Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

J. Donald Ragsdale


As a dimension of privacy regulation, self-disclosure is the means through which individuals manage the psychological boundary area between the inner, private world and the outer, public world of interaction with others. In communication research, a gap has been noted between self-disclosure as defined by scientific method and self-disclosure as it is experienced by people in their daily life. This study reduces that gap by investigating disclosure decisions about a major life experience through the thick perspectives of the individuals themselves. Disclosure is examined as a context-embedded communicative process. To provide a thick description of disclosure decisions, an ethnographic methodology is used in this investigation. In-depth ethnographic interviews are the primary means for examining these disclosure decisions. Recent work by psychoneuroimmunologists has provided important evidence that disclosure of traumatic experience benefits physiological and psychological well-being. This study examines self-disclosure decisions and patterns among persons who have encountered a near-death experience. A near-death experience (NDE) is the name given to extramundane events reported by individuals after they have revived from a life-threatening physical crisis. Near-death experiences occur frequently and are known to produce profound and long-lasting effects. Gallup reported that 5% of American adults have had a near-death experience during a physical crisis. Substantial research had been conducted recently about this extraordinary happening, but little is known about subsequent disclosure decisions. For this research project, I located and interviewed 50 near-death experiencers from within the southern Louisiana region. This study confirmed previous research regarding the powerful role of responses to early disclosures, the need to bring thoughts and feelings together to facilitate confrontation, and the essential role of listener response. New findings included an extended purview of decision variables and the distinction between decisions to initiate disclosure and decisions to respond with disclosure. This research also found that adjacent events can complicate disclosure decisions in ways not examined in communication research. Finally, in a discussion of secrecy I identified areas which have immediate consequences for disclosure processes and which merit further investigation.