The Personal Cost of Oversharing

neurotics not-so-anonymous
Image by Malingering via Flickr

My last post on oversharing was a little muddled, because I didn’t clearly distinguish between the two separate arguments I was making. My broader concern in writing that post was oversharing as a societal issue: basically, my feeling is that every soapbox comes attached to certain ethical propositions, and there is something ethically dubious about using a soapbox solely to emote and promote the self, with no thought to the interests of the readers or others.

But I ended up talking more about overshare as a personal concern, and so I think I need to clarify why it would seem to be equally problematic for the individual. For that, I think we need to clarify what, exactly, oversharing is.

First off, it’s significantly different from straight-up memoir, or autobiography. Work in that genre, at least when done well, is written with the benefit of perspective, and with the interests of others in mind. Oversharing is done in the moment, and is done either to draw attention, solicit sympathy, or simply to vent.

Of course, even the most private individuals have interactions where they seek those ends. It’s just that, in most cases, we seek attention and sympathy from our friends, families, and loved ones. When, in exchange for our self-expression, we need further guidance, we’ll seek out someone like a therapist, or a clergy member.

This venting and emoting can betray deep, potentially malignant growths in our consciousness, and it’s important to reveal those growths to someone you trust to help you deal with them in a healthy way.

I’m going to illustrate my point with a personal anecdote. Go ahead: Savor the irony.

Less than a year ago, I went into therapy in order to address self-loathing and social anxiety issues that were rendering me almost wholly dysfunctional in certain situations. The first few weeks of those sessions, I was pretty much the only one to do the talking, and all I did was obsess about the trivia that was making me so unhappy. But eventually my therapist started challenging the premises on which those obsessions were founded. At first, it irritated me that she was challenging my assumptions, but that was only because I knew deep down how ridiculous and indefensible they were. Once I was forced to acknowledge that to myself, I became a much healthier, happier person.

More importantly, therapy helped me develop the tools to deal with other concerns in the same way: with rigorous skepticism and self-scrutiny. That wasn’t an easy thing to come to, and it’s something I maintain imperfectly at best. Doing so requires focus and solitude.

But I still feel the need to vent, as does everyone. And when I do, the best person to vent to is someone who is wise enough, and knows enough about me, to not reaffirm those assumptions and justify my odd neurotic tics and obsessions. In other words, I need someone who isn’t an enabler.

My concern is that when it comes to oversharing, the Internet can often serve as one giant enabler. If we garner an audience because of our willingness to share our neurotic self-obsession (and as a neurotic myself, I reluctantly concede that in our fits of anxiety we are, practically by definition, self-obsessed), this validates it. Which is probably the worst thing you can do for a neurotic.

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