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Private and Public Self: A Comparison of Identities

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1895 words Published: 15th Jun 2018

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Private self is the information regarding to a person which he/she has difficulties to express publicly. Public self is the perspective other people view an individual as portrayed in public information, interaction with others and public action. Generally, public self relies on the public for definition but it’s also the individual’s perspective of the way he/she appears and steps taken when in public. Mostly, public self and private self is revealed in speaking and actions. Private and public speaking is generally feared almost by everybody. Some people will avoid public speaking at all costs. Sometimes, the avoidance may lead to missing a great chance to make an impression which is good and/ or long-lasting, opportunity to sell their product or themselves. Development of authentic speaking has made it easy for the improvement of the way people come across, and reduction of the people’s feeling of fear before and during their presentation. Authentic speaking defers from other approaches since it doesn’t inculcate any other methodology or technique to the individual and the learning involves experience. Authentic speaking gets the individual to meditate on what he or she is thinking before speaking. Once the speaker opens their mouth to speak, he/she should be relaxed, comfortable and in a good mental state. Therefore, thorough preparation and mental awareness of the speaker’s own talk is paramount. In order for the individual to feel better and prepared for the task ahead, he/she should acknowledge the “script” and then rewrite it. This is due to the fact that the task (talk) has a profound impact on how the individual will feel. Physical posture is also necessary in creating confidence in a presenter. The presenter may adopt an upright and proud posture, but not trying to hide from the audience.

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Mostly, the reason as to why people fear public and private speaking is due to self-consciousness. Self-consciousness refers to an acute sense of self awareness. It is opposed to the philosophical definition of self-awareness since it is a pre-occupation with one’ self, the awareness that an individual being exists. An individual may have an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness when he/she comes to know that other people are watching or observing him/her. The unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness is occasionally paired with paranoia or shyness. When an individual is self-conscious, he/she becomes aware of his/her own actions no matter how small they are. A person’s ability to perform complex actions can be impaired by such awareness. a person may be shy or introverted if he/she has a chronic tendency towards self-consciousness. Being excessively conscious of a person’s appearance or manner is at times problematic. Shyness and embarrassment, where the result is low self-esteem and lack of pride can be paired with self-consciousness. During high self-consciousness period, people come to the closest understanding themselves objectively, and this has potential to have impact on development of identity. The impact of self-consciousness has varying degree in people since; some are self-involved or constantly self-monitoring while others are quite and totally oblivious about themselves. Private self-consciousness is a norm to examine or introspect one’s inner self and feelings, while public self-consciousness is self-awareness resulting from other people’s views. Both types of self-consciousness are objectively personality traits which are considerably stable over time though there is no correlation between them. Public self-consciousness may lead to social anxiety and self-monitoring. Behavior is affected by various levels of self-consciousness since it is normal for people to act differently if they “lose themselves in crowd”. This can result to an inhibited and regularly destructive behavior.

Different people have varying tendencies of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is the means of communication where a person reveals himself/herself to another. It includes all that an individual choses to disclose to the other person about him/herself, to make him/her known. The information can be evaluative or descriptive and can comprise of aspirations, feelings, thoughts, successes, fears, failures, dreams, goals, as well as one’s favorites and dislikes. As social penetration theory poses, there are two self-disclosure dimensions which are breadth and depth. These dimensions are essential in developing a relationship which is fully intimate (Modell, 1993). Breadth disclosure is the range of topics which two individuals discuss while depth disclosure is the degree to which the revealed information is private or personal. Breadth disclosure is easier to be expressed first in a relationship since it has more accessible features which comprise layers of personality and daily lives such as preferences and occupations. It is considerably difficult to reach depth disclosure since its inner location comprises of painful memories and traits we keep secret from most people. Intimacy relies much upon self-disclosure which is expected to be reciprocal and appropriate. Assessment of self-disclosure can be done through analysis of costs and rewards. During early relational development is where most self-disclosure takes place but more intimate disclosure comes later. As social penetration theory poses, development of a relationship is relative to systematic changes in communication. Generally, relationships start with exchange of superficial information and eventually move to conversations which are more meaningful. It is essential to increase breadth and depth of a conversation if partners need to develop a more intimate relationship. Conversations between partners usually begin with “small talk” which provides little revelation about the speaker’s information. It reaches the intimate level where the breadth and depth of the conversation increases and more personal details are revealed till it reaches the very intimate level where couples share extremely private information.

