Picture yourself meeting someone for the first time at a social event. You strike up a conversation. Before you can stop yourself, sensitive personal information seems to be spilling out of your mouth
- “I really need a drink! It has been a terrible day. This morning…”
- “I am going through a brutal break-up. I don’t trust anyone anymore.”
- “I don’t usually eat like this… I really am trying to lose weight. But I ate well this morning, and the food is free, so I might as well enjoy.”
- “I have chronic pain, which makes life really challenging. The doctors are at a loss about how to manage it. It started when…”
When we are uncomfortable with the truth, it is often expressed in communication with others. Our insecurities and discomfort lead us to offer too much information about topics, with people, or in situations that are inappropriate. In our effort to cope with the truth, we over self-disclose.
All of us have done this. And most of us can remember a time (or many!) when we listened to someone tell us information that seemed far too personal. Awkward elevator conversation anyone? Or funny, tragic, drunk first date?
One common way we over self-disclose is by telling people we are not emotionally close to intimate details of our lives. This could be anyone from a complete stranger to an acquaintance whom we don’t know well. We may share sensitive information about our past, such as the fact that we were raised by an alcoholic parent, suffered extreme abuse, or personally struggled with a mental health condition.
Another common way we over self-disclose is by telling people information that is not developmentally appropriate. Parents often share information with children that the child does not need to know or that can be emotionally damaging. For example, a parent may share details of their past, struggles in a current romantic relationship, or historical information about his or her family system that the child simply can’t process or is not ready to hear.
A third way we over disclose is by over-sharing in social situations that do not lend themselves to intimate conversation. At a dinner party or celebratory event, we may share details about an unresolved life situation, such as the fact that we are failing out of college, feel dissatisfied in our romantic relationship, or are struggling with chronic pain. This simply is not the right place or right time for such sharing.
The Naked Truth is this: When we are struggling emotionally with the truth, we often disclose too much in interpersonal interaction. Our over disclosure reflects our discomfort with some reality about our life. Instead of confronting our insecurity head-on and making a choice about how much to share with whom, we share our reality with the next person who will listen. So, the next time you find yourself sharing too much, pause. Take a moment to decide whether you really want to share this information or not, with whom, and when.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.