How to Avoid Oversharing When You Share Your Story

You’ve decided you want to share your story. Now is the time. You’re going to order your coffee (or tea), and sit down across from that person you plan to tell. You’re going to grab the mic. You’re going to pick up that pen, pull out that laptop, whip out your phone, and spill your guts.

That “spilling your guts” is precisely the problem.

Pardon the visual, but sometimes when we share our stories, we’re guilty of the word equivalent of projectile vomit. It just comes out, doesn’t stop, is  unpleasant, and while we may feel better for getting that “off our chest” the person on the receiving end is less than thrilled.

If you struggle to know where to draw the line when sharing your story, you’re not alone.

It’s always a fine balance between “full disclosure” and “I’m trying not to traumatize this person.” If you’re dealing with a counseling professional, that’s one thing. If you’re sitting down and chatting with your best friend, mentor, or great aunt Jean, or sharing in front of an audience, you might need to take a different approach.

Know Why You’re Sharing

I talked about this a bit in my last blog post. It’s important to know why you are wanting to share your story.

This motivation will help you know what details to leave in or out. Keep that main motive in mind and ask yourself, “Does this detail help that mission?”

We women aren’t necessarily good at compartmentalizing, which can result in us talking for an hour straight, seemingly without breathing and we’ve gone off on ten different side trails. Every detail seems so important, but not every detail accomplishes the mission. In fact, some details can distract from the mission.

Knowing why you’re sharing is almost like having an “angle” for your story. If I’m sharing my story in the context of combating shame, then I am going to include different information than I would if I am addressing the dangers of sexting. There are details the world will never know but I’ve shared them with my fiance, because he’s my fiance, and I felt those details were important for our relationship.

When I was writing my book, it helped me to write down all of the “bullet point” details of my story and then look at them to see what actually made a difference in the story and what didn’t. Whether you’re standing on a stage or sitting across from your best friend, it can be helpful to have already thought through what details need sharing and what details really don’t- at least not right away.

Know Why You’re Sharing With This Person

Who are you talking to? If it’s a counselor, the conversation is going to be different than if it’s your best friend, your small group, your youth group, your pastor, your parents or even your partner.

What role are you hoping they fill? Maybe you just need a sounding board, a chance to share, and vent, or you are looking for someone who can actually help you.

Not sure what you want from them? Here’s an easy test to tell. Ask yourself, “Would I be ok if they interrupt me or ask questions?” If the answer is no, you’re looking for someone to vent to. If the answer is yes, you’re looking for someone to get in there and help you. So, the reverse should also be true. If you are truly wanting someone to help you, you should be ok with him/her asking for clarification on things and asking questions.

If this is just going to be a “venting” session, then the gritty details aren’t necessary. In fact, I would say don’t share them. Feel free to share emotions and struggle, but don’t go into details about the exact thing you saw in that video on that website.

What does this look like? Here’s an example of something I have actually said, “Oh! I can’t stand it when people don’t talk about women struggling with pornography. It frustrates me. I was one of those women. This is part of my story and it causes so much shame when people don’t talk about it.”

Whoever I am sounding off to doesn’t need to know everything. If they ask, I likely won’t tell them much. Which brings us to this point:

Know Why You’re Telling This Person That

Even with the right motives and the right person, it’s still possible we can overshare. More often than not, I’ve found this has to do with timing. That person simply wasn’t ready for whatever was shared with them.

It’s important to screen the major details through the filter of “does this help the purpose of this conversation?”

Does it help you find freedom?

For some women, specific details are the root cause of specific shame. For instance, say you’re a woman who watches primarily lesbian pornography. You might confess that you watch pornography, which is true. But the fact that you struggle with lesbian pornography seems to have a different hold on you, and it’s even affecting your relationships with your friends. It might be helpful to share that particular detail.

I see this often in e-mails from women. They say, “Yeah, fine, women struggle with pornography, but I struggle with (insert fetish here).” It’s like they’re purposefully shaming themselves, convinced their struggle is so unique that no one would understand it.

If you find yourself hiding in shame from a particular detail of your story, that is a detail you need to share.  If it’s more than just a passing thought and instead something that seems to control your thoughts, it’s something you need to share.

Were you answering a direct question on this specific detail?

I don’t voluntarily divulge specific genres of pornography I watched every time I speak. But, in certain circumstances I will share when that detail itself becomes vital to the mission. A young lady might come up and ask me a question directly related to that, in which case, sharing a common experience helps her feel freedom. Sharing that same detail from a larger stage wouldn’t have the same effect.

Does it help the person listening to you better help you? 

It’s not fair to make your counselor/mentor/accountability partner work with half the information they need. Give them everything they need to help you. It’s a wicked game we can be guilty of playing when we withhold information and expect them to figure it out. It’s like stealing the top off a puzzle box and expecting people to put it together. Then we can get frustrated when they don’t solve it, and we call it shame, when really it’s a form of manipulation.

Be fair to the people who are trying to help you. Don’t overload them with gritty details, but also don’t be stingy either. Like I said, it’s a fine balance.

One final thought, because I think we need to go here:

There is a real danger of oversharing for the sake of our own gratification. We can get a rise out of talking about scandalous and inappropriate things. Don’t let your “sharing” be some opportunity for you to relive the “good old days.”

If you get aroused by sharing your story, you’re probably sharing it wrong. It’s probably way more detail than anyone needs to hear.

It’s normal to feel a little uncomfortable, awkward or scared when sharing something so intensely personal. Even with good motives and safe people we can feel a little unsure. That’s ok. And it’s ok to delay certain details until you feel more comfortable. In fact, it’s always better to err on the side of caution than it is to completely overwhelm someone with your life story.

If you do overshare

If you do feel like you might have shared too much, acknowledge it: “Sorry! That was probably too much information” and help your audience know what to do with it: “We definitely don’t need to talk about that. Let’s backtrack to (some other point).”

Think about the details you want to share, make sure they help you accomplish your mission in sharing, and be willing to pump the brakes if you need to. It’s not lying, deceit or shameful to pause the conversation and say, “I’ll tell you later.” That can give all parties time to process and grow to be able to handle the new information with grace.

I want to help you practice this! So, I’m starting a new series called “In Her Words” to give women an opportunity to share their stories anonymously. If you are interested, please e-mail Contact [at] beggarsdaughter.com and use the subject line: In Her Words.