Help me become the mature, self-restrained adult I always wanted to be
November 14, 2012 10:17 PM   Subscribe

I say too much. About me, about others. I find it difficult to control this. Have you managed this or a similar problem? What strategies did you use?

More details: After hanging out in friends, I very usually feel a lingering regret for sharing things about myself (nothing inappropriate, just maybe some things that a more mature person would keep private).

If I feel comfortable with close friends, I am too honest about disliking others and too candid about sharing personal details and opinions. I think I may have put a toe or two across the gossip line and fear I can't keep secrets. In fact, even though I rarely share information with people I am not good friends with, I'm afraid I am a gossip when in my closest circle. This is worsened by the fact that I am opinionated.

The worst part is I can't control it. When I promise myself I won't mention some important event in my life, I always end up telling friends about it pretty much as soon as I see them.

What can I do about this? How do I learn to STFU?
posted by Tarumba to Human Relations (18 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For me, it often helps to pause when it crosses my mind to say something personal or gossipy and identify exactly what I'm hoping to get out of saying it. About eight times out of ten, the answer is attention. In the case of sharing information about other people, I want everyone to turn to me and go "Wow, really?"; in the case of mere personal details, I just want them to have a reaction of some kind to something that concerns me. The other two times out of ten, I want to have that warm-and-fuzzy social feeling that comes with everybody agreeing about something slightly taboo, like, for example, disliking someone. Sometimes just having this realization about my motives is enough to keep me from saying whatever-it-is; other times, when I'm feeling the pull really bad over the course of a conversation, I substitute some other personal but less intimate bit of news or whatever, and that generally lessens my desire to say the more personal thing.

Incidentally, gossiping is obviously to be avoided, but I don't think people actually look down on minor oversharers too much. People find it flattering to be confided in -- for the minor oversharers in my life, I mostly just think of them as really friendly and open. This habit might be embarrassing for you, and I can understand wanting to avoid it for its own sake, but, for what it's worth, it's probably not making your friends dislike you or anything.
posted by ostro at 10:52 PM on November 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

(Posting on Metafilter and AskMetafilter also can help fill this urge.)
posted by ostro at 10:53 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First, you absolutely can control it. Saying you can't is both inaccurate and unhelpful in your efforts to curb it. If you really believed that you couldn't control it you wouldn't be here asking for help. Managing your self talk to be less helpless can make a big difference.

I used to be crap for spreading gossip and saying not especially kind things about people. What fixed me? Always imagining the person I'm talking about is listening to me. I always assume it will get repeated back to them (because so often it is), so I don't say things that I would be upset with them hearing about. This has actually has saved me more than once because I had been talking about a teacher with another student. She was going about how terrible he was. I frankly agreed that he was the worst teacher ever, but I spoke more evenly, saying things like "He isn't a terrible teacher, you can tell he is trying and is passionate about his topic. I just think I have a learning style that doesn't work well with how he teaches." I found out later that his son was sitting right behind us. I'm fairly sure he repeated to his father what the other woman said because he had a less friendly attitude towards her after that. He remained friendly with me, though.

So yeah, just always assume what you say is going to get back to the person. It happens way more often than you think, and it is the source of a lot of drama.

As for oversharing, yeah.. I do that too. I tell more personal details about myself to people who don't particularly need to know fairly often. Recently I have been trying to tell myself "If I were on a reality TV show, would I want this broadcasted?". Sure, there are different levels of disclosure that are appropriate for different situations. Work, though, is one where you really need to keep the personal stuff to yourself (for the most part). Consider your work environment to be a reality tv show insofar as there are cameras everywhere broadcasting everything you're saying. In a lot of ways it IS like that because it is often the way in offices that gossip and personal information and things said in supposed confidence spreads like fire.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:01 AM on November 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

You didn't mention how old you were? I think it is a good thing that you are recognizing that you have this problem, and are trying to resolve the issue- not many people even recognize this. I remember when I was in my teens to early 20s, I didn't have much of a "filter" either, but you learn that biting your tongue and thinking before you actually speak are more valuable then getting the reactions from people when you are gossiping. As you get older that since of wanting to "gossip" goes away as you become more comfortable in your own skin and won't feel the urge to gain others approvals with gossip. Sometimes when I was younger I used gossip as a defense mechanism to make sure that everyone knew everything about me up front that way we could just joke about it and nobody would be talking about me behind my back.

