What is self-disclosure and what are the benefits of doing it?
Self-disclosure is an aspect of communication that involves intentionally sharing personal information about ourselves with another person. Or, it may be thought of as the process that grants other people access to our secrets or ‘real self’ (Greene, Derlega, & Mathews, 2006). Technically, any form of communication reveals something about us—the topics we choose to discuss, the self-assuredness in our voice, and the levity in our storytelling all communicate things about us. In psychology though, none of these are examples of self-disclosure, as they do not intentionally reveal something—like a belief, thought, feeling, experience, hope, or dream—that others would not know if not for us sharing it.
There are several features of self-disclosure that scientists have explored (Greene, Derlega, & Mathews, 2006). They are:
The Benefits of Self-Disclosure
Self-disclosure is thought to be beneficial (and perhaps even necessary) for forming close, intimate social connections. Three things seem to explain why this is:
In addition to the interpersonal benefits of self-disclosure, we often experience intrapersonal benefits—or internal (mental health) benefits. For example, self-disclosure can help us achieve a sense of catharsis, clarification on the topic, and increased social support (which feels good; Greene, Derlega, & Mathews, 2006). In contrast, research suggests that concealing personal thoughts and feelings—or not self-disclosing them—can be a stressor on the body, harm immunity, and even possibly lead to disease. Revealing this suppressed or silenced information can help alleviate this stress and improve health (Greene, Derlega, & Mathews, 2006).
Overall, self-disclosure is thought to be good for mental health. Of course, the benefits depend largely on the response of the person hearing the self-disclosure. If the response is negative, the benefits might not be there.
If Self-Disclosure Is Good, Why Don’t We Disclose Everything?
If self-disclosure is so good for our relationships and emotions, what keeps us from disclosing things? Some common reasons include:
So before self-disclosing, it can be helpful to decide if you want to disclose information in person, through a letter, in a phone call, through video, through another medium, or not at all. The medium you choose for self-disclosure can change how effective it is or help you to manage some of the more difficult parts of self-disclosure.
Self-disclosure—or sharing intimate details about yourself—isn’t always easy. It’s not always apparent why you should even do it. But when we look at the research, we can see that sharing our authentic selves with others may just be the key to happy, intimate relationships.
Want to get to know someone better? Here are some questions you can ask.
Maybe you're trying to get to know someone better. Maybe you're trying to make conversations more interesting. Or maybe you just want to improve your communication skills by asking better questions. Communication may just be the backbone of healthy relationships. But communication is more than just a tool we use to explore ourselves. It can also be used to build closer bonds with others. One way we can do this is by asking questions—questions that lead others to self-disclose to us. This is how we get to know who the other person is for real.
In perhaps one of the best-known studies on relationships, Art Aron showed that when two people asked each other increasingly probing questions over a 45-minute period, they felt closer than two people who had just engaged in chit-chat (Aron et al., 1997). Further research suggests that when others self-disclose personal information, we like them more (Sprecher, Treger, & Wondra, 2013). This may partially explain why asking and answering questions increases closeness.
Questions to Ask
To start increasing closeness (or just get to know someone), here are some questions you can ask:
Asking questions can be a great way to learn more about others, increase closeness between you, and have more interesting conversations. Hopefully, these questions will give you some ideas for what to ask people.
Discover tips and techniques for better listening.
Listening is a passive process of hearing (Nemec, Spagnolo, & Soydon, 2017). For the most part, this process is automatic and doesn't require us to do much of anything. On the other hand, active listening is the active process of listening to understand. It often involves responding both verbally and nonverbally to demonstrate comprehension (Nemec, Spagnolo, & Soydon, 2017). The active listener has a clear goal in mind: to capture both the experience and the perspective of the speaker (Rogers & Roethlisberger, 1991).
Benefits of Active Listening
Active listening is important because we almost always want people to hear and understand what we say. The problem is that communication isn’t always easy. We can easily misunderstand others and leave conversations feeling unheard, invalidated, and misunderstood. But, when we use active listening skills properly, we can connect more effectively.
