevitable that eventually some people will in turn be interested in your personal life, and it seems that here is where your problem is. Normally to deepen the friendship I would advise to open up, but since the objective of your question is the opposite, instead you should try and make sure you tactfully deflect these questions so that the interaction does not turn cold/awkward. While it is true that these things are personal to you and you are perfectly at liberty not to disclose them, that does not mean that you should make a big point about keeping them private. All relationships have a balance and if you are disclosing far less than the other person, (especially if you make a point of it) then they will feel uneasy and even hurt, which is probably why you have experienced some people acting "potentially hostile" when you stay silent.

Watch body language

If you suddenly visibly retract from the conversation, this draws attention to the fact that you don't want to share.

Don't go silent

When someone is waiting for an answer, one of the worst things you can do to draw attention to the fact you are not giving one is go silent as this will leave a large pause in the conversation in which people will take special note of you're silence and will prompt them to press you further.

Provide a non-answer

Responding to the question without giving the real answer that you did not want to disclose is a perfectly viable solution. For example:

Q: So, what do you think about {personal topic}?

A: Well one thing is for certain, I don't think it is as cool as {new topic}

This works because you kept the conversation flowing with interesting subjects by not flat out refusing to answer the question and not going silent, while still keeping your thoughts on the personal matter private.

Talk about something else

Whether you gave a non-answer like above, or were able to just ignore the question. Either way, talking about something an interesting subject shortly after will keep the conversation going normally and take the focus away from the question.

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Is there a way to show interest in getting to know others while still protecting yourself?

Yes. Ask more questions and listen carefully.

Most people like to talk about themselves to an extent (some a lot). If you ask them pertinent questions and listen to the answers, you'll get to know one aspect of that person.

But you're worried about how they might hurt you, so listen to their answers to other people as well. If there are one or more other people, and you hear someone mocking/distorting/challenging in a hostile manner what someone else says, keep your emotional distance from that person. Pay attention to who gossips, who bullies, who mocks, etc.

I feel the majority of people I meet are potentially hostile and I prefer to stay quiet, keep my guard up and push people away as a result.

There's a balance to strike between growing a thicker skin and keeping people away. Everyone experiences being laughed at, for example, but not all of it is intended to be hurtful. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's what.

One of my kids was a very sensitive child, and would cry when we laughed at something genuinely funny that he did. He couldn't tell the difference between laughing at what he did and laughing at him. The rest of us really had to watch ourselves around him.

Well, now he has a daughter whom he delights in, and he laughs uproariously at her antics. This happened about a week ago at my house, and I asked him if he remembered telling us not to laugh when he was young. He said, yes, he remembered. I said, "This is why we were laughing." I don't know if it will help at all, but I hope so.

So, when your beliefs are mocked, distorted, or other, or when you're hurt/offended, look carefully at the context. If you can imagine that it was probably not meant to hurt you, chalk it up to that possibility, and you'll grow a thicker skin. If people truly hurt you, though, find a better crowd. There are plenty of good people out there.

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  • Thank you! I found your response very helpful. I'm going to be taking some of the points you make into consideration. – user9042106 Dec 14 '17 at 14:54
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The biggest thing you can do is show up. Go to events, meet people, make small talk with them. Accept invitations to hang out and get coffee.

If this makes you anxious due to past experiences, keep an exit strategy in your back pocket -- but still go! It can be as simple as "well, it's been great but gotta go!". You can also practice responses for when you feel the other person is acting hurtful or mocking your opinion, to help you react calmly and rationally. In the worst case, if this person really does betray your trust, know that you're not obligated to continue interacting with them. I know that's easier said than done, but it's very freeing to realize.

The second thing is to get to know them first. As a general rule, people love to talk about themselves! Ask them questions and show curiosity in their lives and opinions, and most will happily oblige. Through these interactions, you'll learn more about their character, and be able to better judge how they might react to you sharing certain things.

I don't know how you're meeting people, but I think group settings may be a good choice for you. By consistently attending a meetup, you'll 1) establish yourself as a regular, which encourages openness from them, and 2) be able to observe people's behavior without having to do all the prompting yourself.

