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The Science Behind … Self-Disclosure, Relationships & Personal Development (Part 2)

Following on from the last blog, this piece discusses what can transpire as a result of self-disclosure. I’ll begin by discussing the research study I focused on in the previous blog, and then I’ll go on to discuss what this means for group training or self-help groups, for individuals who are provided with optimum conditions to develop or change and those who are not.

So, firstly, what can come from self-disclosure and sharing in a personal development group situation?

You may recall the onion skin metaphor discussed in the last blog, whereby each layer of onion skin peeled back can metaphorically lead us towards gaining a glimpse into the core personality of a person. Well, the study I was referring to in that blog which centred around individual’s experiences of personal development groups, showed that a great deal of development and learning can come from being open and honest, which takes place only when there are optimum conditions in place. These conditions were found to be empathy, support, acceptance and safety. It goes without saying that we feel more comfortable with people who will provide us with these conditions, right?! If we feel that we will be judged, criticised or that our views may be frowned upon, then we are less likely to divulge personal information.

The type of learning and development that takes place in such situations when optimum conditions are met, however, can be vast and wide ranging, including both inter and intrapersonal learning. The development recognised in my particular research study included such things as professional learning, accepting others, learning from interaction with others, self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-awareness and congruence (which means being genuine).

And, the research theme that was discovered was that this was a transition that took place over time. So, a person didn’t necessarily become more congruent or self-aware as a result of attendance at one group session or indeed following one single disclosure. Rather, it was recognised as a process and that this sort of development was something that took time and patience. A journey, if you will. Similar to the onion skin metaphor of getting to know someone better (discussed in the previous blog).

What does this mean for those of us who live in difficult conditions and/or have difficult relationships?

Carl Rogers, the founder of the person centred approach to therapy (and also one of the psychologists behind student centred learning, patient centred care – ultimately being person or human centred more generally!), came from a farming background before he became a psychologist. He recalled memories of his family growing potatoes. You may well be asking, “what on earth do the growth of a potato have to do with human growth?” and you’d be right to be curious!! Well, he recalled the most beautiful memory of potatoes on his childhood farm that, at times, were kept in dark storage containers. No water, no light and many potatoes all stored in a confined space. The worst conditions a potato could possibly imagine with any potential for growth looking highly unlikely!! Those of you who know potatoes, however, may not be too surprised by what comes next….

…That’s right, Rogers noticed THE most amazing things about these potatoes. He recalled how, despite these adverse conditions, the potatoes sent out spindly shoots towards the light. Through such great adversity, the potatoes were still striving as best as they could for growth with an inbuilt mechanism to grow in the direction of the light. And Rogers went on to liken this to the human condition. He noted that, although we may not be fortunate enough to be provided with the optimal conditions for growth, (such as unconditional positive regard, empathy or congruence; or in the case of my personal development group research, empathy, support, acceptance and safety) and we may live in pretty dire conditions (physically or psychologically speaking), there is still so much hope. Human beings, just like potatoes, continually strive for development. Psychological research shows us that we can develop strength through adversity, that despite having experienced horrendous conditions, we will still often fight to make things better in the same way that the poor old potatoes did. That through adverse conditions, we can find purpose, creativity and meaning. A pair of psychologists named Tedeschi and Calhoun researched the concept of post-traumatic growth and reported that after experiencing loss or trauma, people often report feeling a greater appreciation for life, they report feeling stronger and closer to family and friends and that they feel more spiritual and inspired.

So, whilst certain conditions are optimal and, for some, may be necessary for self-disclosure and therefore connections to take place; for others, they will find that through difficult life experiences, they may develop a sense of resilience and connection that may be completely unexpected.

The take-home message for me here is that nothing is certain. Whilst certain conditions are optimal, if we are able to find these optimal conditions within ourselves (an internal locus of evaluation) rather than externally, there is so much scope. And indeed, just because we may have experienced or witnessed difficult life challenges and/or unspeakable atrocities, there is always hope!

I'd love to hear what you take from this piece. Please do leave a message below if this resonates in any way.

References & Bibliography:

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable.

Rogers, C. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill.

Rogers, C. R. (1961). On Becoming a person: A psychotherapists view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. (1975). Empathic: An unappreciated way of being. The counseling psychologist, 5(2), 2-10.

Rogers, Carl R. (1980). Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. (1986). Carl Rogers on the Development of the Person-Centered Approach. Person-Centered Review, 1(3), 257-259.

Tedeschi, R. and Lawrence Calhoun, L. (1996). The posttraumatic growth inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma . Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9 (3), Pages 455-471. Retrieved from



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