Cognitive distortion is faulty thinking, perception, or belief about oneself, others, and the world. These thoughts are developed by our early experiences and the influences of the people around us. Cognitive distortion is a normal psychological process that can happen in all people to a greater or lesser extent. Cognitive distortion has a strong influence on our behavior. Some examples of cognitive distortion are over- generalization, catastrophic thinking, irrational thinking, emotional reasoning, blaming, polarized thinking, should statements, control fallacies, the fallacy of fairness, the fallacy of change, and personalization.
Catastrophizing is one of the cognitive distortions that makes a person think of the worst possible outcome or conclusion. Their thinking or belief has very limited information or an objective reason to despair. When a situation is dissatisfying or slightly changing but not necessarily ruinous, they feel and think that they are in a crisis. The individual has a problem of mistakenly exaggerate the problem they face.
For example, at work, your manager gives you feedback to improve your performance and work efficiency by analyzing your performance. But then you start thinking that you are going to get fired and then start worrying about how you are going to find another job, with employment being a problem in the present world. Then you imagine yourself in a financial crisis and becoming homeless, feeling like everything around you is falling apart. Your heart is pounding, you think your life is over, and you feel like crying. All these thoughts and feelings stemmed from one thought about one feedback comment that the manager would have given to every employee working under him and probably even forgot about.
Causes of catastrophic thinking
Many factors could explain why we tend to catastrophize. Catastrophizing could be a learned response from our past experiences. Predicting the worst outcomes is used as a protective mechanism to avoid hurt or disappointment, especially in situations where we have experienced trauma or downfall in the past.
Flight or fight is an automatic physiological response to a situation that is perceived as a threat or stressful. It is quite natural for our brains to be attentive to the threats and negative things around us. In such situations, catastrophizing becomes usual for individuals.
Fear, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence are the root causes of catastrophic thinking; they make people believe that we are incapable of handling problems and imagine ourselves as helpless and hopeless.
Children who experience trauma during childhood, witness parents who overreact to perceived events, or expect perfection in every aspect, are more likely to catastrophize. Children who grow up witnessing worse incidents such as parent separation, an alcoholic father, or abuse by primary caretakers tend to view life as a danger. Even when good things happen, they discard them by creating a negative reality, saying, “Good things don’t happen to me.”
Catastrophizing is not a mental health condition or illness. However, it is a symptom of certain mental health disorders. Catastrophizing is also widely related to mental health disorders like anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.
How can we decatastrophize the catastrophizing thoughts.
Anytime you catastrophize any event, always question the negative thoughts that rush through your mind, making you feel catatonic about the entire situation. It might surprise you that your thoughts and beliefs are untrue and less likely to happen to you.
|I am unfit for love. I am never going to find anyone and die alone. Marriage is not for me.||I have been more focused on my career and never had time to look into relationships. If I could spend some time focusing on finding someone through some means, I think I could find a life partner.|
|I am ugly, and no matter what I don’t look good, I will still be ugly and disgusting to look at.||There are days where most of us feel we are not looking our best, but that doesn’t mean I am ugly forever. I have received compliments for the features I have.|
|If I don’t pass in math, I’ll be a total failure and never pass out of school.||Math is a little difficult for me, and I need to spend some more time solving the equations and problems. However, I am good in other subjects and have high scores.|
|I cleared the second round of interviews, but what if I don’t clear the third round? End up not getting the job and being homeless and financially broke.||I cleared the first and second rounds. I am in the top ten, and I do have the potential to clear the third round, so let me prepare myself.|
|I got second place in the singing competition. I guess singing is not for me; I am not a good singer. I am never going to sing or enroll in singing competitions.||I expected to win first place. However, I am grateful I won second place. Next time, I will spend more time improving my singing and aim again for first place.|
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