“Privacy – like eating and breathing – is one of life’s basic requirements.”
― Katherine Neville, author
The sanctuaries we call home, no matter how large or small, provide the comfort and necessary gift of privacy. We hold the key to whom will enter, who lives, who dines, who sleeps, within the four walls we pay each month a large portion of our hard earned money.
Similar to our sanctuaries, we are given choices in our lives, many which take time to materialize, but with clear-eyed effort, the beauty, the serenity, can be achieved. Much like the cleanliness and tidiness of a home, we provide self-care, tend to our physical and mental well-being so we can think clearly, decide well and experience true contentment each day. The ideas, the people, the conversations, the energy we open our doors to in our physical house affect the quality of our home-life. And the good news is, we hold the key to the door.
Immediately, when I think of a home and privacy, the voice of Diane Lane’s character Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun dances through my mind, “What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain. The house protects the dreamer.” And we all need to dream, to give ourselves time and the space to explore our wildest hopes and desires, to become fully acquainted with what sparks joy in our own hearts and minds void of society’s influence.
A crucial component to living a life of sincerity, to tapping into and discovering our unique potential which the world wants us to share is having the privacy to do so, to finding a steady contentment in each of our days no matter what is swirling around us. So much of our lives is out of our control, but there is much that can be within our control when we become aware of these aspects of our lives (explore these posts and episodes on this exact topic of control).
“Maintaining some degree of control over interactions with other people is crucial to our psychological well-being.” —Dr. Frank T. McAndrew
The key to a home of tranquility and the key to a tranquil life is to establish a personal privacy approach determining who and what can have access to various aspects of your life. Professor of Psychology Dr. Frank T. McAndrew explains how we have four types of privacy in our lives – solitude, intimacy, anonymity, and reserve. Understanding what each type of privacy is as well as how much we need of each (and we do need some level of each in our lives – although, the amount will differ from person to person) helps us to better understand how to find deeper contentment in our everyday lives.
Today we’ll explore how to find the balance of healthy personal privacy which can elevate the quality of our lives. Recently, as many TSLL readers and podcast listeners know, I reformed my own privacy boundaries here on the blog this past October and while there were some who pushed back as I was changing what they had become accustomed, the personal peace I gave myself has been priceless.
1.Do the homework for the course on You
In many ways our entire life is the Course on Ourselves 101 (if we choose to enroll and pay attention), but as I shared in 2011 and further in my first book, sharing more than what is consciously or unconsciously comfortable is often a reflection of our own insecurity and our need to be approved externally regarding how we are living our lives.
By exploring our true needs, being honest with ourselves about the skills we need to learn and/or improve, we grow as a human being who can be clear-eyed about the true level of privacy versus openness which harmonizes best with the life we want to live.
~In my second book, two chapters are entirely dedicated building our Toolbox to live well. One chapter explores the helpful skills we can all cultivate in our own lives and the second chapter explores how to unearth and strengthen our unique skills which are innate to us if only we knew how to find them.
~Read the three-part series, Why Not . . . Get to Know Yourself?
2. The importance of solitude
“Solitude sometimes is best society.”
― John Milton
As shared in episode #90 focusing on the Power of Solitude, it is when we gift ourselves with solitude – time alone in our own company – we are as Frédéric Lenoir (author of Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide) then able to to make sense of our “deeper nature” – a vital component to discovering true happiness or as I describe it – true contentment.
Essentially, in order to do the homework suggested in #1, we must find time for regular alone time. Each of us will need our custom amount, but even extroverts, like introverts, need regular solitude.
3. The dangerous cement wall of self-protection
A healthy personal privacy approach evolves as we grow and become better students of ourselves and aware of our strengths and the truths of the world. When we have been hurt after having bravely chosen to be vulnerable, the natural human response is to pull back, self-protect and heal. And heal we must. Sometimes healing comes in the form of simply finding your true foundation of self – time with yourself without the poking of the world. In time, we feel rested and resolved that we can move forward healthily without projecting our pain or assumptions onto others who were not part of our past, but sometimes, we are unaware that we have created a permanent cement wall which disconnects us unhealthily from the world and making healthy connections. In the latter example, reaching out for an expert’s help – a counselor perhaps – is a healthy investment in understanding the delicate dance of finding the best personal privacy approach.
From my own experience, I too have walled myself off at times after a relationship comes to a painful, albeit necessary end. And in the short-term, it was a healthy choice, but the pain, the hurt can radiate out into other aspects of our lives blocking us off from moving forward and establishing new, better connections with others.
