“Awfulizing” is a term coined for these kinds of reactions. This term is used in behavioral psychology, and often quoted from Albert Ellis. I’ve added my expanded definition below.
awfulize v: 1: to make a situation out to be worse than it really is 2 : to complain characterizing a mundane issue as some horrible, catastrophic occurrence 3 : exaggeration of the severity of an event 4 : to project horrible outcomes which have not yet happened
“He awfulized the situation between the Fred and Wilma, stating that they were ready to kill each other. When in fact, Fred and Wilma disagreed on whose turn it was to clean the refrigerator.”
Listen to yourself. Listen to others. Listen closely to how people characterize events in their lives. We learned as kids that words don’t break bones. However, they do affect our psyche. They also affect impressions and perceptions of us. To be perceived as having credibility, accuracy of statements are important. Some of us are predisposed to exaggeration. There is even reason to do so at times. Often we exaggerate to make a point or just to have fun. In those cases it is often appropriate. Taken to extremes or done too often is like crying wolf. People become numb if not irritated by the exaggerated complaint.
Here are some sample comments from people in reaction to events. “I could just die.” “That’s horrible.” “My life is over.” “My career is over.” “I’ll never be able to recover.” “I’ll never find anyone to love me.” “I’ll never be able to beat him/her in a race.” “I simply can’t run hills.” The events behind the comments are objective. The reactions are subjective and reflect your impression of it. It also reflects your view of the permanence of that state. Key words to listen for are: always, never, all. These reflect absolute (all or nothing) thinking.
How would you characterize your typical response to undesired outcomes? Do you exaggerate? Do you continue to exaggerate long after the initial reaction? The more you exaggerate and the longer you hang on to these thoughts, the more lingering the damage to yourself emotionally and perhaps to your image. How do you think others view chronic skewed characterizations? Typically, we offer more respect to those who rebound, take responsibility and take action in response to the situation. And we often view those who don’t as complainers, whiners or worse.
A rather fun and useful scale was developed to reinforce the whole concept. The following scale is an interesting tool to more accurately depict the nature of a problem. With a sensible scale to measure how bad things are you can also decide that some event is approximately a certain percentage “bad”. I wish I could give credit for the original scale however, I cannot find the specific source.
So, if someone were to ask you, “Just how bad is it?” What would your answer be?
1 – small bump
5 – bruise
10 – cut
15 – laceration (4 stitches)
20 – badly sprained ankle
25 – non-dominant arm broken (broken bones usually heal in 6-8 weeks)
30 – dominant arm broken
35 – 2 broken limbs
40 – 3 broken limbs
45 – 4 broken limbs
50 – Cut-off between temporary and permanent loss
55 – 3 toes cut off
60 – 3 fingers cut off
65 – 1 foot cut off
70 – 1 hand cut off
75 – non-dominant arm cut off
80 – dominant arm cut off
85 – 2 limbs cut off
90 – 3 limbs cut off
95 – 4 limbs cut off
100 – death is too easy… think more like Stephen King…
Here is the practical use. The next time you have a disappointment, loss, failure or difficult issue to address think about it in terms of this scale. Perhaps it is not getting a job you really wanted, losing a competition, having an argument, or a bad day in general. Use the scale to offer a different perspective on the issue. Do not characterize something as permanent when you will recover. Recovery from these life events will be quicker with the right mindset. That mindset starts with what you say to yourself and others.