Defense Mechanisms IV: “Thinking”

In an early post entitled Breathe More, Think Less, I introduced the idea that thinking, particularly verbal thought, can serve as a type of psychological defense.  I’d like to revisit that subject today and explore it in greater detail as part of this series on the defense mechanisms.  One recent email from a site visitor mentioned non-stop “chatter” in his head; because so many people seem to suffer from an uncontrollable word-flow in their
thoughts, it seems an important subject to discuss.  Much of what I have to say appeared in an overly-condensed way in that earlier post.

As discussed in my piece on post-traumatic stress disorder, when the early experience of helplessness feels unbearable, for whatever reason, we may try to blot out awareness of that experience; that particular defense mechanism would be called denial, or more precisely, denial of psychic reality.  Another response might be to take flight into precocious intellectual development, which also involves a kind of denial:  I am not small, helpess and afraid; I’m really quite highly developed — just listen to what I can do with words! In such cases, intellectual and verbal ability develop prematurely, but detached from authentic experience as a defense against it; words take on a life of their own and are often felt to have a magical ability to ward off pain.

In my family of origin, one of the pieces of Burgo lore was that, when I began to speak, I right away started talking in complete sentences.  During treatment, my own therapist took this up as expressing my hatred of feeling small and inexperienced, that I wanted to sound grown up right away and not have to go through that lengthy process of actually growing up.  My precocious command of language also reflected a reaction to the emotional chaos of my childhood, felt to be overwhelming and unmanageable:  by mastering words and language, I felt in control; through “thinking”, I believed I could escape from unbearable pain and confusion.  As a result, I have always over-valued verbal fluency.  Going through school, I wrote papers that sounded quite sophisticated; I had a facility with concepts and could manipulate them in persuasive ways, but the realm of words and ideas
existed apart from my personal experience, out of contact with and in denial of it.  A big part of my journey as a writer has been to reconnect those two realms.

Many of my clients over the years came into treatment with similar defenses.  I can usually recognize this process at work when I’m listening to clients speak, with apparent insight into their experience, but find that I feel disconnected.  I may feel bored or unconvinced; it may begin to sound like a bunch of words without meaning.   It’s sometimes difficult to recognize such a process at work because this type of client often appears devoted to therapy; he may quickly grasp the ideas I’m trying to convey, coming back in the next session to talk at length about it, making connections and applying it (at least intellectually) to his life.  She may go away and try to learn more about this concept on her own through independent research.  It took me a long time to understand that such patients actually want to defuse my intervention, keep it from having a real emotional impact, which is felt to be too terrifying.  As long as a potential threat can be kept in the realm of words and ideas, they feel safe.

If you know many people who’ve been in therapy, you may recognize this person — the one who’s always talking about her therapy and what her brilliant therapist said but who never seems to change.  He may be skillful at analyzing other people as well, and thinks about becoming a therapist himself.  (Many future therapists enter the field for this very reason, as a defensive maneuver.)  Unfortunately, “understanding” and the entire realm of words functions apart from true meaning and serves to ward it off, especially the painful parts.  What can feel even worse, verbal thought takes on a life of its own, in perpetual defense against unbearable emotions, and can come to feel persecutory.   So many clients I’ve known have talked about the agony of being unable to sleep because their mind won’t quit.  I believe this dynamic lies behind most cases of insomnia.  Non-stop “thinking” lies at the root of my own lifelong sleep issues; establishing mental quiet is the only thing that has ever made a difference.

As is usually the case, what begins as a means to protect ourselves evolves into a problem in its own right:   pain isn’t the problem so much as what we do to defend against it.  But that pain does explain why relinquishing the verbal defense and establishing mental quiet is so incredibly difficult for most people:  as with all defenses, letting go means opening up to pain, finding out what you’ve been avoiding all these years.

Finding Your Own Way:

If you struggle with this problem, you should have no trouble recognizing yourself.  As a fellower sufferer, I will tell you that nothing helps except a persistent effort to quiet your mind, and the courage to face whatever lies on the other side.  I find that the “thinking” kicks into high gear in the face of extreme stress; it becomes all the harder to achieve quiet, but when I’m (briefly) able to do so, I often feel afraid.  In the dark of night, it can become terror.

