The Benefits of Self-Disclosure

Unlike many people I know, I’ve never gotten into trouble for shooting off my mouth,” William boasted. “But now my girlfriend says she’s tired of ‘trying to pry information out of me.”  I don’t want to lose her, but can’t she just get used to the fact that I’m a very private person?”

What does “I’m a very private person” imply? Frequently, it means that the individual is closed in and has impenetrable walls around him or herself.

Most people grow upset when they feel someone has intruded or encroached on their personal domain. This reaction is quite normal and understandable. Part of democracy and freedom is the right to personal privacy. We want to be able to decide in whom we confide and what we entrust to them. Who would relish the idea of being spied on so that sensitive personal information becomes public knowledge? (Indeed, it concerns me these days how quickly, easily and often people relinquish important aspects of their privacy for the convenience of using the Internet and through a variety of social media platforms.  But this is a subject for another post.)

Nevertheless, the desire for privacy can be taken too far. Some people always want to be seen in a good light. They go out of their way to hide shortcomings, covering their mistakes, and almost never saying what they really mean, because they want to be sure to please and impress others. Such people are apt to be tense, anxious, and suffer from poor self-acceptance.  One need only look at many Facebook pages to see how people usually present themselves in highly idealized, sanitized, romanticized and glamorized ways.  We often see stunning photos of pastel sunsets on gorgeous beaches, but not the cloudy, rainy days and cold, windswept nights.  

It is truly amazing how far some people will go to conceal their real selves from others. They may literally be unwilling to answer a simple question such as “What did you eat for breakfast?” “What business is that of yours?” might be the retort.

• In general, people who are not particularly secretive, who are open and willing to say what they mean and mean what they say, tend to report greater life satisfaction, and probably are psychologically healthier, than their tight-lipped counterparts.

But do not take as good role models people who tell anyone and everyone their entire life history and instantly reveal their most personal feelings.  Obviously, as is the case with most things, balance is important.

• Try to be a little more open, to take the risk of letting others in.

Open some doors and windows in your walls. You are entitled to privacy, but being too private can make you needlessly anxious and depressed. In addition, being too private is unlikely to invite close friendships and the give and take of love and sharing.  In fact, through appropriate self-disclosure – sharing some of our meaningful thoughts, feelings, hopes, and wishes – we not only let others into important parts of our lives, but also learn more about ourselves in the process.  What’s more, judiciously revealing some of our personal difficulties and challenges to another person can be very helpful because, as it’s said, “A burden shared weighs half as much.”

To illustrate this idea further consider the case of Penny:

Penny had never told any of her new friends about the drug habit she had kicked over ten years ago. She was sure if they knew about it they would think less of her. But she felt like a phony and decided to risk opening up to them. “I can’t believe it!” she beamed, “I thought it might really hurt my friendships, but instead it’s made them better. Now they’ve told me more about themselves and we’re much closer than before!”

As already suggested, there are clear advantages to being more open and transparent. There can be no genuine love or close human interaction without shared intimacies and confidences. Life would be dull and colorless indeed without taking at least a few emotional risks.

Many have discovered that when they disclosed something personal, perhaps even shameful, others have said “I feel the same way,” or “I did a similar thing.” The resulting loss of isolation can be most heartening.

Obviously, there are times when others are not entirely accepting. If censure rather than consolation follows a particular revelation, review and consider the discussion in, “How to Respond to Criticism” through this link:…

Too many people carry a guarded attitude into their friendships and other encounters, and they miss the joy that comes from sincere sharing. Again, one of the best ways to acquire self-knowledge is to reveal yourself to trusted others and seek out their opinions.

Of course, I am not advising you to wear your heart on your sleeve, or to reveal your innermost thoughts and feelings to everyone. Some people are in fact potentially treacherous, and shouldn’t be given the time of day, but it is usually not hard to determine who is trustworthy, who is for you and who might use information against you.  (Except with social media which is still in the wild-wild-west stage of development and thus fraught with danger!)

If you are accepted as people think you are, rather than as you really are, you will feel phony and insecure. It pays to build trust and intimacy by selectively expressing your genuine feelings.

Depriving yourself of the richness of intimate and loving relationships, by constantly hiding from others, leaves you feeling alienated from yourself.

• To be loved for who and what you genuinely are (including your faults and limitations) instead of for some image you have created, is an important path toward personal and interpersonal fulfillment.

Remember:  Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Dear Reader: The advertisements contained in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me. — Clifford

Copyright 2018 by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.


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