Self-disclosure is the process of revealing your inner self to another person. It helps with self-acceptance (esteem) as people form positive impressions of people who give something of themselves. Getting the balance right is important – the ‘Goldilocks Principle’ – Too much, too little or just right.
We describe people as ‘closed books’ who give nothing of themselves away. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the people, who go for total, no-holes-barred, openness. Rushing up to strangers in the library and offering to show them your intimate operation scar and confessing your darkest secrets is hardly likely to win you friends, although it may influence people to avoid you. So when is enough, enough?
In a earlier post, I offered Tips for Making Small Talk, Confidently, including why we should engage in small-talk and how to do it right.
Here’s a short quiz to explore self-disclosure issues. Rate each of these statements on a scale from zero to ten, where zero equals ‘have never mentioned to anyone’ and ten equals ‘I have disclosed everything about this to everyone I’ve met’. This includes status updates on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.
- General worries (money, health, wealth)
- What really gets on your nerves
- Things that make you happy and bring joy to your life
- Areas of yourself you’d like to improve (fitness, health, confidence, skills)
- Dreams, goals and ambitions
- Sexual activity and love life, including graphic details
- Your weaknesses and negative character traits
- Hobbies and interests
- What makes you angry and what happens when you are
- Things in your life you are ashamed of or feel guilty about.
Scoring the Self-Disclosure Quiz
It’s important to stress that this quiz is intention to stimulate thought and discussion. It is not a scientific assessment. The cut-off points only give general feedback. If you score is close to the edge of a range, then also look at the other band too.
Zero – speaks for itself. You are a closed book, inside a pad-locked buried chest, with a prison built on top of it.
1 to 20 indicates a closed person who doesn’t like to give much away. Sharing something with others provides an opportunity for feedback. Focus on less personal areas and make small disclosures. Hobbies and goals are a good place to start.
21 to 60 indicates a moderate level of self-disclosure. Just be aware of higher scores and don’t be over familiar with unfamiliar people. Scores towards the middle of the band indicate a balance between your private self and public openness. If you score is below 30, also read the feedback for the lower band.
61 to 81 indicates an open person with high levels of self-disclosure. Some of these topics may make others uncomfortable or cause the judge you harshly or take advantage of you. Openness is often a good thing provided the other person can handle it, wants to handle it and you can trust them. Spare a thought for the feelings of your listeners.
90 to 100 indicates that you are very open. In fact there isn’t much you won’t disclose and are happy to do so with anyone who will listen including people who’d prefer not to receive so much information. Beware of becoming like the celebrity reality TV stars who live their lives like an open wound. Focus on the more neutral areas for disclosure and the personal stuff more sparingly and with fewer people. Some things are better kept to ourselves, and one or two trusted friends. Beware that your self-disclosure doesn’t become habitual dumping on other people for free therapy.
What is safe for for self-disclosure?
Obviously we have different levels of self-disclosure depending on the degree of intimacy or closeness with people. So begin by thinking of making small-talk with strangers. Consider how much self-disclosure would constitute general chit-chat and also think about at what point it would definitely be TMI (too much information).
Using another ten-point scale, assess the safety of each of the above topics, where ten equals ‘totally safe’ and zero equals ‘Shhh! Don’t tell a soul’.
If these scores match roughly with your first set of scores, your disclosure level for this topic is about right. However, if there is a gap between the two sets of scores then you need to make adjustments. For instance, if you rate sexual activity as a 5 for safety but a ten for disclosure, maybe it’s time to keep a few details to yourself.
Repeat the exercise for friends, people you are dating, partners and colleagues. That way you will get an idea of how to strike the right balance. When we feel an instant connection with someone, the tendency is to mistake this for intimacy and tell all. However, this immediate connection might be because this person reminds us of something else. It’s best to remember that a new acquaintance is still a relative stranger no matter how the sparks fly. It’s also important to remember that friends and partners are not just sounding boards or dumping grounds for your dark secrets and issues. When we feel that we really must disclose all, perhaps its better to engage a professional stranger (counsellor or therapist) to tell all.
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About the author
Dr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.
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