Image by Benjamin aka Templar1307

For most of my 50 years, I have made my life an open book. As a student of rhetoric, psychology, and literature, I have great faith in the market place of ideas. Making my life a topic of conversation allows me to draw on others’ strengths. People often lack the ability to temper themselves—which I first noted all too vividly as a child. I hoped that I might overcome the problem of personal bias by seeking feedback. As a general rule, I see life as a collaborative act.

Lately, I have come to question my “C’mon over!” policy. Should I really open my heart to all the sisters in my ward, to every blood relative no matter how many times removed, to my co-workers, to my hair dresser, yoga teacher, and bank teller? Over the last year, I have received harsh criticism from several people. Because I have allowed crowds of people into my inner chambers for decades, I finally suffered some major vandalism at the very core of my being. Now I understand the value of being selective.

This spring, I was working out on the arc rider at the YMCA, trying to find a path into a new psychological space. I thought of the architecture of the temples.  In an effort to formulate my new stance and to explain it to others, I seized upon the following analogy. I could see myself as a building that should allow fewer and fewer people into the inner chambers. Although not a perfect analogy because of its ancient sexism and tribalism, I find the layout for Herod’s Temple serves as an image that helps me create new boundaries. That building had a series of courtyards, allowing certain sets of people to move closer and closer to the inner most chambers. As people moved from the court of the Gentiles, to the court of the women, to the court of priest, and finally to the Holy of Holies itself, fewer people qualified for admission.

I am sad to observe this, but many people will use others to bolster their own vanities and to address their own insecurities. I have mistreated people in this way, too, failing to act appropriately when given the privilege of walking on holy ground. Now it’s time for me to show greater tenderness towards others when they allow me access into the quiet corners of their being. And now it’s time for me to be a gatekeeper. At half a century old, it’s time to make more judgments about myself instead of surrendering this task to others—so very many others. I realize that some may feel hurt by being moved to one of the outer chambers. My purpose is not to injure others, but to protect myself. I need the space to repair the vandalism at my core, a small space only for me to confer with God, my architect.

If the temple analogy is too archaic (and a bit self-aggrandizing, I’ll concede), perhaps changing the image to a modern home will communicate my ideal. I hope to be a charming hostess to all when I call “C’mon over!” I may have merely invited another—metaphorically speaking–to a BBQ in the backyard or to a book club discussion in the living room. No longer will I host a parade of people into my guest rooms for a weekend get-away. Even fewer will enter the master bedroom for a heart-to-heart while I’m on my sick bed. Even if someone just shows up on the porch for Halloween candy and never gets a full tour of my heart, mind and soul, I still hope to communicate love, respect and affection.

By this point, some Segullah readers may have realized that this post takes an alternate position from Jessie’s post that appeared yesterday. I don’t mean to invalidate her position on integrity. I sketched out this idea weeks ago, so when I got up on Friday and saw her topic, I jumped out of my desk chair and considered scrapping my post. I agree with her: we should display integrity by being unafraid to present our true selves to others. I think there is value in both arguments. Maybe the synthesizing concept rests in the source of validation: Yes, I can share who I am, but I should not grant others the power to validate/invalidate me. That’s too tenuous.

Like most topics discussed here, there is a need for striking a balance and for making a judgment. However, essays that fail to take a firm, distinct position are often not very interesting to read. In this moment, I am extolling the virtues of personal boundaries. But declaring is different than doing. As a lifelong extrovert, I’m gonna need some practice. So don’t be surprised if my next blog brings you all into on a grand tour of secret passages and locked rooms.

Do you alternate between an open door policy and a closed door policy? Or do you have a clear preference?  Have you been able to rebound from a betrayal?   Have you mishandled someone else’s trust after gaining access to their private emotional quarters? How do you manage the emotional risks inherent in human relationships?


  1. Andrea R.

    June 30, 2012

    I really identify with this post. Over the last 10 years, I have been forced by the nature of my son’s condition to allow more and more people into my home — nurses, teachers, therapists. technicians all come and go, sometimes without knocking on the door first. My home is open and I have very little privacy. I’ve found that I have had to create the inner chambers within myself and the friends with whom I choose to associate. It sounds callous, but I “try out” friends to see who I can trust and who I will allow into those inner circles. Thankfully, my husband is at the center of the inner courtyard, along with a couple of dear and trusted friends. There are many other lovely people in my life, but I have created outer courtyards where we can visit and have fun, but I have been burned many times by letting too many people into the inner courtyards. But as you said, “Even if someone just shows up on the porch for Halloween candy and never gets a full tour of my heart, mind and soul, I still hope to communicate love, respect and affection.”

