Addicted to catastrophizing? I get it…
I’ve been addicted to catastrophizing for most of my life. I would assume the worst case scenario and feel relief when it didn’t happen. I loved the relief, but hated the pain that I’d put myself through for hours, days, and sometimes even weeks before the dreaded moment when things could decline so rapidly that I would cause death, homelessness, poverty, or emotional suffering to myself (and later in life to my family).
I learned it from a young age by watching my mother catastrophize often and over time, I conditioned my body to spiral into worst case scenario thinking. I often didn’t realize that I was doing it. I would feel a strong sensation in my stomach and then my throat would close. It would be hard to swallow and my heart would race. This was a full blown fight/flight trauma response.
As a child, I imaged that I felt like this as a result of my family’s experience with gun violence.
As a parent, I convinced myself that it was normal to worry like this about one’s children.
As an academic, I told myself that I was simply analyzing all the possibilities.
As a feminist, I believed that this was my fate as a human raised as a womxn in a patriarchal society.
I thought that I could use this catastrophizing to prepare and then revel in the relief that I felt when the worst case didn’t happen. The thing is that I rarely remembered that what I’d expected didn’t come true. I just felt the relief and it was an addictive rush. I wanted to feel that relief all the time and my brain told me that I could experience that by catastrophizing. Either way, I’d be in good shape. I’d either prepare myself for the doom and destruction (not exaggerating!) or I’d feel relieved and safe.
The relief and safety didn’t last long though because my body would kick into stress response mode the next time I sensed danger. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken lots of risks in my life. I’ve accomplished many of my academic, professional, and personal goals. I’ve stepped out and spoken my truth even when it seemed dangerous. I have tried to live the most honest life I could imagine. But, I also felt awful most of the time because I was catastrophizing.
This addiction to catastrophizing didn’t help me accomplish more. It made me miserable while I was doing hard things. And, it held me back from doing even more with my gifts and talents. It prevented me from dreaming of liberation and possibility. It shackled me to “what if” and binary thinking of fatalism or freedom.
The whole time I was actually yearning for ease and calm while living my vibrant life.
What changed? I hired a feminist coach who helped me see my thoughts and my emotional responses. She showed me that nothing had gone wrong. She reminded me that my experiences are from both my own individual life, but also from a collective experience that many womxn live in this world.
She coached me around recognizing my emotional responses and taught me to transform them into my own superpowers.
I still catastrophize because I have a human brain. In fact, I spend the last two weeks in Croatia and I can count at least five times that I catastrophized in that time.
I catastrophized about the Covid protocols because they were new.
I catastrophized about the next bad thing that could happen (whatever that was).
I mean, I’ve been to Croatia 12 times. It’s not like I was on a new adventure. However, I felt like I stepped outside my front door (a global front door in my case) for the first time in 19 months. Of course, I was scared. I was also more committed to living my intentionally international life than I was to staying frozen in fear. What was different this time was that I was committed to not only living the life that I want to cultivate for myself, but I was committed to living it without the pain of the stress cycle that I’d normalized. So, I showed up for myself and navigated the negative spiral. The situations worked out well each of the five times. Sometimes they were bumpy and that’s ok. Life is bumpy, but it’s not a catastrophe.
Sign up for a call with me if you are ready to stop the catastrophizing spiral. I coach glass-shattering, patriarchy-smashing, impact-making women who are ready to shed fear, second guessing and catastrophizing. It’s time to advocate for yourself like you do for others.