Self-disclosure is very well defined. The self-disclosure on Beta’s part could be about Beta’s economic resources or Beta’s dislike for a given individual or an absolutely horrific experience that Beta had. And so on. Typically, we have self-disclosure on the part of person Beta to person Gamma when person Beta offers information about her or his life to person Gamma. I could say that Gamma would not have realized such a thing on her or his own (even though Gamma is a very perceptive and thoughtful person). But I do not think that line of thought is correct. It happens often enough that a very perceptive person can pick up on what is happening to another. And if there is the possibility of enough harm, it can be ever so appropriate for the perceptive individual to approach the other person.
At any rate, with self-disclosure at its very best, an absolutely necessary condition is warranted trust in the person to whom the self-disclosure is being made. So even though a person who self-discloses is only talking about herself or himself, an indisputable truth is that the self-disclosure on the person’s part can be ever so inappropriate in the absence of any evidence whatsoever that the person is trustworthy. Even if a person very much needs someone to talk to, it is nonetheless utterly inappropriate for that person to talk with someone who is not trustworthy; for self-disclosing to an untrustworthy individual can do far more harm than good to the person who is self-disclosing.
Moving in a different direction, if an individual is indeed trustworthy, it should turn out from time to time that someone or the other will pick up on that. About 10-years ago, a most fascinating instance of trustworthiness took place at Marshall Square Mall a female student told me that she is a lesbian. The self-disclosure began with “Professor, I like the fact that you interact so comfortably with so many different kinds of people”. And just as I was in the throes of basking in the compliment, the student then said “So I know that you will handle with grace my telling you that I am a lesbian”. Fortunately, I came back with just the right remark, though my remark was not a response to her comment. I said “It is my hope and prayer that your parents are fully comfortable with you being a lesbian and that their love for you has remained ever so majestic and affirming”.
Might there have been a more appropriate remark that I could made? Perhaps. But what I do know that the remark I made was taken by her as ever so accepting and affirming of her.
I went on to ask her why she was willing to disclosure her sexual orientation to me. And she came back with a remark take from the novel A Color Purple, namely the following “A good listener listen not only to what one says but also to what one does not say”. Well, the student had noticed that for all my spontaneity in the classroom, I never said or implied anything negative about this or that group of individuals.
Alas, one of the tremendously important gifts that we give to ourselves is to be sufficiently attentive that we can ascertain with whom we can and with whom we cannot have a deep and meaningful conversation that involves self-disclosure.
© 2016 Laurence Thomas