Over-Explaining: Who Do You Actually Owe Explanations To?

Image Credit: David Kovalenko on Unsplash


Knowing who we actually owe explantations to is important so that we don't end up feeling as though we're constantly justifying ourselves.

Do you over-explain? Do you know someone who does?

Instead of giving a simple, one-word, yes or no answer, there's a full explanation complete with background story. A justification for the yes or no (especially for the no).

For those of us who've grown up with authoritarian caregivers, we often feel that we have to constantly explain ourselves.

It's what we were used to because generally our preferences / wants / needs were not taken into consideration. Therefore in an attempt to give weight to our answer, to perhaps sway the vote of the authority figure in our favour, we explained why we were responding the way we were.

It was an attempt to be heard, to have our answers validated.

But guess what?

We're not kids anymore, and chances are we no longer live with those authority figures. We don't owe nearly as many explanations as we end up giving.

This is something that I've been thinking about a lot lately, as I'm finally learning - at age 42 - to set boundaries. Who do I actually owe an explanation to? Who out there in the world has a right to answers from me that go beyond "yes" or "no"?

ANSWER: Those people I've made commitments to, with the biggest commitments coming first.

For me right now, that only means work. I have two job, and I've committed (obviously) to showing up. If I don't show up, then my managers have a right to an explanation.

I literally have no other commitments, no other people I owe explanations to.

I mean, I have financial commitments, but if I fail to come through on those, no one's going to ask me for an explanation. I don't pay my phone bill? Fine, phone is cut off. Don't pay my rent? Fine, move out.

I also have social commitments I've made to friends, so if we have a dinner date set and I have to cancel, I would feel the need to explain, even though "Something's come up and I can't make it" would suffice.

(I've noticed that the people who I owe the least explanations to - acquaintances - are the ones who demand them the most, while the opposite is true; the people I feel I owe the most explanations to - close friends - expect them the least. Funny that.)

I've found that the best way to shut down a line of unwanted questioning is to respond with a question of my own - i.e. when someone asks me a question I don't want to answer, I ask them "Why do you want to know?"

Suddenly they're the ones needing to explain themselves and provide a justification for why they feel they have a right to an answer.

Obviously this only works if the person doesn't actually have a right to ask; if you stroll in at 5:00 AM, and your spouse asks "Where were you all night?!" then responding with "Why do you want to know?" is not an appropriate response. (Although it could be temporarily hilarious.)

In the process of setting boundaries, knowing who we actually owe explantations to is important so that we don't end up feeling as though we're constantly justifying ourselves.

We're adults now, and we can validate ourselves; we know why we're doing what we're doing and we don't need anyone's blessing.

Therefore, we don't need to constantly explain ourselves.


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