Look over your shoulder to see the little devil riding there. Whispering in your ear.
Catastrophizing – is the habit of automatically assuming a “worst case scenario” and inappropriately characterizing minor or moderate problems or issues as catastrophic events.
Most people see catastrophizing as simply “over-reacting”, but it’s more. Catastrophizing, is, in essence, the habit of characterizing situations as worse than they are, or the tendency to automatically assume the “worst case scenario” in everyday situations”.
“…Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. Catastrophizing can generally take two forms:
The first of these is making a catastrophe out of a situation. For example it’s believing that if you make one small mistake at your job, you may get fired. This kind of Catastrophizing takes a current situation and gives it a truly negative “spin.”
The second kind of Catastrophizing is closely linked to the first, but it is more mental and more future oriented. This kind of Catastrophizing occurs when we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong. We then create a reality around those thoughts (e.g. “It’s bound to all go wrong for me…”). Because we believe something will go wrong, we make it go wrong.
Falling prey to Catastrophizing is like striking out in your mind before you even get to the plate. Both of these types of Catastrophizing limit your opportunities in life, work, relationships and more. It can affect our entire outlook in life, and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, disappointment and underachievement.
Both may lead you to self-pity, to an irrational, negative belief about the situation, and to a feeling of hopelessness about your future prospects. Further, both of these types of Catastrophizing will define either the presence or absence of alternative possibilities, and possibly paralyze you from going further with efforts toward your goals in life…”
From my experience there is a distinct difference in how this manifests between High Functioning and Low Functioning Borderlines (though this kind of behavior is not limited to BPD and is in fact quite common in all Cluster ‘B’ Personality Disorders). Low Functioning Borderlines will often lose control of this kind of though and outwardly project their fears. They may have a very difficult, if not impossible, time realizing that these feelings aren’t rational. While a High Functioning Borderline may not be able to stop these thoughts and feelings, there is an awareness that this kind of thinking is out of proportion and there is a greater possibility that we can keep these thoughts internal.
That awareness does not make it ok though. It doesn’t diminish the sensation of it. I know these thoughts are out of proportion. It still feels like the world is going to end. Everything I say can be second guessed; could be wrong, could make someone upset, or so exacerbated, or annoyed that they simply give up and go away. On the one hand I don’t really care what people think about me, but on the other hand I don’t want to drive people away. Everything I say or do, could lead to it though. If I don’t know the answer to something, I’ll be judged as incompetent and fired. If I need help for something, I’m just a burden and worthless. If I don’t know everything, can’t be happy, can’t do this, or that, what’s the point in having me around? What do I have to offer if I can’t offer everything?
Then I try to hide my ‘failings’ or ‘flaws’. Which only increases the paranoia another degree. I know it’s there, so now I’m waiting for someone else to discover it. Waiting, holding that secret, hiding that secret, increases the anxiety as time goes by. The longer you hold onto something the less likely that it will go unnoticed. There is statistically less time that it can remain hidden. It’s only a matter of time before it’s unburdened, whether you want it to be or not. Then that one little thing will make it all crash and burn.
It spirals. It spirals up. It spirals out. Until my head is so spun I can no longer see straight.
I do this a lot. I do this so much it’s beyond unreasonable. I try not to externalize this, I rarely verbalize this… I’m positive if I did people would think I was paranoid and look at me like I’m crazy. And maybe that’s what a lot of this is. It’s a constant low-grade paranoia driven fear.
It may start off small, but it ends up paralyzing.
So what can you do about it? Being aware that you’re doing it at all is certainly the first step. I’m honestly not very good at following these sort of multi-step processes for long, but hey, maybe you have a longer attention span than I do, hah.
Dr. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. suggests 3-steps to breaking this cycle.
1.) Acknowledge Catastrophizing – The first step to doing anything is awareness of what is happening. We must first notice and acknowledge when our mind is spinning with worry about the future. Then label it catastrophizing or worrying, whichever word works best for you. The trick is not to get caught up in the content; we’ll get to that later.
2.) Anchor the present moment – There are a myriad of ways to do this. Many people like to use the breath as an anchor because it is always with us and keeps us alive. So you can bring your attention to this and just saying to yourself, “in” as your breath comes in, and “out” as your breath goes out. If this is too difficult, you can bring attention to the bottom or your feet (farthest place from your worrying mind) and just notice factual sensations. You can even just choose to close your eyes and listen to sounds, noticing the pitches and tones rising and falling.
3.) Intentionally play the what if’s game – This is very different than the mind spinning about this. Actually ask yourself, “what if this happened?” Think about it and then provide and answer. With that answer, you may have another “what if” question, and intentionally ask and answer that one. Go ahead and do this until there are no more questions. It often helps to write this down.