Why Do I Always Seem to Assume the Worst?

I always assume the worst. It's a cognitive distortion, I know. I "mind read," catastrophize, and have snowball thoughts. Especially in my relationship, despite not finding any evidence that these thoughts are valid. But I still have them—that he's cheating, doesn't want me, etc. I need some help. —Consumed by Thought
Dear Consumed by Thought,

I see you understand yourself very well—better than most people do, in fact, and I think your understanding comes from your intellectual abilities, which I believe are way above average. You’re quite blessed to have this capacity, but the mind alone is not capable of changing this style of processing.

You write that you are in a relationship, and I wonder how your partner is impacted by your distortions, and how you deal with that together. You say that you obsess that your partner may be cheating, though there is no evidence that this is true. If you’re feeling unwanted, you might ask for excessive reassurance, which rarely works for very long to calm anxiety and which can be annoying to others. How does your partner react to your fears? Does your partner know ways to help? If not, couples counseling might be good for both of you.

Listen to the way you talk to yourself—what you say about yourself to yourself. Perhaps you berate yourself as you lose patience with your repetitive and catastrophizing thoughts. Be kind, as kind as you probably are to others. Remember that charity begins at home, and exercise compassion. And practice ways to so soothe yourself, perhaps through restorative yoga or long walks or jogs.

Finally, your obsessions may be an indication of obsessive compulsion, which often runs in families, and treatment can help effectively manage this. One way to treat obsessive thoughts is with cognitive behavioral therapy, during which people are exposed to situations that they are afraid of until they gradually become less sensitized. Psychodynamic psychotherapy with someone who specializes in helping people reach their unconscious feelings and work them out in relationship with the therapist might be ideal, or you might want to work with an art therapist or even a psychoanalyst.

Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications benefit some people, too, but if you and your doctor decide that this is your path, you must be carefully monitored by a psychiatrist. If you do take medication, you might consider combining this with some form of psychotherapy.

Thank you very much for consulting GoodTherapy.org; I wish you a successful journey!

Kind regards,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Reese

    September 20th, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    I would kind of like to know how you were brought up. Is this how you were raised, to always assume that the bottom was about to drop out because those are the people whom I have always found in life who always think that the worst is about to happen. You don’t drive me a little bit crazy but I do like to have people who are a little bit more upbeat in my life and I am sure that your partner feels the same and I am guessing that you kind of want to change a little too or you wouldn’t be writing in, right? This is something that can be changed you just kind of have to change your perspective and how you view life. Things aren’t always going to happen with a negative spin if you try to see them from a little bit more of a sunnier side.

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    September 21st, 2013 at 7:08 AM

    Dear Reese,
    It’s true that the sunny side is warmer and more optimistic, I agree with you totally on this, and I wonder if you can try to see the letter written by “Consumed by Thought” from the sunny side too; you seem angrier than you probably intend. I have a feeling that you may know quite a bit about this issue.

  • Nell

    September 21st, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Just because you assume the worst does not make you a bad person- you just may not have yet discovered the ebst ways to cope with unpleasant situations in life yet.
    There are so many better ways that you could find to cope with things, but instead I get the sense that you spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things that really don’t deserve all of that attention.
    I would like to encourage you to try a few things a little differently, that might make you feel better, mand once this becomes habitual for you then you may find it easier to see things from a new perspective instead of always from teh angle of the worst thing imaginable.

  • ty

    September 22nd, 2013 at 5:35 AM

    I seriously don’t know that I could live with someone always looking for the negative. That might just be the deal breaker for me.

  • Marta

    September 23rd, 2013 at 8:15 AM

    I live with a partner who copes with depression and always sees the dark/negative side of everything. It is exhausting for me and for him too. Over the years, to cope, I find that I just don’t ask him for his opinion or thoughts, knowing that the response will be negative. Not the best strategy for either of us, I guess, but it is what has happened.

  • Psychologist Montreal

    September 24th, 2013 at 12:51 AM

    In my opinion there’s the best thing in this worst situation; you know the problems are inside your mind,but the terrible point is that you can’t control bad thought when they come to your mind!First of all you have to believe everything come from your mind,then a psychologist can help you, otherwise nothing works!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    September 25th, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    Marta, I feel for you. What does your partner think about your positive viewpoint? Is it helpful?