It sounds like you are smart and all you need to do is just remember you don't need to divulge everything, when you are about to say something take a breath count to 10 and think about what you are about to say. Come up with something else to talk about, and it will become easier. I still have the problem of just saying things that I shouldn't, but as long as you are not hurting people by saying mean things or sharing sensitive information about others that you shouldn't then I think you will be alright with a little biting the tongue practice :)
posted by love2much at 4:47 AM on November 15, 2012

Why specifically do you end up regretting being so open? Being candid isn't necessarily immature - it can be brave and honest. I have a friend who always makes people feel relaxed around her simply because she isn't interested in being ashamed of parts of her life or keeping them a secret - she's open about problems she has, and that makes people feel that she's an accepting person whom they can talk to about what their lives are really like. What she doesn't do is break confidences or talk badly about people behind their backs. I suspect the real problem here is a combination of being too judgemental, either in your head or out loud, and caring more about smoothing things along socially than giving your real, considered opinion about the people you know. Reading jbenben's story, it struck me that while it was good she kept her mouth shut, the important things were that she (a) withheld her full judgement of Jane's character until more information came out and (b) didn't try to play along socially with Bob's attempts at a certain kind of conversation. In other words, what you need isn't more restraint, it's more honesty - honesty with yourself about whether you are making judgements based on sufficient information, and honesty with others about what you really think about gossipy, disparaging conversations. It's easy to get sucked into them because they smooth things along socially, through ingroup/outgroup marking and by signalling to others what your ethics etc are, but it seems they make you uncomfortable and you should act according to this principle. Let people see more of the real you, not less.
posted by Acheman at 5:01 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Number one is probably trying to drink less or at least pace yourself.

Number two is experience more. Read more new and interesting stuff. See more films, art, follow all the MeFi links and learn about things that will be more interesting to talk with friends about than gossip about Jack and Jill. If your friends don't want to hear about your analysis of Rothko or newly found documents on Tolstoy and instead just want to talk about gossip, well then, find better friends.
posted by JJ86 at 5:43 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being thought of a great listener is always valued more highly than being thought of as a great talker. Almost everyone loves to talk about themselves and what's going on in their life. One of the greatest gifts you can give other people is to genuinely be interested in what they are saying. Instead of talking about your stuff, ask questions about their stuff.

This is an easy way to get out of the habit of oversharing, and it will also make you a better friend. :)
posted by DWRoelands at 5:58 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

There seems to be a bad loop going on here: You feel insecure, so you overshare, which leaves you feeling insecure. Resolving your self-loathing will go far in helping this problem.

But another thing: I do not love mature, reserved, "great listeners." I love people who tell me things. They are my best friends. Telling people things (even the dread "gossip") is how you form social bonds.

So, there's that.
posted by purpleclover at 6:26 AM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have always had this problem, and I still tend to share a little too much about myself. I've cut way back on over sharing about other people though because I became hyper-aware of me doing so. At first I'd catch myself in the act of sharing something about a person that they might not want shared and say (to the people I was talking to), "You know what? That's their story to tell if they want." Yeah, it's embarrassing, but it did make me aware of just whose story I was spreading out to the world. I did get very good at "changing the name to protect the innocent" though and telling stories about "this girl" or "that guy" or "a student of mine" to people in no way connected to the people I was telling the story to. So there's a way to share information without spreading gossip.

As for over sharing about myself. It's hard for me because I'm rather difficult for most people to understand. I do things that many people find puzzling, and I just feel the need to explain. If I just tell them why, or give the back story, they might just, you know, understand (hint: they never do). I've gotten way better about it, but I still sometimes give into that urge to share more and more just so they'll get that puzzled look off of their face.

Anyway, I think it's a common human need to share information about ourselves to other people. We want other people to know us, and it's a social construct as to how much information is necessary for the other person to know. In some cases, you may not be over sharing at all. If someone throws up their hands and says, "TMI!" I'd say you are. However in many cases it might just be your own insecurities going, "I can't believe I said that." While the other person may not have even registered what was being said.
posted by patheral at 7:07 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The only private space is between your ears.

Talking shit about people is a 1 way trip to having no one left to talk shit to.

I am a blabbermouth. I found finding a thing to talk about with different groups helpful. I have sports friends, politics friends, art friends, animal friends, gaming friends, science friends.

I actually will look shit up about these topics and be armed with that topic if I find myself starting to talk shit or over sharing.

Also I find artificially forcing myself to regularly ask people questions (and listen to their responses) really helps as well.
posted by French Fry at 7:25 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The company you keep can play a huge part in this. If you find yourself gossiping to your circle of friends, that means they also probably indulge in gossip. At the very least, they encourage it by listening.

Try breaking out of your circle a little so you can practice non-gossip conversation. You don't have to leave your friends or even make new ones; just chat with someone new every now and then. Look into meetups, classes, etc. that encourage socialization, and where you don't know anyone. It's really hard to gossip in a group that shares no mutual acquaintances, but you'll find things to talk about anyway. You'll also be less inclined to overshare things about yourself.