Once you get to know someone a little, start to gradually share bits and pieces of your own life and thoughts with them. Start with what's comfortable for you, and see how they respond. For example, you could share "neutral" opinions (is it "soda" or "pop"?!), or simple mentions of your childhood ("I love snickerdoodles, my mom always baked those around the holidays!"). You both get to know each other better, without touching on anything super-personal or controversial. From there, you can begin building up a rapport towards sharing more personal information and a deeper connection.

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  • This may be up to preference, but I'd try to avoid getting into mostly irrelevant discussions like the proper name to call a drink. They're a waste of time, and can often turn into arguments, which is off-putting for others. – ilkkachu Dec 14 '17 at 15:34
  • @ilkkachu That particular example was just meant to illustrate what I meant by "neutral opinion" - something that doesn't really matter, but is a way to get to know someone. If it somehow does turn into an argument, then you have a valuable data point when deciding whether or not to share more serious opinions with that person, without having actually divulged your serious opinions. – Em C Dec 14 '17 at 16:41
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I sounds like you might need to refine the way you express an opinion if you regularly receive a hostile or challenging response. If the way you express an opinion has one of the following characteristics, others may find it alienating:

  • Dismissing the previously-expressed opinions of others in expressing your own.

  • Adopting a hectoring or evangelical tone.

  • Directly confronting others (I have found it useful to add "softeners" such as "I've always found it useful to...," or "In my experience..., etc)

  • Holding the spotlight significantly longer than others in the conversation, or expressing (directly or indirectly) irritation or impatience with others.

If you approach conversation with the goal of "I'm interested in other people and how they think about things" instead of "I want to have the most correct opinion," conversation stays enjoyable and non-threatening for all.

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  • -1 for attacking the OP. I'm sure that's exactly what she needed to hear. – anongoodnurse Dec 13 '17 at 19:55
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    @anongoodnurse No one was being attacked. I don't know the OP, but was trying to relate common conversational approaches that can inadvertently provoke a hostile response. – Curt Dec 13 '17 at 19:56
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    Well, if you want to know how the OP generally expresses her opinion, that's more fit as a comment requesting some clarification on that part underneath the question than as an answer that's assuming a lot. Also, the opinion bit seems only a part of their problem – Tinkeringbell Dec 13 '17 at 20:20
  • Sorry! She/he/they. What a blunder! – anongoodnurse Dec 14 '17 at 0:37
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    This answer is valuable since it aims at self-reflection. One could maybe add that this is only one possibility. More often than not it's the others who actually don't tolerate somewhat different opinions or just bully others regardless of how nice the argument is stated. – Trilarion Dec 14 '17 at 6:58
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Socializing is good to get to know people.The more you socialize, the more you understand people better.Benefits of socializing:

1.You will talk with people often.

2.You would know who mocks at everyone.

3.You know their nature quickly.

4.You would also be aware, the one who mocks,criticizes others would do the same to everyone. 5.You would also learn how people not choose to react to a situation. Most of the times in life we react to a situation.Rather one needs to analyze whether reacting would benefit him/her in anyway.

6.When asked for your opinion you would be knowing by then who is genuine, who is fake.

7.You would be in a position to know who would weigh up your decision, & who is eagerly waiting to prey up on.

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  • You talk about the benefits, but I guess OP knows that, because the Q is how to show interest ...?. Unfortunately, this doesn't help focus on the how part... – OldPadawan Dec 14 '17 at 8:02
  • @ oldPadwan,When i mean benefits i believe one is smart enough to understand the importance of Socializing. Experience is the best lesson and one doesn't receive lessons from Manuals. It comes by observing and going through. – LDR Dec 15 '17 at 3:08
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A lot of good answers already, but I wanted to share a few other thoughts. You don't mention age, but if you're still young in my experience talking about issues or family troubles in a group is not often well received. These kind of conversations can make people uncomfortable especially talking about family stuff can be seen as threatening if someone else has similar issues. Young men typically don't want to appear vulnerable or weak in front of a group, so they'll try different things to change the subject, make a joke of it, anything to divert the conversation and take them back to there comfort zone.

If you do want to talk about weighty issues and family stuff (which I think is healthy and you should pursue), just remember that an honest on sensitive subjects requires people to have some trust with you and to make themselves somewhat vulnerable to you. The way I've crossed this bridge myself is building a foundation on some shared interest, with an individual not the whole group, then as you get comfortable with each other usually people will open up a bit more. Then you can begin to talk about the more contentious or personal issues.

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