How Do I Know If I’m Overreacting?

By Salina Grilli, LMSW

We’ve all been there. Walking down the overcrowded streets of NYC only to get bumped into by a seemingly rude, self-centered New Yorker rushing to work.

Maybe you scowled or took it a step further and started yelling obscenities at the perpetrator. Maybe you held onto that anger, fixated on how New Yorkers are incredibly rude and self-centered. Then found yourself snapping at your coworkers all day.

We often respond to situations based on our interpretation and judgments of the events, rather than the actual facts.  These interpretations can have a powerful effect on how we feel, as well as on our behavior.

To demonstrate this idea, let’s turn to the “triangle” model, which is used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to depict the interaction between our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. (Side note: CBT is a skills-focused therapy that identifies and challenges unhelpful beliefs, thoughts, and judgments. By challenging and changing these unhelpful beliefs, our behaviors and emotions start to change, helping us to feel better).

In the situation above, our interpretation and judgments of ‘why’ the man bumped into us can have a profound effect on how we feel and our behavior.

Interpretation #1: If we interpreted his action as “rude” and him as “self-centered,” we might feel angry. This anger might influence our behavior. We might yell at the man (behavior), quickly escalating the situation.

Interpretation #2: If we interpreted his action as “careless” and him as “distracted by something else,” we might feel compassion. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, preoccupied with our own thoughts/worries. Rather than yelling at the man, we might take a deep breath and continue walking to work (action).

Notice how powerful our thoughts can be? Next time you find yourself in a downward spiral, pay attention to how your thoughts are affecting your mood and actions. Then ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I have any evidence to show that this thought/belief/assumption is true?

  2. Do I have any evidence against this thought/belief/assumption?

  3. Are there any other interpretations of this event?

Salina Grilli is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb