Understanding Overexplaining As A Trauma Response And How To Address It

Overexplaining occurs when an individual finds it challenging to convey information without delving into intricate details or providing justifications for their statements. (Image: Shutterstock)

Overexplaining, a common response rooted in trauma and the dread of abandonment, emerges as a coping mechanism.

When we carry the weight of past traumas, the fear of rejection and abandonment often lingers on us. The anxiety of being misunderstood becomes a significant concern, compelling us to repeatedly explain ourselves in search of external validation.

What is Over-Explaining?

Overexplaining occurs when an individual finds it challenging to convey information without delving into intricate details or providing justifications for their statements. While some situations may warrant a more comprehensive explanation, the tendency to consistently offer elaborate reasoning for even the simplest matters characterizes overexplaining.

For instance, imagine being tardy for an event or a meeting with a friend. Instead of a straightforward apology like “I’m sorry I was late” or expressing gratitude with a simple “Thank you for your patience,” the inclination to overexplain emerges. This may involve recounting a detailed account of the morning’s events that led to a deviation from the planned schedule.

Similarly, when faced with a distressing situation, rather than setting boundaries or expressing needs directly, the overexplainer tends to apologise for their emotional state. Rather than a straightforward response, they feel compelled to provide a thorough explanation of why the situation upset them, hoping that this detailed account will lead to understanding and forgiveness from others.

Why do we resort to overexplaining?

Psychologist Caroline Middelsdorf notes, “Trauma often triggers a need to overexplain, seeking safety by ensuring others comprehend us.” She emphasises that the key to unravelling these patterns lies in cultivating self-awareness, a process facilitated through journaling.

By putting thoughts on paper, individuals can gain valuable insights into their triggers and reactions. Furthermore, she underscores the importance of self-compassion, describing it as a comforting balm that nurtures the wounds within.

Additionally, she highlights the role of grounding techniques that act as stabilising forces amid chaos, offering a sense of stability and calmness.

Middelsdorf delves into the reasons behind overexplaining in individuals with trauma:

  1. Need for Validation: Those dealing with past traumas often seek constant approval and understanding from those around them. The incessant need for validation drives them to explain themselves repetitively.
  2. Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance: Constantly scrutinising the expressions and actions of others, individuals with trauma try to preemptively counteract judgments and misunderstandings. Overexplaining becomes a defensive strategy to ward off negative thoughts before they arise.
  3. Loss of Control and Powerlessness: Trauma often instils a sense of powerlessness and helplessness. The desire for a semblance of control over others’ perceptions prompts individuals to overexplain, attempting to influence how they are perceived.

To curb the tendency to overexplain, consider the following strategies:

  1. Practice Self-Awareness:Cultivating self-awareness and mindfulness enables a deeper understanding of genuine needs while letting go of uncontrollable factors.
  2. Set Boundaries: Learning to establish boundaries helps discern what is healthy for oneself. Thoughtful sharing of emotions involves revealing only those feelings comfortable for sharing with others.

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