The title of today’s post is more than just a little inspired by Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, a TV show that I recently saw a handful of episodes of. I won’t go into details about the show, nor will I tell you whether I like it or not. Zero spoilers ahead!
What this post is rather about is – you may have guessed it – obsessive thinking*. Now, I’m aware that this doesn’t sound like a very healthy habit, and it most probably isn’t. That being said, I occasionally tend to engage in obsessive thinking, usually when things don’t go my way or the way I had hoped/planned they would, or when I feel like I’m not in control (which, unfortunately, is the case quite often since most parts of life are inherently uncontrollable).
In general, when it comes to the “important things” (AKA the things that matter to me at a given moment in time), my brain operates in the larger vicinity of one of the two extremes which are 1. slightly obsessed and 2. completely uninterested.
Writing things down usually helps me with processing everything that happened (well, okay, maybe not everything, since not all experiences require the same amount of processing – luckily, some things are easier to get over than others). In some cases however, writing things down and reflecting on the reasons why something happened or why someone behaved the way they did or why I feel the way I do… isn’t enough to make me stop thinking about the issue all the time.
Sometimes I do everything I’m supposed to do: feel all the feelings, analyse what happened, find out why everyone involved – including me – reacted the way they did, write everything down (multiple times!), figure out where it all went wrong and what I can do better next time and finally, distract myself with exercising and other activities that I enjoy, and yet, I still can’t seem to keep my mind off the one thing. Whenever that happens, I can be sure that I’m way past the point of over-analysing – which I’m also prone to – and that I’ve entered the realm of obsessive thinking.
Obsessive thinking makes it impossible to stop thinking about something or someone, no matter how hard I try not to. The thing I try not to think about is on my mind when I try to get some work done, when I try to distract myself with a movie or a book, when I try to go to sleep and so on. Every now and then I forget about it for a few minutes, but that never lasts.
In the past, I had been thinking obsessively about ex-boyfriends, no matter the reason why the relationships ended and even when I knew that they had to end. I thought about my ex(es) constantly after the break-up(s), wondering what they were up to, wanting to know what was going on in their life, as if it still mattered, and it therefore took me half an eternity to move on and get over them. I’ve always had a hard time accepting that people whom I once shared my life with were suddenly no longer in my life. How can one go from being in touch all the time to not speaking at all?!
This remains a hard pill to swallow for me to this day and whenever I find myself in a similar situation, I have a tendency to put people on a pedestal: I obsess over the good things whereas I forget about the not-so-good things that are usually the reason why the relationship ended in the first place.
Not very long ago, I found myself thinking obsessively again: I was fretting about all the ‘what ifs’ that obviously never actually happened (and were never going to happen, for that matter) and replaying enjoyable memories (about a specific person) in my mind over and over, in total disregard of all the reasons why ending the relationship was the right decision. If such an obsession isn’t nipped in the bud right away, it risks blowing out of proportion, which it somewhat did this time as well. I was constantly in a strange mood which then caused me to actively think about all the good memories in relation with that person as a way of soothing my frazzled nervous system. I felt terrible partially because I kept giving myself a hard time about engaging in obsessive thinking (again). It’s obviously not a “good” thing and understandably, the most common advice out there is to distract oneself to stop the spiralling. But what is one supposed to do when all efforts to do so are in vain?
Considering that I tried to simply “forget” about people many times and given that I was never very successful in that endeavour, I decided that it was time to reframe what I know to be true and try something new. And so, I did.
This time, instead of trying really hard to keep myself from thinking about a specific person all the time, I gave myself permission to go all in. Not only did I give in to every single urge to check their social media, but I also allowed myself to think about them as much as I wanted to, under one condition:
for every enjoyable memory I allowed myself to dwell in for a little while, I had to come up with at least one less enjoyable one and keep things real at all times – there are no embellishments in this little experiment.
Interestingly, the mere fact that I gave myself permission to obsessively think about them took some of the stress away. I wasn’t worried about missing out on what’s going on in their life anymore and I knew that I could always check their feeds if I wanted to. Knowing that “obsessing” over them is an option in case I feel like I need to resort to such measures takes some of the edge off the experience.
I find that I’m much calmer now and I think I might actually do better this time around. And just in case I’m wrong about this (again) – there’s always gonna be a next time!
*The terms obsession and obsessive thinking as used in this post are not to be confused with serious psychological conditions that interfere with everyday life and therefore may require the help of a professional. Please do seek help if you think that you can’t get obsessive thinking under control by yourself. As always: what works for me may not be the right path for you! 🧡