Catastrophizing Sucks

Catastrophizing is one of those autistic traits that when I first read about it, I thought, “Oh, I never do that.”

How wrong I was.

I catastrophize daily. It’s usually small stuff that blows over quickly–I’m not going to get to the post office before it closes which means I won’t get my important overnight package and I’ll have to go back tomorrow and everything will be delayed and I should have left home sooner and why did I take a right out of the parking garage instead of a left because taking a right always means waiting in more traffic even though it’s more direct well obviously it’s because I’m stupid and don’t think things through so it’s my fault if I get there too late but maybe I’ll be able to beg one of the workers who’s closing up to get my package because that worked once before and . . .

Next thing I know, I’m at the post office and it’s not closed. Crisis averted! Except this was a fake crisis, made up in my head because I was catastrophizing.

Snowballing a Crisis into a Catastrophe

I don’t mind minor catastrophizing. It’s annoying but not detrimental to my psyche like serious catastrophizing is. The serious type starts out small–like a case of poison ivy starts with just one little itchy bump–and gradually creeps up on me until I find myself taking a sledgehammer to my self-esteem.Β 

A recent example: Months ago, when I saw people posting on Facebook about putting together presentation proposals for an autism-related conference, I thought, hmmm, maybe when I’m more experienced at blogging I could do that. Then, last month, when I saw people talking about attending the conference, I looked at the website. That looks like a cool event, I thought. Then I closed the browser tab and forgot about it.

Fast forward to the week before the conference. People are excitedly planning their trips and arranging to meet up. Oh, I realize, that could have been me. I could be going next week, but I’m not. Why am I not going? Oh well, it’s too late now.

But it starts to eat at me a little, you know. Why didn’t I sign up? There are no real barriers to going. It’s not too far away. I can take time off from work. There are even rules about socializing, like colored badges that indicate whether you’re open to being approached! Plus, presentations about ASD and people who I know a little from online interactions.

Then the week of the conference arrives and there are lots of excited Facebook posts about people meeting up and doing things together and . . . suddenly I have a giant sad. What’s wrong with me? I wonder. Why can’t I be like those other autistic people who are having fun and meeting each other and giving presentations and and and . . .

Do you see what happened? Something that wasn’t that important gradually became more important until it overshadowed everything else about me. I didn’t sign up for the conference initially because it felt, as odd as this sounds, like something other people do. When I saw everyone making plans, I realized that it was something I’d like to do, but there was the practical barrier of “too late.”

Then, somehow, I completely forgot about the logistical reasons for not going and turned it into, “I must be a freak because I can’t do what everyone else is doing. What’s wrong with me? I’m a terrible failure of a human being.”

Which isn’t true. When I write that and read it back, I know it’s not true. And yet. It’s still whispering at the back of my mind.

Black and White?

Catastrophizing, like perfectionism, is a result of thinking in absolutes (black and white thinking). Either I’m great at something or I’m a failure. I’m going to get to the post office on time and everything will be fine or I’m going to be late and everything will be ruined.

In reality, there are other options. I might get to the post office on time only to discover my important package has been lost. I might get there late and have to return in the morning, but besides being a little late approving the materials, there are no real consequences to the delay. Or, like in the past, I’ll get there two minutes after they close but the manager will retrieve the package for me if I ask him politely.

I don’t know why autistic people are so prone to thinking in absolutes. Combine that with our superhero-level perseveration skills and the combination can be rough on the self-esteem. I’ve been trying for a while to dial back the catastrophizing but it feels like an intractable problem. Even that feeling is probably catastrophizing. Maybe taking it apart and looking at the pieces will help:

  1. Catastrophizing is illogical. It leads to dire future predictions based on something that hasn’t even happened yet. If X happens then the dreadful Y will happen, which will lead to the even more horrible Z. But look at the first word in that sentence: if. X hasn’t happened yet and there’s no guarantee it will, so why the heck am I already worrying about Z!? Logically (and statistically) the odds of X-Y-Z happening are much smaller than the odds of X happening. And X hasn’t happened yet!!

  2. Catastrophizing sets up a false choice. Thinking in absolutes creates a false choice between only two alternatives: a great one and an awful one. In reality there are many possible outcomes between everything is perfect! and everything is terrible!

  3. Catastrophizing poisons the water. Autistic individuals are supposed to be bad at generalizing but when it comes to catastrophizing, we’re experts. I did this bad thing, ergo I must be a bad person. No! Good people do bad things. Good people screw up or are too scared to do things. You can be unhappy with something you’ve done while still being happy with yourself overall.

  4. Catastrophizing thrives on inaction. Thinking, thinking, thinking. That’s what catastrophizing is, right? A bunch of thoughts, one worse than the next, feeding off each other. One way to stop them is to take action. Do something distracting. Call up that friend and find out if she really hates you or she’s just been too busy to ring you. Treat yourself to a triple chocolate cupcake. Anything to get out of that rut of thinking thinking thinking.

  5. Catastrophizing can be a proxy. Sometimes unrelated anxiety, fears or vulnerabilities feed catastrophizing. Anxiety about an upcoming job interview gets expressed as obsessive thoughts about an uncertain romantic relationship or an aging Β pet’s health. Is the thing you’re catastrophizing about really your biggest concern or is it a handy distraction?

