When Sharing Too Much Information (TMI) Becomes a Problem (or, not)
Finding Balance in my Writing and Self Disclosure
“I know enough of life to know that you can never judge any case on its outside merits.”
― Agatha Christie
When you have not had a voice for the majority of your life, and then you find it, it is a bit like being let loose in a candy store after being told “no” to lollies all your life.
You can get a bit crazy. Overindulge. Overeat. Throw up.
It is nice to have someone to put a cold flannel on your head, bring you a drink of water and help you feel better. The natural consequence of throwing up has taught you that “overindulging” is not good.
Learning to walk
When a child is learning to walk, if they are never put on the ground, they don’t ever fall, but they never learn to walk.
They don’t ever fall repeatedly and in doing so learn how to walk; on level surfaces, wobbly surfaces, hard surfaces, on a slope, on gravel, with shoes or without shoes.
They need to practice.
Over and over again, until they get to know how walking feels for “them,” what works for them, and it becomes instinctual. Suddenly they no longer need to “practice” or think about it or be as careful, the “knowing” becomes hardwired, and they can “do it.”
It is second nature.
It doesn’t even become something that astounds them anymore. Nobody claps when you walk across a room when you are 40 years old! We, would not dream of putting on our resume the skill of “walking.” It is commonly accepted that you “know” and can do this.
Learning to eat
The same with learning to eat.
As a baby and as a toddler you are learning what foods you “have” to eat, what is healthy, and what foods are not so healthy. You also may “want” more frequently than is right for you, and it takes time for you to learn how to eat a balanced diet (I am STILL learning this one).
Parents often monitor their child’s eating for years until they are confident they have equipped them with enough knowledge and practical experience to enable them to go forth into adult life able to make these decisions for themselves.
Teenagers are often described as “trying on” different hats or personas, often starting the “opposite” of their parents, to see if what they have been taught is going to be “for them.” The process of this is seen as them figuring out or choosing their “identity.”
In the process of making different choices, they are answering questions such as: What is me? Who am I? Do I like this? Do I still like doing this after six months? How does this make me feel? Do I want to keep this behavior, or stop it?
The main point of all this is that it is THEM making decisions about their own life. Not their parents or society or someone else telling them. They are figuring it out for themselves.
Sometimes the answers to these questions will come quite quickly. Sometimes it may take a few years, and sometimes it is well into adulthood before people may change their mind and realize a particular set of behaviors is no longer working for them, or healthy for them to continue to do and be happy.
This is even more so the case when you are raised in a religion that has rigid rules and tells you what to do in every single situation.
When your entire childhood and adult life for decades has been decided for you (how to act, how to behave and what to say and do), to suddenly find yourself in a position to make decisions for yourself can be overwhelming.
All the emotional, mental and psychological developmental stages most humans have gone through moving from childhood to adulthood, have been lost and missed out for an adult leaving a highly controlled and restrictive religion.
They have to learn — but as adults.
And how do you learn?
The same way that children and teenagers learn. By going out and doing. By trying on “different hats.”
Only in this way can we see what fits us, and suits us, and decide what we will discard and what we will keep.
In my situation, this has applied to decisions in every area of my life.
Leaving a patriarchal fundamentalist rigid religion
When I first left the religion of my childhood in my early 30s (Jehovah’s Witnesses — JWS) I could not even identify what my favorite color was.
- I had never danced in a club (or anywhere).
- I did not know how to dance.
- I did not know most types of popular music as growing up I had never listened to any other music besides the “approved” Jehovahs Witness music.
- I did not know how to socialize with people who were not of the same belief as me, as I had been actively discouraged from doing so my whole life. I had no idea how to negotiate conversations, disagreements or conflict.
- I did not know how to conduct myself around men, as I was only ever permitted to be alone around a man who was my husband or father, and never allowed to socialize with anyone of the opposite sex.
- I had never dated. Dating was only ever conducted with marriage in mind, and never for fun or socializing.
- I had never celebrated any public holidays or my birthday. I had no idea how you were meant to conduct yourself at these events, what the “rules” were, spoken or unspoken.
- I had never entered a church (and had real fear over doing so).
- I had not worked outside of my husband’s business.
- I had no higher education. I did not know how to think or safely assess situations or information critically.
- I had only worn skirts below the knee, and certain types of dress. I never wore makeup (not all JWs are like this). I rarely wore trousers or what I had been taught was “androgynous” looking clothing.
- I never swore.
I only knew how to be a “good” Jehovah’s Witness (JW).
I am not saying that all of the above situations or ways of behaving were “bad” or not good. Only that I had lived in that way as it had been imposed on me, and I had been brainwashed from childhood to accept others decisions for how to conduct my life and not had a chance for myself to decide whether or not it was for me or not.
I had gotten baptized at a very young age, and I had never been exposed to people socially who thought “different” than myself in any area of life.
When I left the religion and was no longer allowed to associate with them, and was thrust amongst broader society, it felt like I was like an alien coming to earth from another planet.
I felt like a fish out of water.
I had to learn everything again from scratch in the process of learning about ME.
I had to discover who I was. I had to figure out why I believed certain things or did not, liked certain things and why I made the choices I did.
This involved a steep learning curve and was especially difficult in relation to dating, relationships, and sexuality.
Dating and sex
When you have been told “no” to every sort of sex your whole life, except for the missionary position (including in marriage), being suddenly able to be “free” and able to learn what you like/do not like is also a bit like being a kid let loose in a candy store.
