Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » How can self-disclosure help you form friendships?

17 Oct 2018

Self-disclosure can help in forming relationships, but its indiscriminate use can create unease in others or leave you vulnerable

Self-disclosure is sharing information about yourself with another person that they would not normally know or discover. What is unknown will be different for different people depending on their relationship to you and the context in which you meet.

Self-disclosure involves risk and vulnerability on the part of the person disclosing, but can also, when used appropriately, increase rapport and deepen our relationships with others.

As friendships and other close relationships develop, there is normally a series of small mutual acts of self-disclosure over time. When our sense of safety is increased, the rate of disclosure or the size of disclosures may tend to increase.

Some examples of situations where accelerated rates of disclosure take place are where there is contracted confidentiality, such as in counselling sessions, or where anonymity can be preserved, such as on internet forums.

Increasing the rate at which you self-disclose can, up to a point, increase the rate at which the other person discloses and therefore the rate at which the relationship develops, as long as the other person still experiences this as safe and comfortable. When two people fall in love a strong sense of mutual rapport can also lead to this kind of rapid self-disclosure.

If you find, over time, that you are self-disclosing in a friendship or partner relationship, but that this is not being reciprocated by similar acts of disclosure by the other person, it could be a signal that the relationship is unequal.   This lack of reciprocity also happens normally, when you consult someone in a professional role, such as a coach or counsellor, which is why it is important to choose to work with someone who is professionally trained and understands the importance of respecting and contracting for confidentiality.

Self disclosure also carries risks, for example that the other person will be judgmental about what we disclose. Another risk is that the other person might use the information unethically or carelessly, for example to exploit our vulnerabilities or to make public that which we wish to remain private. For this reason, an attitude of acceptance and a commitment to confidentiality are important aspects of my counselling relationship, and without those the person I am working with might feel unable to open up and talk.

In counselling, I tend to use therapeutic self-disclosure very sparingly  - and only when it is more beneficial to disclose than not to. In this context, my self-disclosure will normally relate to how I am experiencing the relationship (my feelings and perceptions in the here-and-now).

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