Student Opinion

How Much Do You Share With Your Friends?

Do you often express your innermost thoughts, feelings and struggles? Or do you keep those vulnerabilities to yourself?

Credit...Ard Su

When was the last time you shared something really personal with a friend — a problem you were struggling with, an embarrassing moment, a crush you had on someone, or anything else?

How did sharing make you feel? Did it bring you and your friend closer? Did you end up regretting it? Why do you think you felt that way?

In “How to Nurse an Oversharing Hangover,” Holly Burns, a New York Times contributor, writes about why being vulnerable is good for our relationships, as well as how to cope when you feel like you’ve shared too much:

In early August, at a tiki bar in Washington, D.C., Erin Pedati told a group of friends that she’d been struggling with depression. They were good friends, and they responded with empathy and compassion, but the next day Ms. Pedati, 40, felt weird.

“Part of me was relieved, because it’s important to have these discussions,” she said. “But another part was like, ‘Oh my god, what did I say?’ You replay the conversation in your head and you’re like, ‘They haven’t replied to my text, did I tell them too much?’”

Instead of a hangover from too many Mai Tais — “which honestly would’ve been easier to treat,” she joked — Ms. Pedati was experiencing a “vulnerability hangover,” a term coined by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, to describe the anxiety, shame and regret felt after divulging something personal.

As humans, we have competing needs “to build connection with other people by being our real selves, but also to conform to social norms, like not sharing too much,” said Emma Seppala, science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University and author of “The Happiness Track.”

The trouble is, it can be tricky to balance those needs simultaneously. While sharing brings the potential boon of intimacy, it also leaves us open to fears of judgment or rejection, Dr. Seppala said. “We may think, ‘Is that person now going to think less of me? Did I display a weakness? Am I safe?’”

A vulnerability hangover might be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating — and it can even be helpful.

Ms. Burns goes on to share suggestions for dealing with a “oversharing hangover,” including:

Put it into perspective.

First, know that other people probably aren’t thinking about your disclosure as much as you are. Thanks to a phenomenon dubbed “the beautiful mess effect,” we generally view our own displays of vulnerability more negatively than those of others.

Think of how you react to other people’s vulnerable moments, Dr. Seppala said. Do you feel more connected to the party guest who’s posturing and pontificating or the one who spills something down their shirt and gets embarrassed about it? For most of us, it’s the latter, “because they’re being natural,” she said. “And when someone is being natural, it gives us permission to be natural too.”

Know that you may have helped someone.

Studies show that vulnerability can increase closeness and build trust, a phenomenon that’s important during an ongoing pandemic, when many of us are still feeling isolated.

At a work event with people she hadn’t seen since 2019, Nicole Baker, 43, found herself revealing that she’d recently gone through breast cancer treatment. That led another attendee to confide that she’d had a stroke earlier in the year, “and so we had this great conversation about health challenges at work, which we wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t shared first,” said Ms. Baker, who works for a nonprofit in Denver.

Reframe it as a learning experience.

One way to remove judgment you feel toward yourself for sharing is to turn it into something constructive, said Michael Tennant, the creator of Actually Curious, a card game that builds empathy and trust. “Reframe it as, ‘What can I learn from this?’”

Examining why you shared something personal — whether it was an unintentional slip or you were deliberately trying to bond — may help inform your future choices, said Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, Calif. Replacing self-flagellation with curiosity can help determine your comfort level “and realize, ‘OK, maybe I’m fine talking about my anxiety or my depression, but I want to be more careful when I’m talking about my finances,’” Dr. Manly said.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • How much do you share with your friends? Do you often express your innermost thoughts, feelings and struggles with them? Or do you tend to keep those kinds of things to yourself?

  • Have you ever experienced an “oversharing hangover,” worrying that you’ve said too much and wondering what someone thinks of you afterward? How did you deal with that feeling? Did it make you want to be more or less vulnerable with others in the future?

  • Emma Seppala said that we tend to connect more with people who are vulnerable and authentic, like the party guest who “spills something down their shirt and gets embarrassed about it,” rather than those who brag or try to appear perfect. Has this been true in your experience? Why do you think that is?

  • The article includes a story from Nicole Baker, who connected with a colleague over health challenges in the workplace after sharing that she had undergone breast cancer treatment. Has sharing something personal ever helped you bond with someone? Tell us about it.

  • What is one thing you will take away from this article about vulnerability? How might it help you in your own life?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.