The Curious Case of Curiosity

It’s no surprise that I ask questions in therapy. Most of the time my curiosity is such a natural part of the conversation that it’s just a quiet backdrop. It’s present, but not really thought about.

Sometimes, however, curiosity feels like a completely different thing. Curiosity itself becomes an issue that moves into the foreground.

Whether it’s that quiet backdrop or the loudest thing in the room, sometimes it can be helpful to slow down and pay a little attention to how another person’s curiosity actually feels.

  • Does curiosity feel like a welcomed interest?
  • Does it feel like the person doubts you or your reaction?
  • Does it feel reassuring?
  • Does curiosity feel intrusive?
  • Does it feel like a suggestion that you’ve done something wrong?
  • Does it feel like an implication that the other person can’t understand you?
  • Does curiosity feel caring?
  • Does it feel voyeuristic?

Or Maybe It's Not So Straightforward

Often our response will be nuanced. Curiosity can be welcome in some areas of our lives, but seriously anxiety-inducing when other topics come up. We may even yearn for somebody to ask us a particular question, but simultaneously be afraid of having to answer.

The tone, intent, and language behind a question certainly influence the experience of curiosity. “How did that make you feel?” can be delivered with either tear-inducing compassion or enough snark to melt the paint on the walls.

So What?

Our reaction to curiosity can tell us a lot about ourselves, our worries, our past experiences, our self-doubts, and our areas of pride and confidence.

Sometimes in a therapy you and I even realize that we’ve somehow developed an implicit, unspoken agreement in which certain topics or questions are off limits. Those are very valuable moments, allowing both of us to ask, “how did this arrangement come to be?” and, “what - or who - do we believe we’re protecting by putting this restriction on what we can talk about?”

Like so much in therapy, there’s not a “right” or “wrong” reaction to curiosity.

Paying attention to the different responses you have to curiosity is simply another way we can make use of an in-the-room moment, learn more, and deepen the conversation.