For example, active listeners are rated as more emotionally in tune (Bodie, Vickery, Cannava, & Jones, 2015) and are thought to be important in restoring relationship injuries (Min, Jung, & Ryu, 2021).
What Makes Active Listening Hard?
Individual characteristics can sometimes make active listening hard. For one, active listening requires self-control. When trying to listen, many of us are instead are mentally assigning judgment to the things we've just heard. We may be asking ourselves, is the speaker right or wrong? Do we have anything to add? What will I say in response to this? We are often reflecting on the content to help us prepare responses.
Many of us also fall into the role of problem-solving as it's common to feel a need to "fix the issue" being shared with us. With the best of intentions, we may connect the speaker's story with an experience of our own and provide input based on the strategies we've found helpful in the past. The problem is, if we are readying our response or coming up with solutions while someone is speaking, we are likely not fully being present and engaged in first listening and understanding the speaker's experience.
Remember, the goal of active listening is to understand. Our rush to share our perspective or resolve an issue can leave the speaker feeling unheard because they haven't yet been able to talk through and process their perspective (Nemec, Spagnolo, & Soydon, 2017). Being an active listener means making the choice not to speak, not to contribute your opinion, not to defend your perspective or belief, and not to offer solutions or suggestions for change in service of first fully understanding the speaker.
How to Listen Actively
There are four key pillars of active listening: preparation, open-ended questions, paraphrasing, and reflecting feelings (Nemec, Spagnolo, & Soydon, 2017).
Here's a list of dos and don'ts of active listening based on the pillars above:
Active listening is a critical skill that can help us feel more connected. It can be hard and requires intention and effort but hopefully, these tips can help you build active listening skills in your real life.
Discover how to open-up in relationships (or deal with others who don’t open up).
Researchers define emotional availability as “an individual’s emotional responsiveness and attunement to another’s needs and goals” (pp. 80, Emde, 1980). Based on this, emotional availability involves not only negative emotions like anger or sadness but also positive emotions like happiness or excitement. One of the most important ingredients in a secure and healthy relationship is this ability to ‘show up’ emotionally for the other person (Saunders et al., 2015) which is why emotional unavailability can be so problematic.
Emotional availability involves:
Signs that you may be emotionally unavailable
Signs that your partner may be emotionally unavailable:
How to Be More Emotionally Available
Focus on strengthening your current relationships.
Take a break from new relationships to work on yourself.
Learn how to cope with your emotions in a healthy way..
Seek help from an unbiased professional.
Being emotionally unavailable simply means that you may have to work on thought patterns and behaviors that are currently serving as a barrier to emotional intimacy. This can be an opportunity to look inward and then move forward with building more rewarding relationships.
How to express more thankfulness in your daily life.
Thankfulness—which might also be referred to as gratitude or appreciation—is a positive, other-focused emotion (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). It generally involves positive feelings about another person's actions, but it might just be for the other person's existence—e.g., I'm just thankful to have you!
Thankfulness may just be one of the best things we can do to improve both personal well-being and our relationships. Both expressing and experiencing thankfulness are linked with happiness and other positive outcomes (Bono, Emmons, & McCullough, 2004). So, the more often and intensely we feel thankfulness, the better.
Perhaps this is why psychologists have recently taken an interest in studying gratitude and thankfulness more deeply. One of the most rigorous ways they’ve done this is by creating gratitude interventions—interventions designed to teach people how to practice gratitude in their real lives. Numerous gratitude intervention studies have now shown the benefits of gratitude (Davis et al., 2016). Some of the most common strategies used in these studies involve short activities—for example, the gratitude list, gratitude letters, gratitude journals, and listing 3 good things (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). These are short and easy ways to boost well-being.
Even though some people speculate that gratitude interventions may not be as efficacious as other more involved psychotherapeutic interventions, they may actually be more effective (Davis et al., 2016). That is, we're more likely to actually do them so they work better in the long run and in real life. They're easy, they're fun, and they're doable—and that's what really matters.
