Hope for Loner Thinkers


Intellectualization: eight syllables for habits that could be locking you in a lonely cozy shack.

Psychologists use the word for behavior patterns when someone confronts a situation or memory with strong emotional potential. Instead of living the emotions, someone using intellectualization will respond with thoughts, creating a logical bypass to the feelings.

Imagine Deeann talking to Raquel. "You heard gunshots. You ducked below the dashboard, and you heard shouting and running footsteps on either side of your car. That sounds terrifying."

"People duck out of sight when danger approaches. Anyway, I'm here now. I wasn't hurt," Raquel replied dryly.

With detached observations, Raquel dodges Deeann's offering of empathy for what Raquel may have felt. She quashes an opportunity to share her feelings.

Not everyone uses this defense. If you're still reading, quite likely you identify either from personal experience or because you care about someone who intellectualizes.

It's not easy to stop intellectualizing. It takes patience. Opening up to connecting emotionally with people after a lifetime of avoidance takes extraordinary courage

Patience is another required virtue. This change won't take place overnight.

There can be rewards from using intellectualism as a defense when interacting with others. Suppose some intellectualizers fear losing control. Cutting off sharing emotional experiences, their illusions of being in control may be reinforced when they've distanced from someone.

However, compulsively seeking to maintain control can have dreadful consequences. Conversation's not likely to continue if one participant's afraid of losing control. For the conversation to have an ongoing spark, participants have to be willing to trust that easing back from controlling it won't hurt them.

A scene from The Fisher King features a character anxious in general about where conversation might go. Anne (played by Mercedes Ruehl) is doing Lydia's nails, and Lydia (played by Amanda Plummer) catalogs her social challenges, among them that her conversations might go wrong. Worldly wise Anne suggests instead to just let the conversation happen.

Steps that Challenge Deep-Seated Intellectualizing

Working with a trustworthy therapist can help. Someone for whom intellectualizing is almost as automatic as a reflex isn't likely to see how they repeat its patterns. Someone trained in recognizing these patterns, modeling different approaches, and encouraging clients to change can make big differences when clients recognize a problem and are willing to work on it.

Another practice that can contribute is meditation. For some this can be an intimidating thing. We hear about intricate routines with exotic names as what meditation requires.

Not to minimize the discipline of people who have followed some tradition of meditation nor the gifts it may have brought to them, meditation can be quite simple.

It helps more to do something short with great regularity rather than starting with big ambitions and expectations and then falling away because it was too much. One or two minutes daily has a bigger impact than one two-hour session every few months.

One benefit of setting aside some time to do nothing, to seek to shift one's focus on incoming and outgoing breaths, is that people who experience non-stop brain chatter might get a break. This brings more chances to experience one's emotions and the connections with others that can then happen.

Dr. Andrew Weil advocates a very simple approach to meditation as preparation to fall asleep. In a brief video he demonstrates one easy way to start meditation.

An attitude of accepting progress instead of insisting on perfection helps. Being able to analyze is a tremendous asset in many situations. Trying to totally eradicate intellectualizing is likely to fail. Becoming aware of times when dodging being aware of emotional responses to a stressful situation is progress. So is stopping to acknowledge emotions when safe.

A growing awareness that some things just aren't open to analysis, such as what feelings I'm having right now or how an event could be affecting a companion, brings relief from fruitless analysis.

Intellectualization can isolate its users and people who would like to connect to them. Accepting courage to let go of it one episode at a time can lead to long overdue amends. And the greatest beneficiaries of these amends are the recovering intellectualizers themselves, great rewards for great work.


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