  6. Catastrophizing is an emotional magnet. It attracts negative energy and holds it in place. The things we catastrophize about are often the “weakest link” in our emotional universe. For me, my social skills are my weak link. If I’m in major catastrophizing mode, it most likely involves my ability to relate to other people.

  7. Catastrophizing thrives in secret. It’s hard to catastrophize out loud because it’s such an irrational act. The minute I say, “I’m a failure at being a person” to someone else, they’re going to poke all kinds of holes in that statement. But in my head, I can just keep reinforcing the negativity ad infinitum.

  8. Catastrophizing is rewarding. This is confusing because I don’t understand how such a maladaptive, self-destructive habit is so self-reinforcing. Maybe it’s a way of preempting the worst case scenario? Maybe it’s because self-pity feels good? Maybe it feels like creating certainty in an uncertain situation, even if that certainty is an awful one? I don’t understand why, but catastrophizing has a self-soothing effect, even as it makes me feel terrible.

It’s that last point that blows all the rest out of the water. I can look at all the logical reasons that I’ve listed to justify how detrimental and unproductive catastrophizing is, but then I get to number 8 and I’m right back where I started.


107 thoughts on “Catastrophizing Sucks”

  1. I catastrophize a lot. I grinned as I read that because I’m just like, “Ha! I get this so much!’

    I tend to catastrophize about things that plausibly could go wrong due to my EF issues. If I’m leaving on a trip: I have to make a checklist so I don’t forget anything but what if I forget something? Knowing me and my luck, I’ll forget something critical like my asthma medication or one of my bags and then have to double back to grab it and then I’ll miss my flight and then I’ll have to deal with the bureaucracy of getting a new flight and did I remember to buy the flight insurance that if I miss it, I get a rebate? What if I didn’t? Is there some clause I missed about it? What if I forget the date and show up a day late like the time I fucked up my rental car time and hand to scramble at the last minute for a new rental after I showed up at a closed store? Shit, shit, what’s the plan if I miss my rental car appointment because the flight’s late?! …

    … etc etc next thing I know it’s the morning I’m supposed to leave and I’ve had no sleep because I was up catastrophizing all night. I’m exhausted, in a foul mood, and likely to melt down at the slightest frustration, and then because I can feel how close I am to meltdown, I start catastrophizing about the possibility of melting down as I go through security and… etc.

    I’m trying to stop my catastrophizing because 1, it’s not helpful when it keeps me up all night. Mild catastrophizing of the what-could-go-wrong variety actually helps me to plan and react appropriately when stuff does go wrong, so I don’t mind it too much. Serious catastrophizing, on the other hand, is a biiiiiig part of why it takes me 2-3 weeks to fully recover after a trip. 2, it’s tied up a lot with abusive scripts I’ve internalized from my parents, so I’ll be berating myself with the catastrophizing (calling myself “stupid” and “freak” and “lazy” and “careless” and “airheaded” and what have you), which is not good for my mental health and is part of why I tend to be prone to situational depression when it’s a high-stress time. 3, catastrophizing is tied in with my pessimistic outlook defense mechanism, which I’ve mentioned before does stop me from doing things and also plays into my tendency to get situational depressions because I tend to assume everything is going to suck and then the catastrophizing reinforces that assumption.

    So, all in all, catastrophizing is bad for me. I’m trying to learn to recognize when I’m doing it and tell myself, “I’ve already thought of that and have a plan in place for if it happens. If it happens, I can deal with it, so I’m not going to worry about it anymore.”

    Problem is that catastrophizing is insidious and difficult to recognize in the heat of the moment. Hopefully it’s one of those things that practice will help with.

    1. Oh gosh, traveling. I need to be at the airport ridiculously early because I’m always certain I’ll miss my flight even though I’ve never come close to doing that. And it’s contagious because now my daughter gets to the airport even earlier than I would! I’ve gotten to the point where I try to only worry about forgetting irreplaceable things like medication or my credit card and remind myself that if I forget anything else, I could realistically buy or borrow it at my destination. That helps a little. Still, I’ll check my luggage a half dozen times before leaving.

      I think you’re right about differentiating between the mild and major kinds as helpful/preparatory versus exhausting and pointless. There is some point to thinking through what can go wrong and how to avoid it for EF-type processes. But the self-defeating, berating type of catastrophizing is just plain not good.

      Self-talk is so hard to use as a weapon against catastrophizing. I try and it works a little and then I find myself backsliding because somehow I don’t want to feel better just yet? That’s kind of hard to admit, but there it is.

      1. No lie: I try to get to the airport three hours in advance for domestic flights, four hours for international flights. Because if I don’t, I’m certain I’ll somehow get lost or something and miss my flight. That I’ve gotten lost in airports for an hour at a time before probably has a lot to do with it – I’ve never missed my flight, but I have had to sprint across the airport to the gate and get on just as they were about to shut the doors twice.

        The other part of why I insist on arriving so early (I take whatever time is a reasonable arrival time according to the website and subtract an hour and a half – so if the website says “arrive at departure time – 1.5 hours”, I try for departure time – 3 hours) is because my mother chronically runs at least an hour late, so if I insist I want to be there at X:XX, we will most likely arrive at X+1:XX, if I’m rushing her and telling her we’re going to be late if she doesn’t hurry up. If I don’t rush her, we will arrive 2-3 hours late.