Benefits of Being Thankful
According to the research, the benefits of gratitude may include:
Taking a few minutes each day to be thankful can be an easy and effective way to boost your mood and strengthen your relationships. Hopefully, this article was a good jumping-off point to inspire you and get you started.
What is assertive communication and how do you use it to improve your relationships?
Imagine that you’re on a tight deadline for a specific project (e.g., a school assignment or work task) and have a full plate. One of your close friends asks you to do a last-minute favor for her. You want to say no so that you stay on track, but you also don’t want to come off as a bad friend. What would you do?
Perhaps you would yell at her for bothering you when you’re so busy. Or maybe you assertively tell her that you’d love to help, but you just can't. Or, maybe you say you’ll do it even knowing that you’ll be stressed and resentful for doing so. Each of these communication styles reflects our personal style, but one of them is likely to help us feel the best in the longer term: the assertive style.
Assertive communication has been defined as “the ability to speak and interact in a manner that considers and respects the rights and opinions of others while also standing up for your rights, needs, and personal boundaries” (Pipas & Jaradat, 2010, pp. 649). It includes the following characteristics:
Assertive communication has several benefits (e.g., Pipas & Jaradat, 2010; Bishop, 2013) including greater self-confidence, improved social skills, and a greater sense of control. According to researchers, assertiveness can also be a “tool [used to make] your relationships more equal” (Alberti & Emmons, 2017, pp. 14).
Ways to Communicate More Assertively
Ways to Communicate More Assertively in Relationships
Assertive communication can seem hard at first, but it is well worth taking the steps to practice because it may result in better self-esteem, enhanced relationships, and fewer conflicts.
What does it mean to build connections and how do we do it?
Most people believe that love, intimacy, and social connection are more important than things like fame, wealth, and even physical health when it comes to their happiness (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008). Our intuition is right because loneliness represents one of the most significant threats to our physical health. Loneliness can impact our health just as much as lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008).
So, what exactly does it mean to be “socially connected”? Is it the number of people you know? Is it your perceived closeness to the other people in your life? Or is it the number of quality relationships you have? The answer might surprise you… It’s the combination of all of these things (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017).
So, when it comes to building connections, our goal is not simply to meet more people and increase the number of connections we have. Our goal is to find the people that make us feel good about ourselves, less lonely, and well-supported. Then, we must put in the effort to make the most of these relationships, so they stay strong and healthy. And luckily, just as we can eat healthier and exercise to boost our health, there are things we can do to combat loneliness and feel more socially connected.
How to Build Connections
We might start by developing and strengthening the personal connections we have with friends or colleagues. Ask yourself, is there a friend you would like to spend more time with? Is there a co-worker that seems nice who you’d like to get to know better? Building connections with people you already know personally can be an easy way to start feeling more socially connected.
For those who feel close to their families—or want to feel closer—it can be worth making an effort to talk more often. Even if you live far away, you could schedule a phone or video chat with a parent or sibling. Or you could aim to plan a future vacation together to have occasional meaningful experiences together.
Research shows that even small interactions with strangers can be good for our well-being (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2014). So don’t hesitate to talk to someone in line at the grocery store, chat with the barista at the coffee shop, or even ask for directions.
If we identify with a religion, joining a religious event may be helpful. Or we can make an effort to get to know our neighbors, join a Meetup group to engage in a hobby we enjoy, go to local events in an effort to meet new people, or volunteer to meet like-minded individuals.
In addition to building a greater number of connections, it’s important that we actually feel connected to the people we spend time with. And the way we interact with people has a direct effect on how connected we feel to them. Therefore, effective interpersonal communication can be very important. Here are some strategies.
1. Use active listening
Active listening involves being truly present when another person is talking. Nodding, reinforcing what they say, and focusing on them are key actions. Be sure to also avoid letting your mind wander to other things or what you’re going to say next.
