Why Is It Easier to Talk to Strangers?
When we face a problem we often also face the irony that we either find it easier to discuss our problems with a stranger, or we find the strangers in our lives are somehow more helpful, than the ones closest to us. There are many reasons why it is easier to talk to a stranger—whether that person is a counselor, a social worker, a therapist, a new acquaintance, an online contact, or an individual we meet in a support group.
Finding it easier to talk to a stranger than with our spouse, parent, or best friend may seem counter-intuitive and may cause us to question the strength of our relationships. However, it is not only normal for us, at times, to find it easier to confide in a stranger, but it can be beneficial and may even help us maintain and strengthen our current relationships.
There are a number of reasons why we may find it easier to talk to a stranger than someone we know well. Strangers may be able to help us more with a problem. There are many different types of strangers and many different ways in which we may choose to interact with strangers.
Strangers Aren't Thinking About How Your Problem Affects Them
I've done it myself—a loved one (family or friend) shares a significant problem with me, and my thoughts trail off to how much this problem actually affects me and my life. Hopefully I refocus my attention back on supporting this loved one, and I leave thinking about myself for later.
When we try to talk to a loved one about a problem, how that problem will affect that loved one interferes with the amount of support that person will or can provide. Children, for example, can react in anger and appear unsupportive when learning of a parent's serious medical condition. They may want to help their parent but are fearful and panicked. They depend upon their parents; they cannot fathom a role reversal in which they are now caring for their parents. Life plans may need to be altered due to this problem. Instead of hearing a need for support and comfort, they will also hear the need to alter their own life.
Strangers, on the other hand, will tend to stay in the here and now, and they will focus on the immediate problem. The stranger is more likely to truly hear what we are expressing in the moment—not things we may have said in the past, not expectations we had for the future, and not how this problem affects them, because it doesn't affect them.
Talking to a Stranger Can Be Less Embarrassing
If I tell something personal and embarrassing to a stranger, I never have to face them again. If the stranger reacts badly, I have less invested in the relationship with this person, and I can move on and find someone else to confide in. I feel less judged by a stranger. I am not preoccupied with how the person is viewing me, how this will affect my relationship, how this person will look at my in the future, or with whom in my community they may discuss me.
If the stranger does not know who I am or will not be involved in my community in the future, I am not concerned about my reputation or my image.
It is possible we may even present ourselves anonymously to a stranger, allowing us to eliminate all possible negative impacts sharing our personal problems may have. It is possible to share problems anonymously with support groups in a different town, chat rooms or online forums, or with religious entities such as priests in confessional booths.
A Stranger Is Less Likely to Gossip
Most problems, at least the big, personal ones, are secrets. Most people we know also know other people in our community. By telling one person our problems, it is possible (or even likely) they will tell others. Seeking a sounding board in a friend or family member may backfire into involving a very large group of concerned and well-meaning people.
A stranger may not ever know who I am. If they do know who I am, they are less invested in telling others about my problem. If my problem is that interesting that the stranger does discuss it with others, I am far less likely to know those people or be concerned about what they may think of me.
A stranger may hear my problem and forget about it later. Since strangers are not invested in me or the subject of my problem, the secret they heard is not important in their day-to-day lives. The stranger is less tempted to repeat what I have discussed, because I am not relevant to who or what they encounter throughout their day.
If a Stranger Reacts Poorly, It's Easier to Brush It Off
I'm not invested in a stranger's reaction. I am less likely to worry about how the stranger may react and continue to react. Since they are not part of my daily life, and I do not have a relationship with them, the stranger does not have to be a part of my future. I can choose to move on and find a new stranger or confidante.
Strangers are potentially interchangeable. If I am not happy with one stranger, I can find myself another, no strings attached. If I confide in my spouse, my mother, or my coworker, and I am unhappy with their reaction, it will not only be harder for me to disengage and drop the subject but the experience could affect my relationship with this person in the future.
Strangers Won't Constantly Bring Up the Problem
With a stranger, I can choose when to talk about my problems. Since a stranger is not part of my day-to-day life, I won't have a person with knowledge of my issue or my feelings reminding me of what we discussed, asking follow-up questions about what we discussed, or reacting over time to this new knowledge.
Talking with a stranger allows me the freedom to choose when to address this problem and gain feedback. I can also choose when I'd rather face the problem. Anticipating constant reminders may stop me from talking to a good friend or family member. This problem may be something I am not sure how to face, and I may not be sure if I even want to face it. I may need feedback and an opinion from outside of my own thinking patterns, but I also may want to avoid someone pushing their opinion onto me in the future, and providing consistent feedback about how I may or may not be addressing the problem.
A Stranger Can Provide a New Perspective
We surround ourselves with like-minded people. We tend to share the same perspectives, beliefs, and thought patterns with our families. We tend to seek friends or form stronger bonds with friends who share our perspectives and give us a feeling that we understand each other and can relate.
A stranger would likely come from a social circle outside of ours and is more likely to have a different perspective than we would normally hear from those around us. By hearing a differing opinion, even if we disagree, we are opened to more possible solutions to our problems.
A stranger is also less likely to feel the need to be polite, to "yes" us and simply tell us what they believe we want to hear. The stranger is also less likely to even understand what we may want to hear in the first place. The feedback we get from a stranger may be more objective and more direct than the feedback we receive from our loved ones.