What Is “Worthsplaining” and Why Do We Need to Stop Doing It?

3 min
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How much time do you spend each day explaining yourself? It might be on those lengthy work emails detailing everything that’s happened at home and the office that got in the way of your immediate reply (it’s called life). Or those message streams pinging into your friend’s DMs to lay out all the reasons you’re unable to meet for that coffee you’d both penciled in (again, life). Or perhaps you find yourself apologizing again and again throughout the day – reaching for the defense of explaining exactly why you were so slow, fast, loud, quiet, absent, in the way, or anything you could possibly be judged, attacked, or deemed less than superhuman for. It’s called “worthsplaining” – a new term that was coined by life coach Kate MacGowan - and many of us are guilty of it. But this compulsion is a symptom of low self-esteem – and it might be making things worse.

Let us explain

When you feel the need to explain your actions or decisions, you are seeking validation because you are afraid you might let someone down. You are looking for reassurance that you haven’t done anything “wrong” because you can’t trust your own instincts or abilities. You are also trying to manage someone else’s opinion of you, which is known as people-pleasing. The rationale is that if you explain exactly what, why, where, when, and how, you can make sure no one thinks less of you for whatever slight perceived misdemeanor you feel you have made. But the problem isn’t them – it’s that YOU think less of you. This kind of outer-oriented behavior stems from a low sense of self-worth – a belief that you aren’t worthy of your own inner truth because it is “wrong” or shameful. Worthsplaining is common among people who feel unsafe to just be themselves as it is often a survival mechanism – one that might have begun in children whose autonomy wasn’t encouraged and celebrated. For this reason, it can be incredibly difficult to break the habit as adults.

It's not worth your time

But taking time and effort to over-explain yourself is a major energy drain on your already limited resources. It’s like spending all day looking around for confirmation that you’re doing ok, which means that you are essentially performing a role, rather than living your life for yourself. The irony is that worthsplaining can be a dead giveaway of the insecurity you might be desperately trying to hide. It can also reinforce low self-esteem in the same way that, according to studies, over-apologizing does. Chronic worthsplaining just deepens the neural pathways that falsely believe you are only worthy and safe if someone else has a full understanding of your motivations – thus giving that “someone else” all the power over your peace of mind.

How to stop worthsplaining

Think about the difference between a co-worker saying to you, “Oh my gosh, thank you for waiting – I have had a DAY!” and moving on with your meeting, versus them spending fifteen minutes detailing all the things that actually happened to them and how it was everyone else’s fault that they were a few minutes late. Do you respect them more for acknowledging that you waited and then honoring your time by getting on with the meeting, or would you rather sit through a long-winded explanation for their tardiness? Do you feel you need to know the ins-and-outs of their day, or is your head already full of your own stuff? Keep this in mind each time the urge to over-explain yourself kicks in, but go easy on yourself too: Since the compulsion to worthsplain can be so linked to our sense of internal safety, it might be too difficult to go cold turkey. With some attention and intention, it is something that can be addressed over time, however. Begin by noticing when you are doing it. Read through your emails and text messages before you press "send", and just become aware of this behavior. Ask yourself what is motivating you to over-explain yourself. Set yourself small challenges, in low-stakes situations, to just say something like, “Thanks so much for the invite but I can’t come. Hope it goes well!”, or “Thanks for waiting – how are you?”, and nothing more. Keep flexing this muscle until it gets easier. And if you’re really struggling, think about working on your self-esteem, and getting support from a therapist or coach. Remind yourself as often as you can that the only person you are accountable to is yourself: No explanation needed.

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Want to improve your confidence, boost your sense of self-worth, stop worthsplaining, and unlock all of the benefits that that can unleash in your life? Take our course on “How To Build Self-Esteem” by renowned psychologist and self-esteem expert Dr. Virgil Ziegler-Hill!

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Refusing To Apologize Can Have Psychological Benefits; Neurobiological Underpinnings Of Shame And Guilt: A Pilot FMRI Study; The Self-Liking Brain: A VBM Study On The Structural Substrate Of Self-Esteem.

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