Distrust of others and honest self-disclosure
One of the things we dislike most is to be deceived or cheated, to be lied to. To
call someone a liar is a serious charge made when we are very angry. It is surely
going to cause a fight. Yet, common sense tells us that some distrust is appropriate.
People do deceive others, sometimes, even best friends and loved ones. So, in some
ways the human condition encourages distrust. Our novels and entertainment often
suggest a person finds someone (not his/her partner) else attractive. We teach
children to hide their valuables and to not accept rides from strangers (good advice).
We warn kids that others might touch them in the "wrong places." We don't believe
ads and salespersons. We know people put their "best foot forward." Teenagers
know the line on the second date, "I love you, let's do it." Politicians say what we
want to hear. We believe people are pushed by unconscious forces and don't really
know themselves. We know people respond to stereotypes instead of real people. So
is it best to trust or distrust? to be honest or dishonest? The answers are not simple.
The best answer depends of the circumstances. But, in general, research shows that
trusting people have better interpersonal relationships. People low in trust tend to be
more angry, competitive, resentful, and unempathic (Gurtman, 1992).
We must realize though that each individual is so complex and has so many
feelings, needs, opinions, etc., he/she couldn't possibly reveal all sides of him/herself
to a new acquaintance. So we play roles, at least we show only parts of our real
self(s). What else is related to hiding parts of ourselves? Our fear of rejection, our
own sensitivity or vulnerability. Few people want to pretend to be something they
aren't. Yet, others have to be accepting before we are likely to be open and honest.
Or we have to be strong enough to say "it's OK if they don't like me." Examples: if
you feel homosexual urges are disgusting and sick, your friend probably can't tell
you about his/her homosexual interests. If you are very sexually attracted to
someone, you probably can't tell them the truth about why you are approaching
them. An article in a women's magazine was entitled "My Life in a 39EE Bra." The
writer said that most men made a point of telling her early on that they were "leg
men" but that wasn't her impression later. We often tell people what we think they
want to hear, we tell what is most acceptable. Or, we must become willing to run the
risk of criticism and rejection.
Among the better antidotes for a fear of rejection are self-confidence, self-
acceptance, a willingness to find another friend if necessary, and an ability to accept
and profit from criticism. For example, you can handle criticism better if you:
Avoid over-reacting to the criticism or rejection so you can understand
what is being said about you. Remember, you don't have to be loved
by everybody all the time (see chapter 14). But, make constructive
use of the person's opinions and criticism.
Assess the accuracy of what was said. Try to understand the motives
of the source. Are emotions being displaced on to you? Is the critic's
opinion based on valid information? Is he/she projecting? Is he/she
playing put-down games? Is he/she afraid of or competing with you?
a. If the critics seem accurate (and especially if several people
agree), ask for all the information and help they can give. Make plans