Self-concealment (SC) is a psychological construct defined as “a predisposition to actively conceal from others personal information that one perceives as distressing or negative.” Self-concealment can be understood as an instance of boundary regulation in the maintenance of privacy. Self-concealed personal information has three characteristics: it is a subset of private information, can be consciously accessed, and is actively concealed from others. The concealed personal information (thoughts, feelings, actions, or events) is highly intimate and negative in valence (p. 440). Self-concealment has been shown to be both conceptually and empirically distinct from self-disclosure.
Secrets and secret keeping have been a longstanding interest of psychologists and psychotherapists. Jourard’s recent work on self-disclosure and Pennebaker’s research on the health benefits of disclosing traumatic events and secrets set the stage for the conceptualization and measurement of self-concealment. Jourard’s research pointed to the conclusion that stress and illness result not only from low self-disclosure, but more so from the intentional avoidance of being known by another person. In a later line of research, Pennebaker  and his colleagues examined the confiding-illness relation or the inhibition-disease link and found that not expressing thoughts and feelings about traumatic events is associated with long-term health effects. Pennebaker attributed the unwillingness to disclose distressing personal information to either circumstances or individual differences. The self-concealment construct, and the scale for its measurement, the Self-Concealment Scale, were introduced to permit assessment and conceptualization of individual differences on this personality dimension.
The 10-item Self-Concealment Scale (SCS) measures the degree to which a person tends to conceal personal information perceived as negative or distressing. The SCS has proven to have excellent psychometric properties (internal consistency and test-retest reliability) and unidimensionality. Representative items include: “I have an important secret that I haven't shared with anyone,” “There are lots of things about me that I keep to myself,” Some of my secrets have really tormented me,” “When something bad happens to me, I tend to keep it to myself,” and “My secrets are too embarrassing to share with others.”
Relevant psychological research
The initial study of self-concealment by Larson and Chastain found that self-concealment uniquely and significantly contributed to the prediction of anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms even after controlling for trauma incidence, trauma distress, trauma disclosure, social support and social network strength, and self-disclosure. Subsequent research has examined the effects of self-concealment on subjective well-being and coping, finding that high self-concealment is associated with psychological distress and self-reported physical symptoms, anxiety and depression anxiety, depression, shyness, and negative self-esteem, loneliness, rumination, anxiety, trait social anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and self-silencing, ambivalence over emotional expressiveness, maladaptive mood regulation, and acute and chronic pain.
Theoretical models offered to explain the consistent finding of negative health effects for self-concealment include:
- An inhibition model developed by Pennebaker, which would attribute these effects to the physiological work that is a consequence of the behavioral inhibition accompanying the self-concealment process.
- A preoccupation model based on the work of Wegner  that sees the thought suppression associated with self-concealment as ironically leading to intrusive thoughts and even greater preoccupation with distressing personal information, which in turn leads to poor well-being.
- Self-perception theory, which argues that behavior influences attitudes—the self-concealing person observes his or her own concealing behavior and concludes that there must be a good reason for the behavior, leading to negative characterological self-attributions that fit with this conclusion (e.g. “I must be bad because I am concealing this aspect of myself”).
- Self-determination theory, which explains the negative health effects of self-concealment as the consequence of the frustration of the individual’s basic needs of autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Kelly offers a comprehensive review of several explanatory models and the evidence supporting each of them, concluding that a genetic component shared by high self-concealers might make them both more prone to self-conceal and more vulnerable to physical and psychological problems.
Research studies have focused on the relation of self-concealment to attachment orientations, help seeking and attitudes toward counseling, desire for greater (physical) interpersonal distance, stigma, distress disclosure, lying behavior and authenticity, and psychotherapy process.
Research also focuses on self-concealment in specific populations: LGBT, multicultural, and adolescents, families, and romantic partners.
- Personality psychology
- Health psychology
- Personal boundaries
- Secrets and secrecy
- Self-Concealment Research Collaborative
- Larson and Chastain (1990).
- Uysal, Lin, and Knee (2010).
- Larson (1993).
- Jourard (1971a).
- Jourard (1971b).
- Pennebaker and Chew (1985).
- Pennebaker, Zech and Rime (2001).
- Cramer and Barry (1999).
- Cepeda-Benito and Short (1998).
- Kahn & Hessling (2001).
- Kelly & Achter (1995).
- Ichiyama et al. (1993).
- Cramer & Lake (1998).
- King, Emmons, & Woodley (1992).
