Am I Overthinking This? 3 Types of Overthinking
By Morgan Duperroir, LPC
“I can’t believe I did that.”
“I bet they hate me now.”
“After yesterday, I’ll never be able to show my face again.”
These statements and many more often haunt people that struggle with overthinking. Though common for many, overthinking can be crippling at times. Overthinking can impact our relationships, decision-making, and general life satisfaction. There are many categories of this type of cognitive distortion, but this post covers three types of overthinking patterns. Identifying these patterns is the first step to overcoming them.
The first type of overthinking is catastrophizing.
A catastrophe is a disaster. Whether you’ve been through a disaster once or disasters seem to follow you around, sometimes it can be challenging to not expect the worst. In fact, research shows that anxiety can actually develop as a result of trauma, especially chronic trauma. Catastrophizing is a type of overthinking that means a person’s first response is to jump to the worst-case-scenario.
When I think of a person that could have been bent toward catastrophizing, I think of Joseph in the Old Testament. Joseph, whose rollercoaster of a life is well-documented in Genesis 37-50, was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slaverly, wrongly imprisoned, and falsely accused. His life was basically a series of worst-case-scenarios. Although his story ends on a positive note, his disaster-filled life could have absolutely defined his thinking patterns. Instead, Joseph accepted his brothers’ apology by saying, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20, ESV). Joseph’s perspective reflects a peace not experienced in catastrophic thinking. He could have easily overanalyzed this apology, doubting the authenticity of the apology, holding resentment, or worrying about the next worst-case-scenario. Instead, he graciously accepted the apology and gave God the glory.
Here are two quick points about Joseph’s life that may help you begin your journey toward freedom from catastrophic thinking:
- Joseph had deep faith. While faith isn’t like a magic wand, it is an important step toward freedom. If you’ve avoided exploring your own faith lately, it may be time to wipe the dust off your Bible and examine the emotions you’re experiencing about God.
- Joseph chose to look at the best-case-scenario. After everything Joseph went through, he fought to look at the possibility of something good. This perspective doesn’t mean Joseph was an optimist. (In fact, the way Joseph prepared for the famine shows that Joseph was a realist at best.) This perspective does, however, mean Joseph chose to hope even when that meant setting himself up for disappointment.
That said, if you’re struggling with anxiety you’ve likely tried shifting your perspective. You may have even shamed yourself for jumping to the worst-case-scenario. It may feel totally unattainable to be like Joseph. Remember, Joseph spent many years literally and figuratively imprisoned. While we have a lot of details of his life, we don’t know what the process of him getting to such a relaxed mental, emotional, and spiritual place was like. Don’t lose heart or think you are beyond hope. You’re not!
The second type of overthinking is over-generalizing.
If you struggle with overthinking, it may be tempting to think going into specific thoughts is a thought spiral you will never escape; however, over-generalizing is a common cognitive distortion that can significantly impact a person’s overall well-being. Over-generalizing means creating some sort of generic truth out of a specific (and possibly unique) situation. For example, “medical professionals are bad” may be a deeply held truth because of one or two experiences in a hospital, clinic, or ambulance. Another example might be, “I’m a failure” as a result of one bad grade in a class.
A good method to begin reducing this type of overthinking is to try to look at yourself like you’d look at a friend or family member. If your beloved friend made one bad grade, you likely wouldn’t write them off as a failure. Chances are you would give them a little more grace than you give yourself. If you are really struggling with this concept, it may even be necessary to ask a trusted friend for his or her perspective. It is amazing how the Lord can use another person to help us overcome difficult, paralyzing thoughts.
The third type of overthinking is all-or-nothing thinking.
“Everything,” “nothing,” “always,” and “never” are a few of the words flagging all-or-nothing thinking. If you find yourself saying these words inside your head or outside your head, you may be struggling with this type of overthinking. Although there are certainly many black-and-white truths in the world, all-or-nothing thinking typically involves a situation. For example, “If I don’t get this promotion, I’ll never succeed in my career.” All-or-nothing thinking often puts unnecessary pressures and expectations on situations that don’t merit such high standing. In fact, all-or-nothing thinking often reveals idols as we put our hope in something other than God.
It’s a common myth that some personalities are just geared toward all-or-nothing thinking. It is true that all of us are naturally geared toward sin (and, thus, all kinds of thought distortions) as a result of the fall, but there is not a specific personality type that is more prone to all-or-nothing thinking. A first step to overcoming this type of overthinking may be separating your identity from being a certain type of thinker. You are not defined by your thinking patterns, especially those that aren’t from the Lord. Instead, meditate on how the Lord defines you.
The media content at Morning Light Christian Counseling is never meant to be a replacement for diagnostic services or therapeutic treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with overthinking, give us a call today or visit the contact page on our website. We’d be happy to set you up with one of our skilled, professional counselors. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please make sure to call 911, head to your nearest ER, or contact the National Suicide Hotline immediately.