        Since my mother does not have EF function issues to my knowledge, and has a pattern of passive-aggressive, extremely self-centered, and emotionally abusive behavior, I suspect she does it on purpose. She has made me miss my bus home more than a few times, and then said with a broad grin, “Well, I guess you have to stay for a few more days, since I can’t drive out tomorrow since (bullshit made up excuse).” This conveniently always happened when she’d been asking me to change my plans so that I could stay a bit longer, and I’d refused because of work or school obligations. My mother also has the habit of running significantly later than normal when she wants me to miss something than when she wants me to be on time. Plus, what makes me suspect it’s intentional is not that it’s happened at all (my sister has also made me miss stuff, but in her case it was accidental), but rather that it’s a pattern of behavior that always conveniently has consequences which turn out exactly how my mother wanted things to be in the first place, and she has absolutely no problem being punctual for things she wants. Once is circumstance, twice is happenstance, thrice is enemy action. Except in my mother’s case, it’s more like a few dozen times.

        Anyway, now that I’m old enough, I’ve changed my compensation strategy from “try to leave an extra hour and a half early” to “rent a car and remove her from the equation,” but old habits die hard on the travel front, and I still subtract an hour and a half from any reasonable departure time. On the upside, if I have an EF-induced brain fart, I’ve planned time to correct it. Oh, I forgot my meds? Hooray! It just so happens I have an hour and a half of buffer time with which to drive back, grab them, and return!

        1. This is such a great read! I plan in loads of buffer time too, for things like appointments (I usually end up being about half an hour early, sometimes more). But not for air travel! I’ve flown from the main airport here so many times that I have a routine and I know *exactly* what time I need to check in to make it to the gate with about a five minute wait before we can all board. Which means I check in about an hour, hour and a half *later* than it usually says on the website. My routine is perfect *grin* and I have first hand experience of everything that can go wrong and know exactly how much time I’ll need to deal with that. Barring force of nature. But that’s something I can’t control anyway so there is no efficiency in worrying about that.

          Of course, I usually travel alone. Big bonus.

          1. Huge bonus. Now that I’ve gotten the hang of traveling alone and have gotten into the habit of arranging my travel plans such that I am not dependent on anyone else in order for me to be on time, I rather like traveling, even though it takes me so long to recover. I like it because when I can do it the way I want to do it on my timeline, schedule and resources, stuff usually doesn’t go catastrophically wrong like it does when I’m doing it on someone else’s timeline, schedule, or resources. Because I plan time to pack, time to double-check what I’m packing, time to load luggage, time to double-check what I’m loading, time to travel to the airport/bus station/what have you, time to deal with anything that goes wrong on the way, time to go through security and anything that goes wrong at the airport, and then some time to settle down and get my bearings before I board.

            Amazingly, when I give myself enough time, I usually don’t forget or misplace stuff.

        2. I once got very lost on the way to the airport, had to backtrack many exits and still got there in plenty of time! So yes, occasionally all that overplanning comes in handy.

          Your mother’s tactics sound devious and stressful. Removing her from the equation is an excellent defensive maneuver. πŸ™‚

          1. As I get older, I increasingly find that saying, “Hm? Oh, no, I’m not going to play that game. I’m going to do this to side-step the issue entirely instead,” is both a more effective and more satisfying strategy for dealing with people like my mother. It’s effective because I avoid the conflict entirely and get what I want, and it’s satisfying because I get to watch them try and fail to find a way to sabotage it.

              1. I dunno if it’s boundaries so much as just refusing to play by rules that are stacked against me. Then again, if that’s all having boundaries is… *mind blown*

          2. Oh my goodness, travelling…

            I rarely travel alone (because up until now I’ve just managed to be really lucky with people travelling with me…although we did still get to airports several times so early that we couldn’t check bags in—that’s about an hour, if you are wondering), so when I had to travel by myself on a tight schedule to grad school interviews, that caused major problems. Because IF I WAS LATE, HORRIBLE THINGS WOULD HAPPEN AND I WOULD NEVER GET INTO GRAD SCHOOL AND THEN BE UNEMPLOYED FOREVER. And that was quite, quite unfortunate and caused a lot of panicking on airplanes and airports, as well as getting to airports EXTREMELY EARLY.

            And it doesn’t even help all that much. I realized that when after all my planning to avoid things going wrong, MY PLANE WAS DELAYED and there is really nothing you can do about it but just wait and hope you still get in on time.

  2. Oh yes, I thought I didn’t do that either until I read examples of it and realized, like you, that I do it constantly. Literally. My most typical catastrophizing is often done with rules I’ve made up myself. Like I have to go shopping at certain times because there are less people, the parking lot is more navigable, etc. and if I’m ten minutes later I start thinking about how horrible it’s going to be, how there will be too many checkout lines to choose from, how I’ll sit there waiting to exit the lot forever blahblahblah. And even I can intellectually say to myself, “This is not going to happen. Why are you stressing?” My emotions are telling me differently. As for number 8, I think it’s part of trying to control things. My plan was this – the plan is now slightly off – so now I’m running through the list of possible issues this might bring up so I can be prepared. But while this gives me some semblance of preparation for the disaster to come, it still makes me really unhappy. And I think I’m mostly unhappy about it because I realise how…ugh, crazy it sounds? Like sometimes I find myself panicking about getting out of the house on time and I’m talking about it and my husband says, “You know this isn’t a big deal, right? Target will still be there when you find your keys and leave.”

    1. Hmmm, crazy is not the best choice of words, haha, senseless? It makes no sense AND it’s negative and that makes me feel that I’m stupid and can’t control myself.

    2. I have lots of fake rules too. I usually realize I have them only when my husband questions some thing that I’m fretting about and points out that I’m totally making it up. Which is infuriating! πŸ˜€ There’s definitely an element of control or of at least feeling like I’m in control and of being prepared, even though that’s probably somewhat false as well.

      Maybe there needs to be a “fake rules” experiment next! I think you’ve inspired me. πŸ™‚

  3. WOW! what a great blog. I am so going to share this with my son who I had no idea till now, this is what he does, I just thought he was more negative!! Oppssss Thank you for this great read.

  4. This really gives some amazing insights into what catastrophising is and does. I’m fairly sure I only do the “worst case scenario” thinking to mentally prepare myself, not to paralyse myself. But I’m not so sure now. Because I also have a non-stop internal monologue telling me what an absolutely shitty person I am for failing to do things.

    1. I think we’ve hit on something important here – the possibility that one kind of catastrohphizing can be helpful and the other can be self-harming. It’s the second one that sucks big time.

      1. Maybe we should call the first one something like “anticipatory troubleshooting”?

        Because to me the constructive kind feels kind of like, “What’s likely to go wrong and how do I prevent it?” whereas the nonconstructive kind feels like, “If everything isn’t exactly as I plan, the whole thing is going to go to hell in a handbasket and it will be all my fault and I may as well not even do it if anything at all goes wrong!”

        1. But when even the useful mental preparation and coping mechanisms get shot down as “you overanslyse everything” and “stop worrying!”, it’s really hard to see the difference. One kind keeps me safe and sane, the other kind is self-harming. I’ve had to become much more vocal in telling people that most kinds of “overanalysing” are not harmful to me. I will not stop thinking. Because this is how I cope.

          1. I totally feel you there.

            I usually try to explain to others that I have to overanalyze everything in order to function – without it I wouldn’t be able to handle social interaction stuff.

            1. And yet they still try to tell me to stop thinking. Errrr no you really don’t want that. Trust me. I know what happens when I don’t think about things. :p

              (And picking up the pieces afterwards is not my idea of having fun either).

              This is not catastrophising. I *know* what happens when I’m not constantly alert and aware of what I say to people and how I act. And even then it still goes wrong sometimes. This is simply a very realistic assessment of my capability to survive in a world that isn’t very tolerant of diversity.

              1. Yeah, I’ve tried to explain that to people before, too. See also: I don’t have a hard time socially because I’m socially anxious, I’m socially anxious because I’m bad at socializing.

  5. Catastraphizing…I had no idea that this was an Autistic characteristic, nor did I know that it had a name!! I read this post aloud to my husband and he began to laugh – not at the information, the post is awesome – he began laughing because it so accurately described what I do DAILY. When you get a sec, read my last post (The World According To Me) I catastrophize right in the middle of it and didn’t even know I was doing it! And the Black & White (also title of my book) is a dead on descriptor: I am either a success or fail – there is no in-between. Yet I have no problem seeing in-between in others. Perfectionism??

    Being dx’d so late, I’ve so much to learn. All my new Autistic friends, acquaintances, etc… are helping me tremendously. You have lightened my heart today, because now one more thing I do that I thought was just ‘me’ irritating myself is something others do as well and irritate themselves while they’re doing it!

    Thank you! πŸ™‚

    1. This seems like something so many of us do! I wish I could remember where I first heard the term – it was in one of the first autism-related books I ever read but I have no idea which one. Catastrophizing, perfectionism and other forms of black and white thinking all feel loosely related.

      Also, will you share your blog address here? I keep seeing your posts over in Triberr and then forgetting to follow you. Serious executive function failure. If you post it here, I’ll be sure to follow you and perhaps others will too. πŸ™‚

        1. I’m a little late to the party (on account of hating parties!) but having come here for solace after a bad day (due to my mother totally screwing up my perfectly planned perfect day) I’ve now got your blog to read too πŸ™‚ And the first couple have made me chuckle! (In a ‘I so get that’ way natch)

  6. I had no idea catastraphizing was considered an autistic trait. This made me laugh so much this morning when I read your title. We have long referred to my partner as a catastraphizer. She’s legendary at it, turning a slight dry cough in one of our kids into undetected lung disease. I read her your title just now, giggling, and she said yeah that makes sense, it’s just another form of perseverating. So there’s that.
    I was thinking as i read this there is only one area in my life where I really catastraphize/perseverate and that is around social interactions because I have a lot of anxiety about saying or doing something dumb. I find that the way I break it is to just say it outloud to someone that I am feeling anxious about xyz. That hearing myself talk about it reminds me of how ridiculous I’m being and that really if i do say something dumb it’s not the end of the world. I wonder if this works for you at all? It doesn’t for my partner, she can acknowledge it’s over the top and then keep going. πŸ™‚

    1. I rarely say it out loud, because I know it will sound dumb and the other person will go to great lengths to talk me out of it and then I’ll just be like, “yeah, but . . . ” and continue right on doing it. πŸ™‚ I do think it’s a form of perseveration, like perseveration on steroids. Which may explain why it’s so hard to break the cycle. I can’t break perseverative thinking with logic. It just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s chemical?

