To understand what is self disclosure, we have to understand the term ‘disclosure’. Disclosure refers to the process of making any unknown information known to others. And self disclosure refers to the process of making any unknown information about own life, known to others.
The interpersonal process of self disclosure requires one to disclose personal information and intimate details about one’s life like your thoughts, beliefs, aspirations, fear, etc. What to share and what not to share depends on the individual. Due to the presence of individual differences, not everyone is comfortable with self disclosure.
1. Examples of Self Disclosure
To understand what is self disclosure we can look at a few examples. These examples will provide a better understanding of what is self disclosure.
Example 1: Two classmates, named Lizzy and Jane met on the first day of college. They shared the basic details about themselves like their names, where they live, how they travel to college, etc.
After a few interactions, they become comfortable with one another, and then they share information about their favorite food names, places to visit, movies, etc. When they had known each other for a few months, they disclose information about their family problems, personal relationships, fights with mother/ father, etc.
This shows that strong bonds take time to develop and it is gradually that partner disclosure takes place.
Example 2: A group of five friends is there in school. They have known each other for a long time since childhood and so are aware of each other’s details. They do not hesitate to disclose personal information to each other as they have become comfortable with each other over time.
If we look at the above examples of what is self disclosure, we can see that more intimate self disclosure requires time and comfort. One doesn’t share intimate details about oneself with a stranger. The personal details to be disclosed depend on the interpersonal relationships that the people share. Various factors affect the extent to which information is shared.
2. Types of Self Disclosure
Self disclosure can be classified as verbal and nonverbal exchanges. Verbal self disclosure refers to using language to convey the information you consciously intend to share. Nonverbal self disclosure refers to using body language, gestures, expressions, etc. which convey the information without a deliberate effort to do so.
3. What is Self Disclosure: Theories
We can better understand the concept of what is self disclosure with the help of three psychological theories. These theories are Social Exchange Theory, Communication Privacy Management Theory, and Social Penetration Theory. These are discussed separately below.
3.1) Social Exchange Theory
As the name suggests, the Social Exchange Theory proposes that our social behavior is an exchange process. An individual weighs the costs and rewards of a relationship to maximize the rewards and minimize the costs.
Here, what is self disclosure is a process which entails sharing the information that will lead to maximum rewards and minimum cost to the person sharing personal details. When the rewards outweigh the costs, it leads to positive relationships and thus increases the future chances of revealing personal details.
3.2) Communication Privacy Management Theory
The CPM theory tries to understand the way people maintain privacy boundaries and determine the extent to which information should be disclosed. It depends on the associated costs and rewards related to the information.
The privacy boundaries of a person determine what is self disclosure for them. This theory was first developed by Sandra Petronio in 1991.
3.3) Social Penetration Theory
Social penetration theory developed by Altman and Taylor proposes that as a relationship develops, people move from communicating superficial information toward more personal information.
The more a person spends time with another person, the more it is likely to self disclose personal information. To develop more intimate relationships, individuals must strive to increase both the depth and breadth of their conversations.
The depth of a conversation refers to the amount of intimate information and private information shared with our partner. The breadth of a conversation refers to the wide range of topics chosen for conversation.
4. Self Disclosure and Therapy
Experimental social psychology uses self disclosure as a therapeutic process to provide positive mental health. When a person enters therapy it is not easy to share personal information with an unknown person. It takes a lot of trusts to share intimate details of one’s life. So what is self disclosure takes on a different perspective in therapy.
On the other hand, a therapist self disclosure also becomes a crucial factor in the therapy. The therapist doesn’t need to disclose his details but if they wish to do so they can. It depends on the need of the situation.
Research suggests that self disclosure helps one feel relaxed and at peace with oneself. When you have shared a piece of information that has been withheld for a long time, you feel relieved. Sometimes an individual finds it difficult to share information with close ones, so talking with one’s therapist can be helpful.
5. Benefits of Self Disclosure
Understanding what is self disclosure is beneficial in developing a trusting relationship. In counseling psychology, it is used as a verbal communication procedure to help people disclose personal information.
Self disclosure works by disclosing just the right amount of personal information and personal feelings to the other person at the right time. The positive outcomes of self disclosures are satisfying relationships, improved romantic relationships, and relationship satisfaction.
Research suggests that self disclosure aids in improving the mental health of the individual and boosts self esteem. Some of the other benefits of self disclosure are listed as follows.
Better Interpersonal relationships
When an individual reveals information of personal significance to another person, it leads to better interpersonal relationships. When a person reveals personal information to another, it develops a strong and trusting bond between them. Such interpersonal exchanges lead to an intimate relationship between two or more individuals.
Clarity of the Issue at Hand
Sometimes while communicating about a topic, we seldom miss out on the details that might lead to misunderstandings. So disclosing information will lead to clarity of the topic at hand.
