catastrophising

 

In my work as a counsellor and mindfulness teacher I listen carefully to what I am being told.  The details of what I might hear may vary quite significantly,  however there are usually some commonalities in thoughts, feelings and behaviours.  Carl Rogers, who developed the Person-Centred Approach to counselling, once wrote:  “what is most personal is most universal”.    I believe he meant that the most personal and intimate aspects of our experiencing are also experienced by others in similar situations.  We might use different words yet the sentiment is the same.

Relationships feature a lot in my work-relationships with the boss, work colleagues, friends, partners, lovers, children, animals and even the relationship we have with ourself.  And what I have noticed is that our minds create a “truth” about what happened in a particular scenario, or even predicted scenario.

For example, our fictional man, we shall call him “Hugo”, in his fictional job in sales, has been promoted to team leader and is feeling very stressed and overwhelmed with the new level of responsibility and the expectations of others.  Hugo has begun to miss his lunch breaks and is checking his work emails at home after work and during the weekends.  Hugo’s team failed to reach their quota for sales last quarter (he was promoted half way through that quarter).  He received an email from his line manager saying he wants to see Hugo as a matter of urgency.

Obviously Hugo does not feel happy about not reaching his quota and now he has received this email he is beginning to think he has lost his job…and with loosing his job he thinks he will not be able to afford to go on the holiday he had planned, and he also won’t be able to afford the repayments on the new car or his mortgage.  He is delaying the meeting with his line manager because he doesn’t want to hear what he thinks will be the outcome.  The already stressed Hugo is even more stressed and anxious and begins to loose his temper at his work colleagues, and the team’s performance declines and so do their sales.

Now it may be that his line manager wants to see him about not reaching the sales quota… and of course it may not be that at all. What has happened is that Hugo has connected the two events as being related to each other.  These two events have been connected by a thought: poor sales + email=sacking.  And this thought has been built upon to become a fact (I will loose my job).  His body is pumping out stress related hormones and he is having difficulty sleeping.

We listen to our thoughts (that inner voice) a lot and we rarely question what it says or challenge it directly.  The power of the thought for Hugo has led from boss wants to see me to loosing his job, to loosing his house-very quickly.  Have your thoughts ever jumped like that?  I know mine have!

Our thoughts jumping to the worst case scenario is called catastrophizing.  Stopping those thoughts from getting bigger and bigger is very hard because we do it outside of our awareness.  Self awareness gained through counselling and/or mindfulness can help you gain this self-awareness.  “Checking out” with the other person is also an effective way of limiting the size of those thoughts.