I can't find my purse…Oh no! I must have left it in the supermarket…Someone is sure to have nicked it…Maybe it was stolen by someone who was looking over my shoulder when I got the money out of the cash dispenser, in which case they know my PIN number and will probably already have emptied my bank account and stolen my identity…That means I won't be able to pay my bills this month…What if the bank decides to repossess the house? We'll be ruined. We're going to end up out on the street…How could I have been so stupid?

Stephen Briers, Brilliant Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Sometimes known as "magnification", the "catastrophising" thinking error occurs when we blow things way out of proportion.

Catastrophising happens when you look at your own errors, fears or imperfections and exaggerate their importance.

Crystal ballYou turn commonplace negative events into nightmarish monsters, and combine pessimism (i.e., assuming that in any situation a bad or distressing outcome is more likely than a good one) with a wildly exaggerated sense of threat. Things will not only be bad. They will be really bad.


Techniques for 'un-distortion'

Robert Leahy has suggested the following techniques for challenging catastrophising:

  1. Rate the degree of your belief and identity and rate your emotions.
  2. Identify exactly what your prediction is — exactly what will happen and when and where it will happen
  3. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis
    a. Do you think that worry protects and prepares you?
    b. Do you fear that you can't control your worries?
  4. Examine evidence for and against your catastrophising thinking.
  5. What is the quality of the evidence that supports your catastrophising thinking?
  6. What cognitive distortions are you using to support your belief? Are you fortune telling, discounting positives, using "should" statements, using negative filters?
  7. How could you prove that your thought is wrong? Is it testable?
  8. What if your thought were true — why would it bother you? Exactly what would happen?
  9. Practice repeating the following statement 20 minutes each day: "No matter what I do, it's always possible something bad could happen to me."
  10. How many times have you made incorrect predictions?
  11. Exactly what would make this event terrible and awful?
  12. How would you feel about this event a month later, a year later, two years later?
  13. Are there people to whomthis catastrophe has happened but who have gone on to experience positive things in their lives? How did they manage to go beyond the negative event to positive experiences?
  14. Even if this catastrophe happened to you, what positive things could you still experience? why would they see it differently from the way you see it?
  15. Would other people think that what is happening or has happened is terrible and awful? Why would they see it differently from the way you see it?
  16. Even if this "terrible" thing happened, could something positive comoe out of it? Could it lead you to learn something? Open up new opportunities? Motivate you to reexamine your values?