Vulnerability and Self-Disclosure

Over the years I have found debates about abstract principles can be greatly enhanced by self-disclosure.  I will use two up-coming posts on Pacifism and Suicide to illustrate this point.  If your debating-partner discloses their experiences with violence or suicide, it could greatly help you understand you their position even if you don’t agree with it.  This seem like common sense but I find many bloggers who feel personal details are immaterial and want to keep their debates limited purely to the argument’s unadulterated logic — and of course, there is not such thing.

I find that when people argue opposing positions on controversial issues, they  can enhance their dialogue by sharing their personal experiences.  This may not resolve issues but hearing your dialogue-partner’s experience may give you empathetic insight into their position such that you can restate your  position with caveats that capture their concerns, thus changing both your position and possibly theirs.  Or, if nothing else, you will feel for the other person and realize that their decision is not just bad logic but, as in all of us, tied together with strongly, understandable emotions.  For thought never occur in isolation but always tied to emotion.

Self-disclosure does, however, come with obvious problems.  You risk that your dialogue-partner may take your personal information and employ it against you using the genetic fallacy.  And though the genetic fallacy is illogical, it can be persuasive to others listening in on your debate.  So then you would loose the argument.  But do you blog to win or to grow in understanding?   Another danger is that your debate-partner may not show any empathy and leave you feeling vulnerable and hurt after a self-disclosure.  Thus the decision to risk vulnerability is complicated.  But if one feels confident enough for the vulnerability of self-disclosure, it can be a very healing and useful technique in building healthy relationships and community.  It is for this reason that I value self-disclosure and vulnerability though I think they should be used judiciously.

Religious debate is a good place to experiment with self-disclosure.  The pure logic of religious person who debates religious philosophy or theology may not budge an atheist, but if the religious person shares their religious conversion or shares how their faith has changed their life, the atheist may be able to listen with a different heart.  Likewise if the atheist shares their negative experiences with religion and how reasoning and empiricism have greatly benefited them, the religious person may be better able to share a few mutual concerns with the theist.

Thus, on blogs, I suggest that self-disclosure pages may help readers understand the arguments of the blogger.  On my site, I have done this on my “About Author” tab.  Take a look if you are interested.  I have found the vulnerability to be nothing but helpful when discussing controversial issues with my readers.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

15 responses to “Vulnerability and Self-Disclosure

  1. Very insightful post.

    “You risk that your dialogue-partner may take your personal information and employ it against you using the genetic fallacy.”

    That is definitely is a significant reason many are hesitant to self disclose.

  2. One of the famous French diplomats wrote in his memoirs about how he would keep a stock of personally incriminating secrets to share privately with people, to build trust and rapport. If done properly, you can learn who is trustworthy and sincere and shake out those who are not.

    Revivalist pastors are obviously well-versed in the technique of sharing personal details to build rapport, as well.

    Blogging itself relies on creating a sense of authenticity via unfiltered “voice”. This is why the book “Naked Conversations” is named what it’s named. But the idea of your “dialogue-partner” being untrustworthy is not the main reason for controlled disclosure, though. It’s not the “dialogue-partner” your’e worried about. You are obviously aware of the real reason, since you’re blogging under a pseudonym. People tend to disclose far more in private dialogue with a dialogue-partner than they do on a public forum like a blog.

  3. I have found that self-disclosure is more harmful than helpful. Christians in particular are very good at taking whatever bits you give them to stab you at the first opportunity.

    Personally, I have terrible memories from the days when I used self-disclosure heavily.

  4. @ Nathan : Thanks

    @ JS Allen: Good points.

    @ Lorena
    Just like my “Forgiveness” post, “Self-Disclosure” is two-edged — as you point out. They both are valuable skills but ones which must be used with discernment. This post is emphasizing its value. I am especially pointing out that our ideas are formed by our experiences and to treat them like the are rarefied, unattached entities is a mistake. So perhaps if you don’t trust a partner for self-disclosure, it is best to avoid debating with them to any large degree also.

  5. Shawn Wamsley


    Though my interaction has been light, I am thoroughly enthralled by this discussion. I am honored to be the impetus behind such a soul-baring conversation.

    I think that the danger of any interpersonal interaction is one of vulnerability. I say danger, because it seems to me that some people use vulnerability to manipulate others (a wholly inexcusable practice). Nonetheless, in my RL relationships I usually freak new people out, because I am up front about a lot of things people won’t personally disclose (those I don’t freak out usually become good friends). It is not that I am socially unaware and share awkward information. I am just up front about how I view relationships. If you are going to be my friend, you must know who I am – really. If you just want to be a friendly acquaintance, that is fine too – I’ll spare further details and smile at you when I see you, ask how your day/week/year/life is going, then be on my way. :0) However, by virtue of basic personality, I have little time for people who are not making a valuable contribution to the relationship, and I have found that self-disclosure is wonderful at weeding those people out. Something about openness scares people who have something to hide from you (okay, that may be a generalization, but I think there is some truth in it).


    Words fail me. There is no real way for me to express how disgusting that kind of behavior is to me. I am always dumbstruck at how poorly some people will treat others – they ought to be ashamed of themselves (then I get angry thinking they probably aren’t).

  6. Joel Wheeler

    Interesting hypothesis, and definitely two-edged. I find that self-disclosure is actually the norm when dealing with LIKE-minded folks: consider the role of testimony in Christian circles, or Ex-timonies among us apostates.