2. Cultivate empathy
Empathy involves mentally and emotionally trying to put yourself in the other person's shoes. See if you can understand what their situation would be like from their perspective.
3. Be honest
Warm, trusting relationships are built on honesty. So be sure to tell the truth and share your true self with those with who you want to build connections.
4. Use emotion regulation
Managing your emotions is key to being able to work through difficulties with those you care about.
5. Pay attention to nonverbal cues
People say a lot with their body language. Try to pay attention to what other people are telling you with their nonverbal cues. For example, if someone is looking around a lot or backing away from you, they might be ready to leave the conversation.
6. Share your stories
Self-disclosing personal information (a little bit at a time) can help others feel closer to us. So, it can be helpful to use self-disclosure to improve your connections.
7. Try loving-kindness meditation
Loving-kindness meditation is a type of meditation where we imagine sending love to others. It can help strengthen our skills of compassion, kindness, and love.
8. Gratitude journaling
Writing a gratitude journal or list can help us appreciate the connections we have and as a result, bring our best selves to our social interactions.
Building strong social connections may just be one of the best things we can do to improve our health and well-being. Although there are lots of ways to do it, they don’t always come easy in our “island unto yourself” world. So, taking one step at a time can be a good way to slowly but surely feel more connected.
How do you create a happy, healthy relationship? Read on to find out.
In psychology, many researchers conceptualize relationship quality in terms of how satisfied each partner is in the relationship. This focuses on the hedonic dimension of the relationship (pleasure or happiness). But of course, there is more to healthy relationships than how good you feel. For example, relationships can be a source of meaning, which may include commitment, sacrifice, and personal growth (Fincham et al., 2007; Stanley et al., 2006; Finkel et al., 2014).
To better understand your own relationship quality, you might explore:
Although it’s important to learn how to identify when a relationship is going well, it’s just as important to look out for signals that a relationship is not going well. Researchers have identified four key aspects of communication that can contribute to unhealthy relationships (Gottman & Levenson, 2000).
1. Criticism. When you criticize someone, you are attacking them to the core of their character. This is different from offering a helpful opinion or voicing a complaint.
2. Contempt. Contempt goes beyond criticism as it encompasses your moral superiority over the other person. This can include mocking them, ridiculing, calling them names, mimicking their body language, or scoffing. The intention is to make them feel despised or unworthy, which is a terrible feeling to instill or receive from someone.
3. Defensiveness. It’s natural to be defensive sometimes, especially if you’re particularly stressed or tired. Sometimes you might feel that you’re not receiving the right treatment or you might play the victim so that the blame is no longer on you. But defensive responses often shift the blame onto the partner, which usually isn’t the best way to go. It tells the other person that you may not be taking them seriously and that you won’t own up to your mistakes.
4. Stonewalling. Stonewalling is often in response to contempt. This happens when the listener who is receiving sarcastic remarks or ridiculing comments ends up shutting down and no longer responds to the partner. They ‘stonewall’ the partner and try to avoid confrontation by acting busy, disengaging from the conservation, or simply leaving their presence.
How to Build Happy Relationships
1. Develop a strong emotional connection
According to psychology research, one of the most important predictors of a healthy relationship is being emotionally responsive (Lemay et al., 2007). This involves sending cues (e.g., verbal, physical) to your partner and having them respond to it (e.g., soothing, encouraging, etc).
2. Be vulnerable with each other
When partners open up to each other, this helps develop and strengthen mutual trust.
3. Be honest
This can go hand-in-hand with vulnerability, but also encompasses other forms of communication. A healthy relationship will likely not be based on lies.
4. Have 'healthy' conflicts
Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship, but how you go about dealing with them is essential.
5. Try something new
This is especially helpful if your relationship feels stale, and it can reignite the spark (e.g., going to a new restaurant for date night).
6. Solve problems as a team
This can help strengthen your identity as an “us” instead of a “me” and “you” and develop your problem-solving skills together (e.g., this can range from an escape room to asking your partner for help with a problem at work).
