We measure the strength of our relationships by the amount of information we share and know about each other. This is demonstrated through self-disclosure, the process of deliberately revealing information about oneself that is significant and would not normally be known by others. In order to qualify as self-disclosure, the information must be deliberate and significant—facial expressions and accidental voluntary slip-ups do not count. These moments happen best in one-on-one situations, beginning stages of relationships, and in positive relationships.
Beginning stages of self-disclosure with a new person tends to start in increments. Take someone you work with. At first, you talk about basic stuff, usually revolving around work topics. From there, it can upgrade to discussing weekend or vacation plans. Slowly and slowly it increments to where there is much disclosure, and the range of subjects, known as breadth, expands. The depth of conversation transitions from impersonal to more personal as breadth increases. The factor that determines both of these is the intimacy of the relationship. Casual friendships there may be a large amount of breadth, but no depth. The more intimate a relationship, the disclosure will be great in both breadth and depth. The amount of disclosure given is how we determine how close the relationship is.
One method used to measure self disclosure is by a device called Johari’s Window. It looks a little something like this:
The first square is Open. There are things you know about yourself, and others know them too because you share these traits. These can be as simple as that you’re married and can range up to being crazily complex—it just depends how open you are with others. The second window is Hidden. In the early stages of relationships, we don’t have a huge breadth or depth with them, so there are qualities and stories we choose not to share yet, or lack the opportunity to. Another reason might be that we are embarrassed to share this information about ourselves, like secret goals and ambitions, because we are afraid of how they will be received. Third is Blind, qualities that others know but we personally don’t. This tends to be habits and patterns that our external relationships notice that we don’t recognize from our point of view, because we deem it as normal behavior. Unknown, the final window, is information that is yet to be discovered by either party. This is talents or weaknesses that have been unrecognized.
The level of breadth that is released measures the trust and consideration you’re willing to invest in another person. The higher the level of self-disclosure, the higher the amount of relational success. But if the level of self-disclosure is too much too soon, relational failure could result. Because disclosure is gradual, it is necessary to release information in increments.
The reasons behind taking the Hidden approach is self-disclosure and hiding information about ourselves may be due to a fear of rejection, negative impression on others, decrease in relational satisfaction, loss of influence, and hurting other people. Many people take this approach in their self-disclosure because they do not want to appear weak. Although revealing information could potentially be risky, depending on what reasoning is looked at for not revealing information, there can be no progress in relational success unless disclosure occurs. Disclosure is a two-way street, and equal disclosure determines a relationship.
The Disney Lesson
Rapunzel from Tangled lived a life that could be determined as Blind—stolen by Mother Gothel when she was a baby, she was unaware of her role in life and that she was a princess, although Mother Gothel, the only one person she was in contact with, knew the whole time. Determined to keep her identity a secret, she kept that information hidden from her to have control over her. When she met Flynn, he lived a life that was Hidden—he chose not to reveal his backstory or any part of his personal life in order to keep an appearance of being tough and leaving a negative impression on others about his less-than-perfect past. When Rapunzel and Flynn’s relationship starts to build a foundation, he begins to share personal information with her that he does not with others, such as his real name and the backstory of why he became to be how he is. Self disclosure dramatically changes the relationships we have with others. When we are trusting and share personal details, like Flynn, we deepen the relationship and it becomes more intimate. But if we hold on to information that others don’t know about themselves, like Mother Gothel, we damage relationships and there’s no room to grow. Self-disclosure is a relational unit of measurement.
In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora, similar to Rapunzel, lived a Blind lifestyle where she was unaware of her royal status, but her caretakers masked that knowledge from her. While out in the forest one day, she meets Prince Phillip, and the two become smitten with each other. Although both were royal, the other did not know. Despite this Hidden window, this lack of information did not create nor destroy impact within their relationship. And eventually, it actually worked out in their favor, since they were arranged to be married since Aurora’s birth. There are going to be moments where we’re going to have restriction of details about the other person, because of trust and depth that are being built. But this does not necessarily needs to make or break our relationship. Some things need to come at their own time for other people to disclose, or some just don’t deem it to be necessarily important to tell. We need to learn to build up to others’ offering exposure, not expect it right away.