    The big obstacle, for me, is that I DON’T give a great deal of weight to personal experiences. I mean, they obviously shape perception, but they don’t necessarily lead to truth. They are too easily subtly altered over time to conform to more ideal narratives, and they bend to self-justification. My brother believes in God, partly because our dead sister appeared at the foot of his bed one night. If I understand that, how does that help him realize that this was simply a self-justifying experience?

    Believers often insist that non-believers must have been hurt by the church yadda yadda. In other words, it’s because of our experiences that we’ve turned away from God. The hardest thing to convince them of is that we simply read the story very carefully and decided that it was almost certainly untrue; also, we had some bad experiences. The experiences were ultimately secondary.

    I like the spirit of your idea, but my stance is that real and honest disclosure should always be optional, and not central or foundational to a discussion of ideas.

  7. Shawn Wamsley said:
    Words fail me. There is no real way for me to express how disgusting that kind of behavior is to me.

    Lorena responds:
    As you may know, When Christians backstab me for disclosing too much, they’re just following the script of evangelization.

    They’ve been taught to show the “sinner” how much he/she needs Jesus. So the preaching, self-righteous Christian needs to use every opportunity to point out how the interlocutor is flawed and in need of God’s help.

    It all comes from the commandment to go and preach. So, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge the Christians. I judge the belief system instead. That’s what’s flawed.

  8. @ Lorena & Shawn
    I think this may illustrate the superficiality of beliefs. Two people could hold a similar cluster of beliefs but anchor them in their lives and connect them to other beliefs such that the outcome is very different. Lorena may know a very different group of Christians that the type of Christianity Shawn has in his head. But maybe Shawn knows these sorts of Christian Loren complains about. Lorena, do you know Christians you admire?

  9. Shawn Wamsley


    “They’ve been taught to show the “sinner” how much he/she needs Jesus. So the preaching, self-righteous Christian needs to use every opportunity to point out how the interlocutor is flawed and in need of God’s help.”

    This practice certainly is flawed, in many ways.

  10. @Lorena – Personally, I think Christians like that have a very flawed understanding of Christian doctrine, and in fact are trying to play God. They want to feel like salvation is some “gift” that *they* are giving to you (more like, forcing upon you) — they want to feel as if you would be completely lost without them, and that you would owe everything to them. They are turning everything upside-down.

    It reminds me of the people who always talk about how they prayed for you, offer to “pray for you” to manipulate you and make you feel like you owe them something. Check out this hilarious e-mail exchange between a professional troll and a woman who actually had the shamelessness to try to buy a blu-ray player in exchange for prayers:

  11. Sabio,

    I know lots of Christians I admire. Even people who do such things. I dislike their actions when they do that, but I don’t let that overshadow my idea of the person as a whole.

    Christians are people like everyone else with flaws and good qualities. When I’m around Christians, or atheists for that matter, I make an effort to see the good in them and to ignore the bad.

    I am thoroughly convinced that the good I see in Christians stems from their human goodness, not from their relationship with their invisible friend.

  12. I forgot to mention that, in my experience, the best way to get along with Christians is to do zero disclosure. If you pretend to be great and to have no problems, they won’t preach at you or bother you in any way.

    I do it all the time.

  13. I originally hail from feminist circles and because “the personal is political” is an old and widespread perspective in such venues, it’s second nature for me to share personal experiences in exploring a point I am trying to make.

    Because this a very old and familiar way of communicating with people, I tend to look for this style of communicating in the blogs I visit. When I’m looking for a good blog-read, it’s the blogs that tell personal stories that tend to draw me in. The ones that are composed of reams upon reams of dry logic and nothing more simply make my eyes glaze over. In a way, they also lack authenticity for me. I have a greater respect for someone’s argument if they can ground their words in real world experiences. Theory can look great on paper, but it’s real world application that puts theory to the test.

    When it comes to my own blog, I write as a means of working through the emotions surrounding various experiences in my life. My blog, in a sense, is a kind of therapy. It’s nearly impossible to utilize one’s writing in such a way without disclosing deeper details about one’s life. Consequently, I disclose.

    As for dealing with the issue of vulnerability, well, I keep a tightly moderated blog. Since I write about controversial topics (LGBT issues, childhood abuse, atheism, gender, etc.), I fully expect that I’m going to attract a few *ssholes. Those people never make it out of my moderation queue. I log their contact info into my spam filters and take great pleasure in deleting their foul writing. Deleting their words is almost therapeutic in and of itself. They inevitably go away because I refuse to give them a place to voice their dysfunction.

  14. @ Lorena:
    Like you, I often don’t disclose. At a picnic this weekend, a bunch of strangers carefully had polite conversations without disclosing how they felt about politics, sexual-practices, tattoos, and religion. Sometime zero-disclosure is a great option. It all depends on why your are relating at that moment, I guess.

    @ Timberwraith :
    “Deleting their words is almost therapeutic” LOL !
    I loved your point, thanks !

  15. @ Joel & Lorena

    but my stance is that real and honest disclosure should always be optional, …

    I totally agree, Joel. I had hoped that was clear when I wrote:

    It is for this reason that I value self-disclosure and vulnerability though I think they should be used judiciously.

    It is odd on these sort of posts, due to their experiences and temperament, folks tend to want to emphasize the caveats rather than the message. I get that. We all are different critters with very different experiences.

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