Help me overshare less!
December 1, 2013 3:27 AM   Subscribe

Although I am quite introverted, I have a tendency to overshare. I don't think my behavior is beyond the realm of normal-- nobody has ever indicated to me that I made them uncomfortable. Still, I would like to be more able to keep my struggles, emotions, thoughts, and frustrations more contained. Sometimes when I am really frustrated or confused about something, I will find a moderately close friend to vent to, but then later on have some mild feelings of "maybe they didn't really need to know that about me..."

To me, oversharing isn't about generating intimacy or attention. I think it's more about the fact that I hate small talk and superficial conversations and would much rather talk about the true issues that I spend my time thinking about. Furthermore, I like gaining multiple perspectives, validation, and I find that talking helps me reframe my point of view a bit each time I retell the story. I am open and honest about myself when I converse with others. But still-- do moderately close friends really need to know about things like, say, my search for a therapist or instances in which I felt insulted by somebody else?

My oversharing manifests in two ways: first, I don't have much of a problem with talking about challenges, vulnerabilities or frustrations in my life, even if the topics may be considered somewhat socially taboo (mental health, trauma, grades, family, illness). I'm very open about all of that-- I don't necessarily volunteer the information deliberately, but I won't deflect, either. Secondly, I also sometimes feel a need to vent and seek out multiple opinions on matters that I happen to be frustrated over. This can involve telling more people than I originally intended to about whatever's going on in my life, and indeed, every time I do tell another person, I feel somewhat ... weak.

I'd like to learn how to moderate these oversharing tendencies a bit more in the future. Ideally, I would be able to (strong enough to?) limit conversations on my personal matters to my immediate family, two best friends, and significant other. Any tips, books, etc... would be much appreciated!
posted by gemutlichkeit to Human Relations (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
One part of your problem might be IMPULSE CONTROL.
With the ability to post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks at your fingertips and on your phone, sharing (or oversharing in this instance) is like masturbating. You want to do it, so you do it, and you feel so much better afterwards.

Maybe you delete those apps from your phone.
Maybe you make it difficult to post to those networks on your home computer by blocking those sites through a browser plug in.
Maybe when you feel like sharing, you take the time to reflect and compose an email to *one person* whom you feel can best help you with the issue you are having difficulty with. Once you have received that person's input, think about it and then, armed with that new perspective, if you need to, reach out to the next person via email.

I would make sure that your significant other is number one on this list. If you can't or won't put them first, I would wonder why.

I would also recommend keeping a PRIVATE JOURNAL as part of your process. Perhaps address each journal entry to a particular person that you trust, and write that entry as if you were having a conversation with them.

I would also rethink the accuracy of this statement To me, oversharing isn't about generating intimacy or attention.

I think you are trying to generate both of those things through your interactions as you described above.

I would also wonder what type of feedback you are getting from those friends. Do they seem open and available, empathic and understanding during your discussions? Are you getting what you need from them? What's the pay off?

I realize I'm asking more questions than giving answers, but this really is more of a conversation you need to have with yourself than strangers on the internet.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 4:00 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't see you mentioning social media at all. I think you're talking about actual conversations. I hear you about small talk, but those superficial conversations exist so that people can talk without... well... oversharing. JKTB mentioned a private journal, that's not a bad thought. Or you could make an anonymous blog and share like a boss with that.

When in conversation, try maybe alluding mysteriously to your issues, not giving out the whole story just like that? Maybe the other person will start to share a little. Or maybe they'll ask you and your sharing would feel more appropriate. Or maybe the subject will change naturally. Small talk isn't supposed to be the whole conversation, it's supposed to be lubricant.
posted by tomboko at 4:34 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hmm, that's fair in regard to impulse control. Maybe it just boils down to that. Just to add / in response:

I don't use social media at all in sharing information-- no facebook, no twitter, no instagram (I don't even have accounts for the last two, and I have no information on my facebook). I already write in a private journal; I don't have anything public. My significant other is always the first person I talk to; I talk to him every day and also talk to my parents regularly.