    2. That’s just made me realise that my mum does it too! Another point on the reasons why she too could be on the spectrum. (I love these moments of enlightenment!)

  7. Yep, I catastrophize too, although I call it “freaking out.” For some cases it works out, because it helps me prepare for exams, presentations and interviews. For others, it’s an unnecessary emotion to have because, for ex. I could sit there and freak out all day, but the reality of the matter is, the problem won’t be resolved in the timeframe I want it to be resolved in and it’s not like you could get other people to do what you want them to, anyway! I’ll have to think about #5.

    1. Freaking out is a good name for it! I guess in my case it’s more like “freaking in” because I mostly do it silently. πŸ™‚

      #5 feels important. I think I catastrophize more when I’m feeling vulnerable or insecure about something, which isn’t necessarily the thing that I’m catastrophizing about.

  8. Oh, yes indeedie! I do this about all kinds of things (and then sometimes I just miss catastrophizing things I probably should, like engine trouble on a plane). In thinking about this, maybe it’s a way to trigger myself into some needed self-comforting that something is blocking me from just going ahead and doing. That self-comforting (or sometimes, corrective action) doesn’t kick in sometimes when I’m just calmly reflecting that something’s wrong. Maybe catastrophizing is my way of building emotional investment to a level I can’t ignore.

    1. But the engine trouble couldn’t possibly be your fault, so who cares?! πŸ™‚

      I love this theory so much. It makes a lot of sense and I’m going to try experimenting with a solution based on this. Next time I find myself catastrophizing, I’m going to try skipping straight to the self comforting and see what happens. The more I think about this, the more I think you’re on to something here.

      1. That self-comforting idea is a good one – I may try it myself. Earlier today I was ready to write an entire year off because my plans had been screwed up (it’s my birthday and as I only get one a year I’ll have to wait a full 365 days until the next time I can achieve this because, after all, I couldn’t possibly have another day to myself to do what I want…oh hang on, yes I could!!) Catastrophizing AND perfectionism at the same time – lethal combination!
        But as always, having come here in search of self comfort (as it were) I’m feeling miles better πŸ™‚

  9. Great post. Catastrophizing precisely laid out in clear terms; “I” am here in your writings no doubt about it. Wish it wasn’t a permanent part of me. If only – in real time scenarios – I could find the line between where inferring ends and catastrophizing begins, and then pick apart my thinking and replace it with logic, then I’d be free? My panic and mind numbing anxiety attacks really suck. I don’t think any of my past partners could stand it, and it is one of the reasons I’m alone now.

    1. Aww. 😦 This has been one of things that been really hard on my relationship with my husband too because although he sometimes does it, he does it over completely different things and rarely over the little everyday stuff.

      It seems like logic should work, but it really doesn’t in my experience, so don’t beat yourself up over it. In the moment, we’re so caught up in that negative thought cycle that it’s very hard to break it with self-talk alone.

  10. Thank you again for your insight! My son does this ALL the time about EVERYTHING, but I don’t. LOL If he has failed to his homework or chore in a timely manner due to playing games on his iPad, I’ll tell him, “Stop, playing on the iPad” His response is always, “I’ll NEVER play my games again.” “OH NO, I’ll NEVER play my games again.” You’ve given me some great ideas about how to select my words and how to support him so he won’t go down this rabbit hole of catastrophizing. Thanks again for a great blog!

    1. Yes, this is a classic example! There is either I can play my game now or I can never play it ever. So illogical and yet it feels real when it happens. I’m glad you found this helpful. There’s a book that talks a lot about working with kids who have issues with black and white thinking (I can’t remember the title!) and it emphasizes helping them realize that there are more than two options and thinking about the options they can be okay with, like playing games after homework rather than leaping directly to that “never playing again” option. I have no idea whether that actually works. πŸ˜€ Maybe just the act of talking about the existence of other options is helpful.

    2. You remind me of how my parents always talk about how black-and-white I was in my moods as a kid: Everything was either the BEST THING EVER or the WORST THING IN THE WORLD.

      Also, something was either always or never, never sometimes to me.

      I can’t really think of how I changed, but I did grow out of it by the time I was 16 or so. My sister – who’s allistic but has ADHD – was also quite prone to black and white thinking, but she grew out of most of it faster than I did.

  11. Yep. Which leads to controlling behavior. Because, duh, if things don’t go Exactly. The. Way. I. Have. Planned. to avoid the obviously impending catastrophe, all will be lost. If I want to leave 45 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment (what if I’m remembering the time wrong, and we’re actually 15 minutes late? 15 minutes would be okay; the doctor would be mad, but, they won’t cancel your appointment until you’re at least 30 minutes late, so, we’ll still be okay, but will just have to leave an hour early next time) and I’m held up for an extra 10, 15 minutes, ALL IS LOST, and I’m met with this gnawing, awful, internal panic, where I try to pretend outwardly that everything is fine, and that I was really only planning to leave 30 minutes early. The panic only abates when, finally, the event is over, and everything is fine. Then, I feel so silly, and vow to never do that again. Until, of course, the next time. When I totally do that again.

