- Overexplaining can be a trauma response, so you might have developed it in a family situation where you were walking on eggshells or otherwise trying to prevent conflict.
- People with autism, ADHD, sensory processing difficulties may also tend to overexplain.
- Learn to recognize when you’re doing it. Then consciously hold back and learn to tolerate your discomfort about it.
Imagine your boss pinging you asking for the answer to a question you said you’d research.
You might start panicking if you don’t have the information yet. Will you get fired? Will you get reprimanded? Will your boss lose trust in you?
If you tend to overexplain, you might tell your boss all the reasons you don’t have the answer: A colleague asked for my help on something. I had a dentist appointment and got behind. I didn’t realize it was high-priority.
But your boss probably doesn’t need any of that. She just needs to know the answer to her question.
Here’s a look at why you might feel the need to overexplain and how to stop.
Why do we overexplain ourselves? The psychology of overexplaining
“In my experience, people over explain when they worry that they are not being heard, understood, or believed,” says Kaytee Gillis, LMSW-C, LCSW-BACS, a psychotherapist and author of the book Breaking the Cycle: the 6 Stages of Healing from Childhood Family Trauma.
Childhood trauma can often be at the root of overexplaining.
More than two in three people experienced a traumatic event before they were 16 years old, like witnessing violence or enduring mistreatment.
The psychological effects from trauma can linger into adulthood. One way it might show up in our behavior is overexplaining as a way to justify behavior or feelings, or appease another person if you feel threatened.
There isn’t research on over explaining specifically, but research on responses to traumatic upbringings might explain some of the behavior.
The link between trauma and over explaining
“I usually find that [overexplaining] has a root in childhood trauma experiences, particularly people who have a history of childhood emotional neglect or people who had to fear maltreatment or abuse from a perpetrator,” Gillis says.
According to research, children learn to “appease” their caregivers when there’s a risk they may become the target of their aggression, abandoned, or harmed in another way. Some people also called this the fawn response, though researchers debate whether they’re the same thing.
People who grew up in homes where they felt rejected or like their parents dismissed their feelings, might also fear rejection from their peers, research shows.
Not having a secure attachment style can affect a person’s self-esteem and lead them to overly depend on the approval of others, research says. When they don’t feel secure, they may use defenses like overexplaining to tamp down their feelings of worthlessness.
Overexplaining can be one type of defense. You might use many details to justify your actions — perhaps to avoid conflict.
Appeasement may be particularly common when the person overexplaining is feeling stressed or vulnerable.
How having a secure attachment style may help
On the other hand, people who grow up with caregivers who were available to help them explore their emotions tend to develop what’s called a secure attachment style.
These kids are more likely to become adults who can manage their stress, regulate their emotions, and have fulfilling relationships.
People without secure attachment might not grow up with the tools they need to manage their emotions and adjust to changes in life.
Research suggests those who also experience anxiety might be overly expressive in social situations, but they also report feeling lonely or isolated.
Overexplaining can backfire
The research is still new on this topic, but many online sources we found (like this one) agree that overexplaining can sometimes backfire and cause negative outcomes.
Instead of appeasing the other person or making conflict with them less likely, overexplaining might drive them away or make them feel frustrated.
How to stop overexplaining
Yes, it’s possible to stop overexplaining. Here are some tips Gillis recommends:
1. Catch yourself
Learning to recognize overexplaining as you’re doing it is the first step toward stopping this behavior.
“The most difficult thing for some people is to realize they are doing this,” Gillis says. “Sometimes it is so second nature that they might not even realize it.”
Listen for subtle hints from the people in your life. For example, your boss might say, “I don’t need all the details. I just want to know when you’ll have the answer.”
Or your friends might look antsy when you’re providing details about why you were late to dinner. They don’t want to hear about the traffic. They just want to start ordering.
If you’re not sure whether you overexplain, you could ask a trusted friend or close colleague to let you know.
2. Be mindful about it
Start by acknowledging to yourself that you’re overexplaining. And try to keep that acknowledgement as neutral as saying, “I’m wearing a blue shirt,” Gillis says. You might want to mentally note the circumstances that led you to overexplain, so you can recognize them again in the future.
“But the key is to acknowledge without adding shame or judgment,” Gillis says. “Saying [to yourself] ‘I am oversharing’ is fine. Saying ‘I am so silly, I am oversharing again, no wonder people think I am annoying’ is unproductive and negative.”
3. Ask yourself why
Next, get curious about your reasons for oversharing, Gillis recommends. When you engage in this behavior, notice who you’re with and what’s going on.
- Do you feel like others aren’t listening?
- Do you feel like you are having to explain yourself?
- Do you feel worried or fearful?
- Are you feeling some social awkwardness?
Again, try not to judge your reasons. They aren’t good or bad, Gillis says. The goal is just to learn what’s happening when you feel the need to overexplain.
4. Let yourself feel it
The next step might get uncomfortable. Practice not providing too many details.
Let’s say that you noticed that you overexplain when you think you’ll get in trouble at work. Next time, try giving your manager just the information she needs, then stop talking. For example: “Still working on the project. I should have an answer this afternoon.”
Then sit with it, Gillis suggests. What’s it like waiting for your manager’s response? With time, you’ll likely get more comfortable with explaining less.
5. Be forthcoming, if you want to
If you overexplain due to neurodivergence such as autism, ADHD, sensory processing difficulties, you might add another step, Gillis says.
You can be forthcoming with your friends and colleagues, if that feels good to you. Say something like, “I tend to overexplain due to the way my neurodivergence manifests. If it gets too much, feel free to tell me.”
The final word
While there’s not a lot of research on overexplaining specifically, it might signal anxiety or fear. People tend to provide too many details to justify their actions when they fear they won’t be believed or could be rejected. The way to stop overexplaining is to practice.
Offer fewer details when you’re explaining to a friend or work colleague and learn to sit with the discomfort. It will become more comfortable over time.