Like I said, I seek a combination of different perspectives and validation when I talk. I don't dive right in to the more personal subjects, but tend to gauge their interest/comfort first. People are usually pretty receptive to what I talk about and usually offer good support and suggestions. Sometimes they'll share their own experiences in response, too, which I find valuable. My friendships are all very stable and longstanding, so it's not as if people are running for the hills after hearing what I have to say. (I don't have a ton of friends, but all are good, caring people I can depend on even if I don't consider all of them to be my "best" friends.)

To give a better picture of the extent of the "problem": I'm not worried about people using the information I talk about against me or anything like that, and nothing like that has ever happened, so it's not as if I'm using particularly poor judgement in who I reveal information to, either. I also don't share information with strangers or new acquaintances... my issue is just that I feel like sometimes I end up sharing information with moderately close friends that I could potentially limit to my closest circle of friends.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:38 AM on December 1, 2013

But is it a problem? You say that people are:

People are usually pretty receptive to what I talk about and usually offer good support and suggestions. Sometimes they'll share their own experiences in response, too, which I find valuable.

So there doesn't seem to be much of a downside to this. Internally, it's about adjusting your perception that this is a negative.

If you feel weak, think about the major social/family forces in your life who may be telling you/have told you in the past that talking about things is a sign of weakness.

The only answer I have to your exact question is to say very little. Or to stick to the small talk (which by the sounds of it will slowly kill your soul - so don't do that). Perhaps getting more comfortable with who you are, and your need to talk about things that have meaning to you, is more of an appropriate solution.
posted by heyjude at 4:58 AM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Thanks for responding! It adds much clarity to your question. I think that the simple answer here is that you literally make a physical list of the above mentioned folks:

Significant other
Family Member #1
Family Member #2
Family Member #3
Best Friend #1
Best Friend #2

Now that you have this list before you, and it's real and tangible, before you start sharing with someone, ask yourself 'Are they on this list?"

If the answer is "Yes", then go for it.
If the answer is "No", then don't go there and stay on the normal, possibly somewhat superficial topics that you normally talk about.

This is CBT in action, and really boils down to impulse control.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 5:01 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm with heyjude here. It sounds like what you're doing is wonderful, and is actually more like how I wish I were living my life. There's nothing wrong with sharing what's really going on in your life with as many or as few people as is helpful for you, and you're already doing a lot of things right: gauging interest and comfort before sharing too much, sharing with an eye toward gaining perspective, and sharing with people you trust not to do anything you don't want them to with the information. And there are things to be gained from having a larger circle of people you trust: having a broader range of perspectives and information (especially for things like looking for a therapist, where the chances of someone knowing an excellent therapist to recommend go up the more people you talk to), not overburdening any one person with your problems, and knowing that in a crisis there will always be someone available to turn to.

There's something deeply broken about the cultural norm, to the extent it exists, that we shouldn't share what we're really dealing with inside of our own heads, even if we want to; it leads to so many people feeling isolated and ashamed of their struggles, not fully aware of the fact that so many of us are all in the same boat and would love to listen and support one another. Thank you for what you've done--in what sounds like an excellent way!--to help change that.

It's also totally okay if you do decide to share with fewer people in the future, and doing some sort of mental check of, 'hey, do I really feel like sharing with this person?' before you speak could be helpful. You might also find it helpful to ask the person you're speaking to, after you've shared something you're not sure you should have, 'Hey, do you mind that I shared that with you? Is it okay for me to share stuff like this in the future?', and then modify your behavior accordingly. But from what you describe, it sounds like most of the people in your life are just fine with what you're doing. :)
posted by beryllium at 5:40 AM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Hey, this is America. Over-sharing is the norm. It's the cultural zeitgeist. If you're introverted (as I am), your judgment about these things may be a bit skewed. When people like us make social errors, or what we think of as social errors, these can torture us for months and even years. Meanwhile, everybody else has forgotten long ago about whatever it was we said or did! Anyway, even if people DO think you're oversharing - so what? Are they perfect? How come you're the only one who isn't allowed to make mistakes?

I agree with beryllium. There's nothing wrong with you. Social interaction can be superficial, but good friendships make life meaningful. Your friends must be more than fair-weather friends. If you feel you have to be "on" for them, constantly performing according to their standards and avoiding what matters most to you, these are superficial acquaintances. There's nothing wrong with trying to deepen your existing relationships - that's normal, and it's how friendships evolve. If these particular people are withdrawing from you, or are critical of you, dump them and seek elsewhere for what you need.