Mindfulness meditation has proven useful for some of my clients.  I find that I need to make a more ongoing effort, minute by minute, to the extent that I’m able.  It’s also important to approach this challenge without perfectionistic standards:  recognize that you’re never going to be able to quiet your mind perfectly at all times.  Also, in keeping with this earlier post, accept that there will be times that you simply won’t be able to do anything other than think-think-think until you drive yourself crazy.  No doubt it will happen during a challenging time when you feel especially helpless.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. It scares me how much this is me. I do try to say if I can say things in a smart way or think in a smart way that keeps others from having power.

  2. I’m wondering if you ever find the mental quiet at other times or places. Eg in sport or qi gong or other forms of meditation (like TM – mantra meditation).

    The lesson about linking words and experience is a big one for me too. I remember sitting in a primary school class one day and realised that the ache in my head was what people called a “headache”. It took me years to realise that not understanding some words meant there was something there to investigate.

    Thanks for a great post.

    1. I find that any physical activity requiring immersion works the same way for me — tennis, for instance, or even mountain bike riding where attention to the trail is key. Unfortunately, hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park every summer doesn’t stop my mind from chattering, but I make a big effort and try to turn it into a kind of walking meditation. The most “meditative” experience I have, though, is my daily piano practice. I become so focused on the music and my fingers that words have no room. It centers me for the rest of the day.

  3. Great post, Joe. You really describe this phenomenon well. And, on the other hand, I find sometimes people vilify the “mind,” thinking it’s a bad thing … as in sometimes the “ego” is thought to be “bad”. But for me a healthy ego is necessary and a good thing to have to navigate the world. I know for myself developing a “right” relationship to my mind and thinking has been really important, to integrate it with the rest of my experience.

    1. I guess the distinction you’re making is between the kind of thinking that brings you into contact with yourself and your world, vs. the defensive kind of thinking that defends against awareness of both. The latter is the one I’m talking about in this post and it makes excessive use of words. With my clients, I sometimes say that the first (more constructive) kind of thinking might be entirely non-verbal, or might be a realization that comes to mind as a simple “Oh” without the need to explain it all in words.

  4. wow, talk about synchronicity, i was just realising today, that i use thinking when im trying to avoid painful emotion!!

    like your article, can relate, and it really helped,

    ive been having therapy for a long time and have been the person you describe that “intellectualy gets the therapy” etc, now though i am realising that i need to stop the thinking and start feeling whatever i thought i could “think” away!

    its like pain to the power of 100, a whole new level of therapy to actually start to Feel it all, but i know its exactly where i need to go, its like getting plugged into the mains electric!

    thanks for the confirmation of this,

    1. Let me know how it goes. I’ll be curious to hear about your experience, how hard you will find it to stop “thinking” and what you’ll find on the other side.

      1. hi, you were curious,

        im finding my body wants to breathe alot, i keep taking really deep breaths,

        im feeling the emotions and its scary, distress is coming out, im feeling the bodily sensations more of emotion,

        its weird, but im going with it, and trying not to go by the old rules that i followed, im trying to just go with it,

        we will see what happens, but it feels very releasing, but scary,

        just thought id feed back!


        1. Thanks for letting me know how it’s going. It’s the same for me a lot of the time — it takes courage to hang in there. When we’ve spend our entire lives using words and “thinking” to stave off emotion, once we stop and let it in, it can be truly frightening. In the long run, though, I think it’s better to have our emotions, whatever they may be.

  5. I have never really thought of this as a defense mechanism. I have been to therapy a few times although I don’t share it with people (I feel this is a bit narcissistic, in fact I sometime fear that too much therapy is narcissistic). However I don’t feel that I have made much progress. My husband of many years passed away suddenly and it was very traumatic. I have always been someone who is too much in my head and it many times does more harm than good. I always feel I’m defending myself, my action, my inaction. I’m not sure why I do it. It’s worse than ever now that I’m alone at home quite a bit. I have come to the realization I may never want to retire. I almost need work to get out of my own drama inside my head. I also don’t seem to let anyone get very close at all.

