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“Oh, it’s such a shame you can’t come! We’ll miss you.”
“Yeah I’m sorry. My cat won’t stop vomiting and I’ve got a bit of a cold and I have so much housework to get through. Plus I have a huge university deadline tomorrow and I still have 3,000 words to write. And I’m waiting for a phone call from my grandma; she promised to call me today. Oh, and I’ve worked six days in a row, and honestly, I am so exhausted, I’m not really feeling sociable at all.”
Ten minutes later, you’re sitting on the couch thinking about what you just said and ask yourself, “Why the hell did I need to give all that irrelevant information?” I mean, what happened to a simple, “No, maybe another time”?
If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself overexplaining yourself to other people when you are asked something. (Okay, maybe it’s not as severe as the above example, but you can see what I’m trying to get at.) If you’re also anything like me, you might ask yourself why you feel the need to overexplain things and where this need originates from.
Long explanations can sometimes confuse the person who has asked the question, especially if you haven’t made your response clear. You’ll then find yourself having to explain yourself even more. And that sucks. Overexplaining can also make you come across as an anxious and insecure person to others, and nobody wants that.
Many people who feel they constantly have to overexplain themselves grew up with parents who spoke over them, ignored them, and invalidated their words and feelings when they were little. Perhaps they constantly had their truths ignored.
Children who are brought up this way are left with a deep fear of abandonment and rejection, which plagues them as they go through life as an adult. This type of upbringing results in feelings of low self-esteem and compulsive people-pleasing. Overexplaining is then used as a method of fitting in, of gaining approval, feeling validated, and of not hurting anyone else’s feelings.
An adult who overexplains themselves was probably once a misunderstood, hurt, and frustrated child.
This fear of abandonment can even make it hard for people to make simple assertions about what they like and don’t like. Let’s say a friend asks if you like sushi and if you want to eat out at a sushi restaurant. An overexplainer might reply something like this:
“No, I used to like sushi as a kid but then I saw a documentary on how it was made and it makes me sick now. I’m not fond of raw fish, and once I went to a restaurant and found a hair in my avocado roll and it put me off for life. ” …hmm
“No, I’m not really into sushi,” probably sounds a lot easier (and a lot more normal).
Okay, all jokes aside, how can we begin to tackle this tricky trauma response?
Here are some steps that might be of benefit:
1. Be aware of when you are about to overexplain something. A friend may have just asked you to do a simple favour for them or maybe your boss has asked you to do overtime. Let’s say you really can’t do whatever has been asked of you (or don’t want to). How are you going to approach this “no, I can’t” without making a whole story out of it?
2. Practice saying no or speaking your thoughts. Like actually do it. Uncomfortable feelings are likely to arise here, but sit with them. Feel the uncomfortable sensation in your chest. Or your racing heartbeat. Feel the guilt that’s come up for speaking your truth. When did you first feel this feeling? In what other scenarios have you felt this guilt? The reality is you are always going to disappoint someone in life. It is unavoidable. This is part of life, and though it might feel like the end of the world, I can assure you the world won’t end because you have said no. Tell yourself, “It really isn’t important if others get upset when I speak my truth.” If they do, then they probably have their own wounds to heal.
3. Celebrate yourself every time you manage to give an answer without overexplaining yourself in detail. It isn’t easy to unlearn these deep-rooted patterns and you shouldn’t give yourself a hard time for finding it difficult to change them. Instead, celebrate every baby step.
4. Remind yourself daily that it is your absolute right to have boundaries. You are just as valid as anyone else. As is your reality and your truth.
Repeat these affirmations daily:
>> “I can respect the feelings of others and still honour my own.”
>> “I am allowed to ask for what I need.”
>> “I don’t need to explain every single decision I make.”
>> “Each time I honour my boundaries, I feel more confident in expressing my needs.”
>> “Setting boundaries doesn’t make me selfish.”
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brené Brown