Shameful Secrets and Shame-Prone Dispositions: How Outcome Expectations Mediate the Relation Between Shame and Discourse

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Shame may be a deterrent to disclosing secrets to a counselor, and shame-proneness may be associated with generalized tendencies to avoid disclosure of distress. If so, the mechanism explaining these relations might be the expected outcomes about disclosure. College students in the United States (N = 312) thought of a shameful secret of theirs, and they rated the degree of shame they felt about the secret, their willingness to disclose the secret to a potential counselor, and their expected support from a potential counselor (i.e. outcome expectation). Participants also completed dispositional measures of shame-proneness, generalized outcome expectations about disclosure, and disclosure tendencies. Mediation analyses revealed that participants’ experiences of shame regarding their secrets predicted lower anticipated support from the counselor which predicted lower willingness to disclose the secret. This effect largely replicated at the dispositional level, such that anticipated risks of disclosure mediated the relationship between shame-proneness and disclosure tendencies. These findings suggest that counselor efforts to promote healthy client disclosure could target the client’s outcome expectations about disclosure rather than the client’s degree of shame.


This article was originally published as DeLong, L. B., & Kahn, J. H. (2014). Shameful secrets and shame-prone dispositions: How outcome expectations mediate the relation between shame and disclosure. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 27(3), 290–307.