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Saturday, 21 March 2015

Thoughts on overthinking


I have a tendency to overthink things; a useful attribute as a blog writer, less so as a wife and mother. Today was definitely an overthinking day, and I spent most of the morning in an infuriating loop of disappointment, guilt and resentment. I'm not sure if anyone else ever experiences this (Drake certainly doesn't seem to) but it drives me bananas when it happens.

As I was turning left out of our estate (with Drake in the passenger seat), a car came towards us. It was quite far over on my side of the road, a fact Drake underlined with a sharp intake of breath and a 'watch out', so I pulled in further to the left to avoid it and in doing so, I clipped the kerb. Nothing major, but on checking later I noticed I had scuffed the alloy. Obviously this is annoying from an expense point of view, but I also tend to throw myself into a tailspin of self-flagellation whenever I do daft stuff like this. Which is quite often - I am rather clumsy, prone to day dreaming and get easily distracted. All that said, I am generally a pretty good driver, and have never had an accident that was my fault (touch wood and all that). The second Drake gets in the car with me though, I turn into a learner all over again, unable to execute even the most straightforward of manoeuvres without flapping. I don't like my abilities being scrutinised at the best of times, but he is a hopeless passenger, and spends most journeys where I drive sat bolt upright like a wary meerkat, checking junctions and warning me of approaching obstacles he thinks I haven't seen. I honestly don't know why he ever suggests I drive, or why I agree. I suspect he's trying to prove that he's not a backseat driver, while I'm tying to prove that I don't always drive like a total pillock. Usually we fail on both fronts - my incompetence makes his wariness greater, which in turn makes my driving crappier.

Anyway, after clipping the kerb, I primarily felt angry at myself for not being more careful. However, I was also peeved at Drake - his reaction on spotting the car had prompted me to move closer to the kerb than was really necessary. So, once I'd noticed the damage, I blamed him for making me overcompensate. He protested and then made me feel guilty because, as he reminded me, I'm the one in control of the car and the decisions I make should be based on my own judgement, not his. Plus I knew I was unfairly taking some of my frustration at myself out on him. I apologised, but as usual, because I was still annoyed, I overdid it ("You'd never have hit the kerb, I'm such an idiot, etc. etc.") Then I became really resentful because a) I know deep down these things happen to us all so I shouldn't be beating myself up (though they do seem to happen to Drake far less...) and b) Drake had assumed no responsibility and was now laughing at me and my overreaction. So I went back to blaming him, then feeling guilty, and so the cycle continued.

I was raised (in a roundabout way) to always think about my actions and admit where some of the blame for things going wrong might lie with me. I like to think this is a sensible and mature attitude, and that the world would be a nicer place if everyone did this. However, the downside is that it can leave you feeling guilty much of the time, and resentful when others don't meet you half way. I have lost count of the times I've said "I'm sorry, all my fault" to Drake in the hope that he'll say "No, not entirely, I could have done ABC better", but it never happens. Instead I get the line "Never mind, these things happen" or "You worry too much" or "Oh well, you'll know for next time". If I do take the less self-deprecating route and point out how he made the situation worse or could have helped to avoid it, he'll either just laugh, as though the possibility that he's in any way accountable is hilarious, or he'll get annoyed and imply I'm being unreasonable.

The point here is not that Drake is a git - far from it, he's generally a very lovely guy. It's just that he's quite normal in his reactions, while I massively overthink everything. He hates being wrong, but if it's very clear that he is, he'll usually admit it and apologise. He then has a healthy enough ego to just shrug it off as "something that happens to the best of us" and get on with things. I on the other hand, feel intensely disappointed at myself for the initial faux pas, then doubly disappointed at my overreaction to it, then dwell on my failures for the rest of the day. And write a blog post about it. Clearly I expect perfection in everything I do, including my reaction to imperfection.

This leaves me with a dilemma in terms of how we raise Duckling. I want him to always think about his actions and how they affect other people, and behave accordingly. What I don’t want him to do is overthink his actions, then beat himself up over them. Guilt and self-admonishment are useful as behaviour regulators – we don’t like feeling bad about what we’ve done, so we try not to do bad things. Too much guilt however is unhealthy and can actually piss off others more than the original indiscretion. I think being a boy will help. For both social and biological reasons, women definitely seem to be more predisposed to feeling guilt than men. Beyond this, I suppose the best thing I can do is try to set a good example – apologise where appropriate but try not to overreact or heap blame on myself where it’s not warranted. I also need to avoid giving him the impression that other people upset or offend me whenever they do the slightest thing wrong. I think this is why I’m prone to feeling so bad - in my family, other people's behaviour was always under scrutiny and regularly criticised, which has probably subconsciously given me the impression that everyone gets so easily put out. By contrast, Drake’s parents (and Drake himself) don't analyse people much and are offended by very little, so he assumes everyone else is as easy going, and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. This is just a theory though. Chances are I’m overthinking it...   

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