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Develop My Self-Disclosure Skill

People engage in communication daily. There is no avoiding it. Since the day we were born, communication has been a part of our lives. As time passed by, we began to self-disclose to certain individuals our thoughts, ideas, and feelings on various issues that arose. As we quickly realized, the process of self-disclosure is not an easy process or activity to take part in. For me, self-disclosure is the hardest piece of the puzzle, yet it is so important. Communicating without disclosing self is like trying to play tennis without a ball. So for this assignment, I decided to develop my self-disclosure skills.

In the past, I considered myself a strong communicator. I was somewhat self-aware, I liked myself, and I had excellent listening skills. However, I didn’t get the results I wanted. I kept my own counsel; rarely did I share my personal life at school. Also, standoffish in my personal life, I didn’t have many close friends. As a result, I often felt isolated and, at times, invisible. I remembered once standing with a group of classmates at a party and feeling lost. My classmates seemed to be enjoying each other. But no one realized or cared that I was there. I didn’t know yet that you have to show up to be seen.

At that time, I realized how serious my problem was. To further understand and develop my communication skill, I did a self-disclosure test available at www.psychologytoday.psychtests.com. The result told me that I tend to avoid sharing much or any information about myself with others. When something is on my mind or weighing on me emotionally, I generally don’t open up and spill the beans but remain tight-lipped. This bottling up of emotions is unhealthy for me and my relationships. After reading the above analysis, the decision to develop my self-disclosure skill became stronger.

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“Self-disclosure is the process of deliberately revealing information about oneself that is significant, and others would not normally know that.” (Adler & Towne, 2003, p.337).”It includes all kinds of information: life experiences, personal circumstances, feelings, dreams, opinions and so on. But most importantly, self-disclosure is sharing how you react to the other person and the current situation. It is telling the truth, not just presenting your good side or your social mask.”(Bolton, 1986, p.179) I think an ideal self-disclosure involves openness, a desire to get closer to another, and implied trust in the person we’re revealing ourselves to. Self-disclosures imply that the other person is special.

You trust the other with personal information about yourself. And you’re flattering them by implying that you like them and want to get to know them better by disclosing with them. And if it happens to be a medium or high-risk disclosure, this trust and openness create a bond that serves to tie people together in an unseen but compelling way. These bonds have the potential to create incredible relationships, strong friendships. An ideal self-disclosure also can increase self-acceptance due to the acceptance by friends and others. After you feel better about yourself, you can self-disclose even more of yourself, leading to closer, more enjoyable relationships.

And with more feedback, greater security and self-acceptance, you can look deeper into yourself and solve more problems. My current level of self-disclosure skill is inferior. Sharing my true self is hard for me; disclosing private information about my thoughts and feelings involves a high degree of vulnerability. It is taking a chance of getting hurt. I am afraid of rejection or criticism; the other person may respond so negatively or judgmentally that I might experience more shame or guilt.

So for the most time, when I have to talk with people, I often talk about the weather and how things are going at school, but the essential things like how I feel about each other go unspoken. I tend to stick to emotionally safe and predictable topics as a way to engage each other without offending or otherwise inviting strong emotions. Indeed, I am a person who is not easy to trust others, and I often camouflage my true being before others to protect myself against rejection. Now I realized my problem; I must change if I want to make close friends and leave loneliness.

Methodology. In order to successfully develop my self-disclosure skill, I made a plan. First, I should understand self-disclosure and how it plays an important part in interpersonal communication. The development of any skill is partly dependent on an understanding of the nature of that skill. Although I have unconsciously obtained some knowledge about self-disclosure, this is not enough. I need to raise more about consciously, which is maybe an important ingredient in making future adaptations.

I read the textbook �Looking out, looking in�(Adler & Towne, 2003)and knew that self-disclosure is a process of providing private information to another individual. A useful way of viewing self-disclosure is the Johari window. This model was developed by two American psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. It shows how much information you know about yourself and how much others know about you. The window contains four panes, as shown below.

  • Known to self
  • Not known to self
  • Known to others
  • Open
  • Blind
  • Unknown to others
  • Hidden
  • Unknown

By reading the textbook, I know open pane is the part known to you and others; for example, if you know a person’s name, so does he. The Blind pane includes information that others can see in you, but you cannot see yourself. For example, others might see you as being very noisy or as using too strong a perfume-something like that which they don’t tell you. The Hidden pane contains information you wish to keep private, such as a fear of black beetles or your dreams. Finally, the Unknown pane includes everything that you and others do not know about yourself.

