Self-Disclosure in Relationships

Disclosure 1 Self-Disclosure in Relationships We as individuals’ decide what, when and to whom, and how much to disclose personal thoughts and feelings. Although level of self-disclosure and personal relationships are not synonymous concepts, self-disclosure plays an important role in constructing what kind of relationships individuals have with each another. 1 Self-disclosure, depending on reactions of relationship partners, also plays an important role in validating self-worth and personal identity. 2 The best place to begin is with a definition.

Self-disclosure is the process of deliberately revealing information about oneself that is significant and would not naturally be known by others. Self-disclosure must be deliberate. One way by which we judge the strength of our relationships is the amount of information we share with other. Opening up certainly is important; one ingredient in qualitatively interpersonal relationships is disclosure. Competent communicators use self-disclosure selectively. They make choices about disclosing information judiciously, with awareness of the positive and negative consequences of doing so.

They may weigh the impact that disclosing information might have on the growth and well-being of a relationship. In addition, they may consider how learning personal information about themselves may affect another person, especially in light of that person’s receptivity and trustworthiness to respond well to what has been disclosed. Self- Disclosure 2 One of the main reasons we engage in self-disclosure is because of how it affects other people’s perceptions of us, and indeed, our perceptions of other people. We want others to like us so we tell them our secrets.

Does this really work or is it just a fantasy that we have and try to make come true. The historical background to self-disclosure research, definitions of self-disclosures, disclosure trajectories, reasons for and against disclosure, disclosure as a transactional process, disclosure message enactment , health consequences of disclosure, methodological trends in disclosure research, and opportunities for future research. 3 Although our definition of self-disclosure is helpful, it doesn’t reveal the important fact that not all self-disclosure is equally revealing-that some disclosing messages tell more about us than others.

By this, they mean that self-disclosing and learning about others is the process of penetrating deeper into the selves of those people-and enabling others to penetrate ourselves and gain a deeper understanding of us. This process of penetration is a gradual one, in which each communicator reveals layers of personal depth. Social psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor describe two ways in which communication can be more or less disclosing. 4 Altman and Taylor use the metaphor of an onion and its layers of rings. Disclosure begins on the outer layer and proceeds to the core of the onion.

Their social penetration model is referred to as the first dimension of self-disclosure is breadth of information volunteered-the range of subjects being discussed. This layer is largely Self-Disclosure 3 made up of superficial information about ourselves that we commonly share with a number of different people. 5 The second dimension of self-disclosure is the depth of information volunteered the shift from relatively impersonal messages to more personal ones. 6 Depending on the breadth and depth of information shared; a relationship can be casual or intimate.

In a causal relationship the breadth may be great, but not the depth. Later, in a relationship, communicators gradually share depth of information. Again, using the onion metaphor, these are the inner layers of the onion. The depth level is more significant and more central to whom we are. Sometimes, it includes very strong feelings, beliefs and concerns. It may also include secrets, regrets or hurtful experiences, and painful memories. Information from the depth of dimension, which is more private and significant, will likely be exchanged later in a relationship.

There are four levels of communication that suggest why relationships can be frustrating. Sometimes the communicators might never get to the levels of personal opinions and feelings. At other times communicators can spend too much time at these personal levels. These levels are as follows: Cliches: Cliches are ritualized, stock responses to social situations-virtually the opposite of disclosure. Although they sound superficial, cliches can also serve as codes for messages we don’t usually express directly, such as “I want to acknowledge your presence” accompanied by Self –Disclosure 4 different set of nonverbal cues, a cliche can say “I don’t want to be impolite, but you’d better stay away from me now. ” Whatever valuable functions they may serve, it’s clear that cliches don’t qualify as self-disclosure. Facts: Not all facts qualify as self-disclosure. They must fit the criteria of being intentional, significant, and not otherwise known. Facts can be meaningful in themselves, but they also have a greater significance in a relationship. Disclosing important information suggests a level of trust and commitment to the other person that signals a desire to move the relationship to a new level.

Opinions: Still more revealing is the level of opinions. Opinions usually reveal more about a person than facts alone. If you know where the speaker stands on a subject, you can get a clearer picture of how your relationship might develop. Likewise, every time you offer a personal opinion, you are giving others information about yourself. Feelings: This is the fourth level of self-disclosure-and usually the most revealing one-is the realm of feelings. At first glance, feelings might appear to be the same as opinions, but there is a difference. Self-Disclosure 5

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