- Pennebaker, Colder, & Sharp (1990).
- Endler, Flett, Macrodimitris, Corace, & Kocovski (2002).
- Potoczniak, Aldea, & DeBlaere (2007).
- Cramer, Gallant, & Langlois (2005).
- Barr, Kahn, & Schneider (2008).
- Wismeijer, Van Assen, Sijtsma, & Vingerhoets (2009).
- Uysal & Lu (2011).
- Pennebaker (1985).
- Pennebaker & Beall (1986).
- Wegner, Lane, & Dimitri (1994).
- Wegner, Lane, & Pennebaker (1995).
- Bem (1967).
- Kelly (2002), p.217.
- Lopez (2001).
- Lopez, Mitchell, & Gormley (2002).
- Yukawa, Tokuda, & Sato (2007).
- Cramer (1999).
- Fedde (2010).
- Hao & Liang (2007).
- Kimura & Mizuno (2004).
- Leech (2007).
- Masuda, Anderson, Twohig, et al. (2009).
- Masuda, Hayes, et al. (2009).
- Morgan, Ness, & Robinson (2003).
- Omori (2007).
- Vogel, Wade, & Haake (2006).
- Wallace & Constantine (2005).
- Yoo, Goh, & Yoon (2005).
- Zayco (2009).
- Luoma, Kohlenberg, Hayes, Bunting, & Rye (2008).
- Luoma, O'Hair, Kohlenberg, Hayes, & Fletcher (2010).
- Masuda & Boone (2011).
- Pachankis & Goldfried (2010).
- Brunell et al. (2010).
- Engels, Finkenauer, & van Kooten (2006).
- Lopez & Rice (2006).
- Kahn, Achter, & Shambaugh (2001).
- Wild (2004).
- Agyemang (2007).
- Selvidge, Matthews, & Bridges (2008).
- Constantine, Okazaki, & Utsey (2004).
- Engels, Finkenauer, Kerr, & Stattin (2005).
- Kang (2002).
- Kawano (2001).
- Masuda, Anderson, & Sheehan (2009).
- Morris, Linkemann, Kroner-Herwig, & Columbus (2006).
- Finkenauer, Engels, & Meeus (2002).
- Finkenauer, Frijns, Engels, & Kerkhof (2005).
- Finkenauer, Kerkhof, Righetti, & Branje (2009).
- Frijns, Finkenauer, Vermulst, & Engels (2005).
- Frijns, Keijsersa, Branjea, & Meeusa (2009).
- Agyemang, S. (2007). Black bisexually active men who do not disclose sexual activity with men to female partners: An internet study of factors related to being on the 'down low'. (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from Proquest database. (AAI 3269045).
- Barr, L. K., Kahn, J. H., & Schneider, W. J. (2008). Individual differences in emotion expression: Hierarchical structure and relations with psychological distress. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 27(10), 1045–1077.
- Bem, D. J. (1967). Self-perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychological Review, 74(3), 183–200.
- Brunell, A. B., Kernis, M. H., Goldman, B. M., Heppner, W., Davis, P., Cascio, E. V., & Webster, G. D. (2010). Dispositional authenticity and romantic relationship functioning. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(8), 900–905.
- Cepeda-Benito, A., & Short, P. (1998). Self-concealment, avoidance of psychological services, and perceived likelihood of seeking professional help. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45(1), 58–64.
- Constantine, M. G., Okazaki, S., & Utsey, S. O. (2004). Self-concealment, social self-efficacy, acculturative stress, and depression in African, Asian, and Latin American International college students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 74(3), 230–241.
- Cramer, K. M. (1999). Psychological antecedents to help-seeking behavior: A reanalysis using path modeling structures. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46(3), 381–387.
- Cramer, K. M., & Barry, J. E. (1999). Psychometric properties and confirmatory factor analysis of the Self-Concealment Scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 27(4), 629–637.
- Cramer, K. M., Gallant, M. D., & Langlois, M. W. (2005). Self-silencing and depression in women and men: Comparative structural equation models. Personality and Individual Differences, 39(3), 581–592.
- Cramer, K. M., & Lake, R. P. (1998). The Preference For Solitude Scale: Psychometric properties and factor structure. Personality and Individual Differences, 24(2), 193–199.
- Endler, N. S., Flett, G. L., Macrodimitris, S. D., Corace, K.M., & Kocovski, N.L. (2002). Separation, self-disclosure, and social evaluation anxiety as facets of trait social anxiety. European Journal of Personality, 16(4), 239–269.