  • D Johnson MFT

    September 27th, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    People catastrophize and anticipate the worst because that is usually what they came to expect from one or both parents. This thinking becomes a way of life because it is life for many kids – even you adult children of your parents.

    One parent was erratic, unpredictable and the other passive and enabling, probably. Even in chaos and uncertainty there can be an underlying pattern that we learn from / about our patents. They teach us the rules and we kids create rules from how our parents treat or neglect us.

    Those are the roots.

  • Rose

    June 19th, 2017 at 6:34 AM

    You are right on. You described my parents completely and now I am a 58 year old with major catastrophic thoughts and high anxiety. All consuming and a terrible way to have to cope and exist. Now please tell me I can break free from my mind

  • Lynn Somerstein

    September 27th, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    Well said, D. JOhnson!

  • wyatt m.

    September 15th, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    this is also a problem area for me, maybe alot worse, e-mail me a tip if you would like. im up for almost anything

  • Lynn Somerstein

    September 15th, 2014 at 6:18 PM

    Hey Wyatt-
    Why not think of something to be grateful for when you wake up in the morning.
    Some hints-
    You woke up!

  • loki

    November 10th, 2014 at 2:24 AM

    I too have a neg outlook,,,everytime i get ready to do something at work i worrie my self to death about “what if i mess up” its killing me ,.,.,.what should i do

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    November 10th, 2014 at 9:34 AM

    Thanks for your comment, Loki. If you would like to consult with mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. You can also perform an advanced search (https://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html) and use it to find exactly what you’re looking for. You may also call our toll-free Find-A-Therapist line at 888-563-2112 ext. 1. We hope that helps!

    Kind Regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Jeff

    July 18th, 2015 at 11:25 PM

    I feel the same exact way

  • km

    June 5th, 2015 at 8:50 PM

    I can’t help it. I’m tired of always going to the worst possible outcomes in my mind. But 8 out of 10 times I’m right. Now it’s hard wired in there. Past and present situations have made me a horrible thinker. It’s draining for me and the person I’m trying to build a life with. He told me tonight I’m always “end of the world”. If only he knew how many end of the world situations I’ve faced to make me this way. No exaggeration. It’s hard to be positive when you really try and the opposite thought you are doing the best to avoid ends up being reality. I’m really in a prison of negativity. And no one but me gets why. *pours another glass of wine”

  • Lynn Somerstein

    June 10th, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    Dear km,
    You’re right 8 out of 10 but– how about working with a counselor to help you be less of a “horrible thinker.” I see you’ve been through and survived a lot,and you’re a strong person, but as you say, you’re in a “prison of negativity.” A counselor might help you break out.
    Take care and good luck,

  • Kristina

    August 6th, 2015 at 1:27 PM

    I feel the exact same way, everything is always going to end badly. Im working with a counselor finally trying to figure out why i feel the need to assume the worst in people. Maybe i point out others flaws before they can see mine.

  • Brandon248

    February 27th, 2016 at 9:34 PM

    I am the same way and thats how i have found this post. I find my self pondering thoughts of negitivity when things dont match up, it really doesnt helo when you get to know that person in there past. I think im more worried about the significant other cheating, i get worried she will catch something and give it to me probably my worse fear getting aids or something that hurts. I do beleive it is a habbit of thought from pondering on the negitivity of your past growing up, relationships that end badly and so on. Im feeling kind of down today cause the princess im talking to know decided to tell me all about her past and then ignore my last text to her for 4 hrs that was very meaningfull ” response was im with my mom” 11:50pm okayyyy! Never is it like that for her to not respond or answer a call infront of her mom so i assume shes doing wrong! What im going to do is take the LAW OF ATTRACTION into effect! If you dont know about it there is a movie on netflix called “the secret” its a few phillosophers that explain it, its a must see. Then i am going to meditate with thoughts of all that i am gratefull for, tomorrow i will meditate again and keep the thoughts positive picturing my goals and were i want to be and try and replace all my negitive thoughts with positives. Im going to be more connected with my thoughts and calm them down i feel as if im clogging up my train of thought, i might have to much time on my hands so im really going to put this to use, ill also worn on being healthy im going to change me to change the thought process. Once i do that i beleive i will be able to fix my problem. The only thing is finding a comfortable silent place with the presence of peace and love to do this. Hopefully this helps someone that i$ reading it! Let your thoughts run through your heart if you fall inlove with them keep them for meditation!

