Overthinking: what are we thinking over?
There are as many versions of truth as there are people in the world. While we can agree on some universal truths, the way we incorporate them into our inner selves reflects our unique ‘mental prints’. Throughout life, we grow closer to some of these truths as they transform into our core values, influencing and representing us in society. Some of us are willing to do anything to fight and protect what we believe in, constructing mental defense and offense strategies that are in accordance with how we perceive reality in a particular moment in time. The process of elaborating these strategies happens in the grand palaces of our minds and it involves plenty of voluntary or involuntary thinking, based on past experiences and the effects they had on us. Sometimes, this thinking can take over.
Thinking over the present.
We are overthinking when the flow of thoughts seems to never end, carrying us away from where we are. We get stranded in our own heads, trying to find our way back to a place with less noise, where we can relax and enjoy just being, existing. Overthinking can be a form of escapism. We know that our brain’s main goal is to keep us safe and protect us from what it perceives as being dangerous, painful or hurtful to us. In a situation where living in the present can be seen as a threat by our mind, it will do what it does best: distract us in order to shelter us from something that is overwhelming.
Thinking over reason.
It’s quite difficult to differentiate between healthy rationalizing and overthinking. Let’s say we found ourselves in a situation where the present moment brings forth a challenge. In order to better contain the emotions that are triggered when this happens, we rely on our brain to put on the hat of objectivity and present us with the cold, hard facts and make it easier for us to confront the challenge at hand. In reality, things are not this straightforward and easy. A mentally healthy individual cannot and should not separate their brain from their sentiments, since our humanity resides in the mix of the two. Therefore, our emotions can and will influence our thought process, instantly taking us into one or several possible future outcomes, many of which are scary.
‘Learning how to ride a bike in my 40s is absolutely ridiculous. It’s not for me, I should've done it when I was young, it’s too late now. Plus, I don’t need it anyway, it’s a waste of time and a certain recipe for disaster, as I will most likely fall and break something. Not to mention how silly I would look. No, it’s clearly a ridiculous idea.’
Thinking over pain.
While all of the above might as well be true, that’s just one way of looking at the challenge of learning how to ride a bike in our 40s. Our emotions tailor trains of thought to make us aware of their existence. The softer, more vulnerable reality of this situation could be that we might be afraid that we won’t be able to learn as fast or as well as we wanted; or that we are afraid of being ridiculed by others as we used to be by our parents when we were young and wanted to become a real magician and performed our sloppy tricks in front of them. The pain of that child who received only mockery when experimenting and trying out new things is still there. That drive and joy of discovery was replaced by caution and the lines they heard as feedback. And that feedback finds its way into our overthinking in any similar situation we encounter.
‘That’s ridiculous. You need to be more invested in serious activities, not the ones that waste your time. Do your homework, read a book. Plus, all these scarves you’re running around with can trip you and you can fall and break something. Grow up, you’re not a baby anymore!’
Thinking over growth.
We overthink so we can survive. Our cerebral persona is mostly gratified and validated, since thinking with your brain instead of your heart is often associated with power, maturity and stability. But using our brain with the only purpose of preserving the status quo can keep us from learning and evolving. When we’re too busy to think of ways to avoid what might hurt us, we miss the things that might teach us. Although no one willingly wants to experience pain and sadness, it can be useful in our growth process; as an element instead of an overall outcome. We can learn to accept that our process can be seen as a whole, instead of being reduced to its inconvenient parts that trigger old overwhelming pains. And that when they are triggered - as they inevitably will be - we can get off our opulent train of thoughts at any point, facing these pains with the bravery and maturity of the gentle grownup instead of the fear and inexperience of the hurt child.
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