Do you ever imagine having conversations with others in your head?
Are these imaginary conversations often trying to gauge what a person might say to you in a conversation you are nervous to have?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve replayed in my mind (usually in bed at night) how conversations might go with friends or my parents if I ask about something I’m nervous to ask about, or bring up a controversial topic. I did this for other anxiety provoking situations too – like imagining myself getting a flu shot over and over again due to anxiety about going to the doctors. Over time, my anxious and depressive tendencies spiraled my thoughts into continually repeating only negative scenes and negative outcomes to a conversation.
To this day, I still catch myself trying to pre-play a conversation in my head with friends before I ask about things like boundaries, meeting my needs, or talking about my feelings. Because of how my brain has been trained, my imagination tends to be negative. I do this even as I’m talking with someone – I am quick to auto-fill responses from them and am often surprised when they respond to me gently or with affirmation, instead of with anger.
It turns out that this is a fairly common coping mechanism used often by people struggling with anxious attachment. It helps to gain a sense of control over the uncertain future, yet it often leads to us feeling worse because we rarely ever imagine these conversations going in a positive direction.However, att the end of the day, no matter how many times we imagine what someone might say to us, we have absolutely no way of knowing how they will respond to something, let alone how an entire conversation might go.
It also points to a key idea about relationships: we cannot nor should we try to alter someone else’s reaction. We usually want our partners (romantic or platonic) to think favorably of us, to be kind towards us, and to not feel hurt by things we tell them. Yet, we strip away their agency when we try to phrase a question such that it elicits a certain kind of response (usually decreasing their anger or sadness). This can lead to manipulative thought patterns wherein we might wonder if someone’s response might’ve been different had we only “phrased it better.” This is not to say that we shouldn’t think about how we say things – we should absolutely be mindful of our language and word choices. But doing so on repeat in our heads is often not productive nor is it healthy for our own well-being.
Sometimes, we have to have difficult or otherwise uncomfortable conversations about scary things. It’s okay to go into the conversation without repeatedly rehearsing in a negative manner.