Have you ever over-explained and justified your actions to a friend, loved one, or colleague? As soon as you spilled everything out, you felt an overwhelming and accompanying sense of regret or anxiety? It’s definitely not a fun feeling, nor is it a habit anyone wants to repeat. And whether you feel the need to defend your choices or justify your actions, you can learn how to stop over-explaining yourself and trust who you are, what you choose to do, and how you do it.
What Causes Over-Explaining?
Over-explaining involves sharing information to an excessive degree and is considered a fawn trauma response. This means that throughout our childhood, we develop people-pleasing behaviors as a survival mechanism to avoid conflict and seek safety. But why exactly do we do it? Here are a few reasons;
- Trauma. During our upbringing, if we were made to believe that everything was our fault, we may use over-explaining as a protective barrier to show people we’re not guilty or alleviate the pain of causing disappointment
- Gaslighting. Over-explaining is a coping behavior in toxic relationships to prevent the other person from distorting our words and manipulating us (How to deal with gaslighting for healthier relationships)
- Acceptance and validation. We may justify ourselves to gain acceptance of our opinions, behaviors, and who we are
- Fear of judgment. Similarly to acceptance, we may use it to compensate to avoid being criticized and judged
- Fear of confrontation. We may over-explain to avoid conflict and maintain peace
Many of these causes have similarities, and below we’ll learn how to discover the root of your habit and boost your confidence.
How to Stop Over-Explaining Yourself
The first step to reducing this habit is by revisiting a past situation. For example, think about a recent time when you apologized a lot, struggled to say no, or provided too many details in an attempt to gain sympathy or people-please. Once you have that situation in your mind, think about why you felt the need to overshare and the impact it has on your life.
2. Discover the root and triggers
Next, dive deep into the core root of your tendency to overshare. For example, ask yourself, “What do I fear if I don’t overshare/What am I protecting myself from?”, and “Do I over-explain to ease an uncomfortable feeling/if so, what is it?” Asking these reflective questions allows you to organize your thinking and identify possible triggers that motivate you to overshare. For example, you might overshare in socially anxious situations or in situations where you need to draw boundaries. Discovering the root and triggers will help you take action.
3. Practice is key
After your reflection, challenge your beliefs around oversharing in real life. For example, the next time a friend or colleague asks you to do something you don’t want to, practice saying no. When you say no, sit with the discomfort of disappointing others. Now, this may be tricky, especially if learning how to stop being a people-pleaser is a challenge. But remember, you can’t please everyone, and the one person you must learn to prioritize is yourself. Additionally, allow any uncomfortable feelings to come to the surface and process them. If you feel upset, angry, or scared, label your feelings rather than ignoring them. And remind yourself, it’s your fear talking and over time, this voice will lose it’s power.
4. Boundaries and more boundaries
Do you see the theme of this article so far? Often, over-explaining stems from a root of people-pleasing, and we can get into the habit of dismissing our needs to prioritize others. But enforcing and maintaining boundaries is your special toolkit for protecting yourself, and ultimately learning how to stop over-explaining yourself. And they involve three components;
- Define what matters most to you and what you refuse to budge on
- Create clear boundaries and consequences for anyone who crosses them
- Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up
The latter involves taking the self-care initiative to follow through with your boundaries and subsequent consequences. If you don’t, people will become careless and won’t take you seriously. And if you’re feeling scared about enforcing yours, remind yourself of a moment when you asserted a boundary. How did it go? Did things turn out as bad as you thought they would? Chances are, it didn’t.
5. Celebrate your boundaries
After defining and reflecting on your boundaries, allow yourself to celebrate with full permission when you assert a boundary. For example, if you said no to a friend about borrowing money, take a moment to relish in the good vibes of choosing you. Yet, try this step without circling back to the thoughts of “Is she going to be mad at me?” or “Will my decision ruin our friendship?”. If these thoughts arise, allow them to come and go and remind yourself that you trusted your gut and made a choice that benefited you.
6. Accept that you might be misunderstood
An important truth to accept is that you’re human, and everyone is different. This means you will encounter several people who will misunderstand your actions and intentions. No matter how clearly you explain them or how patient you remain, they will misunderstand you. It’s unavoidable. And when you accept this, the pressure to conform and over-explain will slowly dissipate. Yet if you’re still battling with the pain of being misunderstood, learn how to protect your energy and your emotional well-being.
7. You don’t owe an explanation
If you want to stay in rather than go out, it’s your right. If you want to quit your job even though you love your colleagues and boss, it’s your right. Or if you want to set healthy boundaries with a toxic friend, you see the pattern, it’s your right! You never have to explain your thoughts, feelings, and actions. And if someone is angry about your decision, especially one that benefits your physical and emotional well-being, their reaction reveals more about their character than it does yours.
8. Trust yourself
A lack of trust is often a common trait in those who overshare. Over time, due to trauma or other experiences, we may develop challenges trusting our instincts. For example, in relationships with gaslighting, you feel you cannot trust your own opinions, experiences, and feelings due to the manipulation. To break this habit, peel back the overwhelm by implementing a small step. When you feel indecisive or worried, ask yourself, “Is this something I really want”? You may have to sit in silence without distraction to hear the gentle answer. But repeating this question allows you to reflect inward and trust your instincts. With practice, you may find you’re better at advocating for your needs, values, and what you want.
Whether your need to justify comes from a trauma response or a lack of self-confidence, discovering your root will help you learn how to stop over-explaining yourself and subsequently improve your overall well-being. And remember, your differences are what make you unique and allow you to make society brighter, healthier, and more compassionate. Never hide your light.
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