(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

I say too much too soon

People ask me questions and I tell them everything


Cary Tennis
December 11, 2012 6:00AM (UTC)

Hello Cary,

I did it again yesterday and I'm so disappointed in myself. My problem is I answer people's questions about myself without being able to stop, reflect and decide if it really is any of their business. It doesn't matter how personal the question is, you're guaranteed an answer from me. It isn't until I'm no longer in the situation that I gather my wits and realize the damage I've done to myself. These people have no right to this info.

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I practice things to say to deflect the questions such as: Why do you ask? But, in the heat of the moment, I forget. I also understand that this lack of self-protection stems from no boundaries being allowed in my childhood. But I'm not a child anymore and I really must stop vomiting out this info.

The holidays are coming up and I will be around some pushy people who always ask questions that I would never dream of asking another. I need some strategies I can practice (although that doesn't seem to work). So I don't know what to do.

Your guidance would be appreciated.

Don't ask -- Don't tell

Dear Don't Ask ...

Just because a question is asked doesn't mean it has to be answered. Some questions are best left hanging, like decorations in the air.

If in the past you were not given the opportunity to decide whether to answer questions or not, and perhaps more broadly whether to accede to commands and wishes, whether appropriate or not, this is a great opportunity for you to begin strengthening your ability to just say no, to have boundaries. Here are some sample phrases to begin with, a  starter kit for resisting pesky interrogation:

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You can say, Pardon me, that's way, way too personal.
You can say, I think I'm going to go into the backyard now and file my nails.
You can say, Nah, ain't going there.
You can say, When I was a kid I loved backgammon.
You can say, I've had a hard life but I've learned that people yearn to be free.
You can say, Even under torture I will not reveal certain things.
You can say, We'll have to get to know each other a lot better before I start telling you stuff like that.
You can say, Sorry, the judge has instructed us not to talk about that.
You can say, I could tell you that but then I'd have to kill you.

People say that last one a lot. I wonder why.

I like directness. To me, it's perfectly OK to say that you'd rather not talk about something. I do realize that I am at a generational remove from you, and perhaps at some socioeconomic and cultural remove as well, and that what is just normal directness for me may seem aggressive to you. But I like directness. I like to be able to say that there are some things I don't wish to talk about, and I don't mind asking if we can change the subject. I don't see what's wrong with that.

Here is an idea. Maybe you really need to talk about some of these things and that's the reason they're coming out randomly or in moments of stress. If so, find somebody to talk to about these things. Talk about them until you don't feel a need to talk about them anymore. Then, when somebody asks you about it, you can say, with relief, that you've talked about it so much you're all done talking about it.

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Remember: You don't have to talk about anything you don't want to talk about. Silence is OK, too.


Cary Tennis

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