the disclosure of an inappropriate amount of detail about one’s personal life.
“oversharing has become commonplace thanks to social media” — Google Dictionary
Oversharing is a habit many of us experience from time to time, particularly during seasons of great emotional stress or trauma. Oversharing is a coping mechanism, a trauma response, and also a habit that can negatively affect our reputation and our relationships.
So, when this red flag waves in the spaces over our chatty conversation at the drug store counter or with a new ‘friend’ we don’t yet know fully enough to trust, how do we pump the brakes on our tongues? How can we realize when our efforts to reach out to others are merely a spillover from an inability to gain control over one’s own life? How can we manage chronic oversharing so that it does not wreak havoc on our lives?
The Oversharing Habit Is a Way for Us to Cope
Our bodies and minds develop coping mechanisms as a way for users to process and manage the stresses of our everyday lives. These coping mechanisms can either be healthy, unhealthy or somewhere in the gray area in between.
Oversharing is one of those coping mechanisms that falls in that gray area, sometimes helping us to release stress, communicate our internal struggles or joys with others, and to reach out in a time of need. But while it seems a great idea to stay connected to others emotionally as we process the details of our lives, it can lead down a slippery slope of a bad oversharing habit.
Oversharing Is a Response to Trauma
Oversharing is also a trauma response. When our lives are in turmoil, the inner workings of that trauma and stress spill out of us more readily and in a manner that is harder for us to control. Much like a pot boiling over, stress will spill over and sizzle on the burner without warning. Before we know it, all that is heating up inside of us is blatantly displayed for others at the most inopportune times, leading to oversharing, oftentimes in the form of “verbal diarrhea.”
While it does relieve the pressure of the over-spilling pot, it creates other problems for us that we may not need at such a time. Some of these problems will come back to haunt our family life, friendships, reputations, and careers. Trauma, especially in the heat of it, can lead to embarrassing oversharing on social media as well.
Examples of Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Healthy coping mechanisms help us to process our stress in a way that builds our strength and nurtures our self-esteem. These skills are often learned or are taught to us by other healthy humans we meet along our life’s path. This is a good time to point out how important it is to teach healthy coping skills to our children.
Here are a few examples of healthy coping skills:
- Getting out in nature
- Writing, drawing, painting or other creative expressions
- Taking personal time to decompress
- Therapy or counseling services
- Problem-based or emotion-based coping mechanisms
- Try these positive coping skills worksheets
- Deep breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, or yoga
Examples of Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Just as some coping skills build you up and help you to better manage your life, some can be rather destructive.
- Using alcohol or street drugs to escape
- Hurting people or lashing out
- Suicidal ideation or suicide
“Gray Area” Coping Mechanisms
Coping mechanisms that can help but also harm if taken too far include:
- Talking too much, to the wrong people or at inappropriate times (oversharing, venting, complaining, etc)
- Obsessive compulsive behaviors
How Do We Know When We Are “Oversharing”?
Reaching out to other people is inherently a human thing to do. We are social creatures by design. When something is on our mind or we are in the process of figuring things out, we may ask other people for their input, expertise, opinion or simply to hear our side of the story to respond with support.
These things are a normal, human thing to do. The fine line between exercising our social humanness, exploring various perspectives, and performing an act of oversharing can be measured fairly easily by how we are received and the appropriateness of our behavior. Timing is everything. WHO we are sharing TO is also, everything.
Consider the following questions with regards to your “sharing” behaviors:
- What is the topic of discussion? Am I interjecting a new topic without the expressed interest of the other party or parties? How is my new topic being received? Watch for expressions and body language. Does the other person appear to be looking for “an out?”
- What is the setting? Is this topic too personal, too intimate, too vulgar or detailed for the setting in which we are delivering it? Is the matter you are sharing appropriate for the location or venue?
- Are you confiding in the right person for the matter at hand?
- Are you sharing personal matters with a total stranger?
- Are you giving too much information to a person (or persons) who cannot be trusted with it?
- Will you later regret this conversation?
- Are you oversharing on social media?
The Negative Impacts of an Oversharing Habit
Oversharing can have more impact on your life than mere embarrassment and later regret. Impacts that can affect your career, your relationships, or even your self-esteem. When your tongue gets the best of you there are consequences.
