Obsessive Thinking

mindyourownbusinessSometimes we “boil ourselves” as my meditation teacher used to say. Something has happened, is happening, or could happen, and we obsess and spiral and get so caught up dwelling on this unwanted turn of events, we lose hours and create incredible stress and pain for ourselves.

This happens frequently around breakups, or in the context of acrimonious relationships. We feel rejected, judged or completely misunderstood, and we go over the details like a detective trying to solve a case. Where was the moment? What was that one thing we said or did that turned the tides and changed things forever? Or we tell and retell our story of how many different ways we were wronged so many times, it becomes mythic. We get caught up in defending ourselves, as if the other person’s opinion is true, even if we know in our hearts it is not. (If you need help snapping out of obsessive thinking, if you’re stuck in a cycle with yourself or someone else that’s causing you pain, try this.) We might replay a conversation that’s already happened, rewriting our lines again and again until we’ve had the perfect comeback in every moment, or we’ve said just the right thing to make everything turn out the way we wish it would have, or we might imagine a conversation that hasn’t happened yet, and get ourselves worked up as though it’s happening exactly this way, right now.

Your nervous system can’t differentiate between a painful conversation you’re actually having, or one you’re rewriting or creating in your head. If your breath is shallow and your blood pressure is going up and your shoulders are around your ears and your jaw is clenching, does it really matter if it’s real or imagined? Your thoughts create chemical reactions in your body, so allowing yourself to fixate on something outside your control can really take a toll, and if it’s happening for an extended period of time, if you find yourself dwelling on your recent or not-so-recent ex, for example, ¬†and what s/he is doing, and with whom s/he’s doing it, it’s really time to pick your mind up and come back to the now. Otherwise it’s like story hour, except the librarian is drunk and angry, the doors are locked, and she keeps reading the same story over and over again.

You can’t redo the past, and you can’t predict the future. You can make yourself sick trying to time-travel, though. There’s no point making yourself nauseated over the great relationship your ex is now having with someone else. Maybe it’s great, and maybe it’s a mess, or maybe they’re three weeks in and getting swept away by hormones, thinking, “This is it!!” People do that all the time, and then when the dust/lust clears, things get real. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter. Your work is always to manage your own mind, heart, choices and actions. If the quality of your thoughts is causing you pain, you have to come back to nurturing yourself.

Loss, fear, grief, rejection, jealousy, insecurity, loneliness, shame and guilt are not easy to lean into, but that’s the best way to release the heat of your feelings. Remembering that feelings are not forever, and they aren’t facts, either, can be enormously helpful. How you feel now is not how you will always feel. Opening to things as they are is empowering and liberating. Releasing your grip on the story and the players, and allowing people to be who they are as the plot unfolds the way it will, is the strongest stance I know. I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight for things, or stand up for yourself or others when that’s the right thing to do. Honest communication is always good; being able to express how things are for you, calmly, and with compassion is beautiful. That’s really the best you can do.

People can only be where they are, they have whatever tools they have. You’re not going to save someone with your love. You’re not going to teach someone the error of their ways. We all have to do our own journeys. Wishing you strength, love, and the hope that you’ll stop boiling yourself if you have been. Love feels a lot better.

Ally Hamilton

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