Edward Lear
Still more from Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s article called “The Coddling of the American Mind” in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic. You can find the full article here.

Catastrophizing is a distortion of reality. In his 1989 book The Feeling Good Handbook, David D. Burns defines it as a magnification that turns “commonplace negative events into nightmarish monsters.” This is also related to other distortions like all-or-nothing thinking, over-generalization and jumping to conclusions.

Catastrophizing often results in seeing or acting on threats that aren’t really there. At the risk of sounding political, this is when people say they “felt threatened” to justify responding with hostility and violence to something later revealed to be completely innocent. Examples would be someone interpreting a tee shirt slogan as a death threat, interpreting an innocent “hello” as harassment, or someone saying they’re being excluded from the Hugo Awards because of a leftist plot.

As I see it, there are a couple of possibilities here. The first is that people get so paranoid and out of touch with reality that they really do see slights and threats everywhere. The other is that catastrophizing is used as a strategy, whether conscious or unconscious, in the afore mentioned “offendedness sweepstakes.” In this way, blowing everything up out of proportion escalates the pressure on the other person(s), especially if s/he is subject to some social, political or legal complaint. In the same way that “feeling offended” is grounds for a harassment complaint, “feeling threatened” is grounds for even more aggressive action. The constant state of victimhood and outrage prevents any kind of reasonable discussion.

Emotional reasoning combined with catastrophizing can cause problems in interfacing with other people, especially in workplaces and other venues where workers are expected to be mature and reliable. The problems that overprotected young people have in dealing with the real world also cause depression and other mental health problems.

More on this later.

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