Keep off the grass, dangerous steps, deep water, PRIVATE – no entry. These are signs that we may come across in the parks, gardens, buildings that we visit. However, what are the areas of your life, thoughts, feelings, emotions to which you don’t allow others to have access. Maybe there are also areas that you keep locked and bolted from all-comers ….. including yourself.


Having said that, as soon as I see that keep off the grass sign, that private sign, there is a part of me that has to fight hard to resist the temptation of skipping across the grass, of checking out just what I am not being allowed to see. Usually that little devil on my shoulder is quelled and I conform, I behave, well as I said, usually!

However, maybe some of our no-go areas that aren’t signed or labelled by others are areas where we don’t feel physically safe. For myself, my parents implanted in me a danger of going near to any steep drop and these messages remained with me. I admit to laughing at myself if I lean over a bridge looking down into the water below; whilst I do not feel physically in danger, I do automatically hold onto my glasses, even though they have never actually dropped off.

Sadly, no-go dangerous area may be considered such due to age, gender, sexuality, colour, religion. I remember, on a visit to USA, staying with friends being given strict instructions where we, as a white family, shouldn’t drive.  

There may be no-go areas that your family don’t feel they can include in conversation. Certainly, anything to do, even very remotely, with sex was never to be talked of when I was growing up. How well I can still remember my Mum and next door neighbour talking about a neighbour having a hysterectomy, obviously considered to be sexually based rather than medically. When it was realised that little ears may be listening, as they obviously were, the ‘h’ word was mouthed rather than said out loud. I already knew about the neighbour and her op, though I had no idea what it was or its implications! However, for some reason, the over-the-fence-chat stopped with me and the reason for the miming was understood at one of my kerching moments several years later. Amazing what is locked away in our minds and that we think we have forgotten. I never cease to amaze myself when the answer to a quiz question just pops into my head when I didn’t even know that I knew it. Wish it would pop into my head where I have put things that I have apparently lost!


We all have stuff that we keep in our heads, our minds, and take very much for granted. The minutiae of our day to day organisation, our menu for that evening, how to get from A to B, people’s names, family history, information for work or courses – for many, the latter seemingly only taking up residence long enough for us to pass an exam. Masses of information leading me to ponder on my brain’s storage system – and wouldn’t it be handy to have a memory stick, an external hard drive or a link to a cloud where I could save stuff that may come in useful at some future date. That I could then simply re-load into my brain without having to actually re-read, re-learn.

But, what of those no-go areas of ourselves? Knowingly or not, we do have them. Our secrets, our secret selves as opposed to our openness with ourselves and with others.

Johari’s window is a tool which I have used with clients for many years, having been introduced to it early on in my initial counsellor training. It was developed in the 1950’s by American psychologists Luft and Ingham to help with relationships and communication. I find it remains helpful for improving self-awareness, personal development and relationships either personal or professional. From those habits or words that annoy but we are unaware of, to the things that hurt us and deeply affect us though we don’t tell even those closest to us about this.

The four areas can tell us a lot about ourselves, so long as we are truthful when considering what traits, habits, aspects of ourselves fit into the panes and are accepting of comments from others.

The ARENA pane – the parts of ‘us’ that are open for public inspection and of which we are fully aware.

THE FAÇADE pane – the parts of ‘us’ know to ourselves but kept hidden, undisclosed to others. Our secret self that is not shared.

The BLIND SPOT pane – the parts of us that others see, yet we are unaware of. Sharing this in therapy can be very revealing as we are often unaware of signals, body language, words from which others pick up information about us that we don’t realise we are revealing.

The UNKNOWN pane – the parts of us that are hidden from view from all, including ourselves.

Individuals can consider what aspects of themselves would be in the arena and façade panes. Others – maybe colleagues if a group activity, friends, partner, therapist contribute to the former and also the blind spot pane.  As for the unknown pane, this depends on how open and honest people are willing to be in their suggestions of what may occupy this particular pane. It can be an area that requires some digging and delving with behaviours giving clues to associated feelings, fears, thought patterns which are hidden away.

Whilst the diagram shows panes of equal size, this is usually far from reality. We all know people who are seemingly very open about themselves, in fact some who are probably too open for the comfort of others especially when it comes to very personal and intimate details. The tellers of all to anyone who will listen, especially now that we have social media to aid with this process, or the tabloids willing to share any dirt. We have to remember that some of the panes may reveal untruths down to either fake news, or untruths told by one of the parties involved.

