Help: I’m Talking and I Can’t Shut Up!

Dear Dr. Hurd: I consider myself a compulsive talker.  A talker that gets myself into trouble.  For me it’s not so much an inadaquency as some kind of crazy need to say something or answer someone when an answer is not required.  When I talk I get carried away, and then talk of something without thought to what I am saying. My husband always tells me to THINK before I speak.  The Bible also says talking is not a good thing.  I want to stop, but when trying I then forget that I want to stop talking and really go on and on.  Another problem I have is speaking out loud my thoughts, i.e.:  forgot to do something,  should have done this or that, and when I realize this problem I have already made somewhat a fool of myself and the person who hears now has the feedback that I don’t want to hear.  I have a son who does something like talking out loud, which makes him lose credibility, as with me also.  You can tell as I write that I am a talker. What do you think?


Dr. Hurd replies: It sounds like you’re struggling to think things out — and I’m here to tell you that’s a good thing! Thinking is your friend, your ally, your way of coping with life. Thinking is everything. While thinking is no substitute for action, it’s a necessary condition for making your actions intelligent and valuable. Don’t ever stop thinking.

When you’re talking, you’re attempting to think. It’s not the thinking that’s wrong; it’s the way you’re going about it. Your intentions are good. But you need alternative strategies.

A counselor or psychotherapist might help, at least the kind who will think aloud with you and help you find intelligent solutions. Meet with the counselor or psychotherapist regularly. The counselor is a sounding board, there to help you improve both the clarity and intelligence of your thinking and talking. Also, a counselor won’t condemn you for talking. Once you feel like you have a “safe zone” in which to talk all you want, then it’s easier to tell yourself, “Don’t talk to these other people about my thoughts, especially if they’re not interested; save it for counseling.” The counselor is always interested. As a client of mine once put it, “I like coming to counseling sessions. You have to listen.”

You also might keep a written journal. This is for nobody’s eyes but your own. It’s a place to write down your thoughts and try to work them out. The more you do this thinking on your own, the less impossible it will seem to be quieter around others. You’re blurting things out to others, often inappropriately, because you haven’t yet developed the outlet you need for thinking on your own.

Don’t ask, “What should I put in the journal?” There’s no real right or wrong to it. Just write down your thoughts, as they come. Get them out, if nothing else. Have the journal as an alternative to talking to others. It’s well and good to tell yourself not to talk so much. Your husband’s advice is also good, the advice to THINK before you speak. But thinking before you speak presupposes that you have somewhere else to think! That’s what counseling and/or journal writing is for.

Don’t let anyone, even credentialed professionals, tell you that you’re suffering from an illness. While you do have a problem, it doesn’t mean there’s something deeply and irreparably wrong with you. Don’t view this compulsion to over-talk as some kind of moral flaw. Instead, view it as an undesirable habit that you’re able and willing to change, with effort and time.

I once knew a woman — a neighbor at the time — who talked compulsively, like you do. Even for a professional paid listener like me, it was a sight to behold. She was intelligent and knew she had a problem. She even joked about it, “I’m such a compulsive talker I even drive myself crazy! I just go on and on and I truly cannot shut up!” It made me wonder what it was that she didn’t want to hear.

Could that be the issue with you, as well? You implied so, at the end of your question. Are you perhaps filibustering, as Senators do, to keep an issue from coming to vote that you don’t want to consider? I’m not suggesting you’d do this on purpose. But perhaps you’re afraid of hearing things from others that you do not want to hear, and so you talk to keep that from happening.

If so, then the resolution is to not fear what others have to say. Someone else saying something does not make it so. People can be wrong. Just as you can, so can others. Hear them out and don’t be afraid of what they’ll say. You can critique them with your mind —always — regardless of your words.