Healthy personalities develop in authentic relationships where individuals disclose their true thoughts and feelings as trust and acceptance grow. Feeling accepted as part of a group or family helps both children and adults feel valued and loved. When we receive attention, affirmation, and affection, we grow in our capacity to be honest with ourselves and with others, and we discover that others find us lovable despite our many faults and failures.
Validation and positive feedback make us more comfortable around people so we are more likely to develop good social skills. We can risk being honest and reveal our weaknesses if we trust that those we love will respond to our mistakes with forgiveness.
In order for groups, social systems, marriages, families, and friendships to produce the results for which they were formed, people must play various roles. If a person plays his respective roles adequately he is considered “normal.” Normal, however, does not necessarily mean healthy.
Psychotherapy or in-depth counseling is designed to help people who cannot perform adequately in their social roles, as well as those who play the roles well but are bored, anxious, depressed, unfulfilled, or lonely. The process of therapy often consists primarily of self-disclosure – sharing one’s innermost thoughts and feelings – in an atmosphere of respect, acceptance, and ‘positive regard’ (empathy & compassion).
Some people seek help in the form of psychotherapy primarily because they have not disclosed themselves to an optimal degree in their most significant relationships. Many people are lonely because they don’t really know the people with whom they live, work, or worship. Togetherness is not the cure for loneliness; mutual self-disclosure – real person-to-person sharing – is.
Self-discovery and self-realization are the result of honest self-disclosure. Someone has said, “I have to hear what I say to know what I think!” Genuine openness – the process of sharing our true thoughts and feelings – is not only a sign of a healthy personality, but the road to discovering who we really are and who we want to be. Mutual self-disclosure in a group of safe people produces healthier personalities.
In his book Healthy Personality and Self-Disclosure, Sidney Jourard wrote: “A self-alienated person – one who does not disclose himself truthfully and fully – can never love another person nor can he be loved by the other person. Effective loving calls for knowledge of the object [or person].” He goes on to say, “Other people come to be stressors to an individual in direct proportion to his degree of self-alienation.”
The greater the discrepancy between one’s real self and his false public self, the more “dangerous” other people become. The risk of exposure that could lead to humiliation or rejection often drives an insecure person deeper and deeper into a prison of self-doubt and isolation. But… as we develop secure connections with God and others, we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable, disclose the deepest content of our hearts, and be healed!