    1. There’s a lot in what you’ve said here but as you didn’t invite comment, I’ll just say that I think it would be important for you to find a way to escape (at least for a time) the “drama inside [your] own head” outside the workplace. I offered some suggestions in my earlier post on this subject. Also, as I said in my reply to Evan (above), any physical activity that requires total immersion can work in the same way as meditative practice.

  6. I actually was rather repressed in ways when I was younger and not so verbal about my experience then. It has only been in recent years when I have employed this more. I was so innocent in many ways when I was young. There was a stage when I tried to please everyone so much including abusers. However, the reason I tried to be so good to the person who had done mental and physical abuse was more wanting them to convert to my faith. The reason I was nice to the person who had sexually abused me(just a little older than myself/male and related) was because I felt sorry for them because of all of the physical and mental abuse that they had. I knew the sexual abuse happened but I was disconnected from it.

    I had told a few people through the years but never a therapist until just a couple of days ago. When I was 30, it really hit me. I felt the shame at myself for allowing it to happen more than once. The person never forced me. I explained this in an earlier post. I also felt betrayal like I never experienced it. I have never confronted this person. This person seems to hate the person who did mental and physical abuse but I don’t know if that was incidents last Fall that brought things to the surface. I felt like telling the sexual abuser that nothing that the person who physically or mentally abused me compared to the feelings that he made me feel due to sexual abuse.

    When I say that I analyse to feel power, this has a lot to do with people who I vented so much when I was manic. I was rather child-like and as I seem to recall not overly analytical at the time. So I analyse things about them because otherwise I will feel like I was just a bumbling fool going on and on. They never treated me as such. They were so kind. But as I am more in my right mind, I know how I must have seemed and it makes me feel like a fool. I try to sound smart so people don’t think I am a fool. With my ocd, I really can’t reason about safety.

    The flip side of this is that I try to explain to people things like why some people are too mentally ill to go to Church. They say things like they have read my blog(not one where I used my real name but I gave them a link). They tell me how that person has something upstairs and not so crazy. Another person says how I should not refer to myself as mentally ill as I am so articulate and says nice things. But they both miss the boat that my mental illness makes me feel that I cannot go places because I do not want to put other people at risk. I am not saying that I am totally wacko in every aspect of life. I know I should be grateful that they see good in me and I am. But yet, they need to fully recognize my limitations. That is not to say that I may not improve. I don’t like people to talk about some future time when I might be healed. That feels like judgment against me. Or it is something so far that may or may not happen and does me no good now. Being healed is not my goal. Never harming another person seriously is my goal. To know someday that I have never harmed anyone in a bad way nor am I responsible for anything bad and forgiven for everything is my goal. I know that you are not overly religious. Hell is always before my eyes. My reason for worrying about harming others has in large part to do with a fear of going to Hell. So to say that I may be well in the future does not mean that I may not have done something between now and then that might send me to Hell. I even sometimes have thoughts like “My kingdom for a sock” if I can’t find my sock. Then, I feel like I will go to Hell if I wear my socks. I worry at times that I deny the Holy Ghost because of thoughts in my head that I can’t control. And in my religion, that is the only thing that can never be forgiven. I am not blaming either my present religion or past religion for my mental problems. People can have plenty of crazy thoughts without religion. And you may not understand as a person who has never leaned on God as far as I can tell how he can be a source of strength. When my parent would go into rages years ago prior to my being overly analytical as I was quite immature in many ways in my earlty twenties and sweet and trusting as I had not connected a lot in my head and half way repressed things, I felt very close to God. I don’t want to make trivial such feelings in this environment as it doesn’t seem right to mix that which is good and pure with all of the other.

    So mainly, I have felt like a fool looking back and when I was manic or talking a mile a minute(I couldn’t be quiet if I tried). Yet, to say certain things required much deliberate effort such as when I confronted a person who seemed to have a smirk on their face when I broached the subject again of moving out of my abusive home. They asked me how much I made. This may be hard to understand but I turned over my pay check and didn’t really pay much attention and I really low balled my income. They acted like they would find someone to live with my low income. They never did. So once I confronted them about taking lightly the abuse and they said I was wrong. It’s kind of funny how they never met with me again after that. They were the one who would arrange the meetings and all, I think. Or maybe the ball was in my court and I was supposed to call. With ocd, it was hard to go anyway and they would at first accept my terms to meet where I wanted and then would later switch after a few meetings. I seldom leave home now and work from home.