- Engels, R. C. M. E., Finkenauer, C., Kerr, M., & Stattin, H. (2005). Illusions of parental control: Parenting and smoking onset in Dutch and Swedish adolescents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35(9), 1912–1935.
- Engels, R. C. M. E., Finkenauer, C., & van Kooten, D. C. (2006). Lying behavior, family functioning and adjustment in early adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(6), 949–958.
- Fedde, F. (2010). Secret keeping and working alliance: The impact of concealment on the therapeutic process and the development of a solid client-therapist relationship. (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from Proquest database. (AAI 3400158).
- Finkenauer, C., Engels, R. C. M. E., & Meeus, W. (2002). Keeping secrets from parents: Advantages and disadvantages of secrecy in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31(2), 123–136.
- Finkenauer, C., Frijns, T., Engels, R. C. M. E., & Kerkhof, P. (2005). Perceiving concealment in relationships between parents and adolescents: Links with parental behavior. Personal Relationships, 12(3), 387–406.
- Finkenauer, C., Kerkhof, P., Righetti, F., & Branje, S. (2009). Living together apart: Perceived concealment as a signal of exclusion in marital relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(10), 1410–1422.
- Frijns, T., Finkenauer, C., Vermulst, A. A., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2005). Keeping secrets from parents: Longitudinal associations of secrecy in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34(2), 137–148.
- Frijns, T., Keijsers, L., Branje, S., & Meeus, W. (2010). What parents don't know and how it may affect their children: Qualifying the disclosure-adjustment link. Journal Of Adolescence, 33(2), 261–270.
- Hao, Z., & Liang, B. (2007). Predictors of college students' attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychology, 15(3), 321–325.
- Ichiyama, M. A., Colbert, D., Laramore, H., Heim, M., Carone, K., & Schmidt, J. (1993). Self-concealment and correlates of adjustment in college students. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 7(4), 55–68.
- Jourard, S. M. (1971a). Self-disclosure: An experimental analysis of the transparent self. New York, NY: Wiley.
- Jourard, S. M. (1971b). The transparent self (rev. ed.). New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
- Kahn, J. H., Achter, J. A., & Shambaugh, E. J. (2001). Client distress disclosure, characteristics at intake, and outcome in brief counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48(2),203–211.
- Kahn, J. H., & Hessling, R. M. (2001). Measuring the tendency to conceal versus disclose psychological distress. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 20(1), 41–65.
- Kang, W. C. (2002). The factor structure of the Chinese adaptation of Self-Concealment Scale in middle school students. Chinese Journal of Applied Psychology 8(2), 15–17.
- Kawano, K. (2001). Correlational analysis among Japanese Self-Concealment Scale, Kida's Stimulus-Seeking Scale and self-reported physical symptoms. Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(2), 115–121.
- Kelly, A. E. (2002). The psychology of secrets. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
- Kelly, A. E., & Achter, J. A. (1995). Self-concealment and attitudes toward counseling in university students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42(1), 40–46.
- Kimura, M., & Mizuno, H. (2004). Relationships between help-seeking preferences of college students and related psychological variables: A focus on student counseling, friends, and families. Japanese Journal of Counseling Science, 37(3), 260–269.
- King, L. A., Emmons, R. A., & Woodley, S. (1992). The structure of inhibition. Journal of Research in Personality, 26, 85–102.
- Larson, D. G. (1993). The helper's journey: Working with people facing grief, loss, and life-threatening illness. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
- Larson, D. G., & Chastain, R. L. (1990). Self-concealment: Conceptualization, measurement, and health implications. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9(4), 439–455.
- Leech, N. L. (2007). Cramer's model of willingness to seek counseling: A structural equation model for counseling students. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 141(4), 435–445.
- Lopez, F. G. (2001). Adult attachment orientations, self-other boundary regulation, and splitting tendencies in a college sample. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48(4), 440-446.
- Lopez, F. G., Mitchell, P., & Gormley, B. (2002). Adult attachment orientations and college student distress: Test of a mediational model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49(4), 460–467.
- Lopez, F. G., & Rice, K. G. (2006). Preliminary development and validation of a measure of relationship authenticity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(3), 362–371.
- Luoma, J. B., Kohlenberg, B. S., Hayes, S. C., Bunting, K., & Rye, A. K. (2008). Reducing self-stigma in substance abuse through acceptance and commitment therapy: Model, manual development, and pilot outcomes. Addiction Research & Theory, 16(2), 149–165.
