Jewish Thought

The Pitfalls of Oversharing

We all know people who overshare. On occasion, there is even something charming about their openness and willingness to “own their stuff.”

But as with all good things, limits are important, and the ad nauseam variety of “true confessions” is not very appealing.

Here are some examples of sharing that are neither amusing nor endearing:

“I have no mental filters, so I’ll probably hurt your feelings. You’ll just have to overlook it.”

“I’m a total slob, so expect a mess.”

“I love to gossip. What can I say? It’s who I am.”

One wonders what lies behind people’s readiness to hang their dirty wash out in the public thoroughfare since it rarely leads to popular acclaim. True ownership of one’s shortcomings should not be confused with flaunting one’s vices to anyone who will listen. Openness of this kind is only an act of integrity when it leads to more responsible behavior.

So how can one tell the difference between a constructive, honest admission and a self-deceiving, attention-getting rationalization?

Here are some tests you can use to discern whether your candid acknowledgment of fault is constructive or not. Any disclosure should be subjected to the following three criteria:

1. Am I Serious About Changing My Behavior?

If, for example, you are disorganized and sincere in your desire to change, you are integrity-bound to compensate for this deficit in any way possible – for example, setting several alarm clocks, writing notes to yourself, asking family members to remind you of things that tend to slip through the cracks, setting up penalties for recurrent slips, and soliciting professional advice when all normal measures fail.

A personal example involves my tendency to forget significant dates on the family calendar, such as birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. This flaw does not come to me genetically; my father, z”l, never forgot any significant occasion. He knew the yahrtzeits of tzaddikim, grandparents, great-grandparents, and teachers, and important milestones in the lives of good friends.

Some of my siblings inherited this aptitude and teased me when I forgot important calendar dates. To compensate, I finally called a friend to help me out. I remember the first time I called my parents to wish them a happy anniversary. Knowing me, they were in total shock. Reluctantly, I was forced to admit that I had enlisted a friend to alert me to important dates… but it worked.

If you can’t reprogram yourself internally, you can achieve the same result by enlisting outside help.

2. Is it True, Kind and Necessary?

The second consideration when you decide to bare your soul is to ask yourself, “Is it true, kind and necessary?” Consider Mindy, an otherwise pleasant person who invariably greeted me with statements about herself that were disparaging. “I’m such an idiot,” she would tell me, or “I’m so fat.” Repetitive self-denigrating statements, especially ones that are exaggerated or untrue, are actually manipulative – as though the person is asking, “Please say something nice about me.” Hearing these statements over and over is distasteful.

3. Can Your Listener Be Helpful to You?

Another category of oversharing is to discuss the details of your personal life, such as childhood trauma or marital issues, with anybody who will listen. This can be burdensome and should be reserved only for those who can be of assistance – mainly professionals who specialize in helping people with the problem at hand. Otherwise, one is shamelessly peddling unwanted wares rather than seriously seeking solutions.

In a recent class, my husband discussed the fact that teshuvah is not directly mandated in the Torah. Instead, verbal acknowledgment, called viduy (confession) is cited as obligatory for one who wants to repent. Interestingly, this exclusive reference to the teshuvah process is found in the Torah portion dealing with gezel, the sin of theft (Parshas Naso).

The Chiddushei HaRim asks why the exhortation to repent by way of confession – which is applicable to all transgressions – is introduced specifically in the context of the sin of theft. He answers that any transgression we commit is, at its core, an act of stealing because we are robbing ourselves of our potential. We all have G-d-given talents and abilities that we can develop, goals toward which we should strive. When we veer off course, we compromise the possibility of realizing the great potential that is part of our being. This, the Chiddushei HaRim posits, is the most serious form of theft, and hence the Torah passage about gezel is the most appropriate place to reference teshuvah.

Acknowledging wrongdoing in an honest and meaningful way, in the right context and to the right person, rather than oversharing indiscriminately, gives us the means to move forward and develop the best part of ourselves.

Rebbetzin Feige Twerski is the mother of 11 children and many grandchildren, bli ayin hara. Alongside her husband, Rabbi Michel Twerski, she serves as rebbetzin to her community in Milwaukee and counsels people all over the globe. The rebbetzin is a popular lecturer, speaking on a wide variety of topics to audiences in America and overseas. She is the author of Ask Rebbetzin Feige, and more recently of Rebbetzin Feige Responds.

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