- Sometimes you are scared to try anything and don’t even want to go into the store.
- Sometimes you try one of every type of lolly on display.
Both are different ways of learning. Both are okay.
After being in a religion that said you only should date with marriage in mind, negotiating dating as a process for getting to know someone as a “friend” and potential intimate partner, as well as dating as a process for getting to know yourself was entirely new.
I had no idea. I was a 35 year old with nil experience.
The first man I dated after breaking up with my husband I reached out and held his hand when we walked into the movies as that is what I thought someone going on a date would do.
My only experience and education were from “movies” I had watched and television shows. I had no real life experience. I could say a lot more, but I am sure you “get the picture.” I was naive, and the learning curve was steep.
I had not had the experience of dating as a young person to learn things such as what I liked in a partner, how to react and be with someone of the opposite sex in a social setting, how I should act/react, when to say no, when to say yes, and how to operate autonomously and independently as a woman who knew what I liked, and didn’t like.
I had no idea.
It was the same in regards to how I conducted myself with sex. Within my strict religious upbringing, I had “dated” my husband to be, who was 11 years older than me after he had rung and asked my father permission.
I was only ever permitted to see him in groups or with other people around, and no physical contact was allowed before marriage. We got engaged after six weeks and married within three months.
The only sex taught that was permitted (in the congregations I associated with) was vaginal intercourse. Masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, and different sexual positions were all condemned even within marriage.
So when I left the religion, after years of “everything” being forbidden, and massive amounts of fear around sex itself and exploring, it was like unknown territory.
So how did I learn?
I devoured books and read as much as I could. I was too shy to ask other women questions so any magazine that I could get my hands on that had explicit sexual information in, I read. I went to the library. I bought books. I devoured them. I read and read.
Reading about other people’s sexual questions, hangups, fears, and stories was how I learned. I didn’t have the benefit of experimenting in my teenage years. Reading was my way to learn about what I may like/not like. Reading gave me information and education: some good, some medical, some educational, some gossip magazine trash.
All was invaluable in me sorting out in my head how I felt about it all. And then there was the experience. At first, casual sex encounters felt “good.” They gave me confidence. It took time for me to sort out that my emotions became engaged quite quickly and I could not “do casual” for any length of time without becoming emotionally connected. So much to learn.
And this applied to so many other areas of my life.
I had never associated socially with any “worldly persons” or non-JWs for 35 years. I had no idea how to hold a conversation with a non-JW socially. I had no experience of it. I had not even been permitted to eat lunch with other children when I went to school. I had gotten jobs that enabled me to eat at my desk or go out alone at lunch, so I didn’t have to “associate” with worldly people. I had kept to the rules. I had nil experience.
Making friends, with people who did not have the same beliefs as me, was something I had no idea how to do and was also a huge learning curve.
The kid in the candy store analogy
In all these areas, I was like the proverbial kid in the candy store.
I either was too scared to touch anything and too timid or sometimes I would “try” and decided I liked something and then was too afraid to try other things. Or, I would do the opposite and eat everything I could get my hands on and be like the kid who threw up afterward from eating and gorging on too much.
I was like a spring that had been held tightly together and then was suddenly released. I sprung wildly all over, with no ability to control from outside or inside, until I settled.
While I was learning and trying all these new things, it took quite a few years before I worked out what worked and did not work for me.
It took time.
I felt shame. I felt regret. I had fun. I experienced enormous fear.
Writing about my experiences (finding my voice)
Since I started to write on Medium nearly four months ago now, I have written about my experiences. I have truly found my voice. But, I am also in relation to writing about myself, still like the kid wandering around the candy store trying to decide what to eat, what to put back on the shelf, what to taste, and what to have a binge on with my friends.
- Some things I have not written about at all yet.
- Some things I probably have overwritten or shared “too much information.”
- Some things I have gotten just right.
Like anyone, who has never had a voice, I am still learning. What is enough. What is too much. What is too little.
The value of reading other women’s experiences
I remember how I felt when I first left JWs and was trying to figure ME out.
I devoured and read other women’s experiences as much as I could. I loved and appreciated all the accounts and am so thankful for all the women who shared their stories that I read in all the magazines.
I am thankful because whether the stories were sensationalized, erotic, clinical, spiritual, shameful, guilt-ridden, confessions, sacred exposes of beauty or heartfelt outpourings of lessons learned and experiences shared, I LEARNED from all of them.
The stories were all equally valuable in my eyes.
So, I hope we can all find it in our hearts to hear all of us out, and support each other. I hope people who are searching and wanting to find our stories can hear all of us who are finding our voices, who sometimes share too much, sometimes not enough, and sometimes share just the right amount.
- I know people will search and read stories on certain topics (like I did) that will help them feel not so alone, and help them figure out where they stand on certain issues.
- They will find stories that inspire, inform, educate, entertain, enlighten, and maybe even be life-changing. Some will resonate and others will not.
- Some stories they will recognize themselves in from when they were younger or at a different phase in their life.
- Some stories may highlight where they themselves want to be in the future, and be like a beacon lighting the way.
I think the childhood story of Goldilocks and three bears sums it up pretty well. We all recognize when we read a story that feels like it was written: “just for us.”
What did Goldilocks say when she sat down at the table and tasted the smallest bowl of porridge made for the littlest bear?
“Agh, this porridge is just RIGHT,” said Goldilocks.
And she ate it all up.