The Reasons Behind Our Propensity for Catastrophizing and How it Manifests

How and Why We Catastrophise

The concept of a catastrophiser has a somewhat humorous tone. We envision someone silly but sweet panicking over the idea that the sky is falling – when in reality, it won’t, because skies just don’t do that. We might say, “There they go again,” as the catastrophiser insists that “this is the end!” – when in fact, it’s just a minor delay with the plane, misplaced keys, or a tickly cough.

However, from close up, being the subject of catastrophic thinking is not remotely benign or funny. A mind that falls into this pattern can’t picture anything between the present and the worst-case scenario – only a direct line. For the catastrophiser, an unhappy ex-partner means the ex is vengeful and furious. This kind of thinking affects every aspect of their lives, from sleep to appetite, and can lead to thoughts of self-harm. This individual doesn’t see any issue as ‘small’.

People may poke fun at the catastrophiser for being ‘heavy,’ but this neglects the fact that catastrophic thinking is a clinical condition with a history almost always rooted in having encountered a real catastrophe before. They’ve made a connection between what will happen and what has already happened at some point. Sometimes, it’s not an encounter with a catastrophic event but familiarity with catastrophic feelings. Catastrophisers are often driven by events in their past, which hints at the awful experiences they fear repeating. Moreover, catastrophising often indicates ‘thinking like a child,’ but we are no longer the children we once were and have grown stronger and more resilient.