You say you're introverted - yet the thrust of your question seems to be: How can I stay this way? How can I continue to keep people at a distance? Are you sure you want to keep going in this direction? Maybe it's time to let people in. The fact that you're asking these important questions shows that you're insightful and willing to learn more about yourself and the world. It's an exciting place to be. A good therapist could be enlightening for you now.

I would also recommend journaling, and reading others' journals. Hugh Prather's Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person, and other books like it might help.

The journey inward is important, and it will be throughout your life. But life goes in more than one direction. Continue to take risks. Make mistakes. Call people out on their behavior when they criticize you. Find friends who are good enough for you. Live life from the inside out. To hell with other people. If they get you, they get to join you.

And have fun!
posted by cartoonella at 6:26 AM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is not what you're looking for, but I LOVE oversharers! Listening to someone oversharing gives me an "in" to become closer to them. Otherwise I find myself in awkward small talk wondering of it is too personal to ask someone how their kids are doing, and them having nothing to talk about as a result. I wish people would just share that information because I am not good at talking to people I don't know well.

However the downside of some oversharers is that sometimes they ramble on and on and I don't know how to exit the conversation. I feel like I give pretty good body language cues (backing away, checking the time, turning around to my computer and starting to do work again while the person keeps talking) but some people just dont think to stop talking. But as long as you are in tune with people's body language and give them "outs" that they can take, I think sharing about yourself or asking people for their opinion on your issue is ok!

But maybe if you really wish you wouldn't share as much of your personal stuff, and you feel guilty or embarrassed after you've overshared, then ask people about themselves instead, to keep the conversation about them. This way you're avoiding boring small talk, and you are showing interst in people.
posted by at 7:32 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, what you have to do is remember how you feel when other people share their angst with you. Personally, I take it as a compliment when people feel the need to vent their shit with me although og knows I've felt very stupid the morning after a night of oversharing.

It's not that bad. You're talking about it. That's really so much better than never telling anyone anything.

I've found that if I've repeated the same story to at least three or four people then that indicates it's time to stop. Definitely encourage people to tell you about their shit as a way to curb your own verbiage.
posted by h00py at 8:14 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Still, I would like to be more able to keep my struggles, emotions, thoughts, and frustrations more contained."

Then that's reason enough to change your habits - even if, as everyone here's telling you, there's nothing per se "wrong" with they way you're currently sharing with your moderately close friends. Sounds like you are already blessed with good social skills and are a high self-monitor. And good for you for staying away from sharing on social media. It sounds like you're falsely equating being vulnerable around certain friends with showing weakness - as you and your circle of friends gets older, I suspect your thinking on that will change.

One strategy might be to more actively try to get the other people to talk more while you talk less. "What do you think?" (silence.) "Is it like that for you, too?" Use silence to your advantage - USian people will generally fill the silence for you.

Finally, be careful that you do not gossip when you are venting. Maybe a resolution to stop gossiping will naturally help you to share less around your moderately close friends.
posted by hush at 9:12 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I like people who talk about real stuff, but I don't always want to listen to someone reciting their list of woes, either. Being able to have a conversation about death or addiction that isn't just about personal experiences is fulfilling. Not every opinion has to link to an event in your life, and can still be valid. I think sharing yourself with others is a positive trait, but you don't have to drag out your life for every random conversation with every pal. It's okay to talk about books, music, movies, fashion and other lighter weight topics, sometimes. Chatting about Christmas decorations doesn't have to lead to stories about drunken relatives and chainsaws. (Remind me to tell you about that.)
posted by Ideefixe at 9:35 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think that the anxiety you feel in regards to it is a bigger problem than the perceived over-sharing itself. You're doing just fine as is.
posted by rideunicorns at 11:17 AM on December 1, 2013

I used to be like this. I stopped because I got together with a very private person who made me realise that, a lot of the time, when I was oversharing about me, I was also oversharing about him. Is it worth considering whether you are doing the same (about family, colleagues etc) and maybe using that as your motivation to stop? I always think 'Is this my news/story to tell' before I share now.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 12:26 PM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

since you said you are talking about challenges, frustrations & vulnerabilities you could get a therapist. some of your friends may actually feel a bit relieved if they are filling the role in your life as a stand-in therapist. i say that because i have had that happen.
posted by wildflower at 12:32 PM on December 1, 2013

I think I agree with those here who say that it doesn't really seem from an outside perspective or from what you say that you have a problem. It sounds like maybe the question is more deciding what you are actually comfortable sharing/need to share yourself and then judging what to share based on that.