    Thank you.

  2. Jessie

    June 30, 2012

    I wrote my post a few weeks ago too 🙂 Somehow we ended up with three posts on related topics this week. I actually had many of these same thoughts as I was writing my post; I think I swing between the extremes of being open and closed a little too much. Plus, I’m an extrovert and I like to verbally process things so I tend to share a bit too much with too many people. It’s not really for validation, I don’t think. I just like to process out loud. That’s been one of the hardest things for me about being divorced–I no longer have one person to talk to about everything. So I’ve been a little crazy about being open lately. Probably next year I’ll decide I was all wrong and stop parading everyone through my dirty laundry 🙂

  3. Nancy W

    June 30, 2012

    Wow, you are such a great writer. I really liked your thoughts. I’m sorry that you have been hurt by some people who you let into your life. I think your idea of being more selective is a good one.

    I’ve always had my doors open on the surface, but most of those intimate inner doors locked. Even with only a few who I have given the key to, can turn out to hurt. But there are those who are keepers. Whether it is on a large scale or a small scale it is a risk to open the doors. A risk that I don’t really like to take, but I when it turns out well, it is worth it.

    I’ve read that as we older we make fewer meaningful friendships. I’m sure that this is true in part from hurtful life experiences. Still it seems that those meaningful connections that we do make are even deeper than when we are younger.
    Nancy W, from facebook 🙂

  4. Lisa G.

    June 30, 2012

    This is exactly what I needed today, Karen. Thank you so much. I’m a natural introvert, but I pretend to be the opposite because I want people to like me and I want to share the light I have. (Note the obvious contradictions there.)Just yesterday, I let someone in that I thought I could trust, but I ended up getting clobbered. So I cowered in pain all day yesterday, but today I am back in love and forgiveness, back into the sure knowledge that the only One I want to please is God. His judgment is the only one that counts. The trick is to stay open to people in love; we all have light to share and it is wrong to withhold our love and light. But I love your temple analogy: there are inner sanctums in each of us that we are obligated to keep holy. There are things we can’t say to anyone because to feed meat to those who can only handle milk is harmful, even though we may be telling the truth. I look to Jesus: sometimes He spoke the truth aloud and sometimes He told the truth in silence. But always in love.

  5. Stephanie

    June 30, 2012

    I think personal boundaries are important. Great post.

  6. Edonna

    June 30, 2012

    This is awesome! There must be a balance. I first realized this when I was a recent divorcee. I found myself telling all the gory details without discretion. Asking me how I was doing was just asking for it. After some misfires and as I began to heal, I saw the need to be more discretionary. Besides there were too many men who wanted me to cry on their shoulder and they just plain weren’t safe.
    I still have to monitor myself. I too process and resolve out loud.
    Karen, I just love reading your essays, blogs and posts!

  7. Sharon L

    June 30, 2012

    Amen to this post. I completely concur. Women for the most part I think, have a weakness when it comes to “sharing all” and aren’t always selective about with whom they share.

    If I have to meet certain conditions to enter Father’s house, why can’t I do the same for who I allow into my heart?

    Not in the sense of charity towards others, but those entering the inner sanctum of my soul? Works for Him – works for me.

  8. Shauna

    June 30, 2012

    Brilliant and EXACTLY where I am in my life. You just verbalized (wrote) EXACTLY what I have not been able to put into words that make sense.
    I believe you can be true to who you are with complete integrity. Sometimes it is from the front porch and other times an inner room. Sometimes it is with one person and other times with a crowd.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  9. Melissa

    June 30, 2012

    I am very introverted so it is interesting to see from the opposite perspective. I have to push myself to open up to others. I guess we need to find a happy medium.

  10. eljee

    June 30, 2012

    I really love this post.