    1. Yes, I had huge problems with controlling behavior when I was younger. Now I’ve got it down to merely significant problems, rather than huge. πŸ˜€ There’s something about being caught up in the emotions of the moment that make it so hard to escape that kind of thinking, even if you really intend to.

    2. LH, I liked your example of controlling behavior when wanting to go somewhere. That is a real weak area for me. It happens all the time. I end up getting antsy if my wife is taking a few extra minutes to get ready to go. I’m a bundle of nerves for entire drive to where we are going. just to find out we’re one of the first people there.

      Something my kids can harken back to is me pulling the plug on outings if they couldn’t get ready in time. I’m specifically thinking to the time that I was the primary parent to my then 9, 7 and 3 year olds. They were pretty good kids, and usually did what they were supposed to. We had season passes to a waterpark, and we would go every weekend from opening (10:00AM) to about noon or so. By that time the crowds were too big and the Sun was too hot for us and we’d go back home. To get there on time, we needed to leave by 9:30, but absolutely (in my mind) by 9:40, otherwise it would be a ‘catastrophe’. One time we were at the car, in the driveway and they were going slower than usual and it hit that dreaded 9:40 mark and I told them “Not today… go back in the house.” Not all was lost though… we lived within walking distance of the beach and went there instead. πŸ™‚

      1. Now try to imagine how your kids must have felt. Not about the outing in itself, but about not living up to your standards and being punished for not conforming to what you needed them to do, whether reasonable or logical or not.

        I know that some people have trouble putting themselves into other people’s shoes, especially when it’s about children, but it’s a useful exercise.

      2. Oh, I talked to my daughter a few minutes ago and she said something along the lines of “I really liked your blog post today. Now I know where I get it from!” At least she has a sense of humor about the traits and habits she’s inherited from me and can see what’s going on.

        I totally get this panicky feeling of “not today” when the kids were too late. Three of them at that age, and having to get them all ready and in the car and who has to get one more thing or hasn’t finished breakfast or can’t find their goggles! Three kids at those ages must have been a handful as a single parent. Good think you had the beach to fall back on when they couldn’t get their acts together in time. πŸ™‚ I’m curious whether they’re punctual as adults . . . .

        1. MOA, I don’t want to make this sound like a dig against my ex (divorced after 12 years in 1996), but she has never been too good about punctuality, and I was always worried about my kids being more influence, in this regard, by her than me. When my son graduated high school and was living with his grandparents, he was solely responsible for his punctuality. He has gotten better, but is usually tardy for family events. One time there was a graduation party for my nephew, and my son was in charge of making a photo/video montage for the occasion (he volunteered for the job). Not only did he leave his house four hours late, he didn’t finish the project either. So, when I made arrangements for my daughter (about 21 at the time) to drop off and pick up my wife and me up from the airport, we were holding our collective breath… and much to our delight, she was nearly an hour early in picking us up for the first part of the journey, and well on time to pick us up to take us back home. She has proven to be early wherever she has an appointment. The youngest, now 20, hasn’t had much chance to prove herself, but we met for an ‘afternoon out’ the other day and she was on time.

          I appreciate your input, but it wasn’t that way.

          1. So it sounds like more personality-based than habit maybe for your children. My daughter is always early for things or at least very punctual but I think part of that is that she went to a performing arts high school that was big on punctuality as a sign of respect for other’s time. Also, when she was young I was a lot more rigid and controlling than I am now so that plays a part. But I can see where someone with a different personality would be less affected. Clearly none of my extreme planning efforts have worn off on husband. πŸ™‚

            1. Interesting that the your daughter was in performing arts in school. My daughter was in dance and color guard… I bet the expectations of punctuality from those endeavors greatly influenced her.

              About, “Clearly none of my extreme planning efforts have worn off on [my] husband.” I think my wife wishes that some of my “extreme planning efforts” would just wear off altogether. πŸ˜€

      3. Joseph Morabito, that’s how I am! I get so rigid about having to leave at a certain time or that I have to get the grocery shopping done before 11:30 or it’ll get too crowded and busy and all will be lost!! But so what?? I realize how illogical I sound when I write it out. I hate being this way. Thanks for sharing from your experience.

  12. So much of what you wrote here applies to me, including the ‘black and white’ thinking. As I’ve gotten older, and learned to detect what I’m doing, I’m not as much as slave to it as I was as a child and young adult, but I still do it to one degree or another very often, over almost any subject. At times, when I feel myself ‘doing it again’, I get overcome with a very authoritative, confident and pugnacious persona that then starts ‘speaking to me’ (talking to myself aloud, sometimes looking in a mirror with a ‘dead eyed’ scowl) telling me to “stop act like a baby, that it’s all in your head, no one cares about your insecurities.” Often times that will be enough to slow the flow of adrenaline (or whatever it is that is leading me to be increasingly physically upset), but like when your car battery needs a jump, it is a short term fix that doesn’t last long.