  • Anni

    March 23rd, 2016 at 8:19 AM

    My fiancé is very much like this. I used to be, too, although I’m not really clear on how or when that changed. I really believe that how much you worry is related to your confidence in your ability to handle things.

  • Lorraine

    June 4th, 2016 at 6:21 PM

    I have bad experience with my mother-in-law, I did my best to please her, help her be like a maid to her, did everything for her, loved her, but everything i did was nothing to her bad mouth me to other people.. After that, I have anxiety depression my family doctor said, when it attacks me I shake, i cry, hard to breathe, paranoia, assume things for the worst, times that I don’t want to talk to anybody or socialize.. When I’m home, me and my husband live with her, we’re in the basement, i have thoughts of killing her, pray that she dies, and it’s scaring me.. I’m trying to keep myself busy and try to thing of something else but i still get those thoughts.. I call myself a psycho, i just want to stab myself sometimes.

  • GoodTherapy Admin

    June 4th, 2016 at 7:57 PM

    Dear Lorraine,

    Thank you for your comment, Lorraine. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about self harm at https://www.goodtherapy.org/therapy-for-self-harm.html and additional information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Hurting

    June 7th, 2016 at 9:56 AM

    I am a crazy thinker, my mind always thinks the worst! I am jealous, I worry myself to death abt him cheating! I have been cheated on in the past and I have done things not so upstanding myself! My bf does do almost everything he can to make me secure. Plus he deals with my craziness, until I push and push. I am afraid,if losing him, which is one reason I am jealous! But I tend to keep him,a arms length to avoid getting hurt, even tho that has not worked! I am,truly in love with this man! Sometimes I get upset because I don’t feel like he is making me a priority and making me feel like I am important and special to him! He has also been hurt,in the past and he is scared too! How to fix this craziness?

  • Eva

    May 30th, 2017 at 10:51 AM

    This is EXACTLY what I am going through!

  • Adrenna H

    August 1st, 2016 at 9:25 PM

    I am also always thinking the worst I have been cheated on in the past also and my current relationship I have seen on his phone where he has said things to other women in messages so anytime he seems sneaky I always think the worst which in turn infuriates him I am at my watts end I’m tired of all of it and he is emotionally unavailable he doesn’t talk about problems at all and I really don’t understand why I love him but I do!

  • Navreet

    September 13th, 2016 at 10:49 PM

    I tend to behave quite similar. Have been married for 5 months now. But due to visa issues I and my partner live in different countries at present. It’s so upsetting for me as we don’t communicate much. Some due to his busy schedule and some due to the different time zones. I have put a hold on my career as work demands commitment for certain period and i am not sure when the visa formalities will be completed and i have to move to other country. So may be because i have ample of free time o always think negative. For instance he doesn’t love me or care about me. I’m not in his priority list at all. He has time for everything else but me. Not only this i always tend to assume negative about everything. Like if my dog for some reason gets gloomy or is feeling low i get a fear that she’s going to die or sh has some severe disease. Even little things upset me a lot. I cry very easily. When i am angry, upset, happy every time i cry. Even if things don’t go slightly the way they should i panic. Any help?

  • Kristina

    September 14th, 2016 at 9:59 AM

    I feel that ample free time is a killer on the mind. And the worst part for me is I am well aware of that im thinking the worst and i shouldnt be as well as my reactions to a lot of things. But I dont know how to stop being negative in the moment.

  • Whyme

    October 14th, 2016 at 10:23 AM

    Don’t even know where to start, my trust issue and negative thinking has cost me all my friends, over reacting over little issue and blowing things out of proportion. I am Always thinking the worst in every situation and assume people are taking behind my back. Don’t know how to stop this negative thinking. Please I need advice

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 14th, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    Dear Whyme,
    Trust issues are serious. Have you considered working with a psychotherapist? Over time, you may find your trust restored.
    Take care,

  • Brenda

    January 26th, 2017 at 11:46 PM

    I feel the same as most of the people I have just read about, it feels worst now as I have lost two sisters in 18 months and feel that nobody cares.

