Catastrophize

CatastropheAnyone who likes words can’t help but make up new ones. This isn’t that unusual. Even people who don’t value words do it. Sarah Palin, word salad tosser extraordinaire, notably coined the word “refudiate.” I do it all the time.

About ten years ago, I coined the word “catastrophize.” It turns out, it is a widely used term—especially in psychology and sociology. Dictionary.com even has a definition for it:

ca·tas·tro·phize  [kuhtastruh-fahyz]

verb (used without object), verb (used with object), ca·tas·tro·phized, ca·tas·tro·phiz·ing.

to view or talk about (an event or situation) as worse than it actually is, or as if it were a catastrophe: Stop catastrophizing and get on with your life! She tends to catastrophize her symptoms.

It is a good definition, but it is not quite mine. To me, it is an active verb.

To catastrophize is take a situation or problem and extrapolate to catastrophe.

Example: the Hangnail

Situation: I have a hangnail.

Extrapolation: it could get infected; I don’t have health insurance so I will have to wait to get to the ER; by then, they will have to cut my hand off; I won’t be able to continue to work as a hand model.

Catastrophized Conclusion: I will starve to death.

Example: the Shortage

Situation: My cash drawer was $5 short today.

Extrapolation: I could get fired; I won’t be able to support my children; I will have to put my kids up for adoption; my kids are too old to be adopted.

Catastrophized Conclusion: I will have to sell my children for use as a filler in hot dogs.

Don’t Catastrophize Me!

I understand the impulse to catastrophize. Everyone does it. But it does no one any good. And it gets very tiresome. I can only stand to hear friends catastrophize themselves out of a job so many times. After a while, it is all like crying wolf, except it takes so much longer!

Do yourself and your world a favor: break the catastrophizing habit. Otherwise, your friends will stop taking your phone calls; then when your car breaks down on the road, no one will be able to help you; finally, you will die in your car after surviving for two day drinking your own urine; and it won’t matter at all that you told them things would turn out like this.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Catastrophize

  1. LOL my first reaction to your last example got me. Reminds me, indirectly of course, of how, while staying with Jewish family friends in Jersey and NY, the father of the house asked me if I wanted to attend our carpool’s son’s bris ceremony and celebration. I was like, cool, this little baby just was born, I’d love to come celebrate. Totally. It was somewhat surprising when I arrived what was actually going to happen once I got there :\ such is life!

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