You may have hidden talents, for example, that you have not explored. By understanding the above theory, I realized I was a person who had a lot of hidden areas and a little open area. “The smaller the open area, the poorer the communication and the relationship, the fewer others know about us, the more difficult it becomes to communicate and for meaningful relationships to be established.”(Burton & Dimbleby, 1996, p.37) To improve my interpersonal communication, I have to work on enlarging the open pane.

All of us have secrets. That is appropriate; many things are best left unsaid. But I conceal so much unnecessarily because I think others might not respect or like me when they probably would like me better in reality. So my second task is to overcome the fear of self-disclosing. Third, I should create some chances to open myself in daily life. Skill cannot be learned in isolation; practice will assist me in developing. For example, disclosing to my classmates, my boyfriend, perhaps a stranger. I can gradually become more open, starting with telling a friend some facts about my classes or pets. Don’t express any opinions or feelings at this stage. When I feel OK doing this, select a trusted friend and tell her what I think and how I feel about a movie, my parents, occupation, etc.

Lastly, practice “here and now” talk with friends, i.e. disclose what I am feeling towards and needing from the friend. So forth, to find out how the skill development is going, I think I should find a person with whom I want to make the further relationship. For people to develop close and meaningful relationships, penetration must occur. “The social penetration theory is a theory composed by Altman and Taylor in which people are compared to onions. As the outer skin of an onion is peeled away, another layer is found beneath it, and if you remove that layer, you will expose another layer, and so forth.

The same holds for people; as we get to know someone better, we expose more layers of their personality and become closer to the core of the individual, or the private self. The outer layers of our personality are the public self, or characteristics that are apparent to people we do not know very well.”(Griffin, 1997, p. 145). Luckily, I found May, who is living in the same homestay with me; we both had a lot in common on the surface (outer layer), our tastes in clothes, and preference in music. May and I both decided that we wanted to become closer friends, thus social penetration would be applied in this process.

Fifth, I will keep a diary of my experiences disclosing. Note what feelings and needs I don’t disclose—note which friendships grow the most. Note if certain of my disclosures turn people off? Am I uncomfortable discussing certain things? Note if there are people I avoid interacting with? Developing a skill is not easy; there might have many potential problems. One problem I think is the time involves. I started this skill development exercise three weeks before handing in the assignment, a skill should develop gradually, and the time is too short, so it may not see my effort obviously.

The second problem is the degree of self-disclosure, how to get the right balance of disclosure and privacy. I am still unsure how to deal with it, and I will learn it from the exercise. The last problem, I think, is the reactions to my change from other people. Some people may think I am strange and can’t adapt to my change. To solve this problem, I will tell the people I am likely to be using a new approach to communicate and why I am doing it and prepare them for my change.

Description. Disclosures are the fuel of friendship, intimacy, and love. Without disclosures, neither friendship, nor intimacy, nor love can exist. The following was written about how I implemented my plan to develop my self-disclosure skill within 3 weeks. After reading the textbook and thinking about my test result, I knew that if I want to improve my self-disclosure, I have to enlarge the open pane. This required me to communicate, not hiding as before. I should overcome my fear, my shyness; I told myself:” I can do it. This will be fun.” The saying goes, “Nothing ventured; nothing gained” I should see the potential positive effects rather than the loss. A good attitude was needed.

After discovering the outer layers of each other, May and I came to a mutual understanding that we both wanted to further the relationship and become closer. At first, we just tried to open ourselves gradually. We started with small talk or another non-disclosing type of talk, which helped break the ice and get things rolling. We then proceed to a series of low-risk disclosures with occasional medium-risk disclosures thrown in to help create the necessary bonds. High-risk disclosures were fairly rare in the early stage but may pop up occasionally if things were really going well. Finally, after about 1 week, both of us were comfortable enough with each other initially to begin to self-disclose deeper information, and we started to peel away the layers of the “onion.”

May and I began to perceive each other as trustworthy, and our vulnerability increased, as did the self-disclosure. We began by discussing our goals, aspirations, religious beliefs, etc. Our penetration of each other held with the breadth and depth of self-disclosure that says “peripheral items are exchanged more frequently and sooner” (Nelson-Jones, 1986, p.54). May and I hang out together and disclose information frequently, and I found out a lot about her very rapidly. As the layers began to peel away, we became more and more vulnerable with each other. I began to tell her things that I would never dream of telling anyone else, even my family, and the behaviour was reciprocated back to me by her. Two weeks later, as our penetration continued, it also began to slow down.