4. Know when it is okay to open up more with others
Described in Psychology Today as “bids of trust”, when we gradually explore whether to welcome someone further into our private life, take it slow, be present and engage gradually. As shared in episode #140 when talking about Emotional Intelligence, this action is known as bidding, and a reciprocal bidding engagement is one of the keys to healthy, intimate relationships. In other words, don’t keep opening up if the person you are trying to engage with doesn’t respond to your bids.
5. Healthy maintainence of privacy requires we be present in our lives each day, each interaction
When it comes to any means by which you are sharing your life with the public – a conversation with a neighbor, a posting on social media, the clothes you are wearing, what you share at work with staff, clients or students, first, be sure you are responding rather than reacting to the situation (or a situation), and fully explore why you feel you need to share with the particular person information you are sharing? Have you dealt with your feelings around the event or situation or is this your way of working through it? If the latter is the case, check why you are sharing your emotional journey with a complete stranger or acquaintance. What are you seeking to gain?
Knowledge of our intentions when we share will help us better understand if we should share. Meaning, will we in hindsight wish we had not revealed so much. Let me take an example from my high school students: if you are choosing to wear a particular top or dress or outfit because it epitomizes you – wear it with absolute aplomb, but, if after being honest with yourself, you are wearing it to see who will react, who will applaud, who will be interested in you “now”, then you may be wearing it due to your own insecurities and lack of self-acceptance.
The same example is true for social media – why are you posting what you are posting – (1) to communicate a true personal value OR to follow? (2) to contribute a positive solution to a problem OR to vent?; (3) to confirm what you know to be true about yourself and your life OR to not be left behind or left out?
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brené Brown
When it comes to the healthy alternative if you find yourself in the latter examples shared above, let’s take a look at all three: (1) Rather than acting or posting in order to follow the crowd, why not first (reverting back to #1) take the time to get to know yourself and in so doing, you will be strengthening your inner-self which is where the only source of reassurance resides (listen to episode #273). (2) Instead of venting, journal it out, engage in physical exercise, give yourself 24-hours, talk to one person who you have an intimate relationship but frame the conversation so that it is constructive, not reactionary. (3) Lastly, if you are posting or sharing in order to not be left out, first seek self-approval and then explore the need you are seeking from others – love? reduction of stress? connection? community? The best way to cultivate the latter starts with patience, self-awareness, generosity and lack of expectation.
Admittedly, when we are in the throws of insecurity, we may not be able to consciously identify our actions as coming from a place of insecurity rather than truth. Sometimes the most powerful teacher is reflection. However, if we are reflecting, we can learn and apply that knowledge forward.
We are each fallible human beings, and we will make mistakes. The good news about making mistakes is that we are choosing to grow, learn and follow our curiosity. Culture is powerful, but as we become self-aware, we have the opportunity to recognize ahead of time what is trying to speak for us and when we are speaking or acting for ourselves (hint: the goal is the latter :)).
6. Free yourself to be your true self in public
The beautiful paradox of establishing healthy personal privacy is that you can be more fully yourself in public. Share what you want to share, how you want to share it because you have a stable and secure center which can only be found within. When you know you are not making decisions, sharing or reacting to gain something you don’t feel you can give yourself, you are revealing inner clarity and strength. You are not sharing anything you have not already dealt with or worked through, and by sharing it you may be either directly or indirectly trying to help others.
The best key to knowing when your personal privacy practice is out of sync with your true self is when you feel at the very least discontent and at the worst, deep pain and heartache. Explore the items listed above, have an honest conversation with yourself. Be patient with yourself as you come to understand more fully your actions.
Personally, my own journey of maintaining my own personal privacy is one of mistakes, corrections, tough decisions which have lead to far easier decisions (although, to the outside world they may appear difficult) and an exercise in the growth mindset. When we acknowledge mistakes and refrain from “oversharing”, we are empowered not only to live a more fulfilling life for ourselves but to be better able to engage with others, understand others and cultivate healthy relationships with others.
Interestingly enough, another privacy paradox which is helpful to understand along our journey toward fulfillment: Putting up a boundary can be just as necessary as taking down the boundary. Knowing which should happen comes with self-knowledge and security with oneself. Each are skills, and we all can learn and strengthen them in our own lives at any time.
“I don’t know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a superpower.” —Banksy
Whether in our professional lives or our personal lives, keeping something for ourselves reminds us how priceless the relationship with ourselves is. Invest in yourself, take the time to get to know yourself, and in so doing, finding the healthy personal privacy appraoch tailored to you and where you find yourself in your life today will be all the more easier to establish.
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Yep, it ships the print copy each month to you, here in the states (if you are located in the states as I am :)).
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #296
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