Since You Asked…

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Dear Caroline:

I don’t know if it’s my honest face, personality or my calling from God, but people — friends, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers — often corner me and tell me very personal stories and problems. While I feel honor-bound to be helpful and patient, sometimes I feel uncomfortable with the amount of detailed personal information thrown in my lap.

And, to be honest, I’m not always in the mood for it — especially when these people repeat themselves over and over and don’t let me get a word in.

I want to do the right thing, but sometimes it’s all too much. After all, I have problems of my own.

You’re an advice columnist, so you’re used to hearing problems. I’m not.

What shall I do?

…Tired Ears

Dear Tired:

You can always suggest they write me at

But since you asked, let me give you another solution as well.

Generally, when people speak as if they’re driven by a motor — too much repetition, too many personal details, not letting you get a word in — it’s their anxiety speaking — not them.

The best thing you can do in this situation is to keep them from embarrassing themselves by divulging too much personal information in the heat of the moment, either about themselves or a person they’re upset with.

So here’s the drill: When a silent alarm goes off in your head, slowly put up your hand like a police officer directing traffic and gently but firmly say: “Hold on, please. I know you’re very upset, but you’re talking so fast that I know it’s the anxiety I’m hearing, not you. I’ve done the same thing. We all have. The trouble is that later on, once you’ve gotten hold of yourself, you’ll hate me for hearing all of this.”

After that, suggest they table the conversation for a more appropriate time, and place after they’ve had a chance to think things through and when you are in a state of mind to give them your full attention.

Most times, they’ll realize they’re out of control, and if the subject comes up again, it won’t be so fraught.

If they insist on continuing like a broken pipe that can’t help but gush water, stop them again and say: “I don’t know what I’m hearing because it’s so much, so help me out, please. Are you looking for advice, sympathy or just a sounding board? I’m sorry, but I can’t be all three at once.”

That, again, might be an effective reality check.

While I believe that all of us should be kind and caring, nobody’s mind is a garbage dump for others to exploit habitually.

I hope this advice helps you set boundaries without guilt.


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