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Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Worriers, Catastrophizers, and Overpreparers: This One’s For You

Let me speak with the worriers, catastrophizers, and overpreparers of the group.

You and I, we spend a lot of time thinking about potential future pain. A lot of time. And we don’t just think about it. We feel it, intensely. We vividly imagine the worst-case scenario and spend lots of time preparing for it, all the while feeling the pain of it as if it is happening right now.

When we worry, catastrophize, or overprepare (or, if you’re me, all three) we put ourselves through pain that hasn’t even happened yet – and may never happen. We pre-suffer.

Suffering happens when we focus on pain. We can’t avoid pain in life – not even if we try – but we don’t have to suffer so much. We don’t have to focus on the pain so much. Especially if it isn’t even actually happening.

Sometimes it feels like we can’t avoid pre-suffering. Often, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Some of us worry as easily (and as often) as we breathe.

Sometimes we believe that the pre-suffering is helpful. We believe that we’re preparing ourselves for pain. We believe that if we feel it now, we won’t feel it so painfully later.

Except that’s not what’s happening. We think we’re processing and metabolizing the pain, but we’re not. Focusing on it is not the same as processing it. What we are doing is marinating in the pain, unnecessarily. That’s not helpful.

The next time you realize that you’re focused on a painful event that hasn’t happened, notice that you are pre-suffering. Notice that you are hurting and don’t need to be. Notice that in the present moment, which is where you have any control, the Terrible Thing isn’t happening, and the pain also isn’t happening.

Bring yourself back here, to the present moment. This is where your power is. If you are having trouble getting away from your focus on the future, try this: Notice five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Connecting to your senses brings you into the present.

If it is certain that a Terrible Thing is going to happen in the near future, it may be helpful to do some processing about it now. This is different than pre-suffering. Processing future pain involves actively thinking about how to manage the pain when it does show up. It involves figuring out how to make room for it. It requires having enough distance from the pain that you can work with it. It does not require pre-suffering.

None of this is easy. Our brains have extensive experience focusing on Potential Terrible Things. We are just so good at pre-suffering!

So, practice doing what you’re not good at. Practice staying in the present when your brain wants to pull you into a terrible future moment. Focus on the power that you have in the present instead of the pain you may have in the future. Notice all of the choices you have in front of you, right now. Remind yourself that putting yourself through unnecessary pain is unnecessary. Remind yourself not to pre-suffer.

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