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I was interviewed on a mental health podcast recently, and I got into the nitty-gritty details of my mental health struggles.
It got me to thinking. Why do I share such details with a person who was, moments prior, a stranger to me?
And why do I not share these kinds of details in everyday life?
The answer lies in the definition of oversharing, and my definition of it may not be what you think--or what you've been told about oversharing.
Set boundaries. Be smart. Don't overshare. Spare the intimate details.
Simple advice that doesn't always apply.
So let's get into the everyday realities of mental health, what oversharing actually is, and when you should overshare in your life.
Before we begin, here's the definition of oversharing from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
To share or reveal too much information
As you'll soon find out, this doesn't tell the full story...
My Mental Health Podcast Example (Good Oversharing and Boundaries)
I was on the Mirror Talk podcast recently hosted by Tobi Ojekunle.
He's the kind of kindred spirit that made me feel immediately comfortable and understood. It may have been the best podcast experience I've had, and I've been interviewed on several.
But what made me share personal information with Tobi? It couldn't just have been because he's a nice person, surely?
Like anything, there were many concurrent factors that made me decide to "overshare."
First, oversharing is relative.
What I share in one scenario or one environment with close friends may not constitute oversharing. Whereas, if I shared the same information with work colleagues or even typical digital spaces like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it would be considered WAY too much.
With Tobi, I talked about the year I experienced a mental health crisis. I talked about insomnia, major depression, and skin-picking. I talked about needing to go to the hospital as a last resort because the mental health care system had failed me and I felt dangerously close to ending my life.
It was a terrible time, and this kind of information is overwhelming for most people, most of the time.
It depends on the situation. And it depends on what others are expecting to hear.
If you walk into a new office on your first day of the job, and you tell people about the abuse you suffered at the hands of your family 20 years ago, it's going to be viewed in a certain way.
It doesn't matter if you've processed that trauma and feel prepared to share it with anyone. If your information doesn't mesh with the current situation, it's going to come across as odd and as a definite overshare.
But talking on the Mirror Talk podcast was another story. I did my research and saw the kinds of guests Tobi had interviewed in the past. I read Tobi's background information and realized that he truly cared about other people's stories. And so, when I finally got to hear his voice and see how he responded to my words, I knew this was someone who just got it.
All the factors came together, and my decision to overshare was an easy one.
But that's not always the case. Not even close.
Next, let's consider when you should overshare in your life.
But What is Oversharing? When Should You Overshare? Is Oversharing a Coping Mechanism?
It's just not possible to come up with an exhaustive list that will apply directly to your life, so if you're looking for that, you're going to be deeply disappointed.
Like everything important in life, oversharing has its nuances.
It's important to note first that some people don't ever realize that they are oversharing. In certain situations, oversharing can be viewed as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Oversharing can even be viewed as a sign of mental illness, but we are going to focus on the human element of it--oversharing as a incredibly common way to cope with something uncomfortable.
That's because oversharing can be a way to relieve anxiety or to try to get people to like you.
It's only when oversharing is brought to your awareness that you can then do something about it.
Let's take a look at a few key points.
You have to understand the environment you're in.
What are the customs and the norms for the particular environment you're in? Are you in a culture you know well, or are you stepping into a foreign culture where sharing something potentially risky could become absolutely devastating? All of this is important to consider.
You also have to consider what your goal is.
For me, when I'm on a mental health podcast, it's to educate and inspire. Now, how that comes across is not always the same. I match my words with the situation and the individual on the screen who is interviewing me.
So, what are your goals?
Do you consider them when you enter a conversation or a room?
It might seem like a strange way to approach your life, but it has helped me SO much. Before a phone call, I think, What do I hope to get out of this? What would be a successful outcome?
Before I read a book, I consider, What am I hoping to learn? Because I read mainly non-fiction, this works well for me. If you're a fiction reader, you may need a different approach--or you may need to discard this one completely. It's YOUR life, and you call the shots.
Conclusion - Setting Boundaries or Not Setting Boundaries?
Let's wrap up this discussion in a neat little bow.
If you're on social media, and anyone in the world can see what you post, you may not want to dump all the intimate details of your life into the screen.
You're probably going to want to have your guard up until you get used to the digital environment.
But if you're among close friends, and if sharing details about your personal lives is common, then more topics could be up for discussion. It ALL depends.
One of the most challenging aspects of making the decision to share--and how much-- is that oversharing is a social, collective process of establishing shared meaning.
Sure, you absolutely get to determine what oversharing means to you, but you're not the final judge--because you're not the only judge.
Even if we'd sometimes like it to be that way, we are not the only people in this world. We have to coexist with all kinds of interesting creatures.
And so we must learn to create a shared meaning...of oversharing.