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Self-disclosure is both the conscious and subconscious act of revealing more about oneself to others. This may include, but is not limited to, thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, failures, successes, fears, dreams as well as one's likes, dislikes, and favorites.
Typically, a self-disclosure happens when we initially meet someone and continues as we build and develop our relationships with people. As we get to know each other, we disclose information about ourselves. If one person is not willing to "self-disclose" then the other person may stop disclosing information about themselves as well.
In a counseling session, the patient or client does the "self-disclosing" while the counselor, or therapist listens. The goal is to help the client see things from different perspectives. This allows the client to see and evaluate options he or she may not have thought about, which may give the client more power when making important life decisions. There are several relationship perspectives in self-disclosing information in a counseling session. That of patient to therapist, therapist to patient, supervisor to supervisee, and supervisee to supervisor. Each of these relationships affects the tendency to disclose personal information. The clinical space available for patients to disclose should be far broader than that of the therapist.
Self-disclosure is an important building block for intimacy, intimacy can not be achieved without it. We expect self-disclosure to be reciprocal and appropriate. Self-disclosure can be assessed on an analysis of cost and rewards which can be further explained by social exchange theory. Most self-disclosure usually occurs early in relational development, but more intimate self-disclosure occurs later. Male and female differences in self-disclosure are mixed. Women self-disclose to enhance a relationship where men self-disclose relative to control and vulnerability. Men initially disclose more in heterosexual relationships. Women tend to put more emphasis on intimate communication with same sex friends than men do.
Understanding self-disclosure in intimate relationship
There are several important factors that influence self-disclosure and the state of the relationship, such as the relational definition, time, way of explaining each other's behavior, degree of affection, reciprocity, and goals. The dimension of time is especially interesting because social penetration theory assumes that relationships increase in intensity in a gradual and orderly manner. This orderly progression resembles the shifting messages from superficial to more intimate and the move toward a broader range conversation topics that take place over time. But linear progress in a single direction is only one pattern of relational development. Research has shown that for some couples, the early period of openness is followed by a quick decline in self-disclosure. There are also long-term marriages in which greater and greater disclosure is followed by a leveling off of disclosure and perhaps decline. And still another pattern is when people click right away so that disclosure occurs quickly rather than in gradual fashion.
In social penetration theory, an onion model a of personality is used. The onion is made up of four layers: surface, periphery, intermediate layer, and central layer. As information is disclosed, the layers of the onion are further peeled. And the more information comes from the center or core of the onion, the greater is the development of the relationship. The information that corresponds to surface of the personality includes things that are clearly visible such as sex, race, and age. The peripheral layer contains information that is ordinarily disclosed through small talk when one first encounters another person. Here we are talking about one's name, occupation, hometown, interests, etc. At the intermediate level, the information that is given is about things that are not always shared with everyone. It is somewhat personal but not secret information. At the central level, the information is disclosed with caution and it is private.
It is helpful to remember that self-disclosure is a complex notion. In Anais Nin's diary, she reflects on the huge value of her journal in the light of her belief that happiness with human beings is precarious. She adds that she doesn't often feel in the mood to confide and that the slightest hint of indifference is enough to stop her from disclosing any more. Clearly, negative experiences with others can lead us to feel that telling others about our inner thoughts and wishes is just too risky and uncomfortable. On the other hand, we long for friends who can confirm our value, we enjoy the feeling of closeness with others, and relationships with others can transform us in positive ways.
- Ancient mariner effect
- Interpersonal communication
- Four-sides model
- Outline of self
- Social penetration theory
- Self (psychology)
- Self report
- Farber A. Barry. Self Disclosure in Psychotherapy. The Guilford Press. New York. 2006
- Derlega, V. (1993). "Developing Close Relationships," V. Derlega et al., Self Disclosure. Sage
- Sprecher, S. (1987) The effects of self disclosure given and received on affection for an intimate partner and stability of the relationship, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 4: 115-28.
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