Self-disclosure: What is it?

In the last post we discussed the idea that intimacy is built in relationships through various means. It isn’t only done through self-disclosure. But a time will inevitably come, in most important relationships, when the invitation to open up, to reveal things close to the heart presents itself. What then?

Good question. How do we negotiate the when, where and with who questions around self-disclosure?

The first step is realizing that such a negotiation is necessary. It isn’t always something we think about. We’ve probably all had that uncomfortable feeling when we walk away from talking to someone and the words run through our head – too much information, I shouldn’t have said so much or, conversely, I didn’t want to know that much about him or her. These experiences alert us to the need for careful thought when it comes to self-disclosure.

google imageI used to present an activity to classes I taught called the door of disclosure. Each student would receive a folded piece of paper – the front of which looked like a door. When the paper opened, the student would see four quadrants:

  • Things about me I would share with anyone
  • Things about me I would share with someone I am intimate with i.e. a partner, a close friend or family member
  • Things about me I would share with an acquaintance or work colleague
  • Things about me I would share in a classroom or educational, group setting.

Students were asked to put some thought into the type of personal disclosure that is appropriate in each setting and jot down some notes for their own reference. This preparation exercise was important because the class involved a fair amount of small group work and, as anyone who’s been part of a group knows, a group can be a self-disclosure quagmire.

The Saying What Matters Lady is here to tell you, self-disclosure requires careful thought. Let’s start with the basics.

What is self-disclosure?

When we reveal information about ourselves that is significant and would not normally be known to another.

There are degrees of self-disclosure

We always have a choice about how deep we go on any given topic.

Clichés – these represent a very surface level of disclosure – an easily tossed out stock responses that may contain a coded way of hinting that more is going on. But clichés are ambiguous.

Consider this example that we’ll use throughout. Joe runs into Chuck, a good friend he hasn’t seen in years. Chuck asks how Joe’s wife Tammy is doing. Joe replies, “There’s a sucker born every minute, right?” Joe certainly means something but what that meaning might be is ambiguous.

Facts – presenting the facts goes a step beyond a cliché. Chuck gives Joe a confused look and Joe says, “We’re getting a divorce.” This is a verifiable fact and since Chuck didn’t know, Joe has self-disclosed – to a degree.

Opinions – opinions represent a deeper level of disclosure because they reflect values, beliefs, and information about the self. Chuck nods in sympathy and Joe mumbles, “Marriage sure doesn’t mean what it used to.”

Feelings – when we get down to feelings we’re at the most revealing level of disclosure. Chuck says, “Sounds rough. Joe responds, “She broke my heart, man. I can’t see how I’ll ever get over this.”

The Saying What Matters lady loves models and visuals so I want to leave you with something to think about. The Johari Window is a fascinating tool for getting in touch with areas of our life where self-disclosure can take place.

A Model for Self-disclosure – The Johari Window

  • The window contains everything there is to know about you
  • Four quadrants where levels of knowing and not-knowing can shift up and down like a window
  • No two people have the same configuration of window settings

Johari Window

A few things to keep in mind when thinking about the Johari Window:

  • Life experiences make the various windows slide up and down.
  • When we have positive experiences of self-disclosure and allow others to know us better, one window opens wider while another closes somewhat.
  • Blind spots can disappear when another person has the ability to reveal something about ourselves to us without making us overly defensive.
  • Self-awareness can grow with time. One day we have an insight about  ourselves we never had before and the window slides up.

Bathroom collage - Guenette photo

Okay – as usual, get curious about yourself. How open or closed are your Johari windows? If you haven’t given the idea of when, where, and with whom you share personal information a lot of thought, now would be a good time. In our next post we’ll look at the characteristics of self-disclosure and some of the reasons we do it.

About francisguenette

Writer, blogger and author of the Crater Lake Series.
This entry was posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Relationship, Self Help, Teaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Self-disclosure: What is it?

  1. Mindy says:

    I love how this can be applied to our personal lives and/or our characters’ lives. Fiction, written well, can be a part of someone’s healing journey, and I know that is one of your intentions in writing. Good insight. Love the visual.

  2. Hi Mindy. I’m Fran’s husband and partner. Fiction indeed can be part of the healing journey. And to build on this, I have heard it said that truth can at times be best expressed in fiction. In many ways good fiction, and good poetry, expresses so much that an article or scientific paper could never begin to address i.e. more heart centered, than mind… Never the less, we need both – each brings us insight. Cheers to you – Bruce

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