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.
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.