“Oh jeez, I’m talking way too much. Sorry, I’m being totally obnoxious. Why am I like this?” — Me several times a day while responding to a genuine question from someone who asked without ulterior motives.
I’ve mentioned before that during the entirety of our time together, my abuser rarely left me alone in a room for more than a few minutes. He spent five years smothering me with escalating jealousy and possessive tendencies. His constant need for control led him to increasingly invasive behaviors, such as going through my phone and journal, monitoring me via a location-sharing app, and demanding photographic evidence of my interactions and exact whereabouts.
These weren’t one-time occurrences, either. These behaviors and worse became the norm in his quest for absolute domination over something he believed was his to possess: me.
If I was in the shower, you could bet he spent that time going through my phone. If I were to go anywhere without him, even work, I was expected to be in constant contact. He was caught driving by my location to check up on me on multiple occasions. I hated to hear my texting notifications because if I didn’t immediately show him who it was, he would accuse me of hiding my phone for some shady reason and ice me out for the rest of the night to teach me a lesson.
This relentless surveillance left me feeling like I needed to justify every action, every decision, and every interaction. I hoped that by explaining myself to the point of exhaustion, I could finally convince him I was being honest. Of course, I was wrong.
That terror of retaliation, the idea I’d be punished if I didn’t share every intimate detail of my thoughts and actions, has lingered long after the relationship ended.
Wait, is that why I blog now? I need to make a note to bring that up with my counselor.
Narcissistic abuse has a lasting impact on survivors’ mental health. It chips away at self-esteem, fosters self-doubt, and creates a heightened sensitivity to criticism. Overexplaining becomes a way to preemptively address potential criticism and attempt to alleviate the anxiety that arises from it. It is a self-protective mechanism to ensure our experiences are understood, as we fear dismissal or invalidation.
In the following sections, I delve into several underlying factors that contribute to this phenomenon and offer guidance for survivors who share similar long-winded tendencies.
While he kept me on a tight leash, my abuser’s own actions contradicted the standards that were imposed on me. He cheated with numerous partners (sometimes multiple at once, a story for another day), putting my health at risk and betraying the very trust he demanded from me. His hypocrisy intensified my need to overexplain, as I constantly found myself trying to defend my own innocence and prove my loyalty. This betrayal rotted my trust and amplified my need for assurance that I was not the cause of his unfaithfulness, a direction in which he often twisted the narrative.
Need for Validation
Overexplaining is often driven by a deep-seated need for validation and a fear of being misunderstood or judged. Survivors of narcissistic abuse may have been subjected to gaslighting and manipulation, causing them to question their own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. By overexplaining, they seek external validation and reassurance, hoping to regain a sense of control over their reality and protect themselves from further harm.
The fawn stress response plays a significant role in understanding the tendency to overexplain. This stress response, often observed in individuals who have experienced narcissistic abuse or trauma, involves attempts to appease the abuser to avoid harm or gain approval. This response is rooted in a deep-seated need to maintain safety and minimize conflict. It is a response often seen in victims of child abuse who tend to try to appease abusers who are much larger and stronger than them.
Overexplaining becomes a means to avoid perceived threats by suppressing abusers’ often dangerous negative emotions. It’s also an unconscious attempt to address potential criticism or rejection. Individuals caught in the fawn response may fear the consequences of setting boundaries or expressing their true thoughts and feelings, hoping to remain on their abusers’ “good side” to avoid further harm.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that can develop as a result of prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences, such as narcissistic abuse. One of the symptoms associated with CPTSD is hyperarousal, which often manifests as hypervigilance and an overwhelming fear of potential danger. This state of constant alertness can lead to a compulsive need to explain oneself in an attempt to avoid criticism, conflict, or punishment.
Breaking Free and Healing
Recognizing the root causes of over-explaining is an essential step toward healing. It is crucial to understand that the behavior is a response to the trauma inflicted by the narcissistic abuser, something much easier said than done. Rebuilding self-esteem, setting healthy boundaries, and engaging in therapy or support groups for CPTSD can aid in the recovery process.
Trauma is the reason I assume everyone is constantly furious with me. It’s the reason I overanalyze every little thing that’s said to me, looking for signs of displeasure. It’s why I regularly have to call my best friend so she can confirm my reality and assure me that, no, I’m not talking too much (even though I know I am. Love you, girl).
By sharing our experiences, we bring awareness to the complex dynamics involved in these relationships and offer support to other survivors.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please seek help from a professional or contact a helpline specializing in domestic violence. Even if you aren’t ready to leave your situation, talking to someone can validate your experience and get you on the path to safety.