On Overthinking

When does contemplation become overthinking? 

I've been accused of overthinking things for as long as I can remember. Admittedly, this tendency of mine to perhaps hyper-analyze hasn’t won me many friends, but it has helped me successfully navigate some difficult human interactions.

I have a habit of trying to pay close attention to a person’s body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, word choices, etc. I call this practice “really listening.” I believe that the bulk of human communication is unspoken, and most people will unconsciously reveal much more of what they are thinking in nonverbals than with the spoken word. Interpreting the nonverbal clues, however, requires some intuitive analysis that is sometimes inaccurate. Not everyone is transparent. 

Of course, for those who tend to take everyone at their word, or at strictly face value, what I just described is overthinking things. People just aren’t that complicated, I have been told. 

I am a person. I am complicated. I suppose I am not all that unique. So, in keeping with my presupposition about nonverbals, I usually try to manipulate and control mine unless I am around people I completely trust. And for me that level of trust is slowly earned and easily lost. 

I once had a boss who told me I retained a strong military bearing, "Obviously from your time in the Air Force." What he was actually saying is that he found me "difficult to read.” I simply didn’t reveal much through nonverbals, at least around him. 

So, do I overthink things? Maybe. So what. One thing I’ve noticed is that people love to criticize and condemn each other for their various differences. It seems (at times) like everyone views life as some sort of a competition, even if the winnings are vacuous. Who cares if I overthink things? Overthinking is part of me. If I am not “overthinking” about whatever catches my attention, then I am not interested in that topic. For me, not attempting to acquire a deep understanding about something (or someone) is akin to or equal to apathy. My detractors apparently would prefer I just lose interest in whatever I’m thinking or overthinking, especially if it has anything to do with topics or persons they hold as sacrosanct.  

Above all, do not talk about people, either blaming, or praising, or comparing them.  – Enchiridion of Epictetus, 33.2

Since my personality is firmly established, I suppose I’ll continue to overthink the people, places and issues I care about. I've recently realized, however, that I will gain a measure of freedom from anxiety by less  verbalizing of my "disturbing-to-some" thoughts. Who knows, in the process of "zipping my lips" I may also succeed in freeing myself from any further thoughts about my accusers. 


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