Overthinking or Under-Answered
I hear it every day, as a therapist listening to my clients, as a mother listening to my children, in the grocery story listening to others that I probably should not be listening to. I hear people say “I should stop overthinking,” or “If I could just stop overthinking, then I would feel better.”
When I hear clients say this, I respond by asking “I’m wondering what you mean by overthinking?” Usually there is a pause, a silence, and in the silence I can begin to see my clients think, to shift for a moment from looking outside of themselves to looking inward.
I can see and feel their connection to their cognitions. The silence is usually followed by a clear articulation of exactly what the person is thinking about.
I then ask, “How do you usually respond to your important thought?” This question is often answered quickly. They respond by saying, “I don’t respond,” “I push it away,” “I tell myself I am overthinking,” or “My mother always told me I ask too many questions.”
People who are labeled as overthinkers are usually people who are great thinkers, who question deeply and have the ability to think critically. They are courageous enough to challenge oppressive systems and try to make meaning. These thinkers usually have not been listened to, validated, honored, or received.
When people are told they are overthinking, it not only leaves these questions unasked, but unanswered, and in this unanswered abyss symptomology often comes forth, integration is severed, and voice is often silenced.
People need to be listened to and answered. If one is not listened to it can often lead to symptoms of anxiety. Have you ever heard a child ask their caregiver a question and watch what happened when they are not answered? Usually one of two things occur. Firstly, the child keeps asking, determined to be listened to. The more the caregiver does not respond the more the child asks, but with each repetition the child becomes more anxious. Secondly, they just plain stop asking. They shut down and become disconnected, often feeling powerless and unheard. Telling someone they are overthinking can yield the same results. It becomes a way to not answer or to ignore and often leads to anxiety and disconnection with self.
I often tell clients that the self is made up of three realms: the cognitive, the emotional, and the somatic, and that integration is a dance between the three realms. If a client has cognitive proclivities and does not have a chance to listen to their cognitions it often impedes this dance. Honoring thoughts does not stop the flow between thoughts, emotions, and the somatic, but rather it is a entree into the process of integration.
We are nonverbal before we are verbal, and our pathway towards becoming verbal strengthens as our needs are met. Not being answered as described earlier, or being told you are overthinking can often cause silence. When one is silenced the choice to verbally set boundaries becomes diminished.
I ask my clients what would happen if instead of saying you are overthinking, saying you are under-answered. Instead of deleting and denying your thoughts, working together on ways to respond to them and honor them. As a result, I have the privilege of receiving my clients’ great thoughts, receiving their deep emotions, and watching their voices emerge and find their power.
As winter is upon us, we often have more time to sit and think. I invite you to honor your thoughts, listen to them, answer them and see where they lead you. If you would like to collaborate in the process, therapy is a place where you can come and hear yourself think, have those thoughts received and learn how to honor and answer them.