Emotional Self-Disclosure and Emotional Avoidance: Relations With Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

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Research suggests that individuals with heightened symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders engage in diminished emotional disclosure. On the basis of emotion regulation theories, the authors hypothesized that this symptom–disclosure relationship would be mediated by the avoidance of emotional experience and expression. In Study 1, college students (N = 831) completed measures of depression and anxiety symptoms, measures of tendencies to avoid emotional expression, and measures of tendencies to self-disclose distress. Structural equation modeling revealed that anhedonic depression and anxious arousal were associated with lessened emotional self-disclosure tendencies as mediated by avoidance of emotional expression. In Study 2, participants (N = 153) completed new measures of depression and anxiety symptoms, reflected on the most significant emotional event experienced during the past week, and rated their avoidance of emotion about the event and their self-disclosure of the event. Depression (but not anxiety) symptoms were negatively related to the disclosure of a specific event, but avoidance of emotional experience did not mediate this depression–disclosure relationship. These findings extend emotion dysregulation theory and suggest that depressive symptoms in particular are associated with reduced emotional disclosure.


This article was originally published as Kahn, J. H., & Garrison, A. M. (2009). Emotional self-disclosure and emotional avoidance: Relations with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56(4), 573–584. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016574.