We have all been on the receiving end of a text or comment that leaves us thinking, ‘wait, what?’. The ensuing internal dialogue of ‘what did that actually mean, why did they use that word, are they being sarcastic and are they subtly trying to say something else’ is one I am (hopefully) sure most of us are well-versed in. While it may be no Shakespearian monologue, it can be one of the most dramatic, perhaps even tragic, few minutes of the day, week or maybe month. Similarly, as a self-professed highly intuitive person, there have been countless times when I would bet my life on the fact that I can just tell that behind the seemingly pleasant words, or microscopically subtle changes in behaviour, I know exactly what that person is thinking. If picking up on a vibe was a degree, I would sail through my PhD. This behaviour is not gender-specific, ‘psycho’ or unnatural; it is simple human nature. However, far too often when I decide to discuss the spiralling thought process I am met with the single most annoying sentence: ‘you’re just overthinking this.’
Overthinking, spiralling, analysis paralysis, whatever you would like to call it is not something to be undermined or dismissed. There is a case for overthinking in certain situations, when someone is genuinely overanalysing a harmless situation to within an inch of its life and jumping to irrational conclusions, often rendering the person unable to respond to a situation or to experience an unnecessary emotional response. There are also times when ‘overthinking’ is valid, which if you ask me should not be called overthinking at all. In either situation, simply telling someone that they are overthinking is not the best way to handle it. Telling me that I am overthinking is entirely dismissing and ridiculing my emotions or opinions, showing me that not only are you not interested in listening but that you think I am being irrational. There are many reasons why people may do this. They may actually think they are helping, they make think you are being dramatic or in many cases their narcissistic tendencies may have surfaced and they would rather explain their own overthinking than listen to yours. Many people, particularly in younger generations, are terrible at communication. The camouflage of passive aggression blends perfectly with the bland hue of our society, with the comical ‘roast’ providing a cloak of invisibility for genuine anger. If there was ever a time or place for overthinking it would be now. Picking up on subtleties, reading into questionable comments, within reason, is an invaluable tool for understanding each other. In my opinion, it is a sign of respect that you are willing to invest your time in considering whether someone is hiding a problem, rather than overlooking any warning signs.
The problem with overthinking is internalisation. Saying something out loud and saying it in your head are two very different things. The process of having to explain your thoughts can often shed light on situations, make you think differently or more clearly and allow you to see how others interpret the issue. To shut down someone’s thoughts by labelling it is as overthinking is to strip them of their credibility and confidence, make them feel misunderstood and undermine their right to an opinion. There is often more good than harm from analysing a situation and it has frequently saved myself and my friendships. If you think someone is genuinely overthinking, the least you can do is just to listen. Provide them with a sounding board, a platform for them to hear it themself, or give them the benefit of the doubt that either you are missing something or perhaps they just know that person better. If your opinion is that they are overanalysing, it is perfectly okay to explain that, but make it clear that this is your opinion and not a fact. When you shut down someone’s natural response, you are forcing them to internalise their thoughts which can often lead to even bigger issues. The message is simple; even if you think I’m overthinking, just sit back, relax and occasionally nod your head.