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How to Overcome Negativity: Journey from Catastrophizing to Empowerment

Photo Credit: Ava Sol

I’ve always thought of myself as a very positive and optimistic person. When I got into recovery, I realized that I had a lot of negative thinking. Sometimes, it was ruminating about the past, but more often it was catastrophizing about the future. I call that “living in the wreckage of the future.”

To this day, one of the most difficult tasks in my life is to stop living in the wreckage of the future. Here’s what living in the wreckage of the future looks like for me: 

I decide something bad is going to happen or has happened. Then I think of all the repercussions of that bad thing happening. For example, if someone didn’t show up for something, my mind will assume they died and were perhaps maimed in a horrible accident. Then I think of how awful life will be without them, how much I’ll miss them, how it will impact my life and the lives of others around them.

Or, maybe instead of thinking they died, I might slip into victim mentality and decide, “They don’t love me anymore and don’t have the heart to tell me, so they just blew me off instead of showing up.” And then, I’ll go into a pity party about how awful I feel, and start seeking reasons for why they don’t love me anymore (which of course I’ll find because I’m looking for it!). Both of these types of thinking lead me down the road of negativity and usually activate my nervous system.

My dramatic shift in thinking

This kind of thinking happens much, much less frequently than it used to, but it still happens. When it does happen now, I can see it much more quickly and turn it around. One thing I did to be able to reduce the number of times that type of thinking occurs and to turn it around when it does, is that I made a dramatic shift in my thinking. Instead of thinking, “Something happened to them” or “They don’t love me” I think “Something must have come up for them.”

For example, maybe they got stuck in traffic, and their phone died, or they overslept or misplaced their phone and couldn’t contact me. This is something that I've had to work on with my sweetheart frequently. He’s been known to misplace his phone for hours at a time, and I finally learned that I shouldn't catastrophize if he doesn't respond to me. When I’m in a good state of mind, I’m much more likely to think, “Something must have come up” than live in the wreckage of the future. This is yet another reason to take really good care of myself and live intentionally. When I do that, I’m more often in a good state of mind and less likely to catastrophize.

I have lots of evidence that my sweetheart really loves me, cares for me, is attentive to me, and I matter to him. However, my brain still wants to go into victim mentality where something is happening to me like he doesn’t love me anymore and is going to break up with me. Then I remember, “Ohh, that's right - something probably came up for him.”

When we make mindset shifts like this, we gain more control over our lives. Instead of being in victim mentality, we’re in creator mentality. The circumstances may be the same, but what we make those circumstances mean changes. We don't have to live in drama and chaos. We don't have to activate that inner drugstore of chemicals that throw our nervous system out of whack. 

Instead, when we think, “Something came up” it has a much lighter effect on us. We're able to stay in the present and go on with our day and have pleasant experiences. If we assume the best of intentions on everyone's part, and that something benign came up, we're so much more likely to have high quality life. If we assume bad things happened to them, or they’re not showing up or calling means something bad about us, then we’re likely to have a much less satisfying life. 

When we think that something must have happened or we’re to blame, our emotions are likely to go haywire. We go down the rabbit hole of negativity. But you can avoid that rabbit hole altogether by thinking, “Something must have come up.” 

I honestly didn’t know I was thinking so negatively, or that it was an option to just think something innocent like something came up. And I’ve always thought of myself as an optimist!! I can’t imagine what happens in the minds of those who are pessimists if this is what happens in the mind of an optimist!! You have the power to determine the quality of your life, and it starts with what you’re thinking. This is a perfect example of how important changing perspective is.  

There’s a quote that goes like this: 

“Water the flowers, not the weeds.”

Focus on the positive and not on the negative. What you “water” grows. What you put your attention on grows. If you pay attention to negative thoughts and negativity, you’ll experience more of that. If you pay attention to positive thoughts and positivity, you’ll experience more of that.

Living in the wreckage of the future did me no good. In the past, I didn’t understand I had a choice about my thoughts. Or that I didn’t have to believe my thoughts just because I think them. Now, I understand I actually do get to choose my thoughts. And now you do too.

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