We’ve all had friends who say way too much. They tell us things that we really didn’t want to know. They don’t watch themselves. They don’t know when to stop talking even when you send all the right signals. In psychology, we call these people low self-monitors. They don’t seem to be able to observe their self-presentation or modify their behavior in response to feedback. In common terms, we call these friends classic oversharers.
Among friends, oversharing can be amusing. I recall more than one car ride home with my wife after a gathering with friends: “You won’t believe what Jaime told me about Rick! She is such an oversharer.” Oversharing can be annoying when someone monopolizes the conversation with detailed information about his experience. Oversharing can be awkward. Have you ever been interacting with someone who shares very personal information in a situation when it isn’t really appropriate to do so? A person who overshares (who is a low self-monitor) will almost always suffer interpersonal consequences, but typically, it won’t ruin her life. In the context of a security clearance investigation though, oversharing can be devastating to your career.
The Line Between Honesty and Oversharing
Investigators are tasked with gathering and verifying as much information about you as possible so adjudicator’s can accurately evaluate your suitability for access to national security information. It makes sense then that they explore the nooks and crannies of your life to find potential red flags. They research your attitudes about America and foreign influences. They shine a light on your sexual behaviors, habits, financial history, and on your hobbies and personal activities. They ask about where you’ve traveled, how much alcohol and drugs you’ve used, and if you’ve ever been in trouble with the law. They look closely at any mental health history you may have had. It is important to be forthright during your security clearance investigation, but you don’t have to confess to every mistake you’ve ever made. In fact, investigators have confided that applicants often volunteer information about flaws and failings about which they were never asked! While investigators (and adjudicators) are fair people who are good at sorting relevant from unimportant information, there is no good reason to offer more disparaging material about yourself than is necessary.
Role of the Psychological Evaluation in the Clearance Process
Don’t be an oversharer when you talk to a security clearance investigator and monitor your disclosures when you go for a mental health evaluation too. Psychological evaluations are a fairly common part of the clearance investigation process. If you have a history of alcohol problems, rule-violating behaviors, interpersonal or work conflicts, or psychiatric concerns, there is a good chance you will be asked to participate in one. You may believe that when you speak with a psychologist, the information you share is kept confidential. This is most often the case in a clinical context where your information is only disclosed without your permission when you or someone else is in danger. In the context of a security investigation, the psychologist most often works for the government agency requesting the evaluation. You should keep in mind then that anything you tell the psychologist working in this nonclinical role could be reported to the government.
Oversharing is Rarely a Good Look
Try to find a balance when deciding what to tell the psychologist and what to keep to yourself. Be open and honest when answering questions. If you try to hide important information, the psychologist may not know exactly what you are concealing but will probably see you as evasiveness. This may lead to more derogatory opinions about you than would have been the case if you were more forthright. Still, answering questions truthfully doesn’t mean you have to tell all. You are not required to divulge all the gory details about your life and experience. For example, if asked if you ever experienced sexual abuse, you might answer honestly by saying, “Yes, when I was a teenager.” When asked for additional details you prefer not to give, politely say, “I would rather not share any additional information about that in this context.” In the security clearance process, psychologists expect you to try to put your best foot forward to some degree. After all, you may feel like your job is on the line. Oversharing may actually lead the psychologist to question your judgement, but setting limits on your disclosures demonstrates a strong sense of self and healthy interpersonal boundaries.
It’s Okay to Not Tell All During Your Psych Eval
If you are asked to do a security clearance psychological evaluation, there is nothing to fear. Approach the evaluation with candor, but remember it is okay to keep some of your private life to yourself. Oversharing may lead to some funny moments in your social life, but it usually doesn’t help you in a psychological evaluation.