- Luoma, J. B., O'Hair, A. K., Kohlenberg, B. S., Hayes, S. C., & Fletcher, L. (2010). The development and psychometric properties of a new measure of perceived stigma toward substance users. Substance Use & Misuse, 45(1-2), 47–57.
- Masuda, A., Anderson, P. L., & Sheehan, S. T. (2009). Mindfulness and mental health among African American college students. Complementary Health Practice Review, 14(3), 115–127.
- Masuda, A., Anderson, P. L., Twohig, M. P., Feinstein, A. B., Chou, Y., Wendell, J. W., & Stormo, A. R. (2009). Help-seeking experiences and attitudes among African American, Asian American, and European American college students. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 31(3), 168–180.
- Masuda, A., & Boone, M. S. (2011). Mental health stigma, self-concealment, and help-seeking attitudes among Asian American and European American college students with no help-seeking experience. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 33(4), 266–279.
- Masuda, A., C. Hayes, S., P. Twohig, M., Lillis, J., B. Fletcher, L., T. & Gloster, A. (2009). Comparing Japanese international college students' and U.S. college students' mental-health-related stigmatizing attitudes. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 37(3), 178–189.
- Morgan, T., Ness, D., & Robinson, M. (2003). Students' help-seeking behaviours by gender, racial background, and student status. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 37(2), 151–166.
- Morris, L., Linkemann, A., Kroner-Herwig, B., & Columbus, A. (2006). Writing your way to health? The effects of disclosure of past stressful events in German students. In A. Columbus (Ed.), Advances in psychology research, 46(pp. 165–185). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.
- Omori, M. (2007). Japanese college students' attitudes toward professional psychological services: The role of cultural self-construal and self-concealment. Psychological Reports, 100(2), 387–399.
- Pachankis, J. E., & Goldfried, M. R. (2010). Expressive writing for gay-related stress: Psychosocial benefits and mechanisms underlying improvement. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(1), 98–110.
- Pennebaker, J. W. (1985). Traumatic experience and psychosomatic disease: Exploring the roles of behavioural inhibition, obsession, and confiding. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 26(2), 82–95.
- Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 274–281.
- Pennebaker, J. W., Colder, M., & Sharp, L. K. (1990). Accelerating the coping process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(3), 528–537.
- Potoczniak, D. J., Aldea, M. A., & DeBlaere, C. (2007). Ego identity, social anxiety, social support, and self-concealment in lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54(4), 447–457.
- Selvidge, M. M. D., Matthews, C. R., & Bridges, S. K. (2008). The relationship of minority stress and flexible coping to psychological well being in lesbian and bisexual women. Journal of Homosexuality, 55(3), 450-470.
- Uysal, A., Lin, H. L., & Knee, C. R. (2010). The role of need satisfaction in self-concealment and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(2), 187-199.
- Uysal, A., & Lu, Q. (2011). Is self-concealment associated with acute and chronic pain? Health Psychology, 30(5), 606–614.
- Vogel, D. L., Wade, N. G., & Haake, S. (2006). Measuring the self-stigma associated with seeking psychological help. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(3), 325–337.
- Wallace, B. C., & Constantine, M. G. (2005). Africentric cultural values, Psychological help-seeking attitudes, and self-concealment in African American college students. Journal of Black Psychology, 31(4), 369–385.
- Wegner, D. M., Lane, J. D., & Dimitri, S. (1994). The allure of secret relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(2), 287–300.
- Wegner, D. M., Lane, J. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1995). From secrecy to psychopathology. In J. W. Pennebaker (Ed.), Emotion, disclosure, & health. (pp. 25–46). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Wild, N. D. (2004). Self-concealment as a predictor of psychotherapy outcome. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from Proquest database. (AAINQ92555).
- Wismeijer, A. A. J., Van Assen, M. A. L. M., Sijtsma, K., & Vingerhoets, A. J. J. M. (2009). Is the negative association between self-concealment and subjective well-being mediated by mood awareness? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28(6), 728–748.
- Yoo, S., Goh, M., & Yoon, E. (2005). Psychological and cultural influences on Koreans' help-seeking attitudes. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 27(3), 266–281.
- Yukawa, S., Tokuda, H., & Sato, J. (2007). Attachment style, self-concealment, and interpersonal distance among Japanese undergraduates. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 104(32), 1255–1261.
- Zayco, R. A. (2009). Asian American cultural values, loss of face and self-concealment as predictors of attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from Proquest database. (AAI 3321879).