    Well, you said I could vent. I feel selfish doing so given certain things people in my personal life are going through. Yet, the timing of such a recent visit to a Mental Health Professional has many things to the surface. The person who did not actively help me to get out of an abusive situation was quite nice listening to my ocd ramblings and did act like nothing I said made me unworthy. Once I said I was worried about something the cat in my bed might have done like maybe their tail touched me in a bad way. He was so calm and said it was not bad for me to have such thoughts.

    When I was repressed from my sexual abuse, I had all sorts of defenses. I was the type to not want to even kiss a boy. I didn’t like them to give massages or cuddle although it felt very good. I won’t say too much as that would not be right in a public site in good taste. Once I touched a little boy’s chest by accident while I was in their parents home. It was just a quick touch and I worried that maybe I sexually molested the child. I think I would even look at children being cuddled by parents or certain contact as wrong all the while never connecting that I had been sexually abused. And I was not severely sexually abused even and only by one person for a brief period. I hate to think what a mess I would be if something worse happened.

    End of vent. As you can tell, I am very sensitive and I appreciate that you just said I could vent without giving any advice. We over-thinkers think that we know it all anyways so I don’t know why I even feel like I should vent to another person. But I don’t like to just write letters to myself.

  7. Hello. One thing that I don’t like is when people give me too much praise for anything. It makes me feel like they think I have low self-esteem and seems rather patronizing. That is not to say that I do not like the infrequent sincere compliment. I think a person needs a compliment now and again and it helps to form identity. And as hard as it may be to understand, I don’t feel much shame in my life now. That is because a lot of people have told me what I worry about is all in my head. There was a point where I was so afraid. I am still at the point where I worry and stress constantly and seldom even go outside and avoid most of the rooms in my house. But I do hope that my fears are in my head. I don’t feel shame from the sexual abuse now. And I have almost entirely forgiven the person. I have forgiven all the abusers. I sometimes think I have forgiven the others and then it surfaces again. Of course, the recent visit to the Mental Health Professional does bring a lot of this to the surface.

    I’m the type of person that can seem so meek that people may think I am overly humble. Ironically, I used to be rather full of myself during my repressed days prior to ocd and when sexual abuse was something that was disconnected from me as I hadn’t felt the pain yet. When it would happen, it is not like I worried about whether it would happen again as I think I sort of shut it out. Then, I never let it happen again after my parent found out.

    While I have often felt worthy, I do not feel very competent in domestic areas. If I lived in a society where women were judged solely on those qualities, I would feel very inadequate. I have never had any children of my own and don’t think I would have ever been capable. However, I didn’t know that when I was in la la la land and thought marriage was this fairy tale where you just marry and it works out. That is not to say that my parents lived such a fairy tale. But they do love each other and are good for each other in ways.

    If someone were to tell you everything you did was wrong when you cleaned and went into rages, you might have internalized that too. In addition, there may be learning disabilities. I think I have some brain damage in visual processing.

    I guess I am pretty verbal but I was not overly advanced as a child. My early home years were pretty good. I am wondering though if saying that a person develops this advanced verbal ability due to abuse may be wrong. I think the children may be advanced either way. Some children have hyper-lexia, for instance. Being verbal is not the byproduct of abuse for anyone in my opinion. Using an intellectual defense mechanism to avoid feeling the pain is a different matter. I don’t know if people who are not as inclined in abstract areas would employ this seem method. However, I believe all people feel the same when they are not using defense mechanisms. That is to say that shame is shame and pain is pain and anger is anger. This are raw emotions.

    I don’t get angry often these days. I used to be quite bitter. Prior to my mission when there were violent rages, I was not bitter because I did not feel trapped. I was also blessed in many ways. That is not to say I did not cry a lot when the person started screaming.

    I don’t think I am that gifted as a writer most of the time. Once in a while, I do like how things come out. And it is not something that I can control a lot.