    I like the Windows dialog box you put in there. I enjoy that kind of humor. πŸ™‚

    1. I’ve gotten better at it with age too, but it’s still a struggle. Let’s consider it a work in progress. πŸ™‚

      The Windows diaglog box was fun to make! I had a friend once who had a file folder on her computer that was called “my cancer” and when she when to delete it, Windows asked “Are you sure you want to delete My Cancer?” which we both got a good (dark) laugh out of.

  13. Oh, Musings, you have done it again. In our family, it was always called melodrama. My daughter is fourth in line for the crown of Melodrama Queen. But, it is so much more tragic upon realizing that NONE of us were creating drama for drama’s sake. It was just what happened. And there was a reason for it. And there was and is suffering involved. All of us have overwhelming amounts of anxiety and a high need to be in control. And any and all of us can easily get stuck in a negative thought spiral. No wonder I worried myself sick when I was a child. Do you suppose these trait is more profound in women? My husband does not do this as much.

    1. I think it’s more accepted in women, same as “being unsociable” is more accepted in men. I know a couple of men who definitely catastrophise, far more than I do, but they feel infinitely worse about it because they feel this need to show the world that they’re in control. So they will never or hardly ever admit to doing this.

      1. Yeah, I think that’s it. My cousin is autistic and gets a lot less flak for his reluctance to socialize than I do despite being more shy than me. By contrast, even though I catastrophize more than he does, he’s the one who gets flak for that. I get more backlash for my social screwups, he gets more backlash for his refusal to go with the flow, despite the fact that we’re both about equal in that regard.

    2. I’m not sure. My husband sometimes catastrophizes, but around different types of things than I do and in a slightly different way. I wonder if women might be more likely to share their negative feelings with others than men, due to how we’re socialized?

      Anxiety and a need for control definitely factor into it. I think anxiety feeds catastrophizing and that gets expressed as a need for control, as a way to minimize or reign in the anxious feelings.

  14. 100% me all the time. Even right now. I don’t even want to discuss it because I’m flustered .

    Ps. I love the post ( just wish it would stop) the catastrophe I mean.

  15. What an informative post! I am 39 yo, self-employed, recently diagnosed with high functioning ASD. I didn’t realize catastraophizing was an ASD trait until my psychologist told me so. My NT husband used to think that I was too pessimistic. Now I can tell him there is a reason for it! It is just my aspie way of thinking, LOL.

    1. I first discovered it in a book about autism traits in children and was dumbstruck because it was so familiar. My husband is far less bothered by my more annoying traits now that he knows there’s a reason for them. πŸ™‚

  16. Another completely brilliant post. And funny too because when I was read your very sensible list of catastrophising analysis my smart brain was in total agreement and my black and white brain was going – “No! it IS either good or bad, perfect or broken.”
    Ah, autism. It’s like a big, dumb, furry pet and a super-smart, steel robot all in one fun package. πŸ™‚

    1. I know! All those logical reasons and then #8 just blows them out of the water completely. It’s like a three-year-old that just keeps saying “but I want to” no matter how many good reasons you give to the contrary.

      I love your description of autism. Someone should draw that duo and put it on a t-shirt. πŸ™‚

  17. I’m trying to wrap my brain around all this. I definitely identify with the catastrophising around travel and getting to the airport super early, etc. (I even recently realized that the few times I’ve checked my bag rather than doing carry-on, my bags always get lost because the airlines don’t know where to put a bag that’s 3 hours early)

    As I’ve gotten older, I catastrophise less in my general life. When I feel myself getting into that frenzied, wheel spinning mode and it’s not to serve a calming, planning purpose, I’m now better able to counteract it with something distracting and self-comforting.

    My father, who I’m beginning to suspect is autistic himself, was always obsessive about leaving early. There would be an announcement that we were leaving for a roadtrip at 9am, so I in my own little world would be planning and using my time to be there at 9am sharp (there was no way I wanted to be in a car 10 minutes early with my father because I didn’t like him very much), plus to me I was following the rules. He did say 9am after all. And then I’d be ready at 8:50am and savoring my last 10 minutes to myself before being stuck in a car with 4 other people for hours, and my mother would come in and say that my father was in the car and was ready to go. Get in the car now. It just wasn’t fair.

    I used to go to school super early so that i wouldn’t be late. I somewhat took pride in being first online to get into the school. My brother, who I assume is NT, is always extremely punctual and is in fact early, and I’m sure he gets it from our upbringing. In recent years; however, I’ve actually enjoyed giving myself permission to not be early and sometimes to not even be on time when it’s not all that important. That’s been a huge and strange breakthrough for me. I’m wondering where nature vs nature resides on this one.

    I’ve now read the entire Musings of an Aspie blog from beginning to end, and it’s been a revelation for me. So many traits that I didn’t even associate with autism are my own traits. Each time I’ve read about another one, I’ve found myself wondering how many more coicidences there need to be for me to be convinced that I’m on the autism spectrum.

    1. There should be an award for anyone who has read the whole blog! Wow. I’m actually going back and putting together some of the posts in book format and I can’t believe how much I wrote in the past year.

      Isn’t it funny how someone being early can be just as upsetting as someone being late? I get all thrown off if people are early to appointments. Annoyed even. Ten minutes early is as bad as ten minutes late to me.

