Dr. Caroline Leaf – In this podcast (episode #314) and blog, I talk about how over-explaining and over-sharing can be trauma responses, and how they impact the way we function. I decided to speak about this topic because of the many responses I got to a social media post I recently put up: “Over-explaining is a common trauma response for those who were often made to feel at fault as a child. At one point, the desire to people-please provided safety. But, please know, what happened is not your fault, and it’s not your job to regulate other people’s emotional states.”
Over-explaining means describing something to an excessive degree, whereas oversharing is the disclosure of an inappropriate amount of information and detail about your personal life. These fall under the fawn trauma response (see podcast #302 for more information on the different trauma responses).
We often do this non-consciously to try to control the anxiety we experience in the moment, which is a signal that has a root. This thought “root” is what we need to find, or the uncomfortable feelings we experience won’t stop. If we don’t get to the root of the thought, we will use us a lot of mental energy trying to manage these feelings and other peoples’ impressions of us, which can be a pretty thankless and exhausting task!
Why do we do this?
- Over explaining (O/E thinking):
- You might be doing this to keep yourself safe, which could be a sign that you have a toxic thought tree that is dominating your thinking, and the root system is some sort of abusive relationship that happened in your past. The only way you managed to cope during that time was a fawning trauma response, which is now no longer sustainable in your life, as it has affected your ability to trust yourself and your self-confidence.
- You may also slip into an over-explaining response if you have been gaslit. This can make you feel like you must say a lot, and/or say things in different ways, so that the person gaslighting you can’t distort your words and make you look bad by using what you say against you.
- It could also be that you are trying to make people understand where you are coming from, and you feel the need to use a prefacing comment or story as a protective barrier to make people see your reasoning.
- You may feel the need to justify yourself or your decisions to make someone accept who you are and how you think, which is also a trauma root that you will need to work on.
- You could also be trying to keep the peace, and over-explain as a result.
- Perhaps you tend to over-explain because someone in your past made you feel everything is your fault, no matter what, and you feel the need to defend yourself, or it may bother you if you disappoint someone in your life and you use over-explaining to compensate.
- You could be thinking out loud, or have had a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and need more words to explain yourself. (I had many patients who did this.)
- You may see over-explaining as a way to be honest or to boost another person’s emotional state.
- It could also be that you are a chattier person, especially when you feel you can contribute to the situation, and, once stimulated, you talk too much. The important thing here is mind-management; learn to self-regulate your responses and how you process how other people react to you, and adjust accordingly.
- Oversharing (O/S thinking):
- Many of the roots are similar to why we tend to over-explain, which I described briefly above.
- Sometimes oversharing is also the result of a misguided attempt to gain sympathy. If you share your mistakes to help others, you are being authentic; if you share too much to gain sympathy, then you are oversharing.
If you feel like you tend to over-explain or over-share, there is hope! You can work on this by doing a 5-step Neurocycle over 63 days to uncover the root of the thought and work on rewiring your brain. This is the mind-management system I have developed over the past 38 years, and is based on my research and practice. (I discuss this in detail in my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, my app Neurocycle and in my recent clinical trials.)
The 5 steps are:
O/E = Start with something recent that happened to you and observe your thinking. Did you apologize a lot? Did you battle to say no? Did you feel the need to give lots of detail so that the other person understood you? Did you over-anticipate how this person will respond when you set a boundary? Did you perhaps focus on the worst-case scenario?
O/S = Think of ways you tend to overshare. Do you perhaps post intimate details about your relationships, friendships, family matters and personal drama online? Do you use social media to vent your frustrations? How do you overshare? How does this make you feel emotionally and physically? Remind yourself that oversharing doesn’t create intimacy; it can be a sign of self-absorption that is masked as “vulnerability”.
Ask, answer and discuss what you gathered in step 1 to get to the core of what you are doing, why, and the impact this is having on your life and relationships.
Write down your reflections to help organize your thinking and gain more clarity into what is going on in your life.
How you can see this in a different way; what is your thought “antidote”?
5. Practice your new way of thinking every day using the active reach:
Some examples of good active reaches are:
- Practicing being patient with yourself.
- Celebrating in the moment when you do set a boundary WITHOUT chronicling your reasoning for it in painstaking detail.
- Learning to sit with the discomfort of disappointing others. You can’t please everyone—the one person you should always prioritize is yourself!
- Giving yourself permission to feel whatever feelings surface when you say “no”.
- Reminding yourself of times you did assert a boundary, and how things didn’t end up as badly as you expected them to be.
- Practicing mind-management, where you self-regulate your reaction to other people, and adjust accordingly.
- Using use the Neurocycle to do brain-building daily to help improve your mental resilience. For more on this check out my podcast on brain-building.
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