We all go through bad times in life. Typically, it's not because the universe is conspiring against us, but because we've taken steps in that direction, even though it's not always easy to realize this and take responsibility for the chain of unfortunate decisions. In those cases, when problem after problem arises, we can fall victim to what is known as the “waterfall effect”.
What is the waterfall effect?
The cascade effect is a phenomenon that manifests itself in a staggered manner, starting from an initial event up to an apparently inevitable conclusion. In the field of biology, it is conceptualized as "a process which, once initiated, advances step by step to its complete, seemingly inevitable conclusion".
This term is also used in the medical field to refer to a chain of diagnostic or therapeutic events triggered by the patient's or doctor's anxiety. In many cases these events are triggered by an unexpected result or an unnecessary test that was intended to reassure the doctor or patient.
Once the chain of events has begun, it is difficult to stop it and, although the consequences are foreseeable, they often end up causing physical or psychological harm to the patient. In fact, sometimes these consequences go beyond the patient himself and affect his family, which he drags along with him.
The cascade effect is relatively common in hypochondriacs, either because the doctor suspects that a disease may exist, because he wants to reassure the patient or simply to stick to clinical protocols. In those cases, it can initiate a series of diagnostic or even therapeutic interventions that do more harm than good.
But the cascade effect is not limited only to the medical field, we often suffer it also in everyday life. It happens when we go through a "bad time" without having a clear idea of how we got to that point.
Bad Times: Why Do All Evils Come Together?
A "bad moment" is nothing more than a period of time in which more unfavorable events than usual converge. Normally, they start with a loss or a problem that is particularly difficult to solve, but following that event or in parallel, another series of problematic situations arises that make us feel that "everything is wrong".
It is common for these moments to be a manifestation of the cascade effect because problems that started in a limited area of our life have spread to others, probably due to the anguish and stress they generate and prevent us from thinking clearly. , triggering maladaptive behaviors which in turn generate new conflicts or problems.
When we go through a “bad time”, often an unfounded thought, feeling or belief generates discomfort and anguish, triggering a series of negative events. We generally follow, without being fully aware of it, a precise process:
• We are experiencing an event that worries us and we are trying to do something to remedy it
• When we try to remedy it, a chain of events occurs which, the further they advance, the more unstoppable they become, as if they had a life of their own
• The consequences of our so-called "solutions" generate new worries and anxieties which in turn give rise to new chains of events
• We begin to see the negative effects of these events, consequences that are likely to extend to other close people
A jealous person, for example, may notice that their partner has drifted away a little. Instead of thinking that she has problems and asking him what's wrong, she immediately suspects that he might be cheating on her. That prospect alarms and anguishes her.
She then begins to "follow the trail" of the alleged infidelity, develops controlling behaviors and becomes suspicious. This behavior takes away the psychological oxygen from his partner, so that he will drift further and further away. Discussions and recriminations begin. The relationship deteriorates, not because of "infidelity", but because of the fear generated by the suspicion.
In many cases, the cascade effect is due to a low tolerance of uncertainty, as revealed by a study conducted at the University of Washington. When we are unable to cope with the level of uncertainty and distress generated by certain events, we rush to do something to try to exorcise them and find that the remedy can end up being worse than the disease.
How to stop the waterfall effect?
Rather than thinking in terms of good or bad moments, the cascade effect shows us that there are a number of causes and consequences in life that are difficult to escape once the mechanism is in motion. Not all of them are predictable or random, many times they follow a logical sequence, so that they can be analyzed with clarity by assuming the right psychological distance.
Therefore, when problems seem to pile up, we feel trapped and we don't see the way out, it is important to ask ourselves if we are not victims of the cascade effect. If so, we must arrest it, for this purpose it is necessary to identify the original event.
We must keep in mind that in most cases, what generates a "bad moment" is not so much the negative event itself, but the anguish, anxiety or fear it generates. Therefore, many times we react to those emotions, more than to the event itself.
In this way, the "solutions" we are looking for are not so much oriented to concretely solve the original problem but to mitigate the psychological anguish. This can keep the problem latent as we multiply our efforts to escape its negative consequences, thus entering a vicious circle.
Therefore, it is important to realize that we need to stop. If we don't, the bad time will probably not end and the problems will continue to multiply in the shadow of the initial event. As writer Molly Ivins said: "when you're in a hole, stop digging."
The first step is to become aware of the emotions that have arisen during the process. Ask yourself: what do I feel? Do I feel distressed? Anxious? frustrated? I'm scared?
The second step is to understand the thought pattern that accompanies those emotions. What is my mind telling me? Is it fueling the anguish? Maybe he's kidding me? Or maybe he's blackmailing me?
The third step is to stop the decision making process. Before you do something, ask yourself if you get carried away more by what you feel than by reason. Is this the best strategy? Has it helped you in the past? It's about remembering that simply having thoughts or emotions doesn't force you to act accordingly.