I found May did not particularly care for my boyfriend, which made me not want to tell her anything related to him. Although I thought this was because we do not have common ground in our relationship, I have been dating a guy for almost two years, believing I would marry. However, she was still searching for a meaningful relationship with “the one.” therefore, it was tough to disclose. This definitely had an impact on the level of information we now disclose to each other. From there, I learned that we often disclosure more with people who has a common ground.

When I met a stranger at a party, I said to myself I wouldn’t be shy. I told him my life story and my opinions within 10 minutes of meeting him. How odd it seemed. And finally, he escaped from me. This was not a good start to a relationship; from that, I learned self-disclosure was a kind of communication that worked best a little at a time. I had to be sensitive to the other person’s needs and feelings to be empathic. When I communicated with my boyfriend in the first week, I reminded myself I should practice self-disclosure, and I gave myself a license to blurt out everything to him. Several times he said to me,” You’re doing that communication thing on me.” From his reflection about the discomfort, I thought I was over disclosing.

The next week, when I stayed with him, I paid more attention to listening to him, gave him chances to disclose, but he complained that he was disclosing more than I was. This time I made another mistake; I was under disclosure. I understood that deciding when and how much personal information to disclose was not a simple case if I couldn’t handle well, not only I would lose the chance to make friend with that stranger and lose my boyfriend. I was so regretful that I was not prepared well for this part in the methodology section. I should modify it. Then I went to do some reading and found the guideline for disclosure.

Self-disclosure is best when it is to the right person-often one who is capable of empathic understanding; to the right degree- you may decide to disclose all or part of your experience; for the right reasons-be sure your goal is to disclose yourself rather than to burden the other or “show off”; at the right time-in hours that are appropriate and when the other is not heavily burdened with his own need; and in the right place-in a location conducive to this kind of communication. (Bolton, 1986, p. 180) In the following days, I kept these guidelines in mind when I communicated and made a great effort in disclosing, no complaints again, and the relationship with my boyfriend went even intimate.

I was amazed how I could self-disclose to my friend Jane after nearly 3 weeks of disclosing training. I opened myself to her and revealed things about my past that I very rarely talk about. I found she could relate to me, and I even led the way for her to reveal things about herself. This gave us a great beginning. One behaviour that has hindered my self-disclosure with her was when she told me she was not happy for me when I told her a serious mistake I have made before. Unfortunately, after she did that, I have not been able to open myself up anymore. I didn’t take confrontation too well and said nothing at all. I needed to change this by telling her how I felt when she said that to me. If I could do this, it would be a big step for me.

This was a problem that I didn’t foresee; I should learn how to deal with confrontation, prepare for it. I kept a diary of my disclosing within these 3 weeks. I found I was easy to disclosure to women than men. I avoid interacting with people from different cultures, I rarely talked about my family, and I often pushed self-disclosing too much, which turned people off. Many problems are involved in my skill; I need to learn more about confrontation, how much I should disclose, and to whom the disclosures are made. These were not included in my initial plan, and I will add them to my follow-up plan. Conclusion and reflection

