In Praise of Over-Sharing [April 4]
Do you ever feel embarrassed about ‘over-sharing’? If the answer is yes, you’re not exactly Robinson Crusoe. The interwebs are full of people saying sorry for offering us ‘TMI’ (Too Much Information). Facebook friends apologise before relating their latest online dating disasters. Colleagues beg forgiveness on Twitter before recounting tales of professional exploitation. Close buddies send emails admitting to feeling anxious about admitting to feeling depressed. Everyone’s sharing and yet everyone’s worried that everyone else is over it.
As the author of a memoir that could earn me an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for over-sharing, I’m here to sing the praises of confessional communication. Our culture is replete with positive examples of people admitting to their shameful fears.
In Puccini’s opera La Boheme our lonely heroine Mimi over-shares with her handsome neighbour Rodolfo at their first meeting. He instantly falls in love with her, because vulnerability can be deeply seductive. On national television this week comedian Luke McGregor admitted to feeling hopelessly inept in all things sexual (Luke Warm Sex, ABC 1). Afterwards the Twitterverse almost imploded from the weight of McGregor’s new fans praising his courage and confessing their own sexual confusion. I continue to receive missives from readers describing how my memoir Shy (Text Publishing) has made them feel less freakish and less isolated by social anxiety. So why do we all feel so guilty about over-sharing?
Sociologists might point to ‘self-presentation theory’, the idea that we are all ‘performing’ in social situations. We’re all adopting appropriate ‘masks’ or personas to ensure we appear confident and therefore socially acceptable. If we remove our mask and admit to uncertainty, potentially we undermine the unwritten rules of public performance. This kind of confident performance can go too far, though: just look at Donald Trump, all bluff and bluster, bullying and braggadocio.
Perhaps we fear that our over-sharing moments could be perceived as pleas for pity, and few of us enjoy feeling pitiable. Pity and compassion are sometimes mistaken for each other, but there is no shame in soliciting compassion. Judging by the number of hits on Brene Brown’s TED talk on The power of vulnerability (upwards of 24 million), there is much to gain from admitting that we are not perfect. Brown argues that we are ‘neuro-biologically hardwired to feel connection’ with other humans, and that admitting to vulnerability is a brilliant way to connect.
So let’s all embrace over-sharing. At worst, we may look momentarily foolish. At best we may feel more compassionate. And less alone. Or is that TMI?
This column was first published in the Sunday Age in April 2016.