Has it ever happened to you that your partner did not answer your call and you got extremely worried because you thought he got into a car accident? Have you ever self-diagnosed yourself with a terrifying disease just because you felt a little bit more tired than usual? Have you ever been afraid of getting fired for a minor mistake at your job?
Well, I am pretty sure that I am not the only person who answered yes to all of these questions. I have been living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for a crazy long time and I have to say that I am very talented at imagining the worst possible scenarios in every single situation. I have always thought I could be an excellent risk analyst – like I could literally tell you at least 10 possible disasters that could happen to me at this very moment!
Now, talking about disasters – this pattern of thinking I have just told you about even has a name and it is called Catastrophic thinking. Very descriptive, is it not?
Catastrophic thinking can be defined as ruminating about irrational, worse-case outcomes. And it is needless to say that constantly imagining the worst-case scenarios can lead to severe anxiety and can prevent people from taking action in situations where it is required. Like how could you think logically if you’ve just been haunted by a terrifying image of your severely injured boyfriend or when you’ve just imagined yourself being fired from your job?
My grandma always tells me that my catastrophic thinking is the direct result of my lifestyle. Modern life she says. Needless to say that I have never agreed with her argument – and the other day when we were talking about this topic – ’cause of course, I have the tendency to catastrophize things and I was just telling her about all the shocking stuff that could happen to me – I remembered a Romanian folktale she used to read me when I was a child.
Human Foolishness is a story written by 19th century Romanian writer, Ion Creanga – one of my favorite authors, you should definitely check out his books! – And…surprise! It talks about catastrophic thinking!
Of course, the title of the story is far from being politically correct but I think we can forgive him for that. I mean – back then, people were not particularly worried about political correctness and they did not have access to a vast amount of information about psychology.
But in spite of everything, Ion Creanga’s story gives us a perfect example of catastrophic thinking in a very humorous way – I am not sure if any of you agrees with me on that (please share your thoughts in the comment section) but I think that making fun of things is a great way to deal with some of the “catastrophic thoughts”.
Anyways, this has been a crazy long introduction so let’s take a look at the story!
Once Upon A Time, When It was..
because if it hadn’t been, we would have no story to tell you.
It’s been said that there was a married man and this man was living together with his wife and his mother-in-law. His wife, who had a newborn child, was rather dumb and his mother-in-law was no genius either.
One day, our man leaves his house to go about his business like every man does. His wife was bathing their baby, swaddling and nursing him and then she put the baby in bed, right next to the stove as it was winter. Then, she started singing a lullaby and swinging the cradle until he fell asleep.
After the baby fell asleep, she was sitting there thinking and suddenly she started to cry as loud as she could: “Oh my, oh my, oh my babyyy…my baby!”
Her mother, who was sewing behind the chimney, threw her tools away, jumped up and asked with dread:
“What is it, mother’s dearest? What happened?”
“Mother, mother! My child will die!
“When and how?”
“Here is how. See that salt block on the chimney?”
“Yes, I see it. So?”
“If the cat climbs up there, it will throw it straight to my baby’s head and kill him!”
“Woe to me, you are right my girl! The little one’s days are numbered!”
And there they were. Looking at the block of salt on the chimney, with their hands clenched as if someone had tied them. Both of them crying like crazy as if the house was on fire. While they were in the midst of self-disfigurement, the man of the house entered the door hungry and worried.
“What is it? What startled you?”
Catching their breath, they began to wipe off their tears and tell him about everything while mourning about the disaster that had yet to happen. The man, after listening to their story, said astonished:
“Oh my… I have seen many fools in my life. But never like you two. I will go away to wander the land and if I find anyone dumber than you, I will come back home. Otherwise, I won’t.
So, off he went. And needless to say that he managed to find people who were “dumber” than the two poor women – including a guy who wanted to bring sunlight into his place with the help of a bucket, an agriculture expert who wanted to throw nuts into the attic with a fork, and a wannabe Darwin prize winner who almost killed his cow (and probably himself too) while trying to bring it to the top of a barn to feed it some hay.
I have always wanted to live in a fairy tale. And after reading this story I realized that I actually was living in one – ‘cause I can totally relate to the 2 women who were crying over an imaginary disaster.
Catastrophic thinking is not something that you would expect a folktale to talk about. But this one does. Calling people who’re suffering from a mental health disorder “dumb” is absolutely unacceptable in todays world but I really think it was a great thing that a 19th century author wrote a story that talked about a problem that a lot of people have.
It helps a lot to know that you are not alone with your problems. In the 19th century, people did not write blogs and didn’t have social media platforms where they could share their experiences. And let’s not even mention about the lack of therapy options. But Ion Creanga’s story surely gave them something they needed: reassurance that all of us have our problems (our “foolishness”) and characters that a lot of people could relate to!
Well, todays article was about this great piece of Romanian literature. But I am planning to write a few more posts about Catastrophic Thinking in the near future. Until then, please check out
- 5 Ways to Stop Catastrophizing (Psychology Today)
And a few more Romanian folktales ❤ (many of them collected by Ion Creanga)
Or read Childhood Memories from Ion Creanga – perfect read for a cozy autumn evening!