What Is The Opposite Of “Catastrophizing?”


I attended an interesting forum on Monday of this week where Dr. Jennifer Lee, an MMU assistant professor of psychology, spoke on pain.

Some people feel more pain than others, and a personality trait that is associated with more suffering from pain is “catastrophizing.” That is seeing any pain as more serious than it is. Dr. Lee noted that her husband and her mother can fall into this category—if her husband bumps an arm, it seems as if he can’t work out for 6 weeks.

Dr. Jennifer Lee listens to a question during her forum on her research into the psychology of pain.

Dr. Jennifer Lee listens to a question during her forum on her research into the psychology of pain.

My wife might claim that she, too, is married to a catrasrophizer. I’ll admit I have some personality traits in that direction, although that’s not enough for me to fit into a particular category—even if I do tend to tune into, and sometimes over-rate, my own pain.

As Dr. Lee pointed out, understanding that there is this personality trait, which leads to more pain perception, is not the same as saying that the pain is “all in your head.” In my opinion, the statement is slightly ridiculous anyway—in terms of our experience of pain, it’s always in our brains, so every pain—along with every other human experience we have—is all in our heads. And even if it is partly psychology that accounts for the pain that one suffers, that is not the same as saying the suffering is less valid. Pain that you feel that is enhanced by your personality and attitude is real pain—your experience of it causes you as much stress and suffering as anybody else’s pain.

I thought that was very interesting. Dr. Lee also noted, despite the fact that it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, that research indicates on average men have a higher pain threshold than women. She said the cultural attitude is based on the fact that women are able to withstand childbirth—but, she said, that one life experience does not tell us a lot about how people experience other pain in their lives.

So I felt it was a great speech filled with nice pain information. Still, most of all, I love the word “catastrophizing,” and I want to use it in many other contexts.

Besides wanting to use this newly found word, I also want it to have an opposite. Magnificentizing? That’s my word for the sense of extracting too pleasant or positive an experience from something—from having pleasure that is unduly amplified by your psyche.

I think I’ve seen some examples of “magnificentizing” in the wake of the recent city election.

For instance, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has handily won re-election. According to what I’ve seen in the media, he seems to  interpret that as an endorsement of his “open for business” stance and the flood recovery decisions.

Whoa there, big fellow. Don’t magnificentize. Speaking as a voter who cast my ballot for you, I can’t say I consider myself a member of Ron Corbett’s corps. I voted for you because you were running against someone else, and I didn’t want that someone else to be mayor of Cedar Rapids. I don’t care for many aspects of the “open for business” attitude, and I am perfectly willing to second guess some flood recovery decisions. You were the best of two options—that doesn’t mean that I or other voters who cast our ballots in your favor endorse all of your policies.

Then, there is the 1-cent sales tax, which was passed for 10 years to pay for street repairs. I feel that some city leaders have interpreted that as voter satisfaction with city spending and finances. That’s magnifencentizing. I voted for the tax because I agree the streets are in terrible shape and needs to be fixed.

But I am not a fan of sales taxes. And I’m not happy that the city has allowed its streets to deteriorate to this point—and I question whether raising a special tax and spending it on streets will help fix that underlying problem of street repair not being a high enough annual priority over time. So, for 10 years we can pay as we go for streets. At the end of that term, are we expected to again extend the tax because there is no other way to fix streets? Or does the 10 years of this tax mean we make up some lost time and at the end of 10 years implement a “normal” spending plan from other revenue that will keep the streets in repair?

I don’t know the answer, and I’m not going to magnifenctize and assume most voters agree with me. But those that do held their noses during the recent election.

It wasn’t all that magnificent. Then again, it wasn’t a catastrophe, either.

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