If you find yourself being long winded, can’t fit your written response into the allotted space, you use lots of parentheses when you write, you find the need to explain every no or if someone double texts or emails you because you didn’t respond… this blog is for you.
Over-explaining can be used to cope; it’s a strategy that some find effective to alleviate stress or uncomfortable feelings in a situation. There are lots of reasons why one may develop this coping strategy but first let’s talk about what it means to over-explain.
What is Over-Explaining?
Over-explaining is when a person is unable to state things without going into great detail or giving reasons to support their statement. It’s true that some statements need more detail or explanation, but if you cannot share simple things or basic answers without giving in to the urge to support your case, then you may be over-explaining.
Maybe you’re late to an event or to meet up with a friend and instead of just saying, “I’m sorry I was late” or “Thank you for being patient” you feel obligated to list all the things that happened that morning to contribute to you getting off your schedule.
Or maybe something upsets you and instead of just walking away from the situation, kindly communicating a boundary or simply stating your needs , you apologize for being upset and give the circumstances behind why it was upsetting to you, hoping that someone will understand and forgive you for being upset.
Feeling like you have to over-explain to make sure someone believes you or accepts you is a learned behavior. It can come from your childhood where “You learned that love + acceptance is conditional upon being understood” (Peters, J [@jenpeters_soulguide_healer]. (2022, December 11). Did you know that over-explaining is a coping mechanism? Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CmDOetzyw93/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y%3D)
Why Do People Do It?
Over-explaining is usually done unconsciously as a way to control anxiety.
Most people want the approval of others and don’t want to let people down, so they attempt to avoid judgment and/or disappointing people by explaining things in great detail to make them understand why they did or said something.
If you tend to over-explain, you’ll usually feel less anxious about sharing things that may be uncomfortable or may trigger a negative response if you can share details that will explain the reasons behind something, which can then lead to oversharing.
You may over-explain things because you want to justify your decision or response to something, because you want to keep peace between you and another person, because you feel like you have to defend yourself or your actions, or because you just want to make sure you are being honest and don’t leave room for someone to interpret your words or feelings in the wrong way.
Dr. Caroline Leaf explains, “Perhaps you tend to over-explain because someone in your past made you feel everything is your fault, no matter what, and you feel the need to defend yourself, or it may bother you if you disappoint someone in your life and you use over-explaining to compensate.” (Dr.Leaf.com | How Over-Explaining is Linked to Trauma + Strategies to Find the Root & Heal | Dr. Caroline Leaf; September 05, 2021)
Over-explaining can be considered a fawn trauma response. Fawning is when a person engages in people-pleasing behaviors in order to avoid conflict. Learn more about the fawn response in a past blog we shared HERE.
You can break the cycle of over-explaining but it will take time and effort to develop new ways to cope.
What You Can Do Instead?
Recognizing that you over-explain is the first step to changing the behavior. It may take time and reflection to determine whether you do this, but once you do, you can take steps to move forward and use other coping strategies.
It’s important to determine why you feel the need to over-explain so that you can take the proper steps to heal from the past trauma that may have led to this response. If over-explaining helped ease your uncomfortable feelings and anxiety, you can’t just stop over-explaining without having a new coping strategy to replace it or awareness of the root as it’ll find expression elsewhere.
Practicing mindfulness can be a good way to reduce anxiety in situations when you feel the need to over-explain yourself. Mindfulness can help you manage strong emotions by focusing on your breathing, your body and your senses. (Learn More HERE). Instead of over-explaining you can focus on breathing techniques when you start to feel uneasy or compelled to keep talking.
Take your time when you are sharing information or responding to people. Pause and think through what you want to say so that your brain doesn’t get ahead of you which leads to you saying things that are not thoughtfully planned.
Plan ahead for situations that you know will be stressful or trigger feelings that cause you to want to over-explain. Get to know yourself and when you tend to over explain. Is it to your boss when they ask about a project or task? Is it to friends when you need to cancel or reschedule?
Practice how you’ll answer questions or what information you’ll share with others so that you are comfortable with what you want to share. If you find yourself wanting to share more, remind yourself that you don’t have to give more information than what you practiced when you were alone.