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.
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.