7. Talk about your goals and dreams
Sharing similar hopes and values can help you reignite what attracted you to each other in the first place.
Relationships require work from each partner, and it’s normal for relationships to go through hard times. By using the strategies outlined here, you can improve your relationships and hopefully keep them going strong.
Learn why some of us feel so rejected and how to cope with it.
Have you recently been rejected? Rejection involves being excluded from a social relationship or interaction. It can be active—for example in acts of bullying or teasing. Or it can be passive—for example in the acts of giving the silent treatment or ignoring someone (DeWall & Bushman, 2011). We might respond to rejection with feelings of hostility, dejection, withdrawal, and even jealousy (Downey & Feldman, 1996).
Although rejection is often deliberate—that is, the rejecter does it on purpose—it doesn’t have to be. We actually differ in the extent to which we are sensitive to rejection and may think that someone is rejecting us when they are not. For example, the lack of a smile or laughter at our jokes may be perceived as rejection even though the person is not intending to reject us.
We feel rejection because human beings have a fundamental need to belong. Some believe that this is because in our history, being part of a group helped us survive. Those of us who were more group-oriented were more likely to survive. This may explain why modern humans are all very group-oriented (DeWall & Bushman, 2011) and why we try to avoid rejection whenever possible.
And rejection is indeed quite unpleasant. Some fascinating research shows that social rejection actually feels similar to physical pain. It activates regions of the brain involved in both the sensory components of pain and the emotional components of pain. The more intense the rejection, the more intense the pain response. Specifically, thinking about a recent romantic relationship breakup elicited both emotional and physical pain responses in the brain (Kross et al., 2011). So, when people say rejection is painful, they really mean it!
What Is Rejection Sensitivity?
It turns out that we differ in the extent to which we perceive and react to rejection. While some of us might perceive our friend’s failure to invite us to lunch as a rejection, others may rationalize that they forgot or didn’t realize we would want to come.
Those of us who tend to notice when we are rejected in even the smallest ways—or even perceive that we are being rejected when we are not—are said to be rejection sensitive. Therefore, rejection sensitivity is defined as the tendency to “anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to rejection” (Downey & Feldman, 1996). This tendency to be rejection sensitive likely arose in childhood because of rejection from parents or others in our environment.
How to Deal with Rejection
Regardless of whether we are rejection sensitive or not, we can benefit from learning to deal with our rejection in healthier ways. This can help us decrease both the emotional and physical pain that accompanies rejection. We might use these strategies to handle job rejection, rejection in romantic relationships, and social rejection from friends or family. Here are some science-based tips:
1. Write about your rejected feelings.
Research suggests that writing about your feelings and the potential implications following an experience of rejection may be an effective way to process those feelings more quickly and move past them (Rude, Mazzetti, Pal, & Stauble, 2011).
2. Practice accepting rejection.
Accepting rejection (versus evaluating it or describing it) may help decrease negative emotional responses more quickly (Rude, Mazzetti, Pal, & Stauble, 2011). Acceptance does not mean being a “doormat” or tolerating an unhealthy situation. Acceptance simply means that you acknowledge and accept yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions. Then from a place of acceptance, you can take action if needed.
3. Focus on the positive.
Although rejection can feel terrible, some evidence suggests that it can make positive emotions more accessible (DeWall et al., 2011). This may mean that trying to increase positive emotions—for example by doing an activity you enjoy—may be beneficial.
4. Trying emotionally distancing yourself from the rejection.
Emotional distancing involves imagining your rejection as if you were a fly on the wall or a stranger on the street. When you take a look at your situation from an outsider’s perspective, it can help the negative emotions dissipate more quickly (Ayduk & Kross, 2010).
Rejection hurts and it’s unpreventable. Luckily, there are some things we can do to diminish the pain or reduce how long it lasts. Hopefully, the tips here will help you deal with rejection more easily.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.