Self-disclosure is the transparent sharing of one’s genuine inner state or experience. 

It is the opposite of subtle avoidance, which is an attempt to “hide” oneself during communication (Plasencia, Alden, and Taylor 2011, 668). Avoidance is common in social anxiety, in particular. Avoidance behaviors include reduced eye contact (such as pretending to look at our phones), staying quiet during a conversation, or choosing a seat that is away from others.

For a successful deep human-to-human connection to occur, both individuals must have matching and fairly elevated levels of self-disclosure. If I tell you how I am really feeling, you will often respond by sharing how you are really feeling. And voila! Genuine bonding has just occurred.
 

Self-Disclosure is Confident Confession

Self-disclosure includes being open about one’s feelings, values, goals, like/dislikes, interests, etc. Indeed, authenticity (versus trying to please or conform to others) has been linked to “higher self-esteem, stronger emotional well-being and more positive relationship functioning” (Plasencia, Alden, and Taylor 2011, 668).  A high level of self-disclosure indicates than an individual values who they are, is comfortable with both their strengths and weaknesses, and is not afraid of rejection.

Self-disclosure, at its core, is confession. It is permission for self, and others, to simply be human. James 5:16 (NKJV) states, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed....” I could paraphrase this verse as "Reveal the real you, flaws and all, for the highest level of wellbeing." Christians, in particular, can be comfortable with allowing their flaws to show, while simultaneously living as forgiven and loved individuals. We can be confident in being our authentic selves.

Of course, self-disclosure has a time and place. It is not necessary to share intimate details about your past with the grocery store clerk or gas station attendant. Emotional intimacy is not always the desired result of communication, so self-disclosure must be purposeful and considered.
 

The Key to Unlocking Connection

When genuine fellowship is the goal, however, self-disclosure is the key to unlocking connection.  People are drawn to others they perceive as "open".  In contrast, a lack of self-disclosure signals to others that a wall is up. Keep out! In fact, research shows that avoidance-based safety behaviors (things we do to avoid rejection) increase the likelihood of social rejection- the very thing we are trying to avoid.

We all fall somewhere on a continuum of naturally "open" or low on self-disclosure.  My natural position is a -10 on the "open" scale. Self-disclosure does not come naturally to me. My husband, on the other hand, is a +10, which is why people are frequently drawn to him (and its one of my favorite qualities about him). 

Personally, I have found that even the slightest shift towards being more open is deeply rewarding. It always results in deeper connections. And even tiny steps towards greater wellbeing are worth celebrating.

This week, try opening up just a little more than you would normally. And then watch the magic of self-disclosure unfold. 




References

Plasencia, M. Leili, Alden, Lynn E., and Taylor, Charles T. 2011. "Differential Effects of Safety Behaviour Subtypes in Social Anxiety Disorder.” Behaviour Research and Therapy 49(10): 665-675. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2011.07.005

This article was adapted from "The Gift of Social Anxiety: Finding Rest in God's Grace," Rajnus, 2016.

 
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