  1. Self-disclosure is the process of providing information to another individual. The information that is disclosed includes one’s thoughts, feelings, past experiences, and plans.
  2. For me, self-disclosure was the hardest piece of the puzzle, I did not tell people who I really was because I was afraid that they would not like the real me. Plus, I needed to protect myself.
  3. I think an ideal self-disclosure (my goal) involves openness, a desire to get closer to another, and an implied trust in the person we’re revealing ourselves to. It also can increase self-acceptance.
  4. The amount of information we disclose in our interpersonal relationships also influences our relationships. The Johari window is a model that helps us assess the type of information we disclose, whom we make disclosures to and the communication environment we find ourselves in. Using this model, I found I was a person I r who had many hidden areas and a little open area.
  5. My relationship with my friend May was an example of using the social penetration theory. I thought I understood this theory and did quite well with disclosing it to May. Although the disclosing slowed down in the last week, it was due to the different backgrounds. From that, I knew disclosure frequently happened with people who had common ground.
  6. Although I overcome the mental barrier to communicate with the stranger, I did badly. I fell into an extreme-over disclosing and made his escape from me. I realized that self-disclosure couldn’t be used as a mere device to force other people into a relationship. It was a kind of communication that worked best a little at a time. I should be sensitive to the other person’s needs and feeling to be empathic.
  7. I failed to use self-disclosure with my boyfriend in the first two weeks, but with the help of the guidelines, I did better in the last week. During the first week, I made the same mistake (over disclosing) again. I blurted out everything to him. After reflecting on his discomfort, I forced myself to listen more but still fell into another extreme- under disclosing. To solve the problem, I found some guidelines and kept them in mind in the following week and got many benefits.
  8. I have done really well in disclosing to Jane, but a new problem arose. I didn’t know how to deal with confrontation when she said she didn’t like my past behaviour. This hindered my disclosing, and I couldn’t open myself anymore. The lack of preparation for confrontation led to my failure.
  9. I thought the approach I adopted was quite successful, such as prepare for disclosing and handle the anxiety, using a method to work up to being more open gradually.
  10. I benefited a lot by keeping a diary about my training. I discovered what feelings and needs I didn’t disclose; which friendships grew the most. I also knew certain of my disclosures turn people off and what I was uncomfortable discussing certain things and who I avoid interacting with.
  11. Prepared others for my change by telling them I would use a new communication skill gave me many benefits. They would give me feedback, and if I have done badly, they won’t easily get annoyed.
  12. There were many shortcomings in my approach. Such as ignore when and how much personal information to disclose, haven’t prepared for confrontation. Those problems made my disclosing failed.
  13. I thought my origin goal was appropriate-became open, got closer to another, and had an implied trust in the person we’re revealing ourselves to. My goal also included increasing my self-acceptance. After 3 weeks of training, I found I was more open than before, I wouldn’t always hide, and I would like to share myself with the right person. I got closer to May, my boyfriend, by disclosing. During the process of disclosing, a trust had built. I showed some trust in another by making a little risky disclosure; when the other accepted and was supportive about my disclosure, trust was likely to be enhanced. Due to the acceptance by others, my self-acceptance was enhanced.

Follow up

  1. Although I have enhanced my self-disclosure skill during these 3 weeks, it was not enough. I need to keep using this skill and develop it further, slowly but surely integrate the new behavior into daily relationships with friends, classmates, and family members.
  2. Self-disclosures take risks; according to the guideline, the right person should have the right reason. Self-disclosure will help others to know me in the future. I should base my choices on a clear understanding of what is desirable and beneficial for the relationship. I should consider who I have disclosed information to, how much I have disclosed, how much the disclosure can hurt me.
  3. I will learn how to deal with confrontation, be brave to express how I feel and what I think.
  4. In the future, I will learn to express myself clearly and give useful feedback. Make disclosures clear. Don’t assume that others understand what I think, feel and want; no one can read my mind! Avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.
  5. Because of the element of risk, disclosure in a relationship should occur gradually. In the future, I should not confide intimate details about myself immediately upon meeting someone. Rather, I should reveal a little at a time as I come to trust the other person.
  6. Self-disclosure is an important skill. It increases our mental and physical health. “Overwhelming data from therapy, self-help groups, and research labs suggests that sharing our emotions improves our health, helps prevent disease and lessens our psychological- interpersonal problems.”(Bolton, 1986, p.182)
  7. There is a wholesome cycle involving self-disclosure, friendships, and self-acceptance. “First, it is usually helpful to tell the person you are interacting with how they are affecting you because sharing your intimate feelings and thoughts usually deepens friendships. Secondly, acceptance by friends and others increases your self-acceptance. Thirdly, as you feel better about yourself, you can self-disclose even more of yourself, leading to closer, more enjoyable relationships. Fourthly, with more feedback, greater security and self-acceptance, you can look deeper into yourself and solve more problems.”(Nelson-Jones, 1986, p.54)
  8. Having good self-disclosure skills not only can enhance relationships but also can make effective communication. If we disclose well and get feedback from others, we can be more self-aware and develop positive self-esteem. Our empathic listening skills might also be enhanced. Sharing brings personal growth, growth in our knowledge of ourselves and others, growth in the bonding of our relationship, and our sense of our own value.

Reference

  • Adler, R. B. & Towne, N. (2003).Looking out, looking in. (10th ed.). Wadsworth/Thomson Learning: Belmont.
  • Bolton, R. (1986). People skills. Australia: Prentice-Hall of Australia Pty Limited.
  • Burton, G., & Dimbleby. R. (1996).Between ourselves: An introduction to interpersonal communication. (2nd ed.).New York: J W Arrowsmith Ltd.
  • Nelson-Jones. (1986). Human relationship skills: Training and self-help. Great Britain: Biddles Ltd.
  • Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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