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Telling secrets: the process of disclosure for women with stigmatised experiences

Social science knowledge has largely been developed via research utilising information that is disclosed by people. Yet little is known about the dynamics and process of disclosure itself. In the present study, a grounded theory of the process of disclosure was developed for women disclosing one (or more) of three stigmatised experiences or identities: having been sexually abused, coming out as lesbian or bisexual, and/or having a sexually transmitted disease. Eighteen women of diverse ages and backgrounds were interviewed with regards to their experiences of disclosing to partners, friends, family members and acquaintances. In this qualitative study, six categories characterising the process of disclosure were found: the period prior to disclosure, the women’s motivation for disclosing (altruistic, affiliative and instrumental needs), developing a network of confidants (essential and chosen), assessing the risks involved, strategies for disclosing and the consequences of disclosing. A descriptive and interpretive model was developed of the changes that occurred over time for women disclosing their secrets. This model of the process of disclosure was synonymous with the changes and development in the women’s self-identity as they came to terms with the impact of having a stigmatised experience or identity. Findings suggest that disclosure can facilitate healing and lead to increased self-esteem and self-confidence with respect to the negative attributions resulting from stigmatisation. Results also suggest that therapists could facilitate the process of disclosing traumatic secrets for women experiencing difficulties.
Type of thesis
Muir, N. A. (2001). Telling secrets: the process of disclosure for women with stigmatised experiences (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14415
The University of Waikato
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