Do you know an awfulizer? Chances are that you do. They seem to be everywhere, and they can be recognized by the following:
- Every conversation seems to end up with a list of all the things going wrong.
- These things are never the average problems that all humans have; they are the ‘worst’ that could happen.
- And usually, awfulizers feel that these awful things have been thrust upon them, and they have had no part in their creation.
For these folks, people never are upset: they’re about to have nervous breakdowns, heart attacks, or even die from stress.
Obviously, these folks are not the life of the party. But the problem is that the awfulizer has a tendency to take up residence in each of us. We all go through periods when we’re sure that we’re the victims of some cruel cosmic joke.
In his book, Ten Steps to Positive Living, British counselor Windy Dryden talks of an effective technique by American psychologist Tom Miller. When people complain of something being the worst thing ever, Miller asks them, for argument’s sake, to assume that having both your arms and legs cut off as 100% bad. So let’s say that spouse is cheating. Miller would you be willing to trade this for having all your limbs cut off? Most people would say no. So it’s not 100% bad. Well, then: what about you keep one arm but the others limbs go? Still, not willing to trade? Well, then how about keeping both your legs but letting your arms go?
As Dryden says, it’s a bizarre but effective technique to bring us back to a realistic context of our problems. Sure, having a cheating spouse is no fun; in fact, it’s pretty horrible. But adding the weight of its being the worst thing that could ever happen to us keeps us in the suffering mode and prevents us from making the first move into healing or solving.
I tried it a couple of times this weekend, and I have to admit imagining a mad scientist ready to cut off my legs did quickly put the problem in perspective. (And, even more fun, when someone was complaining to me, I imagined that same mad scientist stealing her away, cackling insanely, and asking, “Is your messy husband worth your legs?”)