Catastrophic Thinking

crazyPeople who grieve sometimes respond to “normal events” with catastrophic thinking, a psychological term used to describe when a small event provokes thoughts of a dire conclusion.

Your daughter is late, so you fear she has been in an accident. You feel a pain and suddenly you know it is cancer. Your son looks sad, so you suspect dangerous depression.

Catastrophic thinking may feel crazy, but it is not. Your mind is trying to adjust to a loss — a psychological shock — that has occurred. Be as patient and compassionate with your mind as you would be with a physical injury. It is a normal experience in an abnormal time.

Identify this kind of thinking when it happens. Doing so will help you pull out of the story you are creating. Redirect your thoughts to the present “what is” rather than the fearful “what if.”

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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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