There’s self-control and then there’s self-indulgence. I’ve always struggled to find a balance between the two. In almost every aspect of my fledgling life it has seemed like I have no control over my actions. Impulse and gut reactions characterize the majority of what I do, and this fundamental flaw is most evident in my speech. As a result, I have turned a singular question over and over again in my mind for years as it has slowly eaten away at the thin line between control and indulgence: Why do I keep talking when all I want to do is shut up?
I wish I could put it more delicately, but alas I must be blunt. This tendency of mine applies to conversation, writing, even my laughter. I consistently overshare on certain aspects of my life while offering little to no information about others, and more often than not I find myself digressing on topics that need not be addressed. The talking characterizes times of discomfort and anxiety and, sadly, has become a trait with which people identify me. Although I may suffer from periods of silent self-examination, I find myself unable to suppress this deeply ingrained urge to speak. I berate myself afterward, knowing I should have kept to myself, but nonetheless the cycle continues.
There was an ongoing joke in my childhood that fell somewhere along the lines of “Natalie’s stories are the worst.” Harsh, yes, but true. I could not differentiate between what would intrigue people and what only intrigued me. As a child, it all blended together, and thus poor victims would be stuck in the abyss of my storytelling, forced to await an ending that never came. For those wishing to spare my feelings, there was no merciful death.
I always was a talker, and my parents were the only ones that could shut me up. This rejection that I faced at home made me search for eager ears in the faces of strangers. Those poor adults did not know that their blind politeness would be their downfall. Like me, they probably learned their “yes pleases” and “no thank yous” at a young age. Unlike me, they did not use this lesson in human decency as a way of tricking people into listening to a tale that lacked tears and never triumphed. I engaged anyone, anywhere. My unsuccessful soccer career can be credited to the rule-abiding referees that would humor me. Instead of chasing after the ball like a normal, goal-oriented child, I would stand by the referee, chatting with him about the stunning weather at the indoor soccer field. Swimming followed a similar course, as there is recorded footage of me standing on a swim block in the middle of a race enthusiastically talking to the timer as he tries to focus on both my precariously positioned body and the swimmer in the lane before me.
Sadly, I haven’t grown far from my childhood ways, and my youthful faux pas continue to be relevant to my current storytelling abilities. Although I have thankfully improved my vocabulary and grown more reliable in my testimonies, I can’t seem to find the appropriate filter that distinguishes between the fascinating and the mundane. Surely it’s a subjective matter, but that does not excuse the multiple times I’ve been interrupted simply because my story was dull. There remains this small issue of me regarding every audience as wholly invested in my every word, and in this regard, narcissism is considered one of my most flattering traits. I’ve started to recognize the face of a disinterested listener, and when I do, I immediately begin floundering for help to avoid drowning in my own abyss. Not until recently, however, has this problem caused me a great deal of anxiety. Oversharing is a deeply ingrained fear of mine, a potential consequence of my upbringing.
Age 15 and brimming with unease, I approach my dad with a proposition: As a reward for my good grades, I want to dye my hair. Keeping the situation purely hypothetical, I explain to him how this change would be temporary and wouldn’t affect my good character or steer me down the emo path I had narrowly avoided in my youth. Not missing a beat, he counters with a new and improved hypothetical situation.
“How about instead, you draw a metaphorical teal line down the center of your face, and it can be special, because nobody except you will know it exists.”
Message received. I’m a Zak, and Zaks are inherently private people; we don’t ask for undesired attention, and we don’t place ourselves in that unforgivable center. I couldn’t dye my hair because that’s exactly the kind of edgy statement I was supposed to desperately avoid making.
Three years later, this teal line still inches down the center of my face as a reminder whenever I find myself on the brink of oversharing. I can no longer differentiate between news that is worthy of sharing and news that should be kept to myself. I can ensure though that I’ll feel guilty no matter what the decision. Specific people must be approached with specific topics in mind, or else our conversation will slowly descend into me drawing out tangents and reemphasizing punch lines as I await an enthusiastic response that never comes.
Humans are struck with the need to share not because we’re egotistical, which is what I’m naturally inclined to believe, but because it’s ingrained in our nature. In psychology, self-concept describes how human beings are made up of three schemas: self-esteem, self-knowledge and the social self. These schemas are almost entirely defined by our interactions with others — how we estimate our self-worth based on how our quirks and tendencies are perceived. I have no reason to fear oversharing or divulging precious information, for it is simply human nature. Knowing this does not make the burden of anxiety any lighter, but knowing I’m not alone in my fears does.
We also evaluate ourselves based on how people react to our words, appearance, hand gestures, eyebrow raises — and maybe that’s why I find myself still talking as the anxiety continues to rise. I feel the need to correct the verbal missteps and untie the social tongue twisters that I trip over day after day. Word vomit plagues me, and I suffer from an almost critical case. It claims the strongest among us, but like all fits of nausea, can be appeased by a monitored diet of saltines and ginger ale.
Unlike nausea though, the anxiety isn’t fooled by offerings of carbonated beverages and wheat. Instead, it simply extends to sanctuaries like the classroom. When conversation in a room dwindles and awkward silence begins to settle in, I take it upon myself to relieve everyone of it. Screw dignity, pride and a general feeling of self-worth; I will throw myself into the lion’s den, take a bullet for surrounding contenders and toss myself under the bus simply to resolve these intolerable silences. The teacher will pose a question only to be met with acknowledged silence, and I settle into my accustomed biblical role. Nailing my hands and feet into the bark, I prepare my spirit, open my mouth and immediately black out. What occurs in the next few minutes is a mystery to me, not because I’m baffled by my ability to compose complex statements, but because I genuinely suffer from a temporary lapse in memory. I liken it to a “Memento”-type situation, except nothing was murdered, other than the written word of intellectuals that came before me.
A wise, fictional fool by the name of Michael Scott once said, “Sometimes I start a sentence and I don’t know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” I often find myself relating to the words of this fictional fool, both in my writing and when I talk. The sentences I construct are built in lieu of the self-concept, constantly being reformed and torn apart by the reactions I perceive from those around me. I may never know where I’m going with it or how it will end, but I can be sure that it will end at some point. And that’s all that matters. As individuals we communicate through more than just our words; looking past the inane lava spilling forth from our mouths, it’s the actions, facial expressions and silence that describe us best. Looking in the mirror now, the teal line is beginning to resemble a scar, but not one that I’m forced to bear in reality, only hypothetically, and that makes all the difference.