I should have started going to therapy a long time ago, right after a difficult breakup and right before my father was diagnosed with cancer. But thinking I could handle these things all by my bad self, I postponed therapy until the day after my 28th birthday, when I looked around at my life, which was full of blessings, and realized how truly unhappy I was. I needed a new way of examining my life and approaching my experiences, especially when it came to dating. After years of trying to find someone I clicked with, at that time, I was so discouraged by the whole shebang, that I wasn’t dating and I felt defeated. I didn’t realize there was a term for what I was doing until my therapist explained it in our first session: I was the queen at catastrophizing. What is that? A fancy term for thinking the worst, all the damn time.
“Catastrophizing is when we see things in the worst-possible-case scenario," Dr. Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC tells Bustle. "We assume that things will end up in the worst outcome, and that things can not go any other way. It is not being able to see less severe alternatives, or even a potential positive outcome."
"People do this because they tell themselves that they are preparing themselves for the worst-case scenario. However, in doing so, they do not open themselves to a more realistic or positive outcome."
If catastrophizing sounds a lot like what you do when you approach certain areas of your life — from your career to finding love — Martinez notes that it’s far more common than you may realize. “People do this because they tell themselves that they are preparing themselves for the worst-case scenario," she says. "However, in doing so, they do not open themselves to a more realistic or positive outcome. Showing someone that taking a step back and considering other options, or focusing on the facts of a situation, can shed light on other outcomes than the worst, can be powerful."
Sound familiar? Here’s how you can stop expecting the terrible: