**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
The brain is a tool… very powerful and useful at times for working through challenging life problems and figuring out ways to ensure survival. On the other hand, the brain is a tool that sometimes gets overused to the point of rendering it barely useful when it is needed most. A concrete example of overusing a tool would be to think of yourself as a carpenter and that you have a fancy drill for drilling holes, etc., however even when you have no need for drilling holes you continue running the drill at full speed. Another concrete example in this regard would be to imagine that you have a vehicle for driving, however even when you have no need to use all the engine power to get somewhere you continue pressing on the gas pedal.
It makes sense that overuse of any tool would reduce the tool’s overall effectiveness, and possibly even break the tool, right? The brain, considered like this, isn’t much different.
When a person is trying to figure out how to manage intense emotions, such as in cases of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), it is an added problem to be thinking at length when it isn’t necessary. It is a problem because emotions go hand-in-hand with thoughts, and so if a person is thinking, say, 70% more thoughts than are needed to solve life’s immediate problems and ensure survival, then that is going to be A LOT of additional/unnecessary emotional weight (at least 70%, right?). The sad part is that a person with BPD usually has no idea how harmful and self-defeating his over-thinking habits are to him, and so he just continues on (and on…) unaware of the consequences and finding himself unable to function when needed.
One of the reasons a person with BPD uses over-thinking is because there is an anxious urge to try and avoid difficult emotional experience, and so he tries to anticipate how life events will unfold in advance… considering all the various details and running scenarios in his head. He believes he can make it all very controllable and predictable, as long as he just thinks long and hard enough about all the details. He believes he can get out of the emotional challenge. He can’t!
It is understandable that a person who is yet to become confident in feeling difficult emotions would tend to overuse the brain in attempts to look for every possible emotional escape route. On the other hand, it is completely unrealistic to for anyone to believe that all of the difficult emotions experienced in life can be avoided. A more realistic plan would be to set aside some time for planning, but then stop the planning, carry out the plans, and expect to have many unexpected/unanticipated life experiences as the plans unfold. All of the unexpected/unanticipated moments that happen along the way can then be used for practicing feeling. Yes, practicing feeling!!
And so this is the secret to ridding yourself of overthinking: Get good at feeling. If you know that you can tolerate and work through any emotional state that arises as you live out your life, then the need for micromanaging life events and continuous planning is much reduced. It is therefore important to develop habits of looking inwards, mindfully, self-reflectively, so as to get good at noticing what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it. This means being willing (even eager) to discover and feel the real emotions that are commonly overshadowed by anger and defensiveness. Are you willing to feel?
The good news about learning to be present with real emotions is that you can get really good at recognizing and processing them. In addition to studying and practicing mindfulness to discover and feeling emotions, there are excellent methods that involve using the breath to enhance your capacity for present moment awareness. I recommend reading The Presence Process, by Michael Brown, and then seeking out opportunities to experience conscious connected breathwork, either individually or in groups.
When you get good at taking care of yourself in this way, you then start to free yourself from dependence on habits and vices, such as overthinking. There are in fact many other types of habits and vices that people use in addition to, or alternative to, overthinking, but the purpose of the behaviors is usually the same… trying to control how life feels and believing you can avoid the reality of feeling.
photo credit: torbakhopper IMPEACH — i’ll stop the world to meld in you & the hypenated notes on your INSANE DUMPRTRUCK PRESIDENT who can’t do his business in the sandbox without shtting on the u.s. constitution which no one cares about anyway, scott richard via photopin (license)