Are we all becoming more guarded these days? It seems we were already guarded, and then a pandemic swept through and made us even more so. Letting people in almost feels like an overwhelming idea at times!
But here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to be such a challenge. We can take baby steps, which can happen in little ways, like striking up conversations at a neighborhood block party. And it can also occur in significant ways, like embracing deep connections with others.
Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to explore why you might be feeling guarded in the first place.
Why do you protect yourself so much?
Letting people in can be so hard. But why? Actually, there are lots of reasons.
Megan Pierce of Tracking Happiness says, “I believe most of us are born wanting to trust others and let people in, but unfortunately, life experience teaches us otherwise. Numerous factors can lead to distrust, including:
I agree with her.
When you watch a room filled with three-year-olds playing, it becomes clear quickly that we aren’t born distrustful! As small children, we were fascinated by others and wanted to play. So what exactly happens to us?
We create defense mechanisms and build walls to protect ourselves. And before we know it, our borders have become so high that it’s hard to let people in.
Reasons to lean into allowing people more into your life:
Feeling closely connected to others is super important for your sense of well-being. And having a sense of community is good for your health!
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association:
“Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, increase self-esteem and empathy, and improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk.”
On top of that, we know there are many reasons why experiences are much better when shared.
So, let’s get into it.
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Step-by-step instructions for welcoming others into your orbit.
Learning to allow people in is, in some ways, an artful dance. To embrace the idea more wholeheartedly, I’ve gone through my spiritual toolbag, taken an honest look at my lessons, and pulled them all together for this list.
Here are strategies for learning to let people in:
- Recognize your inner judgment and explore opportunities to give someone a chance.
- Break the ice with ease! Discover essential tools for initiating engaging conversations.
- Notice someone you’re eager to connect with and learn more about.
- Embrace the opportunity to reveal more about yourself.
- Discover the power of openness and how it can benefit you!
- Don’t forget we all have moments of insecurity. See our shared humanity.
So, let’s dive deeper and see how we can ease into letting people into our lives in the steps below.
Recognize your inner judgment and explore opportunities to give someone a chance.
Imagine you’re at an after-work cocktail party. And you find yourself in a crowded room of people you do not know.
As your eyes scan the crowd, you become anxious and think, “This person isn’t my type,” or “I have nothing in common with this person!”
What massive defense mechanisms we have in place! Before even giving anyone a chance, we decided that we didn’t fit it.
But is that true? Or are you foreclosing on the opportunity to meet someone new?
Judgment is a form of self-protection. And it’s a sneaky way to keep people away from us. Witnessing our judgment is a term I learned from Gabby Bernstein’s Judgment Detox.
For deeper learning on this topic, read Judgment Detox.
Let people in by breaking the ice. Then, choose who you want to take that next step with.
Good news! Initiating conversation is a skill that can be learned. Check out some great starters here.
Also, before entering the room, practice reciting affirmations to help ease your fears and get you into a secure, relaxed, friendly mindset. Read some here.
I DIDN’T KNOW ANYONE when I first moved to Boston in 2011. I had to force myself to network at various events. Whenever I went to an event, I was confronted by multiple groups of women who all seemed to know each other already. It felt awkward for me at first.
But after a while, I became skilled at meeting new people. I learned how to chat with the older women in the coffee line. I found it easier to break into groups by introducing myself to one person who would welcome me to join their group.
Choose who you’re going to let in a bit more.
This is where good old-fashioned instincts come in.
“Letting new people into your life doesn’t mean that you have to let just anyone in. There’s nothing wrong with having standards; in fact, you should have standards. You deserve to have individuals who respect you and with whom you can get along.” says Lauren Pickens of Inspiyr.
So, you get to decide whom you’d like to build a closer connection to in your life.
Let people in by sharing more sides of yourself.
“The secret to opening up and letting someone in is to share wins and struggles. So when you get on the phone with an old friend or go on a coffee date with a newer friend, go ahead and share something you’re proud of or excited about,” says Michaela from Introvert Spring.
I found this interesting. Sometimes, it feels easier to connect over common challenges, but sharing a win is also a sign of intimacy.
And remember, as my therapist once wisely told me, “You get to choose how intimate you want to be at any given moment.” You can share as much or as little as you want.
Embracing your whole self and sharing it with others in a comfortable way is the key.
Walking around with a sense of openness benefits you.
A painful and eye-opening lesson I recently learned is that the state of my heart matters most.
I feel a sense of contentment if I’m generous with the energy I give to any situation. When I leave a problem with my heart closed, I feel sad and isolated, like I missed out.
And when my heart is open, I welcome an authentic, energetic connection with someone. The only way to find out is when both people are available!
I will win if I can generate the vibe I’m hoping to feel.
Let people in by remembering that everyone feels insecure at times.
Recognize that we’ve all been hurt and are a bit guarded.
It’s brave to overcome insecurity and risk, open up and be yourself. But that risk offers the chance for you to experience one of the greatest blessings in life.
Brene Brown shares in her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, that “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”
Critical considerations for successfully letting people in:
It all starts by taking a closer look at yourself.
Imagine witnessing yourself from afar while in a social setting. Do you have open, inviting energy? Or is your energy more guarded and closed?
Experience your thoughts through a fresh, neutral perspective. How often do you judge others versus seeing the commonality you share? What stories do you tell yourself about people around you?
Envision the energetic walls you’ve built around yourself. Can you appreciate why you’ve made them so high? Are you willing to consider lowering them a bit?
Witnessing and understanding yourself is critical to taking baby steps toward openness and letting people in. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Make tiny changes daily and see what happens!
Wrapping up and my experience with letting people in:
I FELT SOCIALLY VOID when I first moved to Boston in January 2011. Although my job allowed me endless interaction with my patients, I was missing a closer connection to others.
At that time, my daughter was nine and very busy socially! She would have plans every weekend with sports and friends. Although I met her friends’ parents, I wasn’t clicking with them.
I knew I needed to make the effort to let people in.
So, I decided to get out after work one to two nights per week while my daughter was at sports practice. I attended after-work social events and the same fitness classes every week.
And I decided to open up more when out and about. I would connect more with people in line at the coffee shop. And I met a few friends from my barre class. Before I knew it, I felt connected to my community.
I learned a new superpower! And now I can use it whenever I want to.
I’ve learned that it’s so true. Experiences are meant to be shared.
So start letting people in, one tiny moment at a time.
Did you like this story? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments below.
Also, share this story with someone today. You never know! This might be exactly what they need :-)
Do you want to keep reading more?
Learn how to write a powerful love letter to yourself here.