    I like to think that I am a person who needs little validation. While I have a blog that is all about doing good and everything, I try not to judge others as being less than good. The blog wasn’t my idea at any rate. I’m just helping the person out. That is not to say that I have not blogged on moral issues on my own. I like to think about things and organize them to write about.

    I do like having insights into things. What makes me be able to describe things may be the very animal that makes me so prone to ocd. The Mental Health Professional said that I should not think about those things. If only………….

  8. I’m a writer, but this is opposite to me. When I’m in great psychic pain either because I’ve been hurt or am feeling guilty because I’ve hurt somebody else, interior language dries up or rather blocks. All I can do is feel the pain or relive the circumstances which occasioned the pain until processes at the non-verbal ‘make me feel better.’ (I can’t verbalise what happens! I should add that I didn’t learn to communicate except in a private infantile language until I was four and a half and i didn’t learn to read until I was eight.

    1. Fascinating. So do you think that your private infantile language was a way of shutting out or curtailing the influence of the outside world? (A type of autistic defense, I’d call it.) If you ever feel that you want to say more about your experience, please free to contact me, either as a comment or via my email address: The link between immediate experience and mode of expression (language and/or art form) is a subject that is particularly interesting to me. Thanks for submitting your comment.

  9. Today is my day off from work but my goal is not to be in front of a computer very long. I did want to mention that I went back and read the final paragraph that you wrote about the feelings you have when you quiet your brain sometimes that sound like nightmares. I don’t know but it seems like it is better not to feel that kind of pain. I have never felt the level of pain that you describe regarding abuse. I have had extreme pain due to ocd because I was worried that I may have harmed other people. But I was not abused anywhere near what most people were abused so I should not have the level of pain that they experience. I know people who have gone through so much and are kind to listen. They do not minimize other people who have been through much less than what they experienced. Well, I will close for now.

  10. I am a person with a mind that is almost always full of chatter, with a little goodwill we may term the activity “thinking”. This thinking of mine often take the form of care, the kind of care that Shakespare called corrosive. My way to still the “mad thoughts” is to escape into a book, a novel, an engrossing fictive world. Flight from reality, oh yes, but a lot better then thinking that drives me mad.
    Speaking of flight, I once read a poem where the author stated “they could not flee their love affair, their love was their flight”. I dare say a lot of common activity is a form of flight, although I am not sure I agree with the forementioned poet. But he did make an impact on my mind, (it is almost 40 years since I read that poem. and it is the only part I recall).

    By the way, what is a feeling or an emotion? What is a thought? It sems to me that many a thought is an emotion dressed in words .

  11. Great article! (they all seem to be….you have a great ‘knack’ for breaking down big psychological concepts). As a ‘right brain’ gal/specialist, this is also a subject near to my heart. I like to see language as another road to the unconscious like other means of expression, and try to use words as a means of taking myself and my readers into an immediacy of my own experiences; I also try to cultivate this ‘inner voice’ with my clients. I understand how language can be a defense; most likely I came to a love of words as an early defense against painful emotional states. I’d like to think words and I have struck a more holistic relationship, one in which I place little demand except to be that vehicle to Authenticity!

    1. I’d also like to think that words and I have “struck a more holistic relationship,” as you so nicely put it. What excites me most about language is its ability to put you in touch with something real (as opposed to helping you avoid it).

  12. I tend to intellectualize everything, which leads to my over-thinking and over-analyzing every nuance of every situation. I find myself trying constantly to say the “right” words to describe something, maybe create a fanciful metaphor or even a daring reparte…just as I am doing here right now. Always words and more words, thinking and more thinking. It can become destabilizing as well as cause insomnia.

    1. Exactly. I’ve spent many a sleepless night “thinking” over some issue in a way that led nowhere. And I know what you mean about always wanting to find the right word — for me, it’s as if that will somehow make me special.

  13. I really identify with this article a lot, particularly in relation to therapy. While I think that talk therapy is extremely useful, one of the things I found frustrating about it is that I felt constantly pressured to put extremely sensitive experiences into words before I trusted the therapist enough to have the accompanying feelings. As a result I never felt like I was fully communicating the extent of my emotional pain, and the conversations I had about them always felt stifled and a little invalidating.