If your gossip tends to take the form of complaining about people, you can cut that off by teaching yourself not to think ill of others in the first place. It takes some practice, especially if it doesn't take much for another person to bug you. There are some people who are completely rotten or toxic, and those people are best avoided. But for the people who are just annoying or weird, practice consciously letting go of your annoyed feelings whenever you recognize them, as if you were relaxing a clenched jaw. Most of the time, actively disliking people serves no practical purpose, and you are under no obligation to care or be bothered.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:36 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thinking before you speak is really the best way to do this--it's just a habit and it gets easier with practice. It's nice and it's good that you're comfortable with your friends and relaxed and safe enough enough to just be without tempering yourself, but you are already noticing that how you act and speak when you're that comfortable is leading you to say things you wish you hadn't or to possibly saying hurtful things. That's not a good thing. So practice being relaxed, comfortable, and safe without challenging those feelings by pushing their boundaries with things you feel you ought not to say. Knowing you can be that open with your friends does hot mean you must always and forever be that open. Just remain honest and nonjudgmental and allow them to remain honest and nonjudgmental without constantly challenging whether that remains true. You won't suddenly be alienated from close friends if you temper yourself and become more judicious with your thoughts. As long as the thoughts you offer are honest, trusting and leave room for sharing, you will not jeopardize your close relationships by offering them less often.

Some people take the advice of "think before you speak" (specifically the word THINK) to be a mnemonic for a test of the statement: "is this statement True", "is this statement Helpful", "is it Important", "is it Necessary", and "is it Kind". If the statement is not these things, then you do not offer it to the conversation.

I have found that using THINK in this way has not left me little to say, has not alienated me from closeness with people whose company I enjoy, and has improved the way people see me.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:43 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

As you can tell from the answers so far, many of us have worked through this issue. In my case, the gossip issue was really very easy to resolve once I decided I needed to change my behavior. I simply never repeat what I have heard about others. Of course, I talk about other people, but I only talk about what I have actually experienced with them. that is not gossip, that is relating my experience. Only very rarely will that talk be negative...what's to be gained by negativity. Besides, when the conversation turns gossipy and negative, my silence is most often regarded as strength and integrity.
Over sharing your personal issues is another thing. It's your information, share it as you wish. It's not mean or backhanded like gossip. The key for me is to realize that I have a range of personal closeness to friends and acquaintances. So I have a range of personal sharing that roughly mirrors the closeness I feel for the person (people) I'm talking with. Some folks are interested in my deepest fears and joys and challenges in life and I'm comfortable sharing those things with some of them. At the other end of the spectrum, I have acquaintances I have known comfortably for decades that share at the level of "How about that football game last night, huh?"
Finally, I'm not perfect at this social calculus. I doubt anyone is. Mistakes will be made and you will ask yourself why you gossiped or said something and feel bad that you did. Get over it, add the incident as a data point and move on. The slip ups will decline rapidly.
posted by txmon at 7:47 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My partner is very naturally reserved; he does not tend to volunteer information. I am more like you. He said something to me once that really re-framed things for me and helped me have more restraint (not much restraint, mind you. But more than none). He said, "You can always tell someone something later, but you can't un-say what you've said."
posted by not that girl at 8:54 AM on November 15, 2012

I began blogging. I basically have no audience, but I have a place to blather on about stupid shit that I feel compelled to talk about anyway. And knowing that it could some day suddenly attract a bajillion page views or even just get read by the one person I am talking about makes me say things more carefully than I otherwise would. And even sometimes makes me hit "save as draft" instead of "PUBLISH!". That way, if it is bad enough, I have said it but no other soul ever has to hear it.

Also, for me, getting healthier has helped immensely. Fever, medication, etc. tend to promote foot-in-mouth disease pretty severely for me.
posted by Michele in California at 9:16 AM on November 15, 2012

For me, I think I'm insecure and when I over share it's because I either want to impress someone, like when I name drop or talk about a friend who is impressive in some way, or I am trying to get them to like me, or I am angry and want someone to sympathize. All of these motives are very self-serving and have nothing to do with the person I am talking to. If I remind myself of this I feel less inclined to *use* this person for my own gain. It's not nice to use other people as a sounding board just to make myself feel better in some way. Seriously, I'm not a bad person at all, but it's really a bad, bad habit.
posted by waving at 11:00 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rehearse. Gossip in your head first. Imagine telling everyone. Imagine exactly how you'll tell the story. Imagine what they'll say back to you. Imagine their questions and how you'll answer them. Imagine what they'll say about you behind your back. Imagine who they will tell and how many people will ultimately know your secret forever. Imagine the repercussions to your reputation. Imagine being mocked or pitied or scorned. Imagine being quietly removed from people's mental lists of friends, acquaintances, and employees they think are smart and trustworthy. Get it all out of the way in your imagination. Do that at night in your own bed before you go to sleep. Do it again in the shower in the morning and on the way to work. Get all the gossip out of the way internally. That should help you shut the fuck up about things better kept to yourself and help you figure out exactly how much you want to say about things you do want to blather about.
posted by pracowity at 2:08 AM on November 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for your replies.

I think everyone is right. There is a bit of all of that into the reasons why I do it (attention seeking, looking for camaraderie, venting, and sharing things that worry me). I will do some serious introspection and figure out a way to stop the thinking that makes me want to tell people everything about me, and that makes me judge people and be so opinionated. I will bring this up in therapy.

Your techniques are actually pretty good, too. I started imagining myself heard by other people (which restrains my talking about others). Talking about myself is harder to stop, somehow.

Thank you!
posted by Tarumba at 7:17 AM on November 16, 2012

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