- Others may begin to see you as “crazy” or add unfair labels to your personality.
- You may appear unprofessional at work or put yourself in a bad light with your superiors.
- People may begin to avoid you.
- Friends, family members, and coworkers may begin to regard you with distrust, especially if you have shared things they have told you in confidence.
- You may share the wrong information with the wrong person (or persons) and have a social mess to clean up when they betray your confidence.
- You may suffer the embarrassment of behaving in a way that made you feel a lack of control.
- You betray your own sense of privacy.
Taming the Tongue: It’s Harder than You Think
The Bible addressed “taming the tongue” in the book of Mark, calling the tongue a “fire,” warning that even a small spark can start a raging forest fire. If you have fallen into the habit of oversharing, you can relate. It takes an awful lot of work to stuff the problem back under control than to avoid creating the mess, to begin with.
So, why can’t we simply be wiser to what we are saying and who we are saying it to? Truthfully, because it is damned hard. It is our nature to want to connect with other people but with extra stress or a bit of recent under-socializing we can find ourselves “spilling out guts” to some poor wretch on the bus ride home. Worse, once we get started in the telling — it’s hard to pull in the reins and just stop.
But if you are wise to your own behavior, even under great emotional turmoil you can begin to get some control over your excessive sharing tendencies and wrap up quicker.
Tips for Curbing Your Oversharing Habit
Identify your weaknesses. Perhaps you overshare more at work when you’ve had too much coffee. Maybe when you are tired or stressed, the words just pour out of you onto some unsuspecting recipient. Maybe after a breakup you should just stay off of social media altogether until you can get some perspective. If you are chronically oversharing on social media, perhaps setting a few personal limits or rules for yourself will help.
When a chronic oversharing habit threatens to derail your life and your reputation, and worse, your relationships, it is time to get some perspective, practice restraint, and look for healthier ways of reaching out. Look for healthy ways to relieve social stress or keep a journal for all those intimate thoughts.
Set some boundaries — for yourself. When oversharing is creating more harm than good in your life or you are getting some negative feedback from people about this behavior, it may be time to set some healthy boundaries for yourself. Many people think of boundaries as something we set for other people’s behavior to protect ourselves from them, but reciprocally they also work to protect us from ourselves.
Therapy can help you to get some perspective without overtaxing your relationships. When your tongue runs away with you it could be a clear sign of something bubbling beneath the surface of you, which needs to be addressed with the help of a mental healthcare professional. There is no harm of shame in admitting this and following up with the care you need.
Don’t Take it Personally if People Don’t Like Your Oversharing
You may be thinking “but I just like to talk a lot!” And that’s fine, as long as you are aware of what you share and with whom, and when. If the setting is appropriate and you feel safe, comfortable, then, by all means, let your chatty personality be heard, unapologetically. You have every right to conduct yourself within your own personality without feeling shame. Like I said earlier, oversharing is in that gray area of coping skills.
Being an excessive sharer may also be your personality. Perhaps you are just a more open person and what feels normal, right, and fun for you may seem like way too much information for another. (Choose your company wisely in those cases so you don’t find yourself the butt of excessive criticism.) Phrases like “Chatty Cathy” and “blabber-mouth” roll right off your back? It’s all good as long as it isn’t hurting your life or relationships. Just be careful who you spend your time with.
When is Oversharing a Real Problem?
Oversharing is a problem for you if it is a problem for you. In other words, it is up to you if you want to work on this behavior in order to improve some area of your life. Maybe you feel it is hurting your reputation at work and you are seeking a promotion. Maybe you have lost yet another friend and wish you’d just kept your mouth shut. Lessons learned, and all. If you feel it is a problem, then it is.
Ironically, talk to someone. Find a medical care professional who can direct you to a behavioral health professional. Cognitive behavioral techniques or other counseling methods may help you to get to the base of your red flag and root it up. Get the self-help books. Do the praying and spiritual work. Whatever works for you.
The first step is your own self-awareness. Oversharing does not have to derail your life or your confidence. Like any other habit, it takes a bit of work but it can be changed.
Thank you for reading,
Christina M. Ward