AAre you a people pleaser? Or do you have a close relationship with someone who is? More specifically, do you feel the need to over explain yourself in an attempt to make others feel more comfortable? While it’s a great quality to want to show yourself to the people you love and be empathetic to their needs, letting go of all your own hopes, wants, needs, and concerns in an attempt to satisfy someone else’s is never a good thing. In fact, it is a traumatic response known as servility.
At its core, Caroline Fenkel, LCSW, clinical director of Charlie Health, says that flattering yourself (also known as overexplaining yourself) is an attempt to avoid conflict. “Flattery is a way abuse survivors have trained themselves (consciously or not) to avoid abuse or trauma by trying to ‘be nicer’ or overindulge their abuser,” she explains. “Long-term flattery can show up in all relationships, not just abusive or traumatic ones. This can lead to harmful patterns of codependency and other interpersonal relationship problems.”
Are you curious to know more? Find out everything there is to know about overexplaining patterns of trauma below.
The term servility, which refers to overexplaining trauma, was first coined by Pete Walker, MFT. “Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wants, needs, and demands of others,” he wrote in The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex PTSD. “They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the loss of all their needs, rights, preferences and limits.”
In short, psychotherapist and co-founder of the Stryke Club, Nicole Brooks, says that as a result of PTSD, some people revert to extreme forms of people-pleasing in which they over-explain themselves in an attempt to defuse conflict. and restore a sense of security.
“This makes sense if you’ve experienced situations where you felt threatened and unsafe,” says Brooks. “The brain initially goes into the fight or flight response, which means that your amygdala (which is responsible for processing fear) hijacks your prefrontal cortex (which is the part of the brain that allows you to think rationally). You react quickly and want to run away or freeze like a deer caught in headlights.” Flattery kicks in after experiencing this fight or flight response one too many times.
“You can develop a protection or defense mechanism to make sure you don’t get in that scary situation again,” says Brooks. “Flattery is the defense mechanism that allows you to please people and reassure those around you to avoid any confrontation.” However, in the process of overexplaining yourself, you are inadvertently opening yourself up to more traumas that could arise in the future.
The logic of flattery
Remember: Overexplaining is a response to trauma designed to avoid conflict. “The logic behind flattery is that if a person does anything and everything to please the person who is trying to hurt them, that person may not continue the abusive behavior,” says Fenkel. “Our primary trauma responses are fight, flight, and freeze, and subservience is a way of avoiding the need to do any of those things together. These traumatic responses are immensely demanding on our nervous system, so the body tries to protect itself by fawning over it. It’s like putting on a mask and hoping the abuser won’t recognize you behind it.”
Reasons for overexplaining trauma
According to neuroscientist and BrainTap inventor Patrick Porter, PhD, the urge to over-explain oneself usually stems from childhood trauma. “If the person feels abandoned in some way, he learns to please others so they don’t leave him,” he says. “Sometimes they have been so polarized by fight-flight-freeze responses that the behaviors they over-explain develop unconsciously during childhood.”
Additionally, Dr. Porter points out that sycophantic behaviors can develop as a result of being told to hide your emotions as a child. After hiding emotions for so long, they can become difficult to process. “If a person has difficulty identifying her feelings or is out of touch with her feelings because he has been taught to depersonalize emotions, he may eventually develop subservient or over-explanatory behaviors,” says Dr. Porter. “If the person feels like she was raised in a home where she wasn’t allowed to be a leader and never took on that leadership role, he identifies in a way that he becomes a follower and accommodating.”
Another reason someone may develop a tendency to flatter is because they don’t feel heard, either as a child or as an adult. “When we didn’t feel heard or were made to feel guilty, intentionally or unintentionally as children, a desire not to feel guilty developed and can manifest in pleasing people as adults,” explains Sex, Relationships, and Mental Health. health therapist Rachel Wright, LMFT. “Furthermore, someone who has experienced gaslighting at any age may develop a habit of explaining too much so that the person she is talking to cannot distort her words. Also, depending on the type of trauma experienced, we sometimes over-explain to avoid disappointing someone by giving them their reasoning.”
How to stop overexplaining trauma
Since over-explaining can lead to abandoning yourself in favor of pleasing someone else, it’s important to find ways to overcome the phenomenon of flattery.
When working to overcome the urge to over-explain, Dr. Porter and Fenkel agree that slowing down is key. “Slow down before you launch into an over-explanation,” says Fenkel. “Try to pay attention and acknowledge how you feel—anxious? Afraid? Stressed? Be patient with the process and trust that your feelings are just information, not facts. Just because you’re afraid to be direct or set a boundary, for example, doesn’t mean you’re in imminent danger. That’s your response to trauma speaking. Assess the situation, take a deep breath, and try to resist the urge to over-explain or compromise your boundaries.”
If you find this particularly challenging, Dr. Porter adds that adopting a regular mindfulness practice can help. “Most people have problems with past, present, and future information at the subconscious level because that level of the mind doesn’t discern time in the same way,” he says. “Basically, our subconscious stores all experiences together like beads on a string. So if you pull an account, you have all the options.” However, if he can slow down his thoughts, he says that he will have a better chance of monitoring his responses. “This is where mindfulness and BrainTap come into play,” he adds. “They help you train your brain to slow down and figure out what’s really going on in any given situation, replay those choices in your mind in a way that’s helpful and positive, and with practice, you can detach from the flattery and respond with natural and normal responses.”
And if that doesn’t work, seeking professional help certainly can.
At the end of the day, many things can contribute to a person overexplaining as a result of trauma. That said, Dr. Porter says the biggest reason is that someone has trauma from childhood abuse.
“It can be verbal, physical or environmental, and it causes trauma that produces the sycophantic response,” he says. “In my experience, the main reason people have become too self-explanatory is that they were taught by their parents or loved ones that love was conditional and that they had to work for it as a child. There were always conditions to love. This leads someone to be an over-explainer and produces trauma on a mental level.”
It also leads people to feel like they don’t belong, which is yet another reason why someone might over explain. “In many ways, over-explaining indicates that someone doesn’t feel like they deserve space in their conversations or relationships,” says Fenkel. “Explaining yourself too much can also mean that you are afraid of any conflict or negative reaction to what you are trying to talk about or ask about.”
The good news is that therapy can help. Since flattery is often the result of some kind of trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood, talking to a licensed therapist can help understand the trauma and ultimately mitigate the PTSD that triggers the traumatic response it explains. too.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with a counselor online.
If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence and needs support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224.