You’ll feel better after deleting this word from your vocabulary.
By Rose Ernst
“Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.” ― José Saramago, Blindness
“You’re being oversensitive.”
“Don’t you think you’re overthinking it?”
“Let’s not over-plan this trip. Let’s just be spontaneous.”
“You shouldn’t overcorrect from burnout.”
Do any of these sound familiar?
I’ve heard these types of well-meaning comments my whole life from friends, teachers, family, and colleagues. Sincere and genuine though they may be, they’re not helpful in speech or writing.
As an autistic person, they’re especially pernicious because I’m used to being “too-[fill in the blank].” In my case, it was too quiet. Too introspective. Too cautious. Too serious.
Since I internalized these norms, most of these “overthinking”-type comments are in my own head.
On my morning walk, I’ll be bursting with ideas. Then it’s like an invisible switch flips, and I’ll think, “you’re overthinking this problem, Rose.”
Or, I’ll be researching our next housesit in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and I’ll think, “You’re over-planning this, Rose.”
It’s unhelpful because this self-talk just reinforces that I’m being too much again.
Why it’s a problem
1. It’s used for gaslighting
You tell your roommate how much their messy habits bother you. They shoot back, “You’re being oversensitive. It’s not that messy. Just let it go.”
When white people racially gaslight Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, this is called “trivializing.” White people will blame Black people, for example, for their objections to white people being racist in the first place. It’s completely illogical, but it works because it puts the supposedly “oversensitive” person on the defensive.
Just as others can gaslight you, also pay attention to your self-talk. When are you gaslighting yourself?
2. What does “over” really mean, anyway?
Who gets to decide how much you should think?
Who gets to determine the standard for how much you should plan?
Who gets to decide who’s just sensitive ‘enough’?
Even if such a standard existed, how on earth would I measure it? “Hmm…I’ve thought about what to eat for dinner for precisely 3.2 minutes. That’s 2 seconds too many. Stop overthinking, Rose.”
1. Be precise
While this focus on language can seem “oversensitive,” it’s not. I’m simply asking whether it’s helpful and if it is precise.
The problem with the “over” prefix is that it cleverly avoids clarity. Don’t you think it’s passive-aggressive to tell someone they’re “over-” something?
Consider this statement: “Don’t you think you’re overthinking this project?”
Instead, you can say (to yourself or others), “Looks like you’ve really thought about this project carefully. When are you going to get started?”
In the second quote, you’re praising the person and then offering a gentle nudge. If the person needs that nudge, they’ll take it.
But if something is really wrong, you’ve allowed them to say why they’re hesitant to move forward. Perhaps their gut senses that something is wrong.
Whatever it is, praising their thinking, sensitivity, or planning shows a sense of care about the person and the outcome, rather than just glibly dismissing them with a vague word like overthinking.
2. Curiosity wins
If you’re pacing the floor in true rumination-style, and can’t seem to let it go, then asking yourself if you’re “overthinking” it is still not a helpful question: it doesn’t signal why you’re ruminating (Note: I’m not suggesting that any of this can solve persistent conditions involving intrusive thoughts).
Let curiosity guide you.
Ask simple questions: Am I tired? Am I hungry? Am I anxious for some other reason? What do I need right now? Sometimes these introspective questions will quiet persistent thought loops.
If you’ve done that and it’s still bothering you, ask where it’s hitting in your body. Is it your stomach? Is your chest tight? What about your neck and head? I bet these bodily clues will guide you to dig deeper into what might be bothering you.
The bottom line
The next time someone says you’re overdoing it, ask them to clarify what they mean.
Maybe it will open a tiny space for understanding rather than judgment.
I’m over feeling too much or too little, aren’t you?