The importance of self disclosure can be found in conflict resolution. Sometimes lack of communication leads to conflicts. When people conceal information conflicts are bound to arise. Thus, disclosing personal information as per the need of the situation can help in resolving the conflicts.
Interpersonal interactions between partners lead to satisfying relationships. When individuals reveal personal information it leads to trust-building amongst them. Perceived partner responsiveness also leads to intimate relationships.
The feeling of relief can be achieved by the actual act of emotional expression with one’s partner. When you reveal private information you feel relaxed as if some burden has been taken off. It also provides social support as both parties share a common understanding. Based on the contextual factors when individuals disclose information, they feel relieved.
6. Responding to Other’s Self Disclosure
The reaction of people to self disclosure cannot be determined with certainty. When one tells personal information to another person, they cannot predict the response they will get. In the same way, we cannot predict our response to others’ self disclosure.
An important factor in what is self disclosure is the way we respond to others’ self disclosure affects their self esteem and their relationship with us. So we have to keep in mind that our response to the shared personal information is crucial.
If we react negatively, we convey a message that one should not disclose personal information. It puts forth the message that one’s emotional expression is not of worth and should be kept to oneself.
Whereas, if we react positively, we convey a message that one’s emotions are acceptable. To build productive teams it is important to respect others’ self disclosures and provide a safe space for verbal communication.
7. Risks Associated with Self Disclosure
Understanding what is self disclosure and how it should occur is not easy. It comes with its risks. Since one cannot predict the reaction of other people towards their self disclosures, therefore the risk of misinterpretation is always there.
One has to be careful when sharing personal information. It depends on the social context, the person you are sharing information with, the extent of delicate information it contains, etc. Sharing too much information in inappropriate contexts may affect your reputation in the organization. It can cause embarrassment at times which may affect your mood as well.
Whereas, an appropriate self disclosure will help you build positive relationships and aid in personal growth. It also makes you feel relaxed as you have shared your feelings with someone else.
Check out the article ‘101 Confidence quotes to help believe in yourself‘. It will remind you that risks can be overcomes with confidence.
Though self disclosure comes with its risks but if you are cognizant of the ways of self disclosure you are good to go.
8. Self Disclosure Tips
Self disclosure is an art that cannot be done randomly. One has to decide what to disclose, when to disclose, how much and to whom to disclose. To practice what is self disclosure appropriately follow some of the below-mentioned tips.
8.1) Choose Appropriate Time
To disclose any sensitive information to some other person, timing is an important factor. Not every time is suitable for sharing any kind of information. One has to consider if the other person is in a mood to hear, what they are undergoing at the present moment.
Suppose, a person is struggling with personal problems and you disclose sensitive information to them. He might not be able to process the information you provide and may not be able to help you out.
Choose the time of self disclosure appropriately keeping in mind your and the other person’s mood. For example, a wife wants to get separated from her husband. She hears the news that he has lost his parents in an accident. Now, this is not an appropriate time to disclose the intent of separation.
8.2) Look at the Social Context
The context wherein you choose to disclose information should be kept in mind. Self disclosure cannot happen in any context. For example, you will not disclose family issues at the workplace. So the extent to which you choose to disclose personal information should be as per the social context you are present. A vital part of what is self disclosure is social context.
8.3) Proceed Slowly
The speed with which you choose to reveal information is also important. Do not disclose sensitive information in the first meeting. First, try to develop an understanding with your partner and then proceed towards self disclosure.
For example, you met a stranger online. In this case, do not disclose your identification marks like location, phone number, school/college, etc. First, get to know the person and when you feel confident about the person’s genuine behavior then proceed toward intimate self disclosure.
8.4) Be a Good Listener
Besides being able to discuss personal issues, it is important to listen to others’ problems as well. Be a patient and good listener and be empathetic towards others’ issues as well. To understand what is self disclosure we need to listen to others’ self disclosure as well.
8.5) Be Truthful
Honesty is an important component of self disclosure. If you are not being truthful in a conversation then the process of self disclosure is worthless. Relationships build on trust and effective communication.
To develop honest and positive relationships it is important to be truthful in a conversation. Even when you don’t wish to reveal any intimate detail, just say that you can’t. Do not engage in false stories to divert the other person.
8.6) Keep the Purpose of Disclosure in Mind
When you engage in the process of self disclosure, keep the purpose of disclosure in mind. Do not divert from your purpose as it will lead to futile talks and will be a waste of time.
For example, if you wish to discuss leaves with your boss due to a family medical emergency, then do not divert to topics like the boss’s family, other colleagues, etc. Keep your problems clearly in front of the other person as it gives clarity and weightage to your talk.
8.7) Keep Low Expectations
Do not keep high hopes or expectations from the other person. It might be possible that the other person isn’t empathetic towards your self disclosure. So do not be disheartened as individual differences occur. Keep your expectations low from others to avoid negative feelings later. It is an important aspect to understand what is self disclosure.