Then there are the people who, no matter how long we have known them, we feel that we really don’t know them at all beyond a very superficially level. Even that arena pane seems to have a net curtain across it. A curtain through which we can peep seemingly by invitation only.

We can either ask questions or tell things; use self-disclosure or observations made by others; use feedback to comments made by others; or have a shared learning of what may be in those hidden areas of ourselves. This enables a movement of the panes towards a more open way of being. Understanding how we present ourselves to the world is a fascinating insight to ‘us’ rather than relying on how we consider ourselves to be. This does vary according to those involved in the process. What we do with the information is down to the individuals. Should changes be made or are we happy to continue as we were.


If you ask others for feedback on how you come across to them personally or in public in general, you need to be prepared to accept their comments. For good or for bad. Thank them and then decide what you are going to do with the information received, including those no-go areas. You could well hear things, become aware of things that make you feel uncomfortable. Possibly, the communicator gave the information in a somewhat brusque way which you found upsetting, though the upset could be caused by the information received rather than the manner in which it was given. Maybe the information given allows you to set up some goals for change, although one of the first could well be that you choose to find out more about what is causing you to have these no-go areas!

Receiving an eye opening piece of information about yourself doesn’t have to be as a result of a formal exercise. For many of us, a passing comment from a friend such as ‘Do you realise how you’ve changed?’ ‘Wow, you have become a lot more positive these days.’ ‘Come on, cheer up – you aren’t the person you used to be’ sort of comments. Your answer could well be akin to my response to recognising my fear of heights – I knew the root cause of this and have subsequently gone a long way to overcoming my fears. I particularly wanted to do this in order not to pass on the same fears to my children.

However, other areas may not be physical no-go areas, rather emotional ones. Probably perceived as less easy to talk about. How easy it is to build walls around ourselves after a relationship break-up, in order to protect from further hurt. However, this may be affecting you in unseen (by you) ways as you could well be maintaining that self-protection as your default setting, so also keeping others, including family and friends at arms’ length.

Maybe the main no-go area for you is that of not allowing anyone to see, let alone to challenge, your emotions. They are all firmly under lock and key in an area that isn’t for sharing, especially if you perceive them as a weakness rather than a strength. Your no-go emotional areas could be hidden behind a smile which is put on in public, or by an avoidance of situations, people, a physical shutting away as well as the shutting away of those emotions.

The choice is yours – to make changes or to be content with the way that things are for you. The problem is, if you have been told of aspects of yourself that others are aware of, does this change your attitude to these newly revealed aspects of yourself? Does it make you wonder what else you may be squirreling away – attitudes, emotions, characteristics of yourself that could well benefit you if you took a careful look at them before re-hiding them, or even going on to develop them, by accepting them and enabling yourself to knowingly include them as an open part of ‘you’.

There may be some aspects of your no-go areas, your emotional self that you feel are negative, and this you see as your reason for avoiding them. In the vast majority of cases, this isn’t a good reason. In fact, recent research shows this to be one of the main causes of emotional and psychological problems. Yes, the avoidance of acknowledging and dealing with negative emotions may have served a short term purpose by avoiding feelings of hurt. However, the negativity doesn’t magically disappear by being ignored, rather it festers and grows. It can lead to the use of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drink, drugs, misuse of food. It can lead to the break-up of relationships, of friendships. The problem is compounded and the cause of the secondary problem may not be recognised as such.

As a therapist, I have worked with many who have tried to achieve this burying of negativity, but have found that that it jumps out and bites them on the bum following a trigger event, or simply at a seemingly random moment. Once out, re-burying can take a lot of emotional effort and frequently remains an unfinished task. If you subsequently receive treatment for an addiction or addiction related illness, I always hope that the original cause is traced and worked on, otherwise it remains lurking awaiting an opportunity to create more mayhem.

Better to accept that you are feeling emotionally bad – and take action to do something about this. Said action is most effective if it includes talking therapy, though, remembering that our minds and bodies are part of the same whole, working on healthy eating and exercise can and does aid the process of working through things.

I will pursue the matter of emotional avoidance in my next blog. Do get in touch if I can help you.


Enjoy this post? Try my Downloadable therapies


Like the idea of the window. Dread to think what I hide from me. The idea of self discovery sounds great. Elaine
Thanks for commenting Elaine - maybe you could take a look at your Johari's window with a trusted friend. You need to be ready for hearing things you maybe would prefer not to hear. D
Know am guilty of carrying that wall around with me. Think it would be interesting to look at my window.
Do get in touch if I can help with your window. D

Add new comment

Enter the characters shown in the image.