Why looking for more meaning is actually missing the point – Is there such a thing as too much meaning making?

We look for meaning in a lot of things and it’s often to relieve some anxiety, hurt, or confusion. As a therapist, I know that although it can be helpful to clients to get some relief, it’s not always the answer. When we live with anxiety or experience hurt, we often want to get rid of it or figure out a way to avoid it getting worse or happening again in the future. Finding meaning is similar, in that we get caught up in this idea of, “If I can just understand it then it won’t affect me as much” or, “If I can justify this somehow then I’ll feel better” or, “If I look at it this way then…” and so on.

Too much of anything is too much. If we seek out meaning for every little thing, we not only get a bit exhausted but we also end up missing the point. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. But if you think about it, when we overanalyze a situation or interaction, sometimes the simple nature of it is overlooked. And not everything has to be so complicated. In other words, not everything can be unraveled and restructured to our liking. Trying to “fix” everything or find a silver lining can lead to toxic positivity.

What to do about it:

  1. Zoom Out. If something catches our attention and we zoom in on it to pick at the details, we may dive in deeper than necessary. If we allow ourselves to take a step back then we see something for what it is, rather than reading too much into it. Don’t get me wrong, some analysis can be helpful but it’s knowing when to zoom out that we need to remind ourselves of from time to time. We don’t do it because often this means admitting that a situation we’re in truly sucks. It forces us to sit in the discomfort of illness, death, natural disasters, wars, breakups, unemployment, poverty, injustices and more.
  2. Take Care. This urge to seek answers or explanations may actually be a sign that you need to take care of yourself. Whatever it is you’re looking for meaning in probably is something you don’t have control over. Instead of trying to solve a problem that’s not yours to solve, use this time to take care of yourself. Show yourself compassion and comfort. Performing acts of self-care to help soothe your mind and body in a time when your environment is at unrest is that much more important.
  3. Get grounded. As I’ve said, if we’re constantly channeling our inner Ben Gates (any National Treasure fans out there?), looking for clues and signs that there’s more than what meets the eye, then we’re taking ourselves out of what’s right there in front of us. This kind of meaning-making can have a similar effect to when anxiety overcomes us and we get caught in future-thinking. Pulling ourselves back into the moment is key here. By engaging in deep breathing, mindfulness, or some physical activity, we can ground ourselves back into the present.

If you find yourself seeking meaning pretty often, try incorporating one of these tactics. Remember, practicing one of these three techniques may be the key to unlocking and then facing discomfort and that’s ok. If it becomes overbearing, note that, take a break, and come back to it another time. 

Stay Well,
Catherine at Revive


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