  • Lynn

    January 27th, 2017 at 12:54 PM

    Brenda, of course you’re assuming the worst, why wouldn’t you, it’s actually happened!! The deaths of your two sisters must be unbearable. I hope there is some way that you will find solace.
    Please take care, and let me know how you’re doing.

  • Elizabeth

    February 9th, 2017 at 4:18 PM

    I find that I almost always come up with a nearly impossible worst-case scenario, and then believe that it will happen. For example, when I applied for a visa to join my husband, I assumed that my visa application was going to be rejected and they would accuse us of a “marriage of convenience,” even though I had submitted lots of evidence that our relationship is genuine. I even started to plan how I was going to appeal. I was really surprised when my visa was granted. Now I’m living with my husband and I just got a great job offer. I was excited at first, but now my brain is inventing several unlikely scenarios that could result in the offer being rescinded. I am so tired of always dreaming up ways that things can go wrong. Even when I try to identify the least risky way to do something, I can still dream up (highly unlikely) catastrophes. I have worked with a cognitive behavioral therapist in the past, and a combination of progressive relaxation and positive self-statements definitely help some, but the horrible thoughts still intrude and they affect my ability to function. How can I change this pattern of thoughts permanently? It’s torture for me and it’s also very draining on my husband.

  • candice

    March 2nd, 2017 at 8:18 AM

    I also am dealing with this same issue.how can I fix this before I loose my boyfriend who has done nothing but stick by my side thru all my madness?

  • Lynn

    March 4th, 2017 at 11:23 AM

    Hi Candice,
    Somehow you have been taught that it’s dangerous to be too happy. Why not work with a therapist and learn that it’s not? It may not be easy, but it is worthwhile.
    Let me know how it works.
    Take care,

  • rachel

    April 11th, 2017 at 6:55 AM

    why do i feel nervous??? why do i get scared just over small things ??? why i dont feel that i am capable of choosing my career ? why i feel that there is no one whom i can trust?

  • Lynn

    April 13th, 2017 at 5:17 PM

    Hi Rachel,
    I hear you– I think you are very stressed out. You might find it helpful to find someone who can help you learn ways to lower your stress level first, and then ask why later. Your “why’s” almost seem like ways to blame yourself.
    Please take care, and let me know how you’re doing.

  • Alex

    May 12th, 2019 at 9:38 PM

    I can’t seem to get out of my head that something is happening between by best friend and the person I used to date, I know that there isn’t anything going on but I just can’t stop thinking about it. What should I do?

  • The Present Times

    November 13th, 2019 at 10:19 PM

    “I find myself always fighting with my mind, it’s always trying to take me down paths I left behind
    Or it wants to make up these places I really don’t see and hopes and hopes I’m a dummy that will believe
    Boy does it fight with every ounce of strength with every feeling and fright!
    It’s like it’s trying it’s best to keep a hold of me and the power it has on my reality.
    Up from the clouds I hear a voice thats guiding
    Singing songs of reuniting
    Making me aware of the gift the present.
    Nothing’s more special than now the blessing.”

    I hope people still read this. The best advice I can give you is become your best friend. A lot of our problems/disorders come from deep trauma that we’ve faced as a child (not equipped to process) so our fragile mind comes up with all these rituals or patterns to stay safe. ALWAYS TO STAY SAFE!! Imagine years of reinforcing these habits you some how convinced yourself this is the only way (it’s not)
    Imagine your brain just so use to the same patterns and set of commands that it just fires neurons at will repeating and reassuring bad habits/beliefs/thoughts. It’s hard for us but manageable and I think it can get better with practicing techniques that help you be present. You have to develop mindfulness to really step out of from these neurons firing and see it as a practice thats served it’s purpose and is no good for you, at least to the extremes because some anxiety is good but we don’t have to be adherent to the old habits. You’re not that person anymore. You are not threatened, things are good and can be good if we work on ourselves and change the value of things. It’s a choice i made a long time a go to see things a certain way. I’m dismantling myself and working on rebuilding the person I want to be.

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