I recommend the following exercise for the would-be Catastrophizer, the Catastrophyte, if you will: during a conversation, wait for a brief pause and then ask your talking partner what he or she is thinking about. He or she might say: “I was considering carefully what you just said about representative democracy” or “I was unable to stop focusing on how the colour of that shirt makes your eyes pop.” What you must learn to do is understand that those responses are almost certainly lies. What your partner was actually thinking was probably along the lines of: “I can’t think of a topic more murderously boring than representative democracy, or a person more selfishly tedious” or “How that shirt makes his or her eyes bulge as though he or she is being strangled. How I wish that were happening now.”
Once you’ve accepted that behind the smile or deeply thoughtful expression on your companion’s face lies a hidden world of criticisms, you are ready to progress to the next level of conversational catastrophizing. The Catastrophizer-in-training must become a master of projected interpersonal judgements and disappointments. Before you speak, imagine the internal negative response your companion will have to your comment; then try to imagine the next comment you will make in response to your companion’s silent and concealed condemnation; repeat.
It should go something like this:
Catastrophyte: Canadian television is laughably amateurish.
Catastrophyte’s inner monologue: Oh God - I remember possibly having heard something about how my conversational partner has occasionally enjoyed watching the Royal Canadian Air Farce.
Catastrophyte: Well, I mean SOME Canadian television is somewhat lacking in terms of quality.
Catastrophyte’s inner monologue: Oh God - I remember possibly having heard that my companion’s romantic partner is an actor and was once punched in the face by Eric Peterson. Did I sound too laudatory?
Catastrophyte: Especially Eric Peterson. Does he have to be in every Canadian show? Or am I wrong? Are there just five different male Canadian actors who look very much like Eric Peterson?
Catastrophyte’s inner monologue: Oh God - doesn’t his/her partner look like Eric Peterson?
Catastrophyte: Although Eric Peterson is incredibly sexy. I mean, I think about having sex with him ALL THE TIME.
At this point, the Castrophyte should become so dizzied and terrified by the unavoidable misunderstandings that occur every time two people speak that he/she will fall into a brooding silence and internally vow that in the future he/she will speak only to people so lonely that any criticisms will be tempered by gratitude.