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The Psychology Behind Keeping Your Opinions to Yourself

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

Was Lincoln right when he said it’s “better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”?

On the way back up to school after this year’s spring break, my brother was at the wheel, which made me the one on the AUX. After so many hours, he ran out of spontaneous recommendations for me to play off YouTube. I then took upon the duty of reaching into the back of my mind and playing songs I knew that he enjoyed, both new hits and old favorites from our childhood. It was easier than I thought it would be to keep the dozens of songs coming one after another. Yet, one thing stuck out to me: would he know any songs that I liked if the roles were reversed? Had I ever shared any of those with him or anyone else close to me, for that matter?

Similarly, a friend came upon my HerCampus UFL bio page a few weeks ago. He remarked that although we had been friends for almost two years, he hadn’t known most of my basic interests listed on that site. I had honestly never brought up most of them in conversation, but why? If he had known me for so long, why had I never shared any of that? This same feeling emerges when someone talks about a movie or book I really like. I usually just smile and nod through it like any old conversation, even though I feel excited that we share similar interests on the inside. In these situations, why am I still hesitant to share my opinion?

In friendships and relationships, we sometimes expect people to just figure these out as time goes on. And while this could be true in some cases through our actions, some likes and dislikes just need to be said aloud. There are a few roadblocks that come up in our quest to open up, though.

In short, we don’t want to risk being rejected.

People don’t like sharing their opinions because they want to make sure they look good to the others participating in the conversation. Vulnerability is a scary thing no matter who you’re talking to! This social rejection that everyone is afraid of going through is surprisingly unstudied by psychologists around the globe, according to the American Psychological Association in 2012. This is true even though the need for acceptance stems back to a way of surviving. Cooperative societies are what we’ve depended on for all of history. We are biologically wired to be a part of a group where we belong and fit in.

When researching further into this facet of social rejection, I found some interesting facts like “a broken heart may not be so different from a broken arm.” Dr. Naomi Eisenberger and Dr. Kipling Williams found this to be true with their study on “Cyberball” published in 2003 in that previous APA article. This online simulation had the participant play a game of catch with two computer-generated players to observe what would happen when the NPCs began to pass the ball to only each other. When the research participant was excluded, the two regions of their brain that responded to physical pain had increased activity, showing that these emotions affect you like bodily pain does. 

“Excluded people actually become more sensitive to potential signs of connection, and they tailor their behavior accordingly,” Williams and Eisenberger’s research concluded. So, could this reluctance come from feeling a sense of rejection of my opinions at some point in the past? Instead of sharing what I preferred, was I simply going whichever way the conversation led in passive agreement? Sounds like we’re getting somewhere.

Another issue: you don’t want to make it all about you.

Please know that you’re not annoying people nor embarrassing yourself when you bring up what you’re interested in! If people are close to you or even just getting to know you, they’ll want to learn more about you. That includes your likes and dislikes! Have you ever heard the phrase that conversation is like a game of tennis? It can’t continue if the other person’s stuck holding the ball on the other side of the net, knowing that if they hit it over, you won’t reciprocate. Put that racket to use and feel proud doing so!

Some Tips on Overcoming This

“Imagine your feelings as a piece of glass art. You’ll want to hand it to someone you’re confident will treat it with care.” 

I love this metaphor created by PsychCentral’s article from 2021. Although the author is referring to deeper emotions here, the same train of thought can be applied to simple likes and dislikes in life. Maybe you are naturally introverted and aren’t comfortable sharing with a stranger. A little practice every day goes a long way, and it could help you identify the things you have a hard time talking about. Taking deep breaths can improve memory and cognitive function, getting you ready to share.

Don’t think that I am a pro at all this after simply digging into some psychological research. Even though there are some topics that I am truly indifferent on, I’m working on opening up on the ones I do know for sure. My interests make me unique and I should never be ashamed of that.

At the time that these articles were written, Brooke was a second-year journalism major at the University of Florida. She is from Miami and is a triplet! Brooke enjoys reading fiction, watching Marvel and DC movies/shows, growing in her Christian faith and spending time with friends and family. She hopes to apply her passions for writing and editing in her future career.