Development of intimacy in relationships can only develop if both parties reciprocate disclosures. If only one partner reveals more intimate details while the other continues to disclose superficial information only, intimacy will not develop. The reciprocity process needs to be gradual and partners should match the intimacy level of the disclosures. Revelation of too personal information too soon causes an imbalance in the relationship and therefore making the other person uncomfortable. The gradual process differs from relationship to relationship and may depend on the communication partner. Reciprocity is the positive response from a person with whom one is sharing information. It can be described by three theories which are: norm of reciprocity, social exchange theory and the social attraction-trust hypothesis. The norm of reciprocity poses that reciprocating disclosure is a social norm and failure to adhere to it makes a person uncomfortable. The social exchange theory states that people try to maintain equality in disclosing themselves since an imbalance in self-disclosure makes them uncomfortable. Social attraction-trust hypothesis states that people disclose themselves to one another since they have the belief that the person who they disclose the information to, likes and trusts them. There are two types of reciprocity which are extended reciprocity and turn-taking reciprocity. The extended reciprocity is where disclosure takes place over a period of time while turn-taking reciprocity is when there is immediate self-disclosure between partners. Disclosure and responsiveness form the key components for intimacy.

The range of topics which individuals disclose (breadth) also varies in different cultures. For example, people from the American culture tend to reveal more personal topics like relationships, body, finances and other issues concerning their health and personality than any other cultures. This is not the case when it comes to individuals from the Japanese culture. The Japanese are very conservative and mostly don’t reveal their personal issues to the public. Also, the degree of how personal the topics to be reveled are also varies across different cultures. These include feelings, thoughts and also more impersonal topics like hobbies and interests. Some individuals prefer not to reveal their feelings and private thoughts while holding conversations as they feel that this will make them seem vulnerable or insecure. The negative or positive aspect of the topic to be revealed is also an important factor that also varies in different cultures. For example a person participating in a debate may feel that revealing a real life event that took place and had a negative effect on them may help them prove their point. However, this person may end up hurt as their opponent may not get this and may also end up using the fact to their own advantage. The individuals that tend to reveal more personal issues than others undergo more psychological problems.

When establishing a relationship, there is a time period that one takes before they can fully disclose to the other. Individuals from cultures that are more conservative tend to withhold much information until they feel that the relationship has grown and they can trust the other party. Revelation of too much personal information before the relationship has grown is considered inappropriate, some other cultures however, disclosure is done after a very short period of time. The target party, to whom an individual discloses themselves, is also an important factor that is considered in many communities. For example, spouses trust each other hence, they self-disclose almost everything. Some consider the age of the target and what topics are appropriate to disclose to them.

According to Alder and Proctor (2007), self-disclosure is important and at the same time it can have unfavorable outcomes. For instance, self-disclosure can help strengthen the relationship between two individuals by improving the trust between the two. It can also increase one’s influence over the other individuals and can also be used as a way of bringing out the good qualities in an individual. At the same time self-disclosure may reflect vulnerability in one’ self and may also make the other party develop a negative attitude towards the relationship leading to its termination.

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There are various factors to consider before a person decides to self-disclose. Sometimes, disclosure of information can be harmful than helpful. The discloser must weigh if the probable benefits level the risk. Self-disclosure is most useful when used constructively and when revealing relevant information in reasonable amounts to a person who reciprocates with their own disclosures equally. It is also crucial to reveal information that could probably save someone from harm or to help them.


Adler, R.B., & Proctor, R.F. (2007). Looking out looking in (12th Ed.). Belmont, CA:Thomas Learning, Inc.

Baumeister, R. F. (1986). Public self and private self. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Modell, A. H. (1993). The private self. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.


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