Dysfunctional Thinking 2 - Catastrophic Thinking

This is another type of thinking that was so commonplace in my (Clarke's) mind that I didn't even know that it was happening at all, never mind when.


This is a much more nuanced habit than we might first think


The blatant example is when we get a splinter off the garden fence and are then overwhelmed with the belief that we're going to get tetanus or gangrene, have our limb amputated and then die from the resulting sepsis


It is a notion that will pass through the mind of the majority of people, and understandably so, because it is a possibility


What we need to be aware of is how much credence we put on these notions compared to the likelihood of them actually happening, and are our responses proportionate to this?


We are rational beings. When something happens to us we assess the potential outcomes. What allows us to adapt and survive is that we are able to contemplate the worst case scenario and do what we can to prevent it.


So, to consider the 'catastrophe' is not only normal, it's necessary


The dysfunction arrives when all of our thoughts and actions are dominated by the worst case scenario so much, that it becomes the ONLY scenario


Taking the initial analogy, if on getting a splinter we call 999, demand an operation and every anti-biotic on offer, whilst summoning the local priest to read our last rites, that's obviously an over reaction.


But like I said earlier, it's often far more subtle and nuanced than that.


This type of thinking is usually born out of a trauma. A past experience where the worst case scenario is what actually happened. Therefore, when a similar set of circumstances arise in the future, the mind searches for context in our lives and subsequently remembers this situation and uses it as evidence of what is about to happen again.


The nuance is that we have all had different experiences in our lives, and so what has constituted disaster for one, may well have been a positive outcome for another


For example, when a relationship breaks down. If Person A was unhappy in the relationship, the ensuing freedom and opportunity to move on may be seen as a blessing. However, Person B may have been desperately in love, and so the break down of the relationship is the worst thing that has ever happened to them in their lives.


Further down the line, it is far more likely that Person B will have anxieties about the state of their relationship than Person A, and this could manifest itself in a few ways.


One could be that, at the first sign of disharmony in future relationships, Person B just cuts and runs. The thinking is that the relationship is obviously doomed so they might as well end it now. It will save future heartache and also gives a semblance of control over the situation.


A second could be that Person B never gets into a relationship again, or at least not with someone who displays any similarity to Person A. The thinking is that the result will be exactly the same because they are incompatible.


Another could be dramatic and emotional responses to seemingly innocuous actions from a future partner. Maybe not immediately responding to texts, "because that's what Person A did just before they broke my heart".


I use a relationship because most of us are familiar with the dynamic. Yet any other experience can instigate catastrophic thinking within that area.


A bad illness can lead to extreme responses around germs and hygiene


Bereavement can lead to a multitude of disproportionate responses, around loss, letting go (or not letting go) amongst others, and we MUST be guided through these by trained grief experts.


My catastrophic response was always around any perceived threat to my career, and subsequently my livelihood and my identity. My previous experience of this had led to my first suicide attempt in 2001. Therefore, whenever this situation arose again, the fear, anxiety and self-doubt grew and my mind was desperate to not go "there" again. So I usually self medicated, in any way possible.


If I had the understanding that I have now, and the support network that I have now, then my actions would have been very different.


Now, I talk about the feelings that arise in any given circumstance. Usually to Carrie, but sometimes to my Mum, my brother, my therapist or my friend. I allow them to inject some external rationale into my situation, which always gives a broader perspective than I initially had. Then, and the greatest change of all, I CHOOSE how to respond to the situation in a way that will be constructive for me.


In many situations in my life I thought there was no way out, that disaster was pre-destined and my demise was the only outcome.


Today I know that there is ALWAYS a way out and, not only that, there's usually one that will help me to grow and improve as a human

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