5 types of catastrophic thoughts that embitter our life

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Robert Maurer


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When catastrophism strikes us, it becomes a downward spiral from which it is difficult to break free. It is a cognitive bias through which we harbor a series of irrational and negative beliefs that lead us to imagine worst-case scenarios. It involves assuming that a disaster or catastrophe will occur, even if we have no reasonable reason to do so.

Obviously, this kind of thinking ends up worrying us. If we continually think about the worst, we will be tense and anxious, in a state of permanent tension that will eventually affect us both physically and psychologically. In the event that catastrophic thinking is combined with pessimism, we will end up developing learned helplessness which can lead us directly to depression.

When optimistic prejudice gives way to catastrophism

The world can become a threatening place. Every day we expose ourselves to many dangers, from the possibility of having a traffic accident to a home injury or even being hit by a piece of space junk or a meteorite. All probabilities that exist. But we don't take them seriously because we are generally the victims of optimistic prejudices.

The optimistic bias makes us believe that we are less likely to experience a negative event. Although it is a bias, it is not negative because it allows us to live in a state of emotional balance in an environment that we would otherwise perceive as deeply hostile.

In fact, optimistic bias often protects our mental health. It has been found that people with depression and schizophrenia do not tend to be as optimistic as people who are psychologically stable.

But this optimistic bias can be influenced by several factors. For example, the less control we feel we have over the things that happen to us and our environment, the more likely it is for the optimistic bias to disappear and give way to catastrophic thoughts. Optimistic bias also tends to fade with advancing age. On the contrary, it strengthens in ambiguous and uncertain contexts, where we have a tendency to prepare for the worst.

The problem begins when we don't leave that optimistic prejudice behind to become more objective, but directly imagine the worst possible scenarios by fueling the catastrophic thoughts.

Catastrophism is a second arrow that we fire at us

Catastrophic thinking is an example of what is considered "the second arrow" in Buddhism. According to this philosophy, the first arrow are those unpleasant experiences that are part of our life, inconveniences such as getting trapped in a traffic jam or burning a light bulb or deeper experiences, such as losing your job or a loved one.

Life does not skimp on the first arrows, and many times we cannot avoid them. But we can avoid the second arrows because we shoot them. We experience the unpleasant sensation that the first arrow produced and, instead of recognizing it and thinking about how we can improve things, we allow ourselves to be flooded with a flow of negative emotions and catastrophic thoughts about the first arrow.

In this way, it will not take long to add more suffering to that already caused by the first arrow. In other words, we make things worse on our own. Our reactions and thoughts disproportionate the situation by adding an unnecessary dose of suffering, anxiety and fear.

The different types of catastrophic thoughts we feed

1. Filtering, when we see everything black

It is a distortion of reality where we develop tunnel vision and only take note of the negative details as we zoom in on them. We only see the negative elements, almost completely ignoring the positives, so our vision of what is happening is tinged with gray.

As a result of that negative and limited view, we isolate what is happening from context. Our thinking becomes a broken record that repeats itself over and over, getting worse and worse. The end result is the exaggeration of all our fears, shortcomings and irritations, to the point that we may come to feel that everything is terrible, horrible or that we will not be able to resist.

How to deactivate it?

We are much stronger than we think. In fact, we can handle many things. Therefore, sometimes to deal with this kind of catastrophic thinking we just have to say to ourselves: “don't overdo it”, “you're only seeing the negative side” or “I can deal with what happens”.

2. Overgeneralization, jump to conclusions

When we over-generalize we draw a general conclusion from a single incident or consider only a limited portion of the evidence and data we have. If something bad happens to us on one occasion, catastrophic thinking is triggered and we continually expect it to happen again.

In this case, we immediately move on to negative conclusions without realizing that situations are a concatenation of factors that are rarely repeated. This type of catastrophic thinking thinks in terms of "never", "always", "all" or "none".

How to deactivate it?

It is important to understand that having experienced a negative event does not mean that it will happen again. We need to think objectively and analyze the odds of the event happening again based on the evidence we have at our disposal. And to do this we must take the appropriate psychological distance from what is happening to us.

3. Personalization, believe that the whole world is against us

Sometimes we believe we are the center of the universe, and that self-centered view can play tricks on us. We can come to believe that everything that happens has to do with us, that there is a worldwide conspiracy with the sole aim of ruining our lives and putting obstacles in our way. In short, we think that only our bulbs burn out and the others are eternal.

Taking everything personally can make us develop catastrophic thinking that makes us see dangers everywhere, people willing to complicate our lives at the slightest mistake and impending catastrophes that will affect us in unexpected ways.

How to deactivate it?

We need to understand that many things happen outside of our will. Sometimes we get collaterally damaged, but not everyone has it on us. Seeing the pain and suffering of others, getting out of that self-centered attitude, will allow us to put everything in perspective.

4. Divination of thought

To relate to others we must be able to sense their emotions and, if possible, anticipate their intentions. But sometimes we overdo it and believe we can guess their thoughts, which can create illusions.

When we believe we can guess the thoughts and intentions of others, we can misinterpret a look, gesture or word, ending up imagining the worst endings of that relationship. For example, we can conclude that someone has a grudge against us, but we don't bother to find out if that's true.

How to deactivate it?

Asking. In social interactions, when in doubt, it is always best to ask. A simple "what did you mean?" it can keep us from jumping to conclusions.

5. Emotional thinking

Negative emotions are often the fuse that ignites catastrophic thinking. When something happens to us, we tend to react emotionally. We can feel angry, sad or frustrated when something is wrong with our plans. But we shouldn't make the mistake of confusing those emotions with reality.

When we think that if we feel bad, the world is bad, we are assuming that our emotions are reality and therefore can affect it. In this way we fall into the trap of imagining a terrifying future if we are afraid or a gray future if we are depressed. Our negative emotions translate into thoughts that eventually shape our reactions.

How to deactivate it?

Emotions influence our thinking, it is a fact. But we can understand that this is only one factor in the equation. We need to separate our emotional reactions from events. So we can understand that the fact that we are afraid does not necessarily mean that the world is a threatening place. We are the ones who see it like this at that moment.

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