      I think it’s great that you’re loosening your need for punctuality. Maybe it feels like a big breakthrough because not only are you being less rigid but you’re letting go of something that was a stressful part of your childhood? Sort of a mid-life rebellion. πŸ™‚ It also seems like a way to be kinder to yourself, by not having to be anxious about time pressures and not holding yourself to strict standards when those standards aren’t actually necessary.

  18. I’m into mindfulness at the moment and it’s REALLY helping me. I didn’t even know there was a word to describe what I do but mindfulness helps me not to do it so much or to such extremes.

  19. THIS. SO MUCH THIS. (As ever!)

    I think I’ve mentioned the ongoing anxiety issue in these comments before, but this summer has made things worse by introducing Actual Real Life Problems, particularly with my relationship (I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I’ve wanted to break up for months, finally plucked up the courage last week, but he’s refusing to accept it and it’s all getting very scary very quickly) so my head is currently ALL THE CATASTROPHISING ALL THE TIME. That, or thinking “F**k this, *reaches for nearest distraction*, let’s bury my head in the sand as usual”. This post explains it brilliantly. You’ve really got a knack for putting this stufff into words, perfect descriptions.

    Incidentally, on Tumblr last night I came across an app called SAM (Self-Help Anxiety Management), available on Apple and Android (search “self-help anxiety management” and it should come up) and there’s LOADS of resources on there, as well as a “social cloud” which seems to work in a similar way to “The Comfort Spot” in The Quiet Place Project (also really worth a visit). I only downloaded SAM last night, but I think it’s going to come in very handy.

    1. First off, sending positive thoughts and wishes for you safety. Sounds like you’re in a difficult situation that could become moreso. 😦 I think that physical safety is one time when it pays to listen to that catastrophizing voice a little more than usual.

      I’ve downloaded SAM and will give it a try. I thing Natily at Notes on Crazy recently reviewed it as well? Or I’m imagining that. I’ll give it a try and see how it works. My anxiety has been kind of dormant the past few months except for one particular week where it was off the charts. Oh, and there was the rampant paranoia while I was on antibiotics but I think that was entirely chemical because it disappeared when I went off them . . .

      1. Eeeeeek. Did I worry you? I didn’t mean to worry you. I’m fine. I think. Sorry.

        Will check out that review, assuming of course that it exists! πŸ™‚

  20. perhaps the catastrophizing feels ‘rewarding’ because it is familiar. it’s a comfort zone of sorts that keeps us inside a seemingly safe bubble where we are somehow in control because we’re imagining what could happen. and by imagining it seems like then we can be prepared for anything. but really, it’s preventing us from actually going out and seeing what might happen. going out into the unfamiliar, which is far scarier than staying with the familiar (until we actually face it and realize that most of those catastrophic things don’t usually happen).

    really fantastic write-up, by the way!

    1. Yes, I think there’s definitely an element of familiarity and the illusion of control that makes it attractive. It’s a very strange sort of comfort zone, though. Sort of like a blankie made of scratchy wool.

  21. We know that catastrophizing is when we worry ourselves with the dreadful “what ifs”. There is something that is very similar to ‘catastrophizing’ that I do, but it doesn’t lead to the same type of angst for me – it just takes up a lot of time. It’s when I over-think something. Let’s say I’m going to have a conversation with someone over something important or necessary to discuss, so I plan out what I’m going to say… then I try and anticipate a variety of things the other person likely will say… and then I come up with answers to all of those and the spiral soon spins to an endless number of possibilities.

    Then the conversation happens and none, or nearly none, of my planning was necessary. Yet, I’m always ready to strategize the next opportunity I get.

    1. I do this a lot too, probably because I’m so bad at on-the-spot thinking in conversation. I need to pay attention sometime to see how much I actually use. You’ve made me curious.

  22. OKay, just stumbled a long this site while looking up writing perseveration for one of my 8th grade student’s. I scanned the site. Now I want to know more. I am an old occupational therapist but am still working with the 0-5 and k-four population. Occasionally Middle School student’s all in the public schools. So if you think you have any information that would help these young children I am open to it.

      1. Thank you for responding, I always go to the source. I have young student’s and bewildered parents. Is there anyone who has motor perseveration during handwriting tasks that would be willing to give me some perspective?

        1. Do you mean getting stuck on the same letter while writing? Just clarifying in case others have this experience but don’t recognize the more clinical term for it (and because I’m not sure I’m getting it right πŸ™‚ )

            1. In addition to what autisticook said, my other question would be whether it’s an issue of perfectionism or perseverating not on the letter itself but on getting the letter written exactly right (in the child’s mind) and so having to do it over and over until that’s achieved.

  23. Thank you so much for your post. I needed this today. I catastrophize a LOT. I’m not diagnosed aspie or autistic but it doesn’t matter; anxiety runs in my family big time. Today, I am catastrophizing going to the store. Usually, I have no problem with it. But there is construction near my home; what if the road I usually take home is closed, what if what if what if??? Thanks for helping me know I’m not the only one.

    1. I think catastrophizing is a big feature of anxiety, autistic or otherwise. I’m glad this made you feel a little better about it. Knowing we’re not alone can be empowering in itself.

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