    I think the analogies, both of the temple and of the home, can work in the opposite way as well. Years ago when I was in counseling for depression, I was also working with the therapist on overcoming my loneliness and isolation and learning how to make friends, which was very difficult for me. She used a very similar analogy of a house to help create a plan for me to find and make friends. We created a visual diagram of a house with a front porch, gate, living room, kitchen, bedrooms, etc. I labelled all the people in my life and placed them in the proper “room”. Checkers at the grocery store would be outside the gate. Ward members that I knew only as acquaintances would be on porch. Visiting teachers in the living room, etc. Then I was able to identify people that I could try to move into the more inner rooms of my life and see more clearly the path of how to do that. (Obviously you can’t take someone who is standing on the porch and have them be in your kitchen, they have to go through the living room first.) It was a very effective tool, and I enjoyed seeing it described again in a different way in your post!

  11. dalene

    June 30, 2012

    I’m weighing in on the side of balance: yes we need boundaries, but I really connect with people who are real. I don’t need to hear the details of the stranger in line at the grocery store’s divorce, but when my close friend is struggling because her husband won’t pay child support I can’t be there for her unless I know about it.

    Also I was interested in a previous comment about having fewer meaningful relationships as we get older. My experience has been exactly the opposite. As I am older I find I have less time for the superficial relationships. I am still friendly with those people, but the people I feel closest to and whom I want to make time for are those who know my heart and who have shared with me a part of theirs. When we share our joys and our sorrows and serve one another (and we can do that without TMI too many details) it creates a bond that I feel must be eternal. It is one of the greatest blessings I have found throughout my forties and as I observe the older women around me, I fully expect it will continue.

  12. KDA

    July 1, 2012

    Andrea R. I am sorry about your “home invasion.” I have many friends and family members who are introverted, and I have observed that they feel more invaded in their homes, which are extensions of their inner landscapes. I’ve had to learn to be respectful of these physical spaces because of their correlation to psychological spaces. I have known a few people so introverted that they get physically sick when repair people come in to work in their homes. I admire you for being able to manage the parade and still preserve a sense of privacy.

    Jessie. I process outloud, too. Oh, it was hard on my friends when I left my college job after 30 years in that field. But I needed to talk myself through it before actually deciding to quit. I just need to be more selective about to whom and about which topics I discuss with others. It’s been hard to find a balance. Good luck to you, fellow external processer!

    Nancy W. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, there is always a risk. I saw a play at BYU in the 1980s called Talley’s Folley that talked about people being like eggs. We are all fragile, but every relationship involves a risk. Dangit.

    Lisa G. I am so sorry that you got clobbered after sharing your feelings with another. Gentle hugs to you, dear Lisa. I like your scriptural milk/meat allusion.

    Stephanie. You are very kind to take the time to read and comment. Have a blessed week.

    Edonna. Oh, my heart breaks for you to think of the difficulty in overcoming a divorce. I am very glad that you are in a different space now. You are being very generous with your compliments. *blushes*

    Sharon. I am still learning how to convey kindness without “letting it all hang out,” but I think you are describing an important concept.

    Shauna. I am glad that my scribblings helped you find words for a feeling that you’ve been groping to describe. I have benefitted from others’ writing helping me that way too. Sometimes I am afraid to self-disclose when writing personal essays, but the genre requires that risk, so thank you for being receptive.

    eljee. Wow, I didn’t know that counselors used that analogy — floor plan and all — to help people to analyze the intimacy levels (or potential intimacy levels) for relationships. I got it from literature. James’ “Jolly Corner,” Bronte’s “Jane Eyre, Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” etc. What a great counseling tool. Thanks for flipping the concept to show it’s usefulness for inviting others further into one’s psyche.

    dalene. Good point about developing bonds through sharing tender feelings. I need to be more responsive to the invitations others make for me to do so. I don’t have as much time to self-disclose as I did as a single college student, so I do appreciate the opportunities presented to me as a more “seasoned” “catch up with you when I can” gal pal.

  13. Giggles

    July 2, 2012

    There is a difference between living with integrity and casting pearls before swine. Definitely live with integrity, be the true you in all instances. But also keep that which is holy and sacred about you holy and sacred.

    I love your analogy about the home. Our living room is just as much a representation of our family as our master bedroom is. But there is a sacred-ness to our master bedroom that is not open to public display.

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