    I always had the problem of escaping into language to some degree, but this is the one problem that I actually think has gotten worse as a result of therapy.

  14. When I took the Strength Finders 2.0 assessment a few years ago, one top strength was “Intellection” – according to the assessment it means always thinking. It said this was nether good nor bad – just is, depending on what you are thinking about.

    My thinking does serve a purpose on occasion. My mind can be fast and creative. But right now I don’t see it as an actual strength – not when I see how I use it as a defense.

    It took me a long time to see what’s behind the chatter or vigilance….why I do it, when. It can be exhausting.

    Even harder has been facing all those hard realities and the pain that goes with them – a few times I thought my head would crack open from the pain…but I have to remember to be grateful because there was I time when I felt no pain at all.

    1. Of course you’re right, thinking has its uses; we couldn’t live without it. It’s when thinking takes on a life of its own that the problems begin. I’m sure you know what I mean — that nightmarish feeling (especially in the middle of the night and you want to sleep) when you simply can’t stop your thoughts from racing. You’re clearly doing the hard work now: facing the pain that lies on the other side of our defenses. Extremely difficult, but as you say, it’s better to be alive to pain than otherwise emotionally dead.

  15. This is something I have been increasingly aware of in myself. I think reading your blog is part of my thinking defence – I am in analytic group therapy and I am the only one who reads up on theory!

    It’s hard to let go of thinking so much about everything. As a child, I rarely got positive comments except for my vocabulary so being good with words is key to how I am in relation to other people. And I now realise how I am within myself.

    I’ve often thought if I could apply the energy I put into thinking as defence to something else, I could achieve so much!

  16. Intellectualization. I know I do it. People who know me well say I “over-analyze”. At times, when in past I was abused or attacked, I remember a strong feeling of emotional shock or being overwhelmed. But not an actual emotion; well, terror at times. I’ve started talking in therapy about it and how I am getting the idea that there is a disconnect between my thoughts and my feelings. I seem to be making some progress, because things that used to trigger a panic attack don’t and sometimes I can actually consider something before deciding on an appropriate response.

    But it is somewhat frustrating; I have no idea what the majority of people’s mental life is like. I’ve wondered whether some people think “a little” vs. others thinking “a lot” and whether that can somehow be measured.

    On the other hand, it’s had it’s uses. I might have accepted an incorrect diagnosis of “bipolar” disorder when panic attacks and dissociation were occurring and completely missed by professionals (I spent a few days in a hospital walking, talking and acting normal, but my normal, conscious self was blacked out for that time. Only happened once before; indicating to me the level of traumatization I must have undergone.). I spent a lot of time reading, rejecting fantastic things but recognizing certain aspects as part of my own experience. My thinking and learning helped me to advocate FOR myself for the first time in life, now I’m trying to figure out what next.

    The lovely thing about defense mechanisms is the way we make use of them unconsciously, but even when I become uncomfortably aware of what I’m doing, it doesn’t help me know what I might be better off doing! I suppose, as I reflect on it, I “see” more with my mind if there is no chatter going on (my oldest daughter is moving away end of month and I’ve been seeing a lot of memories of her in my mind from the past, and I realize I’m sad for me in some ways but glad for her building her life). Since the seeing, right brain part is supposedly more creative, I suppose it could be to my advantage if I could get even more cooperation going. I suppose there must be fear of seeing certain memories or fears of seeing “what might happen” (my panic attacks are metaphorical and very visual). I must still have a lot of fear inside me and probably a lot of it is unrealistic. Thank you.

  17. Oh, something struck me after I posted my comment. A few times when I have been overwhelmed (my husband picked me up and tried to throw me out of the house; he also had loaded his shotgun and aimed it at me sometime around that incident), I haven’t been able to “say anything”. I could talk, but it would be disconnected form what had just occurred. I remember the police coming to the house the night he tried to throw me out and I just kept looking around the living room, thinking how tacky it looked to me and what the officer might be thinking about it.