Another random thought: is this something you have always done or felt sensitive about doing, or might you be going through a difficult period right now? Maybe I am completely off the mark here, but I have actually been thinking about this a lot recently myself, afraid that I am oversharing and so on. For me, I have been framing it to myself in terms of whether I am being "independent" enough (kind of similar to your feelings about whether you are being "weak"). I think that is a valid way to think about it in some respects, because of the question of impulse control that others have brought up. Certainly it is natural to want to feel like you can decide what feels right and comfortable to you to share and stick to it. But for me, I think my hypersensitivity to this the past months is also partially due to the fact that I have had a lot of negative and difficult emotions about a variety of challenges in my life. The negative emotions have felt so overwhelming at times that it felt as if if I shared them with people I would be talking about nothing but how unhappy and anxious I felt about things in my life, and that is not really what I want my relationships to be about. However, I have been realizing lately that I think I do need people, and that this is natural and normal. Other people are going through difficult times as well and talking with them about things helps me feel more like my own troubles are not really abnormal or anything, and they help me to gain perspective. Plus, as my dad pointed out when I was talking to him recently, that is partly what friends and family are for - venting. People like to complain and people like to give advice, it is part of how we connect.

Okay, end, random rambling thoughts. In conclusion: decide what you personally are comfortable sharing and what balance you want to strike between bonding with people over personal things and bonding with them over more mundane things. Let other people worry about what their own boundaries are, and realize that it is fine and good to be open about things.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 12:49 PM on December 1, 2013

I think I'm like that. And I don't use social media, either.

I've definitely had "shit shit shit!" moments remembering stuff I've told other people that might have been considered oversharing. But I've worked more on dealing with the anxiety afterwards than on trying to change the behavior. Because the fact of the matter is, people do seem very receptive to hearing about struggles, and it frees them up them to be honest about their own, and leads to really interesting and often helpful conversation.

So when I start worrying about it, I ask myself if the person actually acted offended or taken aback; and in fact they usually didn't. The anxiety usually is in my head and has more to do with my own insecurities than with how other people see or respond to me.
posted by torticat at 3:28 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm like this too--I share generously. I understand feeling "weak" afterwards. I think this has to do with the fact that there are others around me who are markedly not sharers. It naturally and immediately begs this question. Am I weak? They seem to be doing just fine going around bottling up everything they feel...why can't I do that? Or maybe they aren't feeling anything!? etc etc ad. infinitum" I feel like I am in a constant tug of war between feeling ashamed about this part of myself and defending it. I think as human beings we should all be engaging in more dialogue and I don't like how taboo that is in modern society (I live in the northeast which is particularly bad about this). You are obviously, as someone mentioned, a high self-monitor so I think you would pick up on making someone else uncomfortable so just be yourself! Sharing is caring.
posted by unicornologist at 5:38 AM on December 2, 2013

I definitely do this. I don't start talking easily, but when I do, hoo boy!

It does help me that I am involved with someone immensely private, like Dorothea_in_Rome said... but I still run at the mouth about detailed things about myself. I am trying to just take a deep breath - you know at that part of the conversation where the other person is talking, and you think "Oh, that reminds me of this story!" I try to just wait an extra beat and make sure this is something I want to share.

If the other person is a great listener, this is really challenging :)
posted by getawaysticks at 11:01 AM on December 2, 2013

I don't have much of a problem with talking about challenges, vulnerabilities or frustrations in my life, even if the topics may be considered somewhat socially taboo

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong about that. Talking about these things makes them less taboo. I admire people who are able to talk about things like that in casual conversation.

It sounds like the only issue is that you are concerned you might be doing something inappropriate. I don't think you are. Of course your moderately close friends don't need to hear these things -- they don't need to hear anything about you at all. If you told them only what they needed to know, they wouldn't be friends.
posted by yohko at 12:48 AM on December 4, 2013

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