First, it's important to understand what constitutes oversharing in the first place. "Think of it as one person’s need to share exceeding the capacity of the other person to listen," says psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco, PhD. This framing of the term, she adds, is helpful because it involves both parties rather than just foisting blame on the oversharer in question. After all, oversharing is largely subjective to the listener (there may even be people out there who wouldn't bat an eye at the aforementioned example of a stranger talking about their BMs).
According to Irene Levine, PhD, psychologist, author, friendship expert, and producer of The Friendship Blog, the subjectivity of oversharing also makes it fluid, or changeable over time and in different relationships. That is, the closer two people are, the more likely they are to push the boundaries on what constitutes oversharing. “Good friends gradually learn to trust each other over time and grow more comfortable talking about the things that concern them—warts and all,” says Dr. Levine, adding that it makes sense that we have different barometers in different relationships for what oversharing looks like. “One friend telling you something may be oversharing, while hearing it from someone else may feel perfectly acceptable.”
That said, when any friend discloses what you deem to be too many details, you might feel uncomfortable as result, which won't exactly be fruitful for your friendship. With that in mind, read on to learn how to deal when friends oversharing makes you feel super uncomfortable.
5 steps to deal when your friends are oversharing
1. Get clear on your boundaries
Before having any discussion, check in with yourself to first determine what you want to talk about with your friend, and what you’d rather they keep to themselves. “It doesn't have to be so absolute,” says Dr. Franco, adding that you don’t have to ask friends to stop sharing completely, but rather just ascertain “what level you’re comfortable with them sharing.”
2. Assess whether the oversharing might be temporary
For instance, Dr. Franco suggests considering whether the oversharing might be “because they are just going through something in this moment that we can expect will pass." Even if that's the case, though, it's not meant to serve as permission for oversharing. Rather, knowing this may help you understand it to be temporary, which may help you be more comfortable.
If you sense that your friend’s oversharing is, in fact, temporary, it can be easier to be generous with them because you know the discomfort you may be feeling won’t last forever, adds Dr. Franco.
3. Use “I” statements
Since a friend’s oversharing may very well be coming from a vulnerable place, upon deciding to share your boundaries, “you want to be very delicate,” in your delivery, says Dr. Franco. When you use “I” statements to share how you feel, you’re letting the receiving party know that this is about you, and not necessarily about their actions or choices in sharing.
4. Tell your friend what you’re comfortable discussing
Once you know what you’re comfortable talking about, communicate those boundaries from a place of love, with the aim to nourish the friendship. Dr. Franco suggests saying something like, “Friend, I really want you to get the support you need. And I know that I won't always be in a place where I can offer it, so I was wondering if we can bring in more friends to make sure that you get that support.”
Dr. Levine adds that, “if your friend tends to overshare, it’s important to give them feedback and let them know what you don’t want to know or hear.” If you set this boundary and the oversharing continues, “you may need to step back from the friendship,” adds Dr. Levine.
5. Point out if someone else’s privacy might be involved
Friends oversharing can also be problematic when it “compromises the privacy of a third person,” says Dr. Levine. “For example, spilling the intimate details of your sex life might be more than your friend needs or wants to hear; it also may be a breach of trust vis-à-vis your partner in terms of you sharing something that they would rather keep private.”
You may not want to come out the gate accusing your oversharing friend of violating someone’s privacy, but you could try a simple, “Is X okay with you telling me this?” if that’s the point you’re trying to make.
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