  18. Is this the same as having fantasies about being someone else?
    I expend most of my time just thinking thinking-fantasizing, fantasizing…

    There are times that I don’t even want to get up from bed because I want to keep fantasizing about me being someone else, with a more exiting life, I even think about myself being younger, (a Teen) about living some experiences of my life in a different way. And when trying to fight that I expend hours in front of the computer, i don’t even go to bed for around 2 days just looking for “something” i can’t find,

    do I need to see a therapist?
    Thank you!

    1. No, this is not the same thing as fantasizing about being someone else. It sounds to me as if talking to a therapist would be a really good idea. I have a feeling you need to do a lot of mourning — for that teenager you’ll never be, for all the lost hours-days-years, for the family life you never had.

  19. Hello Joseph. Your post speaks to me very strongly. This is really me. It has been explained to me that early childhood abuse forced me into my head as a way to cope with the pain I was experiencing. I have spent much time and money in psychotherapy and feel that I have not been helped. I have faith that in time it will work for me.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

    1. You’re welcome. The risk is that psychotherapy just reinforces this type of defense. Lots of talk, lots of understanding and no real progress.

  20. Hi Joseph,
    This is new for me as I have only recently began to notice this excess thinking and dealing with problems by overanalyzing them in my head. I am a sophomore in college and have not experienced any traumatizing events that I can imagine are connected to this problem but my roomate actually pointed it out recently when he brought to my attention that I avoid confrontation at all costs. I sharply told him I deal with the problems myself so that I don’t need to confront the person. This made me realize that when faced with confrontation I often feel uncomfortable because I have already played out the confrontation in my head and have overcome the problem even though it has not changed at all in reality. Multiple people who are close to me have brought this to my attention.

    So many things from this website have grabbed my attention because they apply to me without fail. Things like finding the right words to say or write (or in this case type) so that they might carry more weight, sleepless nights caused by nightmarish, overwhelming, unstoppable thought, detaching myself from much emotions that make me feel inferior, fantasizing (unnatural amount of fantasizing) about things that would keep me from feeling small and worthless, and imagining places/situations that would make me happier than I am now.

    Specifically to me, I have a secret/embarrassing fascination with superheroes or people that exert talents that obviously makes them superior and more than worth something. I often seek things that I can excel at (at least compared to my peers) so that I can feel that sense of accomplishment and worth. My older brother seems to fuel much of this desire due to the apparent ease of success that comes to him (many friends, exceptional talents, many admirers, etc). To make things worse, him and I are so alike, people wonder if we are twins if not the same person. This means I am normally interested in the same things as he is, which makes for a great friendship but also a debilitating “stuck in the shadow” feeling for me when I cannot beat him and an unexplainable joy when I do so. There are no outward or otherwise noticeable feelings of resentment towards him, however. I feel that this comes from my fear of hurting someone. It is not his fault that I have these inferior feelings from his success.

    This comment is partially for me to get this off my chest because I have been living with it for years and partially to maybe get a response just to know that someone out there knows what I am feeling and can relate to me. Thank you for this post as it has at least made me realize why I am the way I am which can be somewhat satisfying by itself.

    1. Something that I forgot to mention, becoming engrossed in sports or competition is a highly effective way to quiet the never-ceasing thoughts in my head.

    2. Yes, I understand what you’re saying. It sounds to me as if there are some deep shame feelings behind the scenes. But I expect you’re already considered that.

  21. Ha- this post did make me chortle. See my long term therapist has been on holidays for the past 3 weeks and that has brought all the difficult emotions one might expect. Nevertheless, for the first week or so I stayed connected to my emotions and felt good about myself, (sad, mad maybe, but ok). The last week of so I have lost this sense. I have found myself feeling helpless for no particular reason; feeling grey and depressed. I have managed not to turn to most of my most disfumctional coping mechanisms but I have spent the week reading your blog inside out and upside down. In a way, I know exactly what I am doing- covering emotions with words and intellect- and I hope that in time I can also slowly peak back this defence mechanism too. Your post sort of describes exactly what I am doing and yes, my head is full full full. Still, I’ve learnt a lot from all that reading and maybe, once therapist is back, I will put the words to one side and reconnect with the feelings again. I sort of hope so!

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