Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is one of those things that can stop you before you get started, take a perfectly good idea or ambition and make it vanish into thin air. What happens is this: you notice a desire to say, write a blog post. Immediately your inner perfectionist starts weighing in with its worries and predictions… you don’t have anything original to say… your writing isn’t good enough… you’ll embarrass yourself… no clients are going to call after reading this crap… your career will wither away… you won’t be able to pay your bills… you’ll end up penniless and alone. Now feeling anxious and hopeless, you close your laptop and walk away. No blog post ever gets written.

What the hell just happened? If you struggle with perfectionism, you are familiar with that voice in your head that says nothing is worth doing unless it is done perfectly. Even if another part of you knows differently, that inner perfectionist voice can win out by being the louder, more anxious, more desperate and insistent voice.

catastrophizing-web

Believing things have to be done perfectly often means believing that any mistake or flaw — no matter how minor — is devastating. From there your inner perfectionist can easily envision a chain of events ending in catastrophe. The conclusion: why bother trying? The project likely won’t be perfect, and if it’s not you will end up dying penniless and alone.

Try it yourself. Pick a work project, social event, creative endeavor, or other goal that is appealing but also scares you a bit. Think of the mistake you are afraid of making, and follow that fear down to its roots:

  • Goal/ambition/hope/project/etc:
  • If I… (name your feared mistake):
  • Then… (what’s the first feared consequence?):
  • And then…
  • And then…
  • And then…
  • And then…
  • And finally (dying penniless and alone? What’s your ultimate fear?):

Laying it all out like this can sometimes help lift some of the pressure and anxiety. When we see how unrealistic or silly our fears are, it can deflate them, and then give us some space to move around them and get stuff done. Sometimes it helps to have a gentle laugh at ourselves.

If you need a bit more perspective and inspiration, try writing out a more realistic prediction of events. Take your same goal/hope/ambition from before, but this time walk through a more likely chain of events. Write a blog post… it’s not the most perfect 500 words ever written… a handful of people read it… a few people share it or bookmark it… for two or three people, it plants a seed of self-compassion and hope that perfectionism can change… maybe one person gets inspired to try therapy or take some other action to stop perfectionism from making life so difficult.

Try it yourself…

  • Goal/ambition/hope/project/etc:
  • If I… (possible mistake or flaw):
  • Then… (realistic consequence):
  • And then…
  • And then…
  • And then…
  • And then…
  • And finally (possible — or likely — outcome):

How do you feel once you make space for the non-catastrophic vision of the future?
Want more tools like this for changing your relationship to your perfectionism? Sign up for my free six-week perfectionist email challenge or check out my book, The Perfectionism Workbook for Teens.