Many of us will have had times when we’ve overshared too much personal stuff, been over-zealous about expressing our thoughts, feelings and experiences, only to regret it upon reflection later on.
At the time we may have felt under pressure, bullied, given no choice due to the level of questioning, may have been somewhat inebriated or simply wanted to talk and let it out. It can start to become a problem when sharing too much becomes a habit, and we don’t know how to stop.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why we share too much personal stuff;
Doubting that we’re good enough can be one reason why we choose to share too much. We may be wanting encouragement, need someone to understand our motivations, be seeking advice to enable us to feel positive, become more in control and get back on track.
Being understood is important to many of us. It helps us feel acknowledged and accepted that we’ve gone through our reasons as to why we behaved in a certain way. We can relax when we feel empathised with, reassured that the other person is able to see things from our perspective and, as such, appreciates our feelings.
Explaining ourselves can be a key element of oversharing. A need to justify what and why we’ve done what we’ve done can indicate a lack of certainty or confidence in our actions. If we really believed in ourselves, were we clear about our choices, would we really need to subject ourselves to such a level of exposure and scrutiny?
Or perhaps we feel that we owe it to others to be open and transparent about our thought processes and actions. It may be that we feel under pressure to explain ourselves, to explain the must/should/ought that guided our thinking, so justifying why they’re entitled to know. Or we may think that others are interested, want to know ‘everything’ about us. While that may be the case, once things are revealed, they cannot be retracted and shared information is out there for good. Is that what you want?
Oversharing may well be done with the best of intentions. We may want to support others, hear their story and be seen to encourage them, let them know that they’re understood, not alone. ‘I know how you feel, here’s my example’, may be seen as including others in our lives, reassuring them that they have an ally, a fellow traveller who’s familiar with their journey.
But how much do we need to reveal in order to relate to others? How much time and effort does it require to convey our story with sufficient clarity for someone else to fully ‘get’ all the nuances and subtleties? And even then, after trying, perhaps in painstaking detail, there’s still no guarantee that they really, truly understand our rationale in the same way we do. We all have different barometers on which we measure life experiences, whether they be good or bad, positive or negative, devastating or life-enhancing.
We may be lonely and regard over-sharing as fast-tracking our way into a new relationship, so avoiding weeks of painstaking getting to know each other. But that may be too full-on for the other person. Do they really want and need to know so much so quickly? A little mystery can leave things to be discovered along the way. Oversharing may be indigestible, far too much in the early days of a new relationship.
Are we after sympathy? When we share how badly we’ve been treated, how much we’ve suffered, are we anticipating that lots of love and support will come flooding our way? We may want to win someone over by oversharing so that they become a full member of our team.
Of course, it may be that others are not interested in our story and rapidly switch off if we start to share too much or too often. Not all relationships need to be so ‘full-on’. Some are fine with a lighter touch. We may think that our story is interesting, compelling, but that’s not always how others see it. They may listen and feign interest out of good manners or a desire to be supportive, but eventually, that interest wears thin, and they start to avoid us or never ask, ‘how are you?’ for fear of opening the floodgates!
It’s also important for others to be shown that they too matter, are valued and cared for. Feeling equally important means that they’re more likely to become engaged and responsive; there needs to be some two-way traffic.
Most of us want to be liked, accepted and understood, though many appreciate that we’re unlikely to score 100% in every popularity contest! A general rule of thumb is that 1/3 people will like us, 1/3 won’t like us, and the final 1/3 are okay either way, they’ll be polite, friendly, courteous, but are not over-invested in the relationship. When others ‘like’ us well enough, it succeeds in oiling the wheels for a more comfortable life. So, relax, be gentle with yourself and make sure that you’re one of the third who likes and accepts yourself.
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Susan Leigh, counsellor, hypnotherapist and relationship counsellor.