I’m working at stopping this behavior. Here’s how you can too.
Do you overexplain? Talk elaborately and much too long as if you think you won’t be understood? Do you always have to follow a “No” with a long-drawn-out explanation of why you’re saying no? If your answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then you may have developed this as a response to how you were raised.
In my case, I developed it because I was gaslit by my mother. My mother was an alcoholic. She sadly never recovered, and she later died from complications from it.
When my parents were married, her drinking was a huge problem. The breaking point for my father came when she was supposed to pick him up from work during a snowstorm. He worked nights, and they shared a car. He got off from work late one night, and she was supposed to pick him up, but she’d drunk too much and passed out. He couldn’t afford to call a taxi and he couldn’t get anyone else to pick him, so he had to walk 8 miles home in the snow.
When he got home, he dumped out all of the alcohol in the house and told her she had to quit drinking.
“I can quit at any time,” she said. So she did. Or at least, it seemed like she did. In fact, she actually just started hiding it.
One day, I caught her drinking out of a bottle of glass cleaner from under the kitchen sink.
“Momma, why are you drinking that?” I said.
“I wasn’t drinking that,” she said. “I was just looking at the bottom of it.”
That wasn't the last time I caught her drinking out of the cleaning bottles from under the sink. Every time I caught her, she said something to the effect of, “You didn't see that,” or “That's just in your head.”
I doubted myself and what I’d seen, even though the last time I caught her I was nine. A nine-year-old should damn well know whether they saw their mother drinking out of a bottle of glass cleaner or not.
I learned much later from my dad that she had been hiding vodka in those cleaning bottles. She would buy bottles of glass cleaner from the grocery store, dump out of the contents, wash the bottle out, and then hide her alcohol in them. Since my dad didn’t know where she was hiding it, he couldn’t dump it out.
This shaped me and the man I grew up to be.
I tend to overexplain. It’s always been as if I don’t think people will believe me, so I explain things elaborately, going on and on. People have told me more than once that I can seem condescending or arrogant because I explain so much that it seems like I think they’re an idiot.
It wasn’t until after I entered therapy following my dad’s suicide that I learned this behavior was likely because I was gaslit as a child.
Gaslighting, as defined by Medical News Today, is “a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories.”
Here are the different types of Gaslighting, also taken from here:
My mother employed many of these so I would doubt what I had seen. She most commonly denied or countered. She also pointed out my age often: “You’re just a kid,” she might say. “You couldn’t understand.”
Overexplaining is often a response to some kind of trauma. In my case, it was being raised in an alcoholic home, but also because of some of my relationships later in life. I became overly conscious my words might be used against me, so I would try to over-explain to compensate.
Here are tips I have been employing that are helpful if this sounds like you too.
Practice, so you can be as precise as possible. The least amount of words, the better.
Remember that “no” is a complete sentence.
If you start overthinking something, ask yourself, “How important is this?”
Remind yourself that you can't change how people think and feel about you. The only thing that matters is how you think and feel about yourself.
I'm still working on this today. It is a process, but I